Even Superheroes Aren’t Invincible

by M-Gillies

As early as 1946, comic books in the United States were outselling traditional books.

It’s a risky business being a superhero. The job alone is labor-intensive, requiring physical endurance, mental and emotional discipline and a strict moral philosophy. However, the dangers are high, with family members and loved ones constantly at risk of being targeted by the adversaries and then there’s the threat of imminent death at any moment. If it wasn’t for the alter-ego, life insurance for a superhero would be expensive.

Month after month, superhero fans scurry to their nearest comic book outlet to pick up that freshly printed, hot-off-the-press follow-up issue to their favorite caped crusader, vanquisher of villainy and savior to their city’s populace. With each issue read by a devoted fan base, emotional attachments are made and a voyeuristic obsession with that character’s exploits are devoured.

In the younger days of comics, during the adventure and pulp-themed serials, heroes never died, leaving that spot reserved for throwaway stock characters. Meanwhile, it was normal for villains to die, but there was a rule known as the “never show the body” rule, which allowed for the antagonists to return using plausibility of survival.

However, as readers grew jaded to these uncommitted deaths, the plots of comics required more proxies to convince a reader of a character’s death as the typical falling into water or off a cliff failed to suffice.

As time went on, the deaths of minor characters weren’t exactly shocking readers and so saw the fall of invincibility amongst superheroes, broadening the horizons of death to not only minor characters, but supporting and main characters, if nothing else, but to show the seriousness their own mortality had on them. Most notably, in 1992, fans saw one such spectacle when the Man of Steel came to his grisly end at the hands of Doomsday in an epic battle that spanned multiple story arcs.

With such an influential culture icon as Superman being declared dead in the comics universe, many grew skeptical of his death. Ending a long-running title as Superman, a franchise that brought DC Comics multiple sums of money seemed unfathomable. While merely a gimmick to draw in sales for the title, fans quickly learned the longer a character has appeared in print, the less likely that their death will take place.

But that philosophy hasn’t always saved characters from meeting the grim claw of death.

While comics have taken on a revolving door philosophy to a character’s death, often their deaths are an attempt to generate publicity for the title, create dramatic tension in the story arc, or meet the demands of readers who call for the untimely death of a particular character.

However, when a popular character is killed, it is the fandom that vocally encourages the resurrection of that superhero’s Lazarus return and despite their vicious cycle of life-death-rebirth, fans have grown to doubt the permanence of a character’s death in any comics’ universe.

Regardless, throughout comics’ history, there has been at one time permanent and prominent character deaths that have shaken the industry. Below is a brief glimpse of some of those memorable comic moments in which supporting and main characters have met their untimely demise.

* In 1941, with the debut of Captain America, came the first appearance of his sidekick, Bucky. However, Bucky’s tenure as Captain America’s sidekick came to a premature end in 1968, when an explosion sent his body hurtling into the nearly frozen waters of the North Atlantic. His death prompted the term “The Bucky Clause”, in which no one in comics stays dead except for Bucky, Uncle Ben and Jason Todd.

* In 1973, Marvel Comics revealed a story arc known as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”, in which Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy is kidnapped by the Green Goblin. In his attempt to escape Spiderman, the Green Goblin throws Stacy from the Brooklyn Bridge, forcing Spiderman to swing to her rescue. However, the sudden impact of his stopping her falling body caused her head to snap, killing her instantly.

It was after this event that the term “The Gwen Stacy Syndrome” appeared to refer to the grim fate that meets wives and girlfriends of superheroes.

* In 1988, deciding to attract more readers by allowing them to partake in the creative decisions, DC Comics left it open for voters to decide the fate of Batman’s sidekick, Jason Todd. With over 10,000 votes cast, 5,343 voters sought his death, which came at the hands of the notorious Joker, who after bludgeoning the sidekick to an inch of his life, leaves him in a warehouse set to explode.

* Known as the biggest story ever, 1992 saw the epic battle between Superman and his adversary Doomsday. The results left Superman dying from his fatal wounds in the arms of Lois Lane, drawing in millions of readers and even prompting Superman creator, Jerry Siegel to tell editors how very impressed he was of this vision of Superman’s death.

Read more:

http://www.geekpeeks.com/2011/04/07/geek-peeks-top-10-comic-book-deaths/

http://www.newsarama.com/comics/11-comic-deaths-didnt-stick-110126.html

http://gasparillasblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/life-after-comic-book-death-cheap-trick.html

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