We’ve been thinking a lot about death lately – the ending of something that could be the beginning of something else; a time to remember the good times, and the hope that the person has moved on to something better. But comics don’t treat death as a permanent thing. For years readers have seen death become the revolving door in comics; a gimmick, a ploy to part the reader with the money, a sensational event that can be sensationalized across the pages of the few surviving mega newspapers across the country. In short death seems to have lost all meaning for the comic book reader.

VOTE!


Should death in comics be permanent?

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The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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30 Comments

  1. March 12, 2013 at 9:33 am — Reply

    Death in comics has literally become a joke. Companies try and boost sales by saying ‘A character will die in this issue!’ But really who cares at this point? A writer or two down the line will just undo it anyway. Actual stakes for these characters come honestly give the medium some agency. Maybe for the first time.

  2. March 12, 2013 at 9:53 am — Reply

    Basically deaths don’t mean a s-word. so I can’t understand why everybody was so angry about spoilers regarding Damians death…

  3. Allen
    March 12, 2013 at 10:11 am — Reply

    You didn’t have my exact answer but I picked the closest. I think death should be permanent most of the time with a resurrection being a gigantic deal in the comic!

  4. March 12, 2013 at 10:14 am — Reply

    I said no.
    Lets just enjoy the stories for what they are – stories.
    I dont think the Big Two are treating death in comics very good right now.
    But it can be done.
    I think it was a fine end to the long Grant Morrison run on Batman.

  5. March 12, 2013 at 10:18 am — Reply

    I voted no because I think that death should not be permanent in ALL comics. For some universes I think that being raised from the dead, as it were, not only is okay but it can enhance the story (not to mention that entire genres end some fantastic stories would suddenly be invalidated).

    I do however think that in mainstream comics death is taken too lightly and it seems that, at worst, characters come back as they were but with a slight chip on their shoulder so they can be marketed as a bit “edgier”. I don’t necessarily want death to be permanent in comics, but I do want it to be treated with at least some of the severity the issue deserves.

  6. March 12, 2013 at 10:20 am — Reply

    No, because the faking a death is a great writing tool if done right. That being said I’m not against permanent death if it serves the story/series right.

  7. March 12, 2013 at 10:24 am — Reply

    You can ‘kill off’ a 27th tier nobody, and know that some writer somewhere will love that character and bring them back. Even worse is killing off the Big Name Hero, with the knowledge that it is an editorial driven gimmick to move units.

    I think the real issue isn’t death in comics as a medium, but death in certain types of comics, namely shared universe superhero comics/IP Farms. That is where death is a meaningless joke. Really, no character death in a Marvel/DC has any meaning from a storytelling perspective anymore. It has become the laziest type of storytelling. From the Intellectual Property standpoint which drives these stories, Cliff Cartwheel HAS to be Turnip-Man, so you know the Death of Turnip-Man is 6-8 months of the writers and the publishers feeding you a load Horse Hooey, until his much hyped ‘return’ is featured.

    It wasn’t even so much a character death, but a resurrection that finally killed off my interest in Marvel/DC superhero books. When Hal Jordan was brought back, as the Spectre no less, I threw my hands up and said this stuff is just treading water and always will. There is nothing new here. After that I dropped more and more Marvel and DC books, and dropped my last one (The Flash) in 2006, haven’t gone back, and haven’t really missed them either.

    Now a death in a comics story outside that shared universe/IP Farm parameter can BE the story, have great impact in a story and even be shocking or saddening. Within the context of a limited series, original graphic novel, etc, you don’t automatically make the assumption of a speedy recovery FROM DEATH and you can actually care, instead of trying to figure out what kind of cheat the writer will us to bring Turnip-Man back this time.

  8. March 12, 2013 at 10:30 am — Reply

    It really saddens me to say that something as serious as death has become tired and mundane in comics.

    I don’t think having “real death” would result in positive change.
    The money-men can’t allow anything drastic to happen to their brands.
    In the worst case, writers would simply start introducing more throw-away characters and “fridge” them as required.

    I wish I knew a real way forward from here.

  9. Omaha Steve
    March 12, 2013 at 10:58 am — Reply

    Permanent death in comics, if done right, can impact the overall flavor of the universe. The death of Bucky meant that there were no teen sidekicks in the Marvel Universe for decades. The deaths of Thomas & Martha Wayne and Uncle Ben were the formative incidents for Batman & Spidey. The death of Gwen Stacy ushered in an entire age of comics.

    The revolving door that has become death in comics has certainly helped to push the medium into the realm of soap operas on paper. Peter Parker’s death lasted less than an issue. Damian’s death might as well come with a lazarus pit countdown timer.

    I say, if deaths are to have meaning and impact, make them permanent.

  10. gary
    March 12, 2013 at 11:32 am — Reply

    Without the permanency, death has no teeth… It’s not death anymore. It’s a sabbatical or a vacation or a coma.

  11. Pantsthemonkey
    March 12, 2013 at 11:42 am — Reply

    I said no, because permanent death would preclude later creators from giving us what could be some amazing stories with whatever character is now off limits.

    When writing for the bigger companies, its like renting space in someone else sandbox. You can get in there and do all kinds of fun things. You can play with the toys that are already in there and maybe bring a few toys of your own to add the the collection, but at the end of the day you need to give that space up to let someone else play and it just isn’t fair if you break some of the best toys before you leave. Leaving the possibility open for characters to come back, makes it easier to fix those toys for the next person.

    With that being said, I do agree that death in comics has become a joke at the bigger companies, but I think that’s more a result of editorial meddling and marketing gurus trying to grow the bottom line. It sucks, but I don’t think putting shackles on creators will change it. Heavy handed editors and marketing nimwits will just find something else to ruin.

    • gary
      March 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm — Reply

      “I said no, because permanent death would preclude later creators from giving us what could be some amazing stories with whatever character is now off limits.”

      Only if you aim for continuity across authors/arcs/etc. I don’t mind when a new author starts their own story with a character who, in a previous arc, has died. To me they are separate continuities. What’s troubling to me is the death doesn’t seem to matter within some story arc/continuity.

  12. March 12, 2013 at 11:53 am — Reply

    Yeah, because what we need in a medium where over 70 years the characters have aged…well, haven’t aged, more realism in death is a necessity for consumer enjoyment.

    Maybe they should treat “life” in a more realistic way before we address the issues with “death” in comics. Or we could STFU and enjoy.

    • March 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm — Reply

      Or we could STFU and enjoy.

      Comics fandom with vocal hatedom would be like McDonald’s with hot dogs. There’s a chance you might be happy, but it just wouldn’t FEEL right.

      • March 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm — Reply

        There’s a difference between “hatedom” and beating a dead horse. At least, there should be.

        But, just like in comics, people love it when things that are dead and gone come back to life. :)

  13. March 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm — Reply

    I don’t think death should be permanent in comics. Some of the best stories I remember reading actually feature a character coming back to life, and I don’t think writers should be forbidden from doing it.

    To me, it really is a matter of good or bad writing, and it’s true that lazy writing is the culprit here. Death has no meaning in DC and Marvel because the underworld has a revolving door.

    Death should have impact, which means it shouldn’t be used as a go-to plot twist, but should be rare and set up in a proper way. It should also feel like it has heavy consequences, even if it is reversible.

    As a D&D player and GM, I don’t like the fact that Raise Dead is just a ritual with a monetary cost. If death is reversible in your story, it should be the subject of tremendous trials, a race against impossible odds, an epic quest. You should actually have to descend into the underworld and fight to retrieve the lost soul, or something of the effect.

    And even if you manage to resurrect the person, I think things should never be allowed to go back to normal. There should still be a sense of loss, a deep effect on the person and on their family.

    So, to shorten the babbling, I don’t think death should be permanent in comics. But I do think it should always have meaningful consequences, which is hard to do in a medium where status quo is king.

  14. Cat Halo
    March 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm — Reply

    I don’t think it’s a black or white issue. Death in comics has become a joke, however I think that keeping someone dead for a while, and then bringing them back In The Right Way can be very impactfull.
    Take Damien Robin for instance. Keep him dead for years, upwards of 5, and then if the story is right,and the impact could be right, bring him back. But killing him just to bring him back in a few months is pointless, and reduces the impact of any and every subsequent death. While I’ve not read it, bringing Bucky back seems to have been successfull. However the return of Barry Allen was less successfull (the Johns Rebirth story was good, but what came after wasn’t as good at all)
    In summary, not everyone has to stay dead, but there shouldn’t be as much death either!

  15. AllenBT
    March 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm — Reply

    I have to admit I voted no. But let me qualify that.

    What people are reacting to in these comments and in general is not death in comics, but lazy story telling. Death is a great plot point that gets overused, in an intellectually lazy way. And the even lazier corollary is “Gasp! he/she is back from the dead!” is much, much worse.

    Its really not any different than have Wolverine or Batman guest start in 1/3 of the books this each month. Bad writing uses cliches. And Comic book death and resurrection is the worst of the cliches.

    Used sparingly, in a thoughtfully written way, Death is a great story foundation.

    Further, since the creative teams on most of these company owned properties are only temporary custodians of these characters, allowing Death and Resurrection means that succeeding writers can “undo” what the current ones have written. That gives tremendous freedom to both groups. Otherwise you end up with the TV problem of knowing Kirk is never going to get killed by that pesky Gorn, killing any real suspense.

  16. Law
    March 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm — Reply

    Permanent, in my opinion. Otherwise, I see the story as undermined if the character returns, To this day I still don’t care about Jean Grey because all her deaths were overturned. Do it or don’t do it…just commit.
    And for those that think that no comic death is permanent, the original run of Harbinger had Torque die and he never returned…in that comic.
    Law

  17. March 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm — Reply

    As in life, people take death too seriously in comics. I voted no. These are stories about things like shape shifting Martians. How can we demand realism?

  18. Moppen
    March 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm — Reply

    If death in comics was permanent, all that would happen is that NO ONE would then die in any book EVER!! No company would be willing to loose one of there characters. I for one don’t mind it not being permanent I just wish it was used more sparingly and that when it did happen it means something. Look at the human torch, he was dead for maybe 3 months, and in that time, no big changes, no big shack up, no real meaning. All they did was get to put Spidy in a white suite and sell a few more books. It just fells like a cheap plot device now it happens so often

  19. March 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm — Reply

    I don’t think there’s really a hard-and-fast rule. On one hand, you’ve got resurrection is handled very well, like Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan, but on the other hand, you’ve got other times like Cyclops and Jean Grey which lacks any impact at all. It just depends on how the situation is handled.

  20. Joe Cassidy
    March 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm — Reply

    When Barry Alan died it had meaning gravitas the ultimate sacrifice, when the joker killed Jason Todd the joker was true evil not a joke and batman was changed forever.
    Now robin dead, get a clone/laserus pit/ time jump, really who cares don’t like a death wait a few months they’ll be back ;P

  21. Ricco
    March 12, 2013 at 8:52 pm — Reply

    It hasn’t lost all meaning, just gained a few others. At one point (for like 30 seconds then they figured out it wasn’t a smart move) death was permanent.

    For me it’s a “okay, where are they going with this? A way to change the direction of the comic? A way to give sidekicks the spot light for a bit? A re-imagining of the “death” character? A way to show the importance of the character in the Universe? A gimmicky lie? (Batman RIP I’m glaring at you with blood soaked scimitars of fiery doom!)

  22. March 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm — Reply

    With very few exceptions, I’ve never really been able to accept the return of characters who have died. Even in the magical worlds where comics take place, it seems like a lot for me to accept. So I really think more deaths in comics should be permanent.

  23. Glenn Stone
    March 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm — Reply

    No, but it should be rare. Having a major character die every three months is gimmicky and makes it a publicity stunt. Perhaps if each company had a major death once every three or four years, and that character cannot be brought back for at least five years, the concept wouldn’t be seen as a joke.

  24. JaKe
    March 13, 2013 at 1:19 am — Reply

    The reason I voted yes is because permanent death forces new creations and new imagination. Let characters die and they will be replaced by new, and hopefully, more interesting character. The issue that I have is that the big companies lean so heavily on the main heroes that it stifles the creation of new ones that people can actually care about. How can a new hero get his day in the light and become a star if Superman/Batman/Wolverine etc always need the spotlight?

  25. March 13, 2013 at 4:53 am — Reply

    Can’t really take this as a yes/no proposition. Coming back from the dead is an age old trope in myths like Osiris, Persephone or Christ, It is reflected in comics; look at the origins of The Spirit, The Phantom, Buck Rogers. Even Superman rose from the death of Krypton. But I voted “Yes” because if writers knew that deaths were permanent we might be spared sales gimmicks like the Deaths of Superman, Captain America, Professor Xavier, and now Spider-man.

  26. blabberin blatherskite
    March 14, 2013 at 6:57 am — Reply

    I voted yes. I think that death in comics really should be a hard hitting thing and it has been used so often and reversed, death has had its teeth removed. HOWEVER, how much would it suck if some douchebag came in and wrote a really crappy death for Superman or Captain America or (insert YOUR favorite hero here) that was meaningless and trite. Either way you go with this question is really a double edged sword

  27. DrNobody
    March 14, 2013 at 10:31 pm — Reply

    It’s comics… Not real life… While EVERY death should not be a revolving door, I think that there’s room for characters to come back… Seeing Ollie and Hal back at DC after their passing was awesome!! Especially since they’d found a way to keep the new kids on the block (Kyle and Connor) around… (sadly, the new 52 wiped out Connor’s existence… UGH!!) On the other hand, since Superman, it seems all of the major heroes have been dying and coming back… How would comics have been different had either Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne not returned to their mantles? Or what would have happened had Diana died instead of the short lived death of Artemis in Wonder Woman (and what if Diana’s death had been permanent?!?)?

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