November 14th, 2013, 10:01 pm

All-dead and mostly-dead: The Reason for Life after Death in Comics

Here's how it usually starts: the Interwebs start to crack under rumors of a big event in That Comic Everyone Reads. And then . . . Holy Toledo! Super-Captain-Does-Stuff-Man makes the ultimate sacrifice! The media loves this stuff, so One of the Big Two Publishers leaks the news of Super-Captain-Does-Stuff-Man's historic demise. That Wednesday, comic book stores are packed with newsreaders looking to buy the historic comic which, if preserved, might one day be worth enough to put their kid through college (it won't). And then, six months to a year later, the Interwebs begin to break once more with news that - Holy Cleveland! Super-Captain-Does-Stuff-Man isn't dead after all . . . and the whole cycle begins anew.

This is the type of horse-and-pony show comic book fans are quickly becoming tired of. It's been pointed out that death had lost thy sting in comics a long time ago. After all, dead should mean death in comics . . . and in other words . . . permanent, right?

The truth isn't quite so clear-cut.

What all comic book fans, whether one or ninety-two, need to remember is that comic books are inherently bigger than their age group. Superman has been around for seventy-five years. The Avengers forty-nine. Wolverine thirty-nine. The impact of these comic book characters exceed just one generation. They transcend many generations, as recognizable figures to both children and adults.

Every generation, new readers re-discover these characters and want them to become part of their reading experience. It is extremely short-sighted to assume the whims of one comic book writer or editor will determine the fate of a character created thirty or forty years before. That's because these comic book characters aren't just heroes - ultimately, they are archetypes.

The Wasp is a more recent example. The character died three years ago at the height of Marvel's "Secret Invasion" event, but came back a few months ago. I believe a key part of her resurgence was how well her character was handled on the "Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes" cartoon on Disney XD, introducing her character to a new generation of fans (though the upcoming "Ant-Man" probably didn't hurt either).

You want another character who rightfully didn't rest in peace? Look no further than Oliver Queen. The character originally died in "Green Arrow #101" way back in 1995. The CW drama about the DC character is more popular than ever as it enters into its second second, but its doubtful it would have happened if the character had stayed dead.

This doesn't let comic book publishers off the hook completely. Comic book publishers (especially The Big Two - Marvel and DC) need to stop using "death's revolving door" as a tactic to cover up bad sales, or worse, bad writing. If a character dies, he or she needs to stay dead for the foreseeable future - not six months, not a year, not even two years. After all, that's what made Oliver Queen's eventual resurrection on the pages Kevin Smith's "Quiver" so enjoyable, as Ollie's blustery reaction to how much things had changed since he'd be gone laced the work with a compelling conflict.

Comic books are all about heroes overcoming overwhelming odds, and what is more overwhelming than death itself? But ultimately, there needs to be a compromise between watering down a character's loss and losing valuable readership. If this keeps up, even Thanos may want to seek a divorce from death.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week.)

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