Comic Vine News

66 Comments

Off My Mind: When Main Characters Disappear from their Comic Books

Readers want to read the adventures of the title character but how long can a series last when the character goes missing?

In comic books, characters often become absent. There's the typical stories where a character sacrifices their lives or is simply killed by another for some reason. When a series has an ensemble cast, one character biting the dust isn't that big of a deal. We've seen members of the X-Men, Avengers, Justice League and Fantastic Four die at some point (only to eventually return). Sometimes team members just want to take a vacation (like when Black Panther and Storm replaced Reed and Sue).

Team books don't really feel the impact of one of the main characters disappearing. When it's a solo book, it's a little different. There has been times when characters such as Batman, Superman or Spider-Man have gone missing in their own titles. These types of stories add a new twist and gives a distinct feel from the usual stories contained in the series. A great writer can make this happen and make it work wonderfully.

How long can the main character of a book not be featured? The star of the book is most likely the main reason why readers are picking up the title. Is there a limit on how many issues readers are willing to go with the main character being absent?

== TEASER ==

When it's a death issue, there are the stories of mourning and acceptance to deal with. Provided the character has a strong supporting cast, there are interesting angles that can be depicted with the friends, family and even enemies of the fallen hero. The Death of Superman resulted in four new characters filling the void. Captain America's death gave room for Bucky Barnes to step up and show how worthy a character he truly was. Batman's death allowed Dick Grayson to fill his boots and evolve even further than he already had over the years. The death of Ultimate Spider-Man is giving a new character, Miles Morales, the chance to grow into a beloved character.

These stories all lasted for a few issues. The hero's death didn't just last for a story arc. Time went by and fans kept reading. There was a story to be told and the fact that the title character wasn't in the book served to attract more attention to it.

It isn't always death that makes the main character go away. There's been a couple times when Spider-Man has been MIA. In one arc, Spider-Man was missing for about three issues. It turned out his costume was in tatters after a fight and he tried hitchhiking his way home from Virginia but got sidetracked in some wacky prison fiasco when picked up as a vagrant.

After the introduction of Ben Reilly and the Clone Saga, it appeared that Peter Parker and Mary Jane were going to sail off into the sunset. They actually moved to Oregon and Ben took over the Spider-Man titles. He even developed his own supporting cast and hangouts that gave the book a clear and distinct feel while still retaining the roots of who Spider-Man was supposed to be.

There was also when Tony Stark became too...unstable due to his alcohol intake. He couldn't quite handle running his company and be a superhero in the Iron Man armor. Eventually his friend, Rhodey, put on the armor and took his place while Tony dealt with his drinking problem.

What about the introduction of a new character? In the current SWAMP THING series, we've been reading about the return of Alec Holland. It turned out he died and his remains and essence were used for Swamp Thing before. Now we were reading about the human without any powers and it took seven issues for "Swamp Thing" to even appear. With the way the story took place, it was definitely worth the wait.

Finally there's THE WALKING DEAD. The focus has always been on the survivors of a zombie outbreak. We all know that Rick Grimes is the main character in the book. We've seen so many other big supporting characters die and some of us have speculated that Rick could possible die as well. The book could carry on without him despite the anger long time readers would have.

What it really comes down to is how the story is written. Some readers do follow the creative teams on titles. Most tend to focus on the characters. If you're reading a comic about Aquaman or Black Widow, you expect them to actually be in the comic.

A great writer can create a compelling story with the main character absent for a bit but eventually the readers will demand the character's presence in the comic. It's always interesting to see how long writers can keep the comic a success when trying to put out these types of stories. Mixing up the status quo and adding in mystery and suspense is a great thing to inject into a series but at the end of the day, we're all buying the book for the character whose name appears on the cover.

66 Comments
  • 66 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by jhazzroucher

they come back right away

Edited by ArtisticNeedham

Sometimes the amount of time they are gone though is dictated by the company, I have heard they originally wanted Captain America to return a lot sooner but had to keep him dead longer because of stuff going on in other titles. And I am not sure but I thought Scarlet Witch was meant to return sooner too, and thats why a lot of Children's Crusade happened in the past. I wonder if the character's return wasn't dictated by the company or story lines going on in other titles what their deaths/missings and returns would have seemed like...

I remember thinking when they killed off characters like Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers that if the fans liked the replacements enough that Steve could stay dead and Bruce could too, even when Bruce came back I could see Dick staying as Batman. If the fans liked it enough, if the books sales showed it enough, I could have seen them keep the changes. I also remember when Azreal replaced Batman I felt like it went on forever and I sort of dropped the comic for a while. At the time I wasn't really guying comics but I would pick up a few here and there and follow what was going on. but one of the reasons I didn't care for it was because Juan Paul Valley was trying to show he was so different from Batman. Seemed like a jerk.

I have read people saying that they want the characters to grow and new characters to replace old and stuff, I could see it happening if the fans showed enough support for that. Personally though I like Peter being Spider-Man and Bruce being Batman. I do tend to buy comics for the characters, not necessarily the teams working on it. Although as of late I am getting more into the teams.

Posted by twisted17

Replacement characters are a great read, but its only acceptable to norms if the characters are brought in after a natural progression. For example: Dick Grayson becoming Batman was inevitable and I wouldn't mind if it became permanent. Compare that to when Jean-Paul Valley donned the cowl: it was groovy at first but then became bad and then the big payoff with Bruce returning made everyone happy.

Characters with legacies should eventually progress. Wally West became the best Flash after Barry's 'death'. An exception to the above rule was Kyle Rayner who, a total unknown, became THE Green Lantern. I guess it does come down to execution & writing too.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

I would say that its like you said, it all comes down to the writing and how its done for the reader. Yes, it was lame for that long while when the Batman and Detective titles, but it also allowed Dick to rise to the top spot and even allowed for Kate to shine as well in her run int he latter. Another example would be the Superman titles when Clark was "dead" for a while and others had to substitute during the Reign of the Supermen arc leading up to the return, sure, it just wasn't the Supes we all love but it was good enough to allow us to miss the Man of Steel until his great return. The only time in which it starts to suck is when it carries on for too long, an d for some reason that felt especially the case with the New Krypton arc leading all the way down to the Last Stand of New Krypton, and no amount of good writing (or lack thereof) could have made me yearn to have the Man of Steel back in the actual Super titles any less. In the end, its about the story with me. Make a good story and I'm happy.

Posted by DocFatalis

It usually doesn't last for too long and oftenly means that the last writer had written the character so poorly it had become boring to everyone, so the need for fresh blood was being felt by the editor more than ever. Everybody tired of the alcoholic T. Stark? Fortunately Jim Rhodes is here. A few years later, Stark can return triumphantly with the unpleasant issue solved.

Posted by blur1528
Posted by Or35ti

It all depends on the writing. If the write can provide an adequate and entertaining substitute for the main character then that's great and makes the return of the original superhero even better as well.

Posted by Phaedrusgr

Stories full of cliches. When the hero's gone and somebody else is in his shoes, it means only one thing. I can't handle the hero, I have no ideas about him, so let's kill him, disappear him, evaporate him, make him invisible, for another run full of cliches. Oh, where is he? Will he come back? Oh, the new Captain - Batspider is better than the old one...blah blah blah... I loved Superman's fall! My eyes can't see Batman's broken body defeated by Bane (it's painful for my SOUL), but the arc was amazing and honestly full of ideas! Nowadays, writers say "what should we do"? Oh, I have an idea! Let's send the hero away for a while! BEEN DONE!!! STOP IT!

Posted by DocFatalis

@Phaedrusgr said:

Stories full of cliches. When the hero's gone and somebody else is in his shoes, it means only one thing. I can't handle the hero, I have no ideas about him, so let's kill him, disappear him, evaporate him, make him invisible, for another run full of cliches. Oh, where is he? Will he come back? Oh, the new Captain - Batspider is better than the old one...blah blah blah... I loved Superman's fall! My eyes can't see Batman's broken body defeated by Bane (it's painful for my SOUL), but the arc was amazing and honestly full of ideas! Nowadays, writers say "what should we do"? Oh, I have an idea! Let's send the hero away for a while! BEEN DONE!!! STOP IT!

Hear! Hear!

Posted by HoFT013

Let's not forget Ultimate Peter Parker. His "death" has prompted me to stop reading the book until he comes back.

Posted by primepower53

@DocFatalis said:

@Phaedrusgr said:

Stories full of cliches. When the hero's gone and somebody else is in his shoes, it means only one thing. I can't handle the hero, I have no ideas about him, so let's kill him, disappear him, evaporate him, make him invisible, for another run full of cliches. Oh, where is he? Will he come back? Oh, the new Captain - Batspider is better than the old one...blah blah blah... I loved Superman's fall! My eyes can't see Batman's broken body defeated by Bane (it's painful for my SOUL), but the arc was amazing and honestly full of ideas! Nowadays, writers say "what should we do"? Oh, I have an idea! Let's send the hero away for a while! BEEN DONE!!! STOP IT!

Hear! Hear!

THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Edited by cbishop

Sometimes, it just works. Everyone was impressed that Cerebus actually went the full 300 issues predicted, but when you look at the full series, there were 3 or 4 entire arcs where Cerebus didn't appear, except as a framing character at the beginning and end. Part of me calls that a cheat on writing 300 issues of Cerebus, but the fact is: the other arcs were the stories of his supporting characters, and it added to the saga of Cerebus overall.

Another example that springs to mind is Savage Dragon. Dragon was gone from the title for a year or better, his kids carrying on in his place. What made that exciting to me, as a reader, was that Erik Larsen has always said that nobody's life is guaranteed in that book, including Dragon's, so there was a question of whether he would come back at all.

So sometimes, the absence of the main character is not a bad thing.

Posted by SupremeHyperion

If it's written right I don't see why you couldn't make it last. I loved when they switched the Incredible Hulk book to Incredible Herc, but that might be a little different?

Posted by InnerVenom123

@Phaedrusgr said:

Stories full of cliches. When the hero's gone and somebody else is in his shoes, it means only one thing. I can't handle the hero, I have no ideas about him, so let's kill him, disappear him, evaporate him, make him invisible, for another run full of cliches. Oh, where is he? Will he come back? Oh, the new Captain - Batspider is better than the old one...blah blah blah... I loved Superman's fall! My eyes can't see Batman's broken body defeated by Bane (it's painful for my SOUL), but the arc was amazing and honestly full of ideas! Nowadays, writers say "what should we do"? Oh, I have an idea! Let's send the hero away for a while! BEEN DONE!!! STOP IT!

You are just one of the best people.

Posted by Cosmic_Hobo

Whereas the return of ultimate Peter Parker would probably make me stop me reading the book.He was a great character, now he'd gone and Miles is a great character. The lack of death having any meaning is really ruing comics for me lately. I mean, I think EVERY Avenger that died during disassembled is back from the dead now? Meh. So as much as I love ultimate Parker, I hope he stays in the ground

Posted by Eyz

I always loved these sort of twists. Also, letting a secondary character of a villain held the title can only be good in the long run, be it to develop or analyze another character or a different point of view.

Lex Luthor's run in Action Comics come to mind.

Posted by HoFT013

@Cosmic_Hobo said:

Whereas the return of ultimate Peter Parker would probably make me stop me reading the book.He was a great character, now he'd gone and Miles is a great character. The lack of death having any meaning is really ruing comics for me lately. I mean, I think EVERY Avenger that died during disassembled is back from the dead now? Meh. So as much as I love ultimate Parker, I hope he stays in the ground

Welcome to comic books, haha. But while I'm not doubting that Miles might be a great character, I cannot connect with him. At all. I suppose it might be because he wasn't an already established character in the universe that I have had time to get to know before he took over the Spidey mantle. When Dick became Batman, I was ecstatic. But then again, I believe it's because Dick was an established character that I could identify with.

Posted by Sammo21

I don't think it is fair to compare Batman or Captain America to this concept...The books were called "Batman" or "Captain America"...not "Bruce Wayne" and "Steve Rogers". The books could be looked at more as books about the mantle of The Batman vigilante and the symbol of freedom and hope Captain America. Different people can fill those roles but I wouldn't say the characters are missing from the books.

Posted by pingclang

I must be the stick in the mud here. I really hate that sort of change. I'm a longtime Captain America fan and while at first the Bucky Barnes event was interesting and yes, fun to read, it eventually started to get to me and I was even considering cancelling the book for the first time in years. Not to say it was bad writing, just that for me, I only think of one character wearing their mantles. Dick Grayson as Batman seemed wrong considering how many years he fought to escape the shadow of the bat. It can be a bit fun though, Hickman put Spider-man in place of Human Torch in FF which was an interesting take but again, us foggies want the original line-up. My point being, it works for a while but in the end the character should come back and at least make it important that they left, make it relevant.

Posted by Danial79

I'm only fairly new to comics, so I've never witnessed this myself, but I imagine that if I was reading a series which was lacking the titular character, I'd give it about one arc (6 issues) before moving on.

Posted by Taylors005

this subject being brought up at the same time i've begun reading the renumbering of the Amazing Spider-Man is creepily coincidental.

Posted by LordRequiem

Far too overused.

Posted by doordoor123

@jhazzroucher said:

they come back right away

Thats if you're reading Marvel.

Posted by inferiorego

Captain America, Batman, and Superman are the best examples, as stated above, of another character filling in and the book still works.

In fact, I may even say I liked Captain America a bit better (at least for 12 issues) with Bucky in the costume. It added so much more to the book.

Staff
Posted by jhazzroucher

@doordoor123 said:

@jhazzroucher said:

they come back right away

Thats if you're reading Marvel.

oh, thanks for reminding me. I'm talking about marvel Comics indeed.

Edited by doordoor123

@HoFT013 said:

Let's not forget Ultimate Peter Parker. His "death" has prompted me to stop reading the book until he comes back.

I also stopped reading it after he died. But that was only because the Ultimate Universe isn't what it once was and I foresee its downfall within the next three years or so. When Peter died, it gave me a reason to stop reading.

KIlling characters is a great way to take a book off of the pull list :D

But I do actually LIKE when characters die because I am a fan of progression or something new and different that I haven't seen before.

Posted by HoFT013

@doordoor123: @doordoor123 said:

@HoFT013 said:

Let's not forget Ultimate Peter Parker. His "death" has prompted me to stop reading the book until he comes back.

I also stopped reading it after he died. But that was only because the Ultimate Universe isn't what it once was and I foresee its downfall within the next three years or so. When Peter died, it gave me a reason to stop reading.

KIlling characters is a great way to take a book off of the pull list :D

But I do actually LIKE when characters die because I am a fan of progression or something new and different that I haven't seen before.

You get me! But, yeah. Ultimate is the -only- Marvel I read, and I think it's great, except for Spider-Man. I mean, Magneto died pretty recently, but he's back again as the voice of God. Oh. Spoiler alert.

Posted by Alton

Actually,having Superman off Action and a ten issue run featuring Luthor is the only time I signed up for the book.Luthor is cool,but Superman post New Krypton is boring

Posted by db8coach

I don't know about anyone else, but I liked Wally West as the Flash, I liked Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern, I liked Dick Grayson as Batman, I liked Ben Riley as Spider-Man. Each character gave the writers new ground that they could cover.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

Adds more to the story, builds other characters

Posted by Inverno

@Phaedrusgr said:

Stories full of cliches. When the hero's gone and somebody else is in his shoes, it means only one thing. I can't handle the hero, I have no ideas about him, so let's kill him, disappear him, evaporate him, make him invisible, for another run full of cliches. Oh, where is he? Will he come back? Oh, the new Captain - Batspider is better than the old one...blah blah blah... I loved Superman's fall! My eyes can't see Batman's broken body defeated by Bane (it's painful for my SOUL), but the arc was amazing and honestly full of ideas! Nowadays, writers say "what should we do"? Oh, I have an idea! Let's send the hero away for a while! BEEN DONE!!! STOP IT!

You are so full of win...

Online
Edited by SeanNOLA

I jumped back on the Spawn bandwagon 4 or 5 issues ago, and I have yet to actually see Spawn except for on the cover. It has still managed to hold my interest, but hopefully it will crescendo into a Spawn reveal soon.

Posted by RedOwl_1

@Cosmic_Hobo said:

Whereas the return of ultimate Peter Parker would probably make me stop me reading the book.He was a great character, now he'd gone and Miles is a great character. The lack of death having any meaning is really ruing comics for me lately. I mean, I think EVERY Avenger that died during disassembled is back from the dead now? Meh. So as much as I love ultimate Parker, I hope he stays in the ground

Yeah,as much as I wished Dick stayed as Batman with Damian, I know he wasn't as good as him, but Bruce is a b*tch with Damian

Posted by BigRed125

@HoFT013: Well its gonna be a long wait for you haha. I actually really enjoyed that arc personally, and I feel as though it was necessary for the way the universe is developing. These are dark days in the Ultimate series. Peter's death was demoralizing for a large collection of the hero community. He died a heroic death that should never have happened and they are aware of it, especially Fury and Cap. He had to die and needs to stay dead for the sake of the story. The only way I can see him returning, is if its in a way that makes him a threat.

Posted by Emperormeister734

The important thing to note is that when they go missing, you know that they'll come back better than ever, more powerful and ready to kick ASS

Posted by The Mighty Monarch

Alec Hollad HAD powers before he became Swamp Thing in #7. And technically there was A Swamp Thing in the second issue.

@Eyz said:

I always loved these sort of twists. Also, letting a secondary character of a villain held the title can only be good in the long run, be it to develop or analyze another character or a different point of view.

Lex Luthor's run in Action Comics come to mind.

OH MY GOD YES.

Posted by X35

Without a doubt one of the best ones:

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@X35 said:

Without a doubt one of the best ones:

Years later, Patriot came

Posted by MonsieurShogun

Not going far, right know I like Flash Thompson as the new Venom. He's crippled, full of contradictions but trying to do the right thing... he's not the jock he used to be and that's great; I didn't think I could possibly be interested in the character. I know someday he'll have to give up being Venom, but the series are awesome so far.

Posted by TheMess1428

During New Krypton, the SUPERMAN comic starred Mon-El and ACTION COMICS starred Nightwing and Flamebird.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

I must be the only reader who wants ACTUAL progression in comic books

Posted by dccomicsrule2011

@db8coach said:

I don't know about anyone else, but I liked Wally West as the Flash, I liked Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern, I liked Dick Grayson as Batman, I liked Ben Riley as Spider-Man. Each character gave the writers new ground that they could cover.

Agreed.

Posted by JonesDeini

@twisted17 said:

Replacement characters are a great read, but its only acceptable to norms if the characters are brought in after a natural progression. For example: Dick Grayson becoming Batman was inevitable and I wouldn't mind if it became permanent. Compare that to when Jean-Paul Valley donned the cowl: it was groovy at first but then became bad and then the big payoff with Bruce returning made everyone happy.

Characters with legacies should eventually progress. Wally West became the best Flash after Barry's 'death'. An exception to the above rule was Kyle Rayner who, a total unknown, became THE Green Lantern. I guess it does come down to execution & writing too.

Totally agree, folk. For me I'll read for as long as the stories remain compelling. For me it does work better when a legacy character ascends to a predestined role. But a totally new character can win me over if written well, like Kyle. Right now a lot of fans are unhappy with Bulletproof filling Mark's role in Invincible right now, but I for one look forward to what Kirkman can do there.

Edited by Rabbitearsblog

Great article G-Man! I was hoping that there would be an article on this! :D

Usually, I look at it as to how it depends on how the character's replacement is written. If say either Colossus or Wolverine is replaced by someone else, but that person's replacement is written so well, then I would be satisfied with the character's replacement. However, I will start to miss to the original character who died because I grew up with that character, like even though Superman or Batman are replaced by someone else, I will always think of Clark Kent being Superman and Bruce Wayne being Batman because they were the ones who started the superhero franchise of the most beloved characters in comics.

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@JonesDeini said:

@twisted17 said:

Replacement characters are a great read, but its only acceptable to norms if the characters are brought in after a natural progression. For example: Dick Grayson becoming Batman was inevitable and I wouldn't mind if it became permanent. Compare that to when Jean-Paul Valley donned the cowl: it was groovy at first but then became bad and then the big payoff with Bruce returning made everyone happy.

Characters with legacies should eventually progress. Wally West became the best Flash after Barry's 'death'. An exception to the above rule was Kyle Rayner who, a total unknown, became THE Green Lantern. I guess it does come down to execution & writing too.

Totally agree, folk. For me I'll read for as long as the stories remain compelling. For me it does work better when a legacy character ascends to a predestined role. But a totally new character can win me over if written well, like Kyle. Right now a lot of fans are unhappy with Bulletproof filling Mark's role in Invincible right now, but I for one look forward to what Kirkman can do there.

http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/allhailme/heir-to-the-throne-a-look-at-legacy-characters-in-comics/87-75919/

Posted by GiantsizeManThing

@Danial79 said:

I'm only fairly new to comics, so I've never witnessed this myself, but I imagine that if I was reading a series which was lacking the titular character, I'd give it about one arc (6 issues) before moving on.

Never witnessed it, what about moon knight's latest series? Too busy trying to be spider-man and wolverine instead of moon knight.

Posted by The Impersonator

It all depends on a good story. Plus, it's obvious that these titular heroes will be coming back soon.

Posted by Cooke76

Ever since Peter died, the Ultimate universe just hasn't been the same and I dropped The Ultimates just a few issues into their new run. Didn't really bother with the new Ultimate Spider-Man book. I really wanted to see Ultimate Pete grow up and go to college and see what life had in store for him then, but with his abrupt death and almost instantaneous replacement, I'm just completely turned off (and if they brought him back as a villain, I'd be even more so. It seems as if in this new Ultimate 'verse, if you're ridiculously smart and young, you either die or become a villain like Reed Richards). Don't really have any interest in the new Ultimate X-Men book, either. At this point, I think the only thing that could really bring me back to the Ultimate universe is if they do something REALLY big with Ultimate Cap (my second favorite character in the Ultimate 'verse whom they've done practically NOTHING with so far), like maybe getting Mark Millar to write a solo series for him or something (but with him concentrating on all his creator-owned stuff then immediately selling them off to Hollywood, that doesn't seem incredibly likely).

Posted by Danial79

@GiantsizeManThing said:

@Danial79 said:

I'm only fairly new to comics, so I've never witnessed this myself, but I imagine that if I was reading a series which was lacking the titular character, I'd give it about one arc (6 issues) before moving on.

Never witnessed it, what about moon knight's latest series? Too busy trying to be spider-man and wolverine instead of moon knight.

Ha! Good call. It's true, the Moon Knight I know was completely absent from that latest series :P

Posted by Dark_Flame35

One main death that was not written in this topic was the death of Barry Allen the 2nd Flash. With Barry's death dawned the era of Wally West who became a favorite and idol to many fans. Wally went from being Kid Flash to automatically having to fill his Uncles shoes. It is so sad to see Wally fade out of the DC Universe so quickly with Barry's return but Barry's death lasted about 20 years (some comic readers had no idea he existed). Sometimes one character must leave for a time being, wither it be short period or long period of time, so that another character can make a name for themselves.

  • 66 results
  • 1
  • 2