Comic Fodder

Death: It's Better at DC

Let's face it: if life is cheap in the real world, death is cheaper in comics. People come back from death so many times, Doctor Strange can't even remember if he's been to your funeral or not. But if you had to die, wouldn't you want it to hold more "oomph?" Which universe gives us the best bang for the coffin?

Man, do Marvel people die a lot! Korvac once killed the Avengers, and many of them fell to Death in the annual crossover between Avengers and West Coast Avengers. And did you see how many times in a row Doctor Doom killed Captain America in the original Secret Wars? Korvac got thousands more shots at Cap during Mark Waid's run on the title, but kept pressing the reset button. Half the galaxy got wiped out when Thanos got his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet, and we're not even covering all of the times that an event has wiped out the galaxy-known timeline, leaving only one group or person alive to "fix" things.

The X-Men have had fun dying in future realities ever since Days of Future Past, and Jean Grey has been the punch line for the fast-recycling at Marvel for decades. For those wondering if Jean is currently alive, the answer is: maybe. Clones don't count, or who knows what body total we'd be at for Professor Xavier, let alone Spider-Man. Honorable mention has to go to Marvel's zombie series, giving us some great undead activity. Do these count towards the "death tracker?" Or does undead deserve its own category? Some mutants like Mimic were pretty good and dead, but the story has been butchered so much that the way they have come back to life is still murkily explained in terms such as: "Years later somehow Calvin absorbed the healing factor and powers of Wolverine and was brought back to life, believing himself to be Wolverine." The nonsense goes on from there. I've lost track of the resurrected characters from Marvel whose official explanation is that they came back to life "somehow" or "in some as-yet unexplained manner."

Does Crisis on Infinite Earths top all of Marvel's shenanigans? I mean, we went from infinite Earths to one! That's a lot of corpses. But then, they never existed. Until Didio wants them to, because now we have 52 Earths, and they allegedly have a multiverse associated with each of them, which sounds like pre-Crisis infinite Earths times 52. The recent Legion of 3 Worlds story didn't help matters any, because when you're in the Time Trapper's neighborhood, you can still reach in, play around with, and pull out anybody from the pre-Crisis multiverse anyway. So at the end of the day, I would not try to add up all of the infinite universes in any particular comic playground, because it will more likely give you an infinite headache. Let's keep things on a more individual level, shall we?

All of DC's big guns have now "died" in some form and come back. Superman's death was the most famous, and Batman's probably the least convincing. But Flash (Barry Allen), J'onn J'onnz, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Aquaman, and Wonder Woman have all met their end in some way and time. Green Arrow, too, come to think of it, and Robin (Jason Todd) really rounds out the major characters. Compare this with Marvel. Has Spider-Man really "died" in any way that left a memorable impact? The Hulk? Iron Man? The fact is, Marvel characters have probably died tens of multiples of times more than DC characters have, with a possible exception for multiverse wipeouts in Crisis events.

With as much mythology as Marvel uses, you might think they would utilize the underworld more often. But it's actually DC that has dramatically used the concept of Heaven and Hell in their storylines to pull back heroes into the world. As fuzzy as Superman's resurrection was, there was a hint of the divine involved. The Speed Force has that semi-mystical, semi-religious feel of the Force from Star Wars to it, so perhaps we could bring the Flash into the discussion. Wonder Woman has been devolved into clay and brought back by the Olympian deities. Hal was in the black abyss until his spirit was merged with the Spectre. And just where did we find Ollie Queen, just before he came back to the mortal coil, hmm?

Marvel has upped their ante with the reviving of Bucky, and their recent Steve Rogers is dead/ we planned for him to be gone for six months/ he's not really dead story. We finally had two major events: one, a long-time dead character that was held to be sacrosanct in the fact of his death, Bucky, was brought back (never actually died in the retcon); two, Marvel finally took one of their major players off the board. They tried to do a sort-of death for Thor, but with his mythology, nobody bought into the idea that his death would "matter" for long. Steve Rogers, at least, was an actual corpse with bullet holes in him. Now we know this is all changing, and he will be back, and will fall into the category of "never really, really dead in the first place" by the time that story is finished. But these two items represented a step up from the normal way Marvel handled death.

One point against Marvel: death for villains really means nothing there. Scourge did some good house cleaning by taking out a ton of third-rate villains, but they have all been brought back in some lame fashion, needlessly, over the past 20 years. On some background panel, in some event comic or something, you will find a new Melter, a new Enforcer, etc. Why, oh why would you ever feel compelled to bring back the Ringer?!? These deaths were shocking at the time, and innovative for Marvel. Most of these bad guys are just new people who have taken the name and costume, but it dilutes the meaning of death when you can just throw any random person in the suit and send them back out. Man, did the suit even make it to the cleaners for some of these crooks before somebody new was stuffed in it? Lousy writers throw the character back into the mix, often without even bothering to tell us it's somebody new, and even then, you're lucky if you learn the new goon's name. This happens much more often at Marvel than at DC. (If someone can offer some evidence as to why this might not be the case, I'm open to new information).

Rather than subtract points from someone, how about we add some points instead? The biggest point to add in DC's favor is their Blackest Night storyline. Every major (and some minor) dead character in DC gets a resurrection as a threat in the Black Lantern Corps. We meet all the criteria for good story-telling: 1) an interesting premise that does not automatically return a dead character to his old status quo self; 2) a reasonable plot device that doesn't make the reader feel cheap; and 3) a tale that involves death, but does not (automatically) have the atmosphere of a revolving door. Unless some hefty magic is used on one of the dead Corps members, almost all of these people should crumble to dust if the heroes can win in the end. But the story itself provides for us to enjoy reading some of our favorite characters like Elongated Man or the Martian Manhunter again, without having to roll our eyes at the way they were brought back. And at the end of the day, it's that type of comic that can make death fun.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.