The Big Comic Comfy Couch – Episode 5: The Comic Book Death

Last updated on December 21st, 2012 at 10:56 am

Characters are people too, essentially. They are characters, obviously, but at their heart what makes a character in any comic special is their humanization by the creators of that particular book. At the same time, if we have invested ourselves in a character, what happens to them SHOULD affect us. In this case of course I’m referring to the ever taboo topic of killing comic book characters. Some deaths are cheap, some become permanent, some are teased for an issue and then fixed the following one. As readers, one way or another we invest our time and money into them because we love them. Consequently, when they’re killed off, a convictive response should be expected.

Presently death in comics is the latest flavour of the week. Johnny Storm’s death in Fantastic Four, while Carter and Shiera over in Brightest Day are the latest examples of dead characters over the last year; the latter series also promises more before the final issues come into our grubby hands. Then there is the Death of Ultimate Spider-Man story, as well as Marvel’s apparent willingness to kill a character during every quarter of the year. There is however a distinct difference between the DC and Marvel examples. This isn’t to say that either are any less permanent because I feel like they probably are. The difference here lays in how the stories are presented. In Brightest Day, I honestly didn’t think for a moment that the Hawks would be killed off. There was no real forewarning from DC and from my recollection that has been the case for the longest time. However, Marvel makes it routine to not only say they’re going to kill characters, but they exploit that story device only to sell books. We ultimately become desensitized to the idea of it, and at least at the personal level, I brush it off casually all too often.

I’m sure we remember what we were doing when news broke that Steve Rogers was killed at the end of Civil War, or more recently when it was revealed Johnny Storm had been killed off; but in the latter case we knew from the beginning of the story that someone was going to die. And that takes away from the allure or surprise of it. In doing that, comics lose part of their magic while the story itself ultimately becomes a secondary purpose where the higher function is commerce to the detriment of what’s a better story, or the best story.

Ultimately when the business is run this way, it brings the phrase “comic book death” to another spectrum of analysis.

Until next time,

Over and Out.

Andrew Ardizzi Written by:

Andrew Ardizzi is an honours graduate of journalism from Humber College, and is currently working out of Toronto as a freelance writer and editor. He's also the Senior Editor at Crystal Fractal Comics. You can find him at his blog, or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. February 16, 2011

    How about this death.
    Somewhat telegraphed, but he died and stayed dead, at least to my knowledge.

  2. February 16, 2011

    Guardian’s come back from the dead a couple of times. Once during the first series and just recently again in the Chaos War crossover.

    These are fictional characters, death and resurrection are overused sales and storytelling tools at Marvel and DC. Where was I when Captain America died? He was never alive in the first place. Marvel just decided to take the character off the table for a while… just like they have Johnny Storm for a year.

  3. February 17, 2011

    Relative to comics he was. And that’s just my point, it is story device void of meaning. In the long run why should we care if short sighted stories will be written whereby characters are killed off and that decision won’t even be honoured. Then it’s just retconned away via some idiotic story idea. They ARE marketing ploys, rendering the very concept pointless and irrelevant. You proved my point ultimately, why do we care when stories like “3” are told?

  4. February 18, 2011

    Strangely enough, the device of taking the characters off the table by killing them does have one positive effect in that they often are more interesting while gone and the storytellers can explore what a world without them would be like. Sometimes that absence can last for years, even decades as with Barry Allen. Thor was off in limbo for years and now he’s a hot movie property heavily influenced by the JMS run.

    Sadly, killing them seems to be the favoured device when you know, maybe they could just take a holiday for a few months. At the end of 587 we assume that Johnny is dead… Ben sees him overwhelmed and comes to the conclusion (as do most) that he is gone for good. How much do you want to bet that he’s alive and in captivity and that we’ll at some point learn the story of how Johnny Storm survived for months alone and trapped in the Negative Zone? I bet you they’ll use the Micronauts in the story. Is the world ready for a Human Torch/Marionnette romance?

Make It Good.