Comic Vine News

153 Comments

Off THEIR Minds: Should Comic Book Deaths be Permanent?

We ask Matt Fraction, Josh Fialkov, James Robinson, Kyle Higgins, Peter Nguyen, Jim McCann, Josh Williamson, James Tynion IV, Sam Humphries and Brian Buccellato the question.

In comic books, there are certain things we've all come to expect. Comic book deaths are one. We all know how it works - a character dies, either tragically, heroically or horribly but then they usually always come back.

Death in comics can be a mixed bag. We can get some really great stories as a result of a character dying. The mourning process often elevates the characters or series to a new level. But when the character miraculously returns from the dead, it almost cheapens the heroic death. It's reached the point where most of us are no longer phased by a character's death because we know it's a matter of time until they make their return.

At Emerald City Comicon, this question was asked to several comic creators. Many of these creators have actually killed characters themselves. Watch the video to see how they feel on this subject.

What are the options? We could simply not have any deaths. That would make the characters seem untouchable. There would be no risk or suspense if we knew the hero would always win. The other option is to have the death permanent. Let the death mean something. But then we could lose many great characters. Death is now part of comic books. Let's just hope it's not used more than it already is.

153 Comments
  • 153 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

I do like Matt Fraction's philosophy on the subject, but James Robinson's answer I like the best. Personally I think it just cheapens the death if its not permanent. Then again I suppose it does depend on the circumstance of the death and how it came about. Still, I say just keep death permanent, but that's just me.

Posted by haydenclaireheroes

This was a great question to ask the writers.

Edited by SpitfireINK

Make it PERMANENT - Give these stories some real IMPACT.

Rebirth & Cloning is such a Cop-out method of storytelling.

Appearing to have died or assuming they died is a totally different case altogether and I think much harder to write about and be creative in a plausible manner.

Are publishers really so uncreative they can't commit - that is are they really so uncreative they can't introduce new characters (if necessary) to fill the void left by the death?

Those stories regarding their Deaths have now been unmade and have become a frivolous gesture and nothing more than a cash-in on hype by resurrecting them.

Posted by wessaari

not necessarily, but the deaths need to have meaning, and I like what Tynion said. There should be a resting period, and it shoudl be significant to those who were close to the characters. The resurrection itself needs to also carry some meaning behind it.

Posted by Mizu_pl

They are necessary, but shouldn't be permanent and happen very often. But when character comes back he or she should be changed, after all they've been through death and I think it is not something easy, death (or ressurection) should have strong impact on the character, like it has on Jason Todd. And I personally like when deceased character's mantle passes on another person, like it was with Batman or Captain America.

Posted by Skulexander

@SpitfireINK: But without Rebirth, we wouldn't have such great stories like Sinestro Corps War, Blackest NIght, etc. And I thought it was done well.

Posted by Cafeterialoca

I hate this. You know why?

Whenever it's permeant, they just kill smaller cult favorites. But when they kill someone major like Thor or Wolverine? Undone instantly.

So we're stuck retelling stories over and over with these heroes who have been around for decades and are getting stale as hell, but new characters, they must stay dead because that must be impact, but the older characters who always been there must always come back.

Permanent death would only enforce an obnoxious status quo where the same heroes must be at the top and all the new and exciting characters killed meaninglessly. Hell, there's a book celebrating that they're killing off new characters with potential. It's called Avengers Arena. But I guess that book should be praised while we have 8 other books praising Wolverine for being the most overexposed hero in the history of comics.

Yeah, I'm mad. VERY mad that all my favorites day and stay dead while these boring characters must always be prominent. Bet you people who want permanent death would freak out and whine if the Punisher died for good.

Posted by Ravager4

Really, really depends. You have to keep in mind that, if killing a character permanently you will be taking away a person's favorite character forever, preventing them from ever reading more stories with them. If a character is to be eliminated in this fashion, it must come at the absolute pinnacle of their development, and must be done in a respectable fashion. It is senseless and wasteful to kill off a character permanently when there are still so many more stories to tell with them and so much more development for them to go through. As heroes grow older they reach a peak where, well, they've probably done everything you can with them, so it might be okay to see them off. With younger characters, those that clearly still have a lot more ahead of them, getting rid of them early is just a waste and really disappointing. That being said, in whatever case, the deaths need to make sense in context and have meaning behind them. Random death in a throwaway story arc, whether permanent or not, is never an acceptable end to a character.

Posted by ccraft

Comic book deaths should not be permanent, bring Damian back in issue 25 or 30 you know?

Posted by hunter5024

I liked James Robinson and Sam Humphrie's answers the best. It's very disappointing to see that this trope is so widely accepted.

Posted by bob808

They should be permanent.

Posted by Mr. Messy Face

Imagine if the DC Universe's deaths were all permanent. There wouldn't be a Justice League left. lol

Posted by akbogert

@Ravager4 said:

Really, really depends. You have to keep in mind that, if killing a character permanently you will be taking away a person's favorite character forever, preventing them from ever reading more stories with them. If a character is to be eliminated in this fashion, it must come at the absolute pinnacle of their development, and must be done in a respectable fashion. It is senseless and wasteful to kill off a character permanently when there are still so many more stories to tell with them and so much more development for them to go through. As heroes grow older they reach a peak where, well, they've probably done everything you can with them, so it might be okay to see them off. With younger characters, those that clearly still have a lot more ahead of them, getting rid of them early is just a waste and really disappointing. That being said, in whatever case, the deaths need to make sense in context and have meaning behind them. Random death in a throwaway story arc, whether permanent or not, is never an acceptable end to a character.

QFT.

Frankly, I found the overwhelming prevalence of "NO" among these writers very comforting (and I found the "you should have to cut off a finger" remark particularly amusing). As I noted in my blog The Jarring "Still Life" of Comic Books, the biggest issue with comic book death permanence is how arbitrary comic book death is. If every character's death -- like every person's death -- were inevitable, then there would be less of a compulsion to "clean house" and the overused characters would naturally be replaced with new and upcoming ones. As it stands, oversaturation creates this completely bull illusion that characters need to die to clear a crowded field, and when that's your reason for killing a character (not because the death makes sense based on their development) then making the death permanent just adds insult to injury.

Also, as was noted earlier, I think it's ludicrous that the death of C- and D-list characters if often deemed worthwhile because it adds a sense of risk to the overall universe. If A-listers are for all intents and purposes invulnerable to culling, then it's not dangerous to be in a comic book; it's just dangerous to be in a comic book that doesn't sell well.

Edited by GothamRed

I'd have to say that I'm more in line Brian Buccellato's view point on this, I'd just go a little deeper. Bringing a character back doesn't cheapen their death because you can't retroactively change how you felt when they died. And if the character is good then people will be upset when they die and be happy when they return, and that should be what you're aiming for, moments of pure emotions caused by effective writing, not reminding people of the about how permanent death is, that's not what comics are for.

Though I do like Sam Humphries's view on this also, you should have to lose a finger for each character you kill off. :)

Posted by hyenascar

@Cafeterialoca:

We have had this conversation, between the two of us personally. I agree with you completely, minor characters do seem to be easier for many people to kill off. As a writer you want make a change, and editors will only allow the death of smaller characters. Stories only have impacts if death is possible. Death can have impacts for decades as long as they don't come back. I have trouble keeping continued interest in mainstream comics at times with the lack any mortal peril. It feels cheap. How about this? Even though I feel we should have deaths be equal for everyone in the comics universe, let's trade big name heroes for minor heroes. Three for three. Better yet one big time hero for any three minor heroes. No name is off the shelf. The hero can't come back. Their can be legacy heroes take over for the the old heroes. It would lead to so many new and interesting stories. Death is forever. Let their legacies live on forever.

Posted by Batman242

@Ravager4 said:

Really, really depends. You have to keep in mind that, if killing a character permanently you will be taking away a person's favorite character forever, preventing them from ever reading more stories with them. If a character is to be eliminated in this fashion, it must come at the absolute pinnacle of their development, and must be done in a respectable fashion. It is senseless and wasteful to kill off a character permanently when there are still so many more stories to tell with them and so much more development for them to go through. As heroes grow older they reach a peak where, well, they've probably done everything you can with them, so it might be okay to see them off. With younger characters, those that clearly still have a lot more ahead of them, getting rid of them early is just a waste and really disappointing. That being said, in whatever case, the deaths need to make sense in context and have meaning behind them. Random death in a throwaway story arc, whether permanent or not, is never an acceptable end to a character.

I agree.

Posted by Icon

Great question! And I agree with most of the responses in the vid. Nothing in fiction should be permanent. It's stupid to limit ones imagination so arbitrarily. That said, there should be balance. Too much death and resurrection cheapens it all

Posted by danhimself

my opinion is this: How is it fair for one writer to kill a character and deny any future writer from ever writing that character? How would you feel if your dream was to get into comics and eventually have the chance to writer your favorite character only for that character to get killed off and then you're not allowed to write that character anymore? That's not fair to anyone. There are some people out there that really hate Avengers Arena and I think that one of the things that they should be hopeful for is that even if their favorite character is killed off in this "terrible" story then you have the possibility that some time in the future another writer could turn around and bring that character back.

I do however agree with Tynion when he says that deaths should still have meaning and a rest period. There should be a mandated amount of time that a character has to stay dead for. Whether that time is 1 year or 10 years isn't up to me but I feel that the longer the character stays dead then the bigger the impact of their return.

Edited by SpitfireINK

@Skulexander: Blackest Night was ok - dealing with raising the Dead (not so much Resurrection - maybe Brightest Day but that kinda blew).

I guess overal we would be considering those stories like Death in the Family - The Death of Captain Marvel - The Death of Superman.

Those were GREAT stories - until ... "Hey guys I'm back! Miss me?!" and those stories still stand on their own but have such a lessened impact.

Do we want a FINITE Universe like our own? Where there are real consequences?

I certainly think so - We have to be able to relate to them - empathize - sympathize - Not to live in Care Bear Land where its all rainbows and butterflies!

What's Funny is this Conversation has been around since the 80s & the same answers keep coming up.

And this is EXACTLY why the MULTIVERSE was Created and Destroyed!

Posted by AmazingWebHead

What if one of your favorite characters died? They'd be gone. Forever.

Edited by ARMIV2

Unless there is a really, really, really good reason (and a good lot of the time there isn't) as to why they could possibly come back, then the death should be permanent.

Posted by AmazingWebHead

Plus, why do you think Ultimate Marvel went to hell? Because characters started staying dead!!!

Posted by captain_oblivious

@Ravager4: Not really. Matt Wagner's Hunter Rose Grendel has appeared in more comics after his death than when he was alive. Stories can always be told in flashbacks.

And you can always re-create the character as someone else. Won't be exactly the same but you could get someone with spider powers who feels the need to live up to some standard. Miles Morales isn't Peter Parker but is similar to the early 1960s comics. Knock off Wolverine and you can easily create a hero who has healing powers and you can surgically implant something else besides claws. Like stories have been re-told (Romeo and Juliet becomes West Side Story) you can have characters become someone new.

Posted by Poncho

Uncle Ben and Bruce Wayne's parents, yes. Everyone else is fair game.

Edited by Ravager4

@captain_oblivious said:

@Ravager4: Not really. Matt Wagner's Hunter Rose Grendel has appeared in more comics after his death than when he was alive. Stories can always be told in flashbacks.

Rare exceptions that can't really be made the norm.

And you can always re-create the character as someone else. Won't be exactly the same but you could get someone with spider powers who feels the need to live up to some standard. Miles Morales isn't Peter Parker but is similar to the early 1960s comics. Knock off Wolverine and you can easily create a hero who has healing powers and you can surgically implant something else besides claws. Like stories have been re-told (Romeo and Juliet becomes West Side Story) you can have characters become someone new.

You realize that a character is more than just a base set of powers, right?

Posted by millennium

yes if a character dies then they should stay dead regardless of popularity if you do bring them back then it has to be IMO at the very least 12 years after the death thats right i said 12 YEARS not months or issues but YEARS

Posted by scouts1998
Edited by ArtisticNeedham

Exactly what Matt Fraction said. I have always said that too. Thats my thoughts exactly. No, because death is such an unavoidable, real, tragic, thing in our real world and comics are about fantasy and fun. Its a great escape to read about and get wrapped up in a world where that is not the case, where people don't have to stay dead.

Characters can do things in that world we cannot, coming back should be one of them. When a person dies in real life they cannot come back no matter how much we want them to, in comics it should be allowed. Otherwise I think comics would be too hard to read, too serious, when it should be about the fun and fantasy and wonder. (Coming back from the dead is one of my favorite comic clichés, that and clones.)

I liked that most everyone said no. That was great. Readers should try to be like a gullible reader who believes everything (maybe). So that when a character dies you think "oh no!" And when they are brought back you think "Wow, I thought they were dead. I didn't see that coming. Maybe knowing that they will return is one reason comic deaths are easy to get through, its like that study done that says viewers watching a murder mystery were more relaxed and enjoyed the story more when they knew the ending. Maybe knowing the character wont stay dead helps. Because like it was said, we are emotionally invested in these characters. I am still sad that Ted Kord is dead.

Posted by dreamfall31

I think Matt figured out Sam was one of the Yancy Street Gang members who hijacked his FF #4 AR dance video!

Posted by YourCounterpoint

If you want to kill a character, do an AU story, where deaths mean something.

Posted by SC

You know what would give comic books their biggest impact? If Marvel and DC announced they were going to stop making comics. Just stop making comics. That would really give us a new context of meaning right? Then maybe other comic companies could stop too. Think of all the meaning stories would then have, knowing we won't see any more new ones? Then again why stop there, maybe we should all quit our jobs and sit in a park all day. Wow, think of how much impact and meaning that will create. Death will finally mean something, stories will have impact, our lives will ascend the mundane. Time standing still. Memories are One. Same space, same will. Now move along. Light speed divides. Rips all from One. It blows my eye-holes and fills me with real POW-ER, fills me with real power!!!

Moderator
Posted by Mia26
Lian and Roy Harper.
Lian and Roy Harper.

You Basterds (DC and James Robinson ) killed Lian Herper !!!!!! .........

Posted by Onemoreposter

Of course death shouldn't be permanent. Just ask Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Diana Prince, Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, Martian Manhunter, Arthur Curry, Jason Todd, Steven Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Oliver Queen, Ronny Raymond, Sinestro, Peter Parker (just wait on that one), Stephanie Brown, Clint Barton, Charles Xavier (wait on that one too), Max Eisenhardt, Galactus, Johnny Storm...........ect...........

Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose

@SpitfireINK said:

@Skulexander: Blackest Night was ok - dealing with raising the Dead (not so much Resurrection - maybe Brightest Day but that kinda blew).

I guess overal we would be considering those stories like Death in the Family - The Death of Captain Marvel - The Death of Superman.

Those were GREAT stories - until ... "Hey guys I'm back! Miss me?!" and those stories still stand on their own but have such a lessened impact.

Do we want a FINITE Universe like our own? Where there are real consequences?

I certainly think so - We have to be able to relate to them - empathize - sympathize - Not to live in Care Bear Land where its all rainbows and butterflies!

What's Funny is this Conversation has been around since the 80s & the same answers keep coming up.

And this is EXACTLY why the MULTIVERSE was Created and Destroyed!

Did Mar-Vell come back properly though? I haven't Avengers vs X-Men, but from what I hear, it sounds like his body was being controlled by some other force. Is that the case?

Posted by stetson12

It makes sense for deaths to be permanent for supporting characters,but heroes should always be able to be brought back in some sort of way. It also depends on the story and what rules are set in that universe. When a death and resurrection story is well planned and thought out, it can be one of the more interesting stories to read.

Posted by Sharkbite

First, we need to remember that not all "deaths" are deaths. Characters who die and return, often never died in the first place. Case in point, Captain America being frozen in ice, or Nick Fury being shot only to later discover it was a LMD. Returning from death does not always mean ressurection.

I think we need to stop with shock value deaths. Batman RIP, Death of Superman, Cap's death at the end of Civil War, Thor's death at the end of Siege, etc. Put an end to deaths where the character is killed with the plan to have them return already in place. If the writer doesn't want them dead, then don't kill them in the first place. KIA characters need to be gone for a good long while before the option of returning is even considered. Then, if it's appropriate to the story, sure. If it's not, then don't.

Honestly, killing a character doesn't always have to mean that the symbol dies either. My favorite hero deaths seem to often have a theme to them. Barry Allen dies, and later Wally West steps up as the new Flash. Ted Kord dies, but later Jaime Reyes steps up as Blue Beetle. Jason Todd dies, but Tim Drake fills his shoes. And so on. If Gotham still needs a Batman or America still needs a Cap, then have somebody else don the costume. There is not a reason why it has to be the same man under the mask. Passing of the mantle makes for some of the best stories, and turns the Superheroes into something larger than life, because the Hero transcends the man behind the scenes.

Death is okay. Bringing people back is okay. But writing bad stories is not okay. And killing someone when you have every intention on almost immediately bringing them back, just to illicit a gasp when they die or sell some extra hologram cover, die-cut specialty issue for $4.99, that's just bad writing.

Posted by nappystr8

I absolutely hate how meaningless death has become in comics. And I must say it kind of upsets me to have almost unanimous consent from these creators for the opposing opinion (then again, of course they are for it, they'd be hypocrites otherwise seeing as most of these guys have themselves brought people back to life). But just because I don't agree, doesn't mean their point of view is any less valid, and I must say, Matt Fraction's argument actually made a lot of sense to me.

Posted by hunter5024

@AmazingWebHead said:

Plus, why do you think Ultimate Marvel went to hell? Because characters started staying dead!!!

I would argue that it's not because they began to stay dead, but because they suddenly decided to start killing off so many of them. And because in some cases (Wasp), their death had no meaning beyond shock value.

Posted by SavageDragon

Short answer is No.

Posted by kapitein_zeppos

The publishers should simply stop pretending that killing off Batman or Spider-man for a few issues is such a big deal and we should stagger back in awe at the news. Mainstream comics are perpetually ongoing stories, therefore permanent death is more of a continuity problem than a true plot device. Even Miles Morales Spider-man is a cop out since it occurs outside the mainstream Marvel universe so Peter Parker is "safe" and his current death is just a temporary condition.

You have the same problem with characters like Barbara Gordon, she was stuck in a wheelchair for years, while Batman got over his broken back with ease. That's another strange conceit that most characters can be upgraded or enhanced, but others remain stuck and you need a lot of handwaving to explain away a cure. Another example being the film version of Iron Man, he can pretty much create any tech he needs, but an artificial heart seems beyond his grasp. One of the ultimate conceits was Spawn, who started off with a limited amount of power and was doomed to hell should the counter reach zero. It didn't take long for Spawn to find out a few tricks to effectively cancel out the drain on his power. The mega event that lead to the counter being wiped from the story looked very dramatic, but it had zero value in terms of storytelling, cheapening the character.

Some characters have gone through several iterations without being unduly affected, cf Green Lantern, Flash etc. Other characters like Batman and Spider-man seem tied to a single person and passing on the mantle to somebody else doesn't quite work.

Another major problem is that Superhero timelines are now more flexible than ever and retcons are all too common, which means that even iconic deaths are reversed and we see long-dead characters still come back, Bucky and Norman Osborn being good examples. And while these resurrected characters may benefit of some of the finest storytelling, they only reinforce the arbitrary nature of comic book storytelling which depends a lot on our ability to suspend disbelief.

Stories like Invincible and others have dealt successfully with permanent death and some comics did end permanently with the main protagonist dying or moving on, but these are just a handful.

I think that the main publishers will not be able to fix the current problem because of the inherent nature of the books, they can however reduce the deaths and make them longer and as meaningful as possible. I'd love to see more permanent and meaningful death or at least it all being taken more seriously. Drama is a powerful tool and it can be used in very different ways.

Posted by davidgrantlloyd

I think it's shame when death has no consequence. It does cheapen the dramatic impact.

Since reboots are a bit of an inevitability as well, maybe they should do something like only make resurrections occur when the continuity is rebooted.

Posted by slimlim

NO.

Comic characters are infinite. As long as comic characters don't age, they should be allowed to come back. As long as comic books work on an indefinite scale of time, the "rules" of death have already been broken.

This applies mostly to traditional mainstream superhero comics though. Characters in Watchmen, Sandman, Walking Dead and any number of "indie" books are a different story, and death should perhaps have more finality.

That said, i do believe that there should be an adequate "resting period" between comic book death and resurrection. The death has to have meaning and consequence for it to have any emotional impact.

I'm fine with characters coming back. As long as the story is told well.

Posted by Migz13

HELL NO!

As much as people want "profound" deaths happening in their respective comicbook universes, let's just face the fact that this IS the comicbook world and no one stays dead for long.

Posted by Shazam78

Should they be yeah otherwise, I hear a character is dead or is going to die and say how long? Some writers or artist might do a story that kills off a character but next writer or artist wants them back or it's part of the grand scheme of things to bring them back and it happens. I remember reading a book after Metamorpho died and (electric blue) Superman commented to preacher at how he was disappointed at the turn out. To which he replied basically that heroes don't seem to stay dead sighting Superman as an example.

Posted by Med

i depends on the death i think. if they died for a reason, and not as a result of some super strong villain, they should stay dead. as a testament to what died. it's fiction yeah, but it's read by real people. and i think teaching them the severity of some universal issue is worth it. even if a character you love dies.

Posted by Med

@davidgrantlloyd: this's a fantastic idea.

Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose

What I'm wondering is, if the whole 'no-one stays dead in comic books' thing is an established thing, then why bother killing off a character ever again, if we all know that they'll be back?

With the recent big death that happened, no-one was like "Oh my god, may favourite character is gone forever, how will my life ever be the same again!", everyone was just like, "Well this is annoying, I hope they'll be brought back soon. Maybe, somewhere between next month and two years away."(I'm pretty sure I did see someone say that they wanted them brought back just one month later.)

So with that, it seems that people just aren't as shocked about deaths as the characters in the comics are. If the writers and the readers know that death is temporary, why not come up with other ways to write characters out for a while.

Wouldn't it be more interesting to see your favourite character in a long coma, leave on a mission that they don't know when or if they'll return from, be frozen in carbonite, be trapped in a shadow or just disappear? Just, different ways to get rid of a character for a while that the characters and the readers can be sad about, and that the characters can try and rescue them from, wondering if they can ever be saved.

Obviously, they'd probably all come back eventually, but it wouldn't be coming back from the dead, so it'd be nice to see something different.

Edited by Mahzian

James Robinson is right, I used to care when I first got into comics in the late eighties, now it has no impact.

It's got to the point where I really care about characters in most books less, because I know they will always win / live to stay in writers / publishers play boxes. The only titles that death really makes an impact as a storytelling device are ones like Walking Dead (where ironically the dead do not come back to life).

Posted by fluffypigeons

YES!!!!! nobody ever stays dead(or married)

Posted by Night Thrasher

As long as the story is good I don't care. A good death and a good resurrection are both equally essential to me. The exceptions to me are Colossus and Aunt May. Both had good meaningful deaths that were wiped away by poor storytelling.

  • 153 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4