MTV Geek's Steven Smith Reflects On Death In Comics: 'D-E-D'

By Steven Smith

It’s started with Superman. I remember the black bag with the bloodied S symbol. I remember everyone and their mother trying to see if they had the first appearance of Doomsday’s fists hitting the wall. I remember the image of a torn cape billowing on the street. I remember Batman getting zapped by Darkseid, I remember Green Arrow blowing up, Johnny Storm ripped apart, and I just missed Jean Grey dying only to be born again. And again. AND again.

“Why do super heroes have to die?” asked Little Johnny to Dad as they stood in line buying Daddy’s comics on Wednesday while Little Johnny played on her DS. (Yes, Johnny’s a girl you sexists.) “To sell more comics,” says Dad as he thumbs through the Invincible trade noting a slight tear on the back edge and wishing he had grabbed one from further back. “That’s awfully cynical,” Little Johnny replies. “Shut up.” says Dad.

Why DO super heroes have to die? ESPECIALLY, in the DC/Marvel continuities, because we know if wait JUST long enough, they will return and all will go back to normal. Unless you’re Stephanie Brown but that’s another story.

Story, it would seem, is the key here. All heroes are basically "phoenix" sagas, whether to die and be reborn again as their own characters or in a more figurative sense with different writers having a new take on their themes. Case in point, Miles Morales, the new Ultimate Spider-Man -- hands down one of the best new comic characters to come forth since the Winter Soldier or Poyo. The Ultimate line is one of the most exciting in comics because there are no rules. We THINK there are but then the Blob starts eating someone and we know we’re not in the same Marvel Universe. I applaud Brian Michael Bendis for giving us a death there can be no turning back from and then resurrecting the hero, not the person behind the mask, but the icon itself. Well done, Brian. So, why the heck are you killing Professor X?

Story-based? Maybe. To sell some books? Maybe not? Of course to sell comics, that’s the point, but it is art as purveyors of art we must support the artists, even if that means having to go through a figure we know and love dying again. But I’m curious why Professor X? Why not Wolverine? Oh, right – he is embodiment of a super hero always being reborn and not aging. And the hair.

Professor X is a huge character in the Marvel pantheon but with the next "X-Men: First Class" (X-Men: Business Class) film on the horizon, Charles Xavier is a character still at the heart of the X-Men. So, what is it about the "Avengers vs. X-Men" storyline that required the killing of such a legendary character? Is it for Scott Summers aka Cyclops a.k.a. "Beyonder" to come to terms with what he’s done? I don’t know. And with all his new power is Prof X’s resurrection on the horizon? They’ve done it before.

Anything happening in the present Marvel continuity will get fixed eventually. Take Johnny Storm. And DCComics is the same way. Everyone loves a good resurrection story (some more than others) and though I wasn’t a fan of Bruce Wayne doing Quantum Leap, I did thoroughly enjoy the Return of Superman, right down to the black costume. I loved reading Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow resurrection but I saw no need for bringing back Barry Allen as the Flash, who for years was the one character who really stayed dead. His origin story where he turned into the bolt of lightning that caused his powers was brilliant - Neil Gaiman’s version with Batman, not so much – so there was no need to restart that franchise.

So why the compulsion to kill off a major character and reap the benefits of the immediate train wreck status is brings? Is that it? We like to see the aftermath? But as comic book fans, who are STORY fans, every issue is aftermath. Each new series is fall-out. What happens next is why we keep coming back. And we will, no matter how many major characters you kill. It is story and because we are engrossed and want to know what happens is why we buy the next issue.

So, keep them coming! But enough with all the stupid variant covers, that’s just greedy.

Steven Smith wants to be Poyo from "Chew" for Halloween but will end up as a banana, his podcast Going Off Track is having it’s first live recording soon and he’s super nervous, and he’s convinced Elmo is sorcery.

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