By allhailme 5 Comments
In life there are certain inevitabilities, but out of them all death is the most prominent. Both you and I are going to die one day. It's sad but true. It is only natural that comics take a look at death in all of its facets. It is something we are preoccupied with,as we can not change it, despite the multitude of changes we as a race have caused in the real world, so we take a lot of time to examine it despite the futility of such an endeavor. I myself am guilty of this. So i'm going to take some time to look at some of the views of death within comics.
2. Death as a plot device
6. Representation of death itself
Due to the previously stated lack of control over death we are given we like to look at what life would be with out death. As such characters are created that defy the basic principle of life itself. Many characters search for eternal life in comics,and a few have succeeded,intentionally or not. One of the most notable examples is Vandal Savage. He accidentally came about his immortality,but it's use has been taken advantage of. He is a perfect example of what having immortality would be like for someone who would abuse it. He uses the fact that he is immortal in a variety of ways, such as being able to create plans that involve more time than most villains (because you know, he can just outlive them) or using technology of future generations to his advantage just because he lived long enough to do so.
Another immortal is the shade, who though he started out a villain,has had a entirely different approach to the use of his immortality. He still serves himself, but it is observed as not the abuse of immortality, but acting as a consequence of the immortality itself. He is able to do whatever he wants, so he gets bored and has to find stuff to do. He takes a more heroic look at immortality than Vandal because he does use his immortality for some good, in his case the protection of Opal city. In general comics seem to take a general stance that whether good or bad, immortality tends to give the sense of superiority and a sense of self serving,because why care about others when you are just going to outlive them?
Some characters come by immortality just through being powerful, such as gods or Galactus. But this tends to lead to another facet of immortality in comics. No one in comics are truly immortal. In a weird twist of the aversion to death immortality embodies, the immortals can and often will be killed by something else even more powerful. Whether it be Mikaboshi constantly killing Zeus, or the Saint of Killers killing God. So why do we make characters immortal if we just are going to kill them off? It could go back to the same human condition that makes them immortal in the first place. We want them immortal because we can't be, but at the same time death is such inescapable fact that we don't feel comfortable having someone else being able to completely beat it when we can't. We allow characters to leap tall buildings or to have meat vision, but we can't let them escape death. In essence in comics immortality can only be achieved on the level that the person can't age,but they can die.It is telling about how much death affects us if that is the one thing that disbelief can seemingly never be suspended.
Death as a plot device
Death connects on a greater level than just fear of mortality,it also effects a person due to the fact that when a person dies,they are gone. People do not like losing those close to them. Everyone eventually loses someone. As such death registers on a emotional scale for people. This allows death to automatically raise the stakes of something. If a character is killed we lose them (even if for only a short while but more on that later),and to any fans of the character it registers, whether through as much grief as you can have for a fictional character,or indignation. When Johnny Strom died people knew he was coming back,but fans of the character were still affected by a whole gambit of responses much greater than any normal event tends to create for a character.
As well it can make something threatening, as comic characters are seen as greater than us, and as the protagonist it is not expected for them to fail. As such for something killing that "unkillable and superhuman" characters gives the something more menace. For example the previous reference to Mikaboshi. He was barely known, but he gained a menace through non chalantly killing Zeus that he carried over to his next appearance. If he had invaded Olympus and not killed anybody,he would be seen like the average villain who challenges the hero and loses, only to try again.
Lastly a death can be used to show the effect of it on that character. It is another way comics humanize characters, as we have been through similar events, we know how we would feel if we lost someone, so we feel empathy for the poor character that has to go through it,and can lead to character evolution that may not happen otherwise. When Gwen Stacy died, the normally light hearted Spider-man nearly beat the Green Goblin to death. Gwen Stacy's death allowed us to see how spidey would react to being pushed to the edge,and when he let Goblin live he managed to have a character moment that he would have never had if Gwen had lived.
The use of death in comics also leads to the sacrifice, using ones own life to save another. People value their own life above nearly all else,so when someone puts something before it, such as the lives of others or an ideal, people notice. People respect the unselfishness. The same happens in comics. When Nightcrawler died he could have just teleported himself to safety. But instead he sacrificed his life to save the life of another, in this case Hope, and the ideal of saving the mutant race. The purity of the sacrifice is so great it can turn a villain into a hero in a instant. When Loki died in Siege he gained enough good will that people could by the new Loki trying to be good. Even though the death turned out to be a part of a plan the effect still remained the same.
Aside from simple immortality, another way to avoid death was created, resurrection. People could still be mortal, but avoid the results of death. Resurrection Man gains similar effects to Vandal Savage,being allowed to be around for many,many years, but he still can die (he just comes back). As well people gain an emotional attachment to a character. When a person dies a common reaction is to want them to come back. With comics the same thing can happen people get the results of a character's death, and as they like reading about them (or in the companies case making money off of them) so they want them back. Since we can do things in comics that can't be done normally the wish can be fulfilled. People get to see how a person may react if they actually did somehow get their loved ones back. This can provide insight into the characters mind, as well as the mind of the one resurrected. For a rare non comic example this was addressed when Buffy was resurrected in her tv show. We got to see how those around her reacted, and how she managed to readjust to the world.
Comics also unveil a variety of reactions to death. Some seek to avoid it. Annihilus goes to great lengths to ensure that he is the only one left in the universe so nothing can kill him. He is afraid of death. Some characters just except it for what it is.
And some seek it. Both Thanos and Deadpool sought to end their lives to be with death, and Hank Henshaw just hates living and wants death. It is interesting to take note of the fact that despite our fear of death, humanity is almost equally afraid of living forever. We have no idea what we would do if everyone around us died,and if we have done everything there is to do in the world, twice. Death can represent a freedom of responsibility,as we have no control over what happens to us or the world next,and a person may want to escape them. I will not go any further into that subject as that is too heavy a debate for a comic article.
Representation of death itself
Death becomes a lot easier to accept if we can give it a face. It makes it seem more tangible,so we can handle it easier both Marvel and DC have surprisingly different versions of death. Death in Marvel is all business,primarily focused on her job, and only really consulting with mortals to get what she wants. Death of the Endless however is a kinder figure who loves people and tries to understand them. Because death itself is hard to fully understand it lends itself to alternate interpretations.
The right way to deal with death
There is no right way to deal with death, and there is only one wrong way. That is to tempt fate and over use it, killing off to many characters or making death seem inconsequential. If you do this all the individual benefits that can be achieved from using it properly are ruined.
Well thats all, tell me how you think death should be approached in comics, any moments of it you thought were done particularly well, or moments that angered you.Note I didn't cover murder because i may save that for something else down the line. A bit of a morbid subject,but I digress. To balance it out heres a kitten