This was a good week for Marvel.
There were so many books to read, so many fantastic stories, turning points, fancy new covers (Honestly, how the heck is anyone going to be able to file that new Invincible Iron Man cover design? Comics don’t go horizontally into comic boxes!), that I could sit here and wax poetic to you all night about how rad the House of Ideas was last Wednesday.
Mind you, I could also grumble about why the heck the final issue of Siege isn’t here, but eh. The ending isn’t going to shock us silly or anything like that. Let’s focus on the positive.
I know, hard to do in comics ‘journalism.’ People like to hear the negative, it’s easier to get angry about the declining state of the industry, etc. etc. but really. This is not the end. Sometimes the worst things that you could gnash your teeth at or start that letter writing campaign over turn out to be great ideas in the long run.
So let me state it bluntly: Death is Awesome.
WARNING: Someone totally died this week in X-Force #26. Not shocked or horrified? Morbid curiosity got you curious as to who it was? Read on!
Thanos, back me up on this one: death is one of the most important objectives in comics. Death is what drives our heroes to succeed and our villains to evil. It’s the fast track to making a story more poignant by making it more deadly. It’s a hallmark of those ‘realistic’ comics where anyone and everyone can die. Comics can become more monetarily valuable if someone dies in them. Timelines revolve around who dies when and where. It’s promised, threatened, sworn against and drug back into the spotlight to garner sales, approval and ‘edgy-ness’. It’s what we want.
Does it have meaning? Yes! Don’t get started on that “If death is so prevalent then killing a character doesn’t mean anything” tired old train. You know that’s not true because you literally have to be keeping track of all those deaths just to complain about it. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference and if you care enough to see red at the latest character funeral, then you are part of your own problem.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all super serious. There’s a time when death gets a little silly. I didn’t cry when Wallflower was assassinated in the second volume of New X-Men (Academy X Edition), I actually laughed. That book had kids dying left and right to the point where the lawn behind the school was a field of headstones. It made you wonder where Xavier’s Academy students had P.E. or played soccer. Obviously, death won’t have the same dark, gritty weight you want it to when it happens every other month, but I still count laughter as a response, so you can’t say death loses all of its effect.
Death is the way you win in comics. Nobody does this for the money anymore. Spider-Man rarely takes the time to stop a bank robber when someone is OUT FOR BLOOD! Or if THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL. Or any other action movie slogan you can think of. Villains aren’t even out for power as much as they used to be. Ruling the world seems like a lot of work and takes a great deal of time and intricate planning to continually foil your nemesis. You get great power from the Norn Stones and then you beat them to a bloody pulp with it. Maybe it’s sloppy storytelling, maybe it’s a product of our video game lifestyle, but when you kill someone, you beat them. They have no rebuttal. They can’t fight you anymore. They are dead, you are alive, survival of the fittest declares you the winner. Even if you kill off a loved one, you still win because you took something from the hero they will never get back. Unless you’re Daredevil or Wolverine, for whom there will be another beautiful woman stepping over your last dead girlfriend so they can give you their phone number.
This is what we fight for, to survive. To live. To see another sunrise. Villainy is killing a baby, heroism is rescuing innocent lives. I’m not saying all comics are like this, but a great many are defining our genre by such. Just like in life, death is a constant, ever watchful, the exact opposite of what we’re doing right now.
X-Men: Second Coming in going to have two deaths within its story. This week, in X-Force #26, the first causality was Nightcrawler. In a desperate and exhausting scene, Nightcrawer and Rogue fight with an incredibly rendered Bastion who has been taking some fashion tips from Ultron. With Rogue down, Nightcrawler sacrifices himself by teleporting between the reach of Bastion and the innocence of Hope (who aggravatingly went at the scary robot man with what? A pipe? Does she think this is Clue?) Bastion’s hand and forearm are trapped inside Nightcrawler’s chest who prays for the strength to get him and Hope to Utopia. Succeeding, he tells the girl that he believes in her and dies quietly on the shore. I’m sure Rogue will catch a cab.
For all the nitpicking I can do at the scene, it’s a good death. It’s noble and altruistic and a lot of the ideals that Nightcrawler has embodied in the new millennium. Gone is the Errol-Flynn-esque rogue and Devil-may-care irony of yesteryear, Kurt these days is all about faith. Sometimes it was about badly written ideas about religion, but when all that is stripped aside, it’s about faith and hope. Kurt believed that he was good, though his features would tell others otherwise.
This death is going to be awesome for him. Because when he comes back (and he will, let’s not kid ourselves here), someone is going to have a fresh take on him again. Maybe he’ll be as religious. Maybe they’ll go the opposite direction. Maybe he’ll be from the past where he was funny and fun. Either way, the old characterization will have had a funeral, characters will say their peace to that version of him, and another writer will come along and knock our socks off.
Character deaths allow us to clear away continuity, remove bad costumes, revitalize old properties and create new ideas out of beloved favorites. I’d go so far as to say a lot of characters in the X-Men universe could use a good death to get them back up to speed.
- I’d start with Xavier and Magneto for one; these two guys have been overused and abused for too long, no longer characters but vague shadowy symbols, placeholders for ideas and philosophies. Kill ’em. Let their history pass and remember the heart of the two major forces in the Human-Mutant debate. Leave them dead and give their roles to new models or refurbish the old characters into something less bogged down by the weight of event storytelling.
- Kill Beast. Seriously, off Hank McCoy and do him a favor. I know, he’s got a new spot on an Avengers team but just let the man die so he can regain his more ‘Beastial’ appearance and lose the lion look. Maybe he’ll be more witty and adventurous again.
- Let’s hunt and murder Jubilee! It’s not like it hasn’t been tried before; in an issue of Wolverine: Origins, Logan saved her from death with the help of SHIELD when really, she should have just stayed down. She’s been bounced about as a second-string named character since M-Day, de-powered, technologically enhanced in the New Warriors, often times in danger from threat of death because it’s hard to figure out what to do with an out-of-work hero. Now she’s soon to be a vampire and that just feels like an act of desperation. Believe it or not, she’s a fan favorite character and one I think could do with a little grave time. Bring her back as a special treat in an annual sometime down the line and I think a lot of people won’t even care where she’s been.
- I know he’s stranded in the far flung future, but let’s just kill Bishop. Remember how I said killing is a good way to set apart your heroes from your villains? Well, Bishop wanted to kill a baby. I know the “Go Back in Time and Kill Hitler” quandary and all that, but let’s face it, killing a baby just looks evil. In wrestling terms, when two face wrestlers (heroes) are fighting, one of them has to turn heel (a villain). Bishop needs to die and let this incarnation of him die with him so that later, one of the strongest black mutant characters the X-Men have going for them can return to his roots and return as the Time Cop Bad Ass he started as.
See? It’s like Bob Dylan said, “Death is not the end.” Death in comic is a tool, a storytelling point as much as super strength and brightly colored tights. As a fan of Kurt Wagner, I’m glad to see him bleed out horribly and give his life for this Second Coming because there’s always another second coming on the horizon.