Friday, October 17, 2014

Death in comics - big Flash Friday edition

It has been exactly two weeks since my last post of which I spent most of the time working on old posts or preparing stuff for new ones but now we can finally start with the long promised topic of DEATH IN COMICS.

The origin of this post - as with most on this blog - was another post, namely the one where I explained my reasons why DISNEY NEEDS TO RESURRECT NAMORITA - NOW ! Or at least I thought I did. But judging from the comments I got on the post it seems to give the expression that I just wanted her back because I need one more hot babe in a scantily costume. Like there´s not enough of that going on at Marvel right now.

So to clarify a few things here is my take on DEATH IN COMICS.


I have written about death in comics a few times and when I started to look for pictures to best illustrate the post I quickly discovered 2 things. First, that there is almost no comic character where death is not part of the series in some way or another. Maybe the character has died and come back from the dead. Maybe that´s even his origin story. I know a lot of people have seen the WATCHMEN movie but while it is said in most interviews that Dr. Manhattan was based on Charlton character Captain Atom his origin story really dates all the way back to a Gold Key character.

That´s right : he has the same origin story as Doctor Solar who just wore regular clothes in his first issues and later had one of the best costumes of that time. Now I´m no expert but with all the bitching Alan Moore does about how DC comics treats " his creations " he should not forget that Valiant - or whoever has the license of that character now - could still sue him for copyright infringement. But back to death in origin stories.

Maybe the origin story ties in with the death of another person. Or maybe the costume has a death motif to strike fears into the hearts of criminals who are a superstitious cowardly lot. The comic could about the undead : vampires, werewolves or zombies. There are a lot of zombies in comics.

So rather than a single post this will probably become a series of posts.

As if I didn´t have enough uncontinued series I have to get back to. But that´s the reason why this will either be just the intro to a number of follow up post or an incredibly long one. The other thing I realized was that while there is an almost infinite number of death in comics there is really only a dozen or so deaths that really stick to the mind. And in most cases it´s not because it was an event or because it was a big news that the comic company decided to kill off this particular character. No, it was a reason that´s probably totally alien to Today´s young, hip and trendy comic reading ( on their iphone or ipad whatever electronical device they are using nowadays ) generation : because the subject was treated with respect and dignity and - most of all - because it was a really good story.

When I did the preparation for this post I tried to narrow it down to just a few prime examples for the best stories involving death but because there are just so many of those that are really noteworthy I ended up with ten and most of them are the iconic ones which you see listed in all the countdowns. Now I could try to be different and exclude them but why should I ? There is a reason why they are included in all these countdowns.

They have stood the test of time because they have imprinted themselves into the collective unconsciousness of pop culture by being the best of the best. And while I do not think that I am in any way more qualified or knowledgeable than all the people who have written about these before I still want to give the readers my take on them or at least mention them.

Another wrinkle on the whole dilemma is that I also want to mention the lesser known stories where a certain character dies or stories that are personal favorites. Where I may be the only person who liked the story.

Hey, it´s my blog and since nobody is sponsoring it in any way I can write what I like. There are also a few stories I´m going to mention where maybe the death of a certain person was not the big payoff but where it led to a really great story. There are some I´d like to mention in my countdowns and at least one of them will have to get a post all for itself.

Okay, before we go all into my whole " The history of death in comics is a history of misunderstandings. " stick ( german readers will know the joke I´m making here ) I have to clear up something. I´m not one of these guys who says that everything was better in them olden days. While I´m not really too thrilled with DC´s NEW 52 or most of Disney´s MARVEL NOW garbage there are some small nuggets in there. And there are a lot more comic companies out there. I am sometimes amazed by how many comic readers keep on bitching about the big two instead of just switching to the independents. It stopped being a money reason a long time ago and I´m still bewildered that there are not more readers who make the switch since it has been decades since indie books have left Marvel and DC in the dust - story wise, art wise and also where keeping the integrity of the intellectual property and the dedication to their readers is concerned.

But who am I to point fingers since I´m one of the people who still cling to the big two ? Although I feel that I´m slowly going away from monthly books at least. When I did my usual online comic order last week ( after waiting for three months because of all the trouble with the jobcenter and my health insurance - which by the way is still unresolved ) there were only five series left, of which I got the final issues of one of them and another one will be canceled soon. There is one new series left - George Perez´ SIRENS has finally come out - but since that is a six issue limited series there are really only three. Add to the three other books where I´m still reading the monthlies ( provided Stan Sakai´s USAGI YOJIMBO ever returns ) and that´s six books. It´s not that I read less comics now than in other decades but there are less and less titles out there where I have the feeling that following it on a monthly basis is really worth it. In the end I prefer the hardcovers which look much nicer - not only on my shelf porn - and they are easier to read and re - read again.


And speaking about shelf porn I want to pimp a few collections from really quick. Because as always they tend to go up and down in prices really quick. THE NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS 2 and 3 are always around 50 bucks and you should wait a few days until they are at their lowest before ordering. The same is true for THE INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS which is currently at 75 bucks but which can cost you more than 80 when you order at the wrong day. THE UNCANNY X - MEN OMNIBUS 2 is at 66 bucks right now but it has been at more than 75 the last weeks.

But what I really want to mention are the LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT hardcovers. I just got the Marshall Rogers edition and even if it was not on the bargain books list I paid ten bucks less. I have just started to read it before I have to give it away as a birthday present and it collects most of Rogers´ work. Of course the best stuff are the classic issues with Rupert Thorne, Hugo Strange and the clown fish so if you already have that you should probably not bother with the hardcover. But if you want to have it all in a nice hardcover check out amazon before paying 50 bucks.

There is also the Tales of the Batman - Don Newton hardcover about one of the most underrated Batman artists. This hardback is totally worth it and although DC never puts much effort into these hardcovers where extra material or even a foreword is concerned the art is breathtaking.

It´s currently at 26 bucks so when I could get this 40 dollar beauty for only 22 I jumped at the opportunity. And speaking of 40 dollar books, Tales of the Batman - Gene Colan is probably more interesting for Gene Colan fans as there are some gaps in - between because they left out those issues done by other artist so some threads are resolved outside of this book. But if you ever thought about getting it now´s a good time to order. It´s currently at 22 bucks at amazon but it won´t stay long at that low price.

Okay, enough comic pimping for now so let´s get back to death in comics, although the Marshall Rogers hardcover DOES contain one of the classic deaths of my earliest comic reading period : the death of Hugo Strange.


Which brings us back to what I was saying earlier. I don´t want to say that things were always better in the days when I was reading comics as a kid.

And least of all how death was handled in most cases. Because around the 70s death was used in much the same way as Disney and DC are using it now : just a cheap ploy to sell a few comics and easily redone after a few months. You see, during the Silver and much of the Bronze Age death didn´t last a whole issue and there are a lot of Batman covers - just to pick a quick example - where his death is announced or at least hinted at.

The same goes for the Flash. There are a lot of cases where he has died

or at least was pronounced dead on a cover of Justice League America.

So why is the death of Barry Allen in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS different ? Why is it one of the big comic deaths ? Why do people still talk about it ?

One of the reasons is because it was permanent. At least until DC decided for some reason to bring Barry Allen back. I´m not saying that this was a huge mistake but I said goodbye to the FLASH books after that. I know I´m probably going to be stoned by comic readers all over the world for that but I think dying was the best thing that ever happened to Barry.

Let´s face it, as a character Barry Allen was never that interesting and his best storyline was FLASH ON TRIAL which had to do with two deaths : his wife Iris Allen been killed by the Reverse Flash who in turn was killed by Barry Allen. But besides that most of the stories were focused on the weird situations The Flash found himself in and how he got out of them.

So when Barry Allen sacrificed himself in CRISIS it gave him a nobility that had been there all along but was overlooked just too easily. He became some kind of legendary figure - especially for his nephew Wally West who tried to follow in his footsteps. Which is where my story with The Flash really began. I´m just now in the middle of putting together a complete run of Williams Messner Loebs and Greg LaRoque´s FLASH issues because that´s something that has been missing too long from my collection. But Wally West is really the main reason why I stayed on the book for so long.

Unlike douchebag Kyle Rayner who got his role handed to him in a neat package Wally had to earn it. He started as a sidekick, then forged his own identity with the Teen Titans before taking up the mantle of Flash.

You could see him evolve as a hero and a person in the new FLASH series and I don´t know if the way how I came into the book was really the best.

As I have probably already mentioned in my FLASH FRIDAY posts I started really getting into the book during the BORN TO RUN and the RETURN OF BARRY ALLEN storylines ( You see how DC already did that story before and in a much better way than in the FLASH REBIRTH book ? And it tied much better into continuity and didn´t destroy the Flash franchise ).

I totally tried to get the book from my pull list but every time one story ended there was another much more engaging story coming up. And I just started to be more interested in Wally West because he became my Flash.

I know, people always say that you like the heroes best that you read as a kid and that they are the ones you stick with. Well, I don´t know if I am an exception in that way but my Flash is not the one who I read as a kid because instead of Barry Allen my favorite is Wally West and my favorite Green Lantern is neither Hal Jordan nor John Stewart but Guy Gardner.

I know a lot of people don´t like him or see him as a one dimensional character but while he can be a real heel he also has his heroic impulses like in the ECLIPSO storyline that went through the annuals in 1992.

But back to the Death of Flash - or better the death of Barry Allen - there were very few deaths that were really meaningful or shocking or lasting before that. One of the few exceptions was when Black Manta murdered Aquaman´s son but most of the other deaths in comics were either soon negated or just some clever trick by the writers to get readers attention.

Which is how it is Today in the comic industry so we have come full circle.


It seems death is not this absolute thing it had become in the Bronze Age when the deaths of Captain Jean DeWolfe, Gwen Stacy or Jean Grey were real game changers in how the subject was treated. Nowadays death is a revolving door where some characters walk in and out as they please while some - like Namorita or the first Thunderstrike Eric Masterson - are just dumped there because writers don´t know what to do with them.

This is one of the biggest sins in writing comics for me. You want to kill off a character ? Okay. You want to bring back a character ? Also okay. As long as there´s a good story to it. Because if you want to do one of those you better have a very good reason. And an even better story. Just look at the return of Bucky Barnes. When it was first announced that Ed Brubaker was bringing back Bucky all of comicdom was in an uproar. But when the excellent WINTER SOLDIER story was published comicfans and comic critics fell in love with it very quickly and now it´s hailed as one of the best stories in Ed Brubaker´s CAPTAIN AMERICA run. Which has become on of the quintessential runs of the titles like I already predicted in 2007 .

So if you tackle the topic of death you should have a very good reason and not have it be just a gimmick like in the current DEATH OF WOLVERINE event where comic readers are already betting on how long he is going to stay dead because he IS one of Disney´s cashcows and we all know he´s coming back. At DC I really don´t care anymore because the characters have become so unrecognizable that even the writers don´t know how to fit in the death and return of Batman after he went up against Darkseid

or how he could have had four different Robins in five years of which one grew up from teenage sidekick to the role of adult Nightwing in the short time and how the latest of them has already died and come back again.

And this is the end of Today´s post but don´t worry, there will be much more death in comics coming up with solo posts on the death of Barry Allen - and at least one more Deja Vue post about the cover for CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 12 - and other memorable deaths from my favorites like the strange death of Adam Warlock as well as storylines that took off when such longstanding characters like Reed Richards took the plunge.

I know this was a rather long post but after my last post about KAUBOI UND KAKTUS stayed on the top of the blog for two weeks ( Landrömer will be thrilled ) I think my faithful readers deserve something special.


Now I know that Today´s topic was death in comics but since I couldn´t find a good one about it I want to post another one that ties in with something I mentioned in my last post on Bob Layton´s IRON MAN run . I mentioned that I don´t think it was a good idea to make the one member of the Fantastic Four black that gets set on fire and that is exactly what Melina Pendulum is talking about. I found the video oddly enough while looking for the TEEN TITANS episode with Nightwing and while I haven´t watched the entire video yet ( I got distracted by her impressive chest )

I like that she´s very opinionated about it. And I don´t mean to sound condescending. The whole topic of black / white casting in movies can be a post in itself so the only thing I want to say on the subject is that in most of the cases it doesn´t really make a difference if a character from a comic is the same colour in a movie if they keep the essence right. Of course somebody like the Black Panther can´t be just become the White Panther - even if there are some characters in the comic called the White Panthers. Who are also black under the costume. For me the thing you want to avoid is to forcibly introduce a black character into a franchise just to have a black character. Because in the end you have somebody like Falcon or Triathlon who plays the role of token black guy for pc reasons.

And while in my opinion Michael Clarke Duncan was brilliant as Kingpin in Daredevil I can´t help but thinking what it says about our society if we say that the biggest crimelord in America should be black. Okay, I have already said too much so enjoy the video and try not to get distracted.

I also want to include a comic interview video so since it will be probably a few months before I can get back to the Moebius posts here´s another episode of PRISONERS OF GRAVITY with the great late comics master.

And because I have used a lot of old german comic covers on the post and I want to get more readers in Germany here´s one of Germany´s most famous performers with his most famous songs, The Starter Yodel.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best

No ! It can´t be you ! You´re ...... DEAD !


Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

Hmm. Well, Barry Allan's Flash is the one that started the US Silver Age and he was one of the original JLA. So his impact -in dying- during Crisis was at that time great. All the covers before of Aquaman, Superman et al dying were just to get kids to buy the comics because they were great covers. Covers are what tend to make people buy a book. No kids thought they were dead but then companies like DC were trusted and when the Flash died....WOW! And then...SUPERGIRL?? You have to remember that DC were family goodies and family values and here they sacrificed two of their big stars and everyone thought that was it. By the time of The Death of Superman absolutely nobody believed he was dead never to return. Ditto when Batman had his back broken.
Thunderstrike did pass on the mantle to his son in Avengers Next/A-Next but that was "the future"? No. It was a parallel universe and some fun series such as J2, later Last Hero Standing, Last Planet Standing. Great fun.
People die in real life and as far as I'm concerned, apart from the odd supernatural character, if a hero is killed he is killed. Working on The Green Skies recently I found it very depressing because I really do not know what happens until I draw it and when a character(s) died that's it. I know I cannot bring them back. I'd be insulting readers and making any sacrifice a character makes pointless.
A character dies a character dies. I think the idea would have been better had DC/Marvel aged their characters so that new people -relatives or whatever- took over the costume. Its what I do.
Look at the impact of The Death of Captain Marvel. I read that and was stunned. Okay, Starlin wrote that because his father had just died of cancer and some argue CM should have died in a major event "not just cancer"...seriously "just cancer".
And DC and Marvel Comics??? You are kidding, right?
Great post!!

Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

You have a song by Fre---No. Let's skip that for now.
This posting has done something that hasn't happened in a while -I went "oooh!" when I saw the Dr Solar covers. NEVER seen them before. Lovely look to them.
Now,let's ignore whether Charlton had any rights to the characters -notice how DC claiming copyright from Charlton suddenly changed Judo Master, the Question and others to females so "It's A Question and A Judo Master but OUR take on them"?
Alan Moore's whole career is based on borrowing ideas, characters and stories from other writers. I loved Tom Strong but a great deal was "purloined" -mainly from literature that I think Moore believed comic readers would not be reading.
But let's look at this: Captain Atom caught in a nuclear explosion and transformed but still human looking appearance -Charlton Comics 1960.
Gold Key (very unsure of super heroes in general):Dr Solar:Man of the Atom. You know his origin.
In 1965 a U2 pilot was caught in a nuclear blast and changed but kept his human form in Nukla from Dell, 1965.
There are others.
Writers like to put elements of what inspires them into their stories. With me its mythology, some sci fi, history and so on. Yes, some characters are "similar to" far more well known ones but have my own slant on them. Moore comes from that tradition but to him everyone else in comics is crap and only HE was ever able to give comics "credibility and originality" and people believe him. If he had just stuck to writing good comics he WOULD be a true star in the field but...
I'll end there as I dont want to bring the forces of the Alan Moore Revenge Squad down on you!
Don't be ashamed of the boobies. Embrace the boobies!!

SUBZERO said...

Well, I just wanted to mention the Doctor Solar thing because I´m a big Valiant fan ( right now I´m reading the new Archer & Armstrong which is just brilliant but I want to check out the other new books too ) and Alan Moore needs to get off his big horse. It´s not like he came up with all the stuff he puts into his comics and comic readers are not as stupid as he thinks. Yes, he wrote some pretty fantastic comics but he needs to ..... well, get a life and write more comics.

Fredl Fesl. I found the video some time ago and just had to post it. Expect the unexpected with this post. I´m looking for some clips of Rodgau Monotones and Insterburg und Co next. I´m a big fan of the german kabarett / music genre.

I TRY to embrace the boobies but they won´t let me, sniff. Okay, I´m ending this because I sound like a perv.

Terry Hooper-Scharf said...

Hah! Ute Lemper does some great Cabaret stuff and her "The Case Continues" is a non-Cabaret favourite of mine...for years!


Killing a character once drama.Now it's a gimmick to get the press to jump on as a free advert for a book,since the death of Superman.When Gwen Stacy died or Jean Grey,it was oh crap a major character died.When either comes back like Spock it becomes meaningless prop drama.As Wolverine-might as call him Doctor Who to regenerate into the next version.The Flash,Supergirl,The Green Lantern-so on,face will always be Barry Allen,not Wally West,Kara For El,not shapeshifter stand in substitutes,whatever,Hal Jordan and those members John Stewart,Kyle Raymond,Guy Gardener.Once understand the power of trademark value all wants and desires go out no matter what fans or pros say or do.And kill off a major,popular character-expect regeneration or resurrection,not final death as other mediums or reality.Kill off a hated,unlocked character-you might him never to return,like Scott Fisher-maybe.


As blacks being cast in white roles,more a case of part hollyweird Don't give a dam politics/fan boy screw you,plus the marketing of some actor.And they want a black Nick Fury,a black Johnny Storm,a black Jimmy Olsen-then far time.If so,give a white Luke Cage,a white Black Panther,a white Storm,a white Black Goliath and a white Black Lightning.Sound stupid?Yup,but just as as stupid and tastiest as we are hearing and seeing.Can't have it both ways.And black care about the color of a characters skin.They fill seat for Superman,Batman,Tarzan,Conan,Wolverine-all white guys.Hollywood needs a serious brain operation and get over this fad trend or people me will go elsewhere.Because if the casting stinks,the plot,reside-all else will/maybe just as retarded.This not liberal fairness,it just as stupid as casting a man to play Wonder Woman.

SUBZERO said...

It´s all gotten so complicated now. I was just reading the CAPTAIN AMERICA MEGABAND from PANINI which contained the last three Captain America trades and I couldn´t remember for the life of me since when Nick Fury is black.

I mean I know that he was black in the Ultimates and I know that he is NOW black in the regular Marvel universe also. That´s not what I´m talking about.

What I mean is that I remember regular white Nick Fury in SECRET WARRIORS and now there is the black guy but I have no idea when the switch was made and if there ever was an explanation why he´s now black all of a sudden. I don´t know if that was ever addressed in the comics.

But maybe my brain just doesn´t work anymore. Could be the medication I´m on.