Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behind The Mask

Wasted Death

As we all know, and as I mentioned way back in my January 2010 blog article about death and rebirth in comics, comic book death never lasts forever. But now, Marvel Comics has decided to take things to a new and ridiculous level. At a ComicsPro retailer summit in Texas, David Gabriel, Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel said, “As a result of the Fantastic Four sales and media coverage, Marvel is going to kill a main character every quarter.” He followed up this statement by saying, “This is not a joke.” I dare to ask, and hope that if this is true, it backfires in Marvel’s face in a big way.

For those of you who do not know, Marvel spent many months and many marketing dollars hyping the death of one of the core members of the Fantastic Four. Cynics speculated, correctly so, that this was a publicity stunt to jump start a comic book franchise whose sales had lagged behind such Marvel stalwarts as the Avengers, the X-Men, Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk for many years. Unfortunately, the public also bought into the hype and made Fantastic Four #587, the death of Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch), Marvel’s highest selling comic for the month of January.

Aside from the fact that readers did not see the actual lifeless body of Johnny Storm (the last image we have is Johnny being overwhelmed by FF villain, Annihilus’ hordes), the skeptical fan was already predicting that the Human Torch was just being put “on ice” so that he could make a triumphant return when the FF celebrate their milestone 600th issue. Whether this occurs remains to be seen. Next on the Marvel death circuit appears to be the Ultimate Universe version of Spider Man. Oh joy. And then we have the next big Marvel event, Fear Itself, which should continue the Marvel kill parade.

If Gabriel’s statement is indeed true and Marvel plans to kill a main character every quarter, they will find that this bold, novel idea will go the way of polybagged or foil comics, the yearly summer mega event, or the 90’s era of comics with fancy art but little, to no, story. Big sales and lots of media attention will be generated in the short term, but then reader fatigue will set in and sales will go down the toilet. Death will become an even bigger joke and loyal comic book readers will roll their eyes and yawn. Hopefully they’ll leave the Marvel fold altogether. Death, in essence, will become as common as the Hulk getting stronger as he gets angrier during a fight.

But the main problem with Gabriel and Marvel’s statement is that they are ultimately destroying their characters and what makes them “heroes”. In the not-so-distant past, death in comics was a jaw dropping, rare event. When a hero died, if the writer and artist did their job, the impact was staggering and left the reader feeling as if he or she had lost a member of their family. The reader felt the impact of the hero’s sacrifice because he knew that in all likelihood, his or her favorite hero would not be returning. Or, if their favorite hero was returning, it wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Can anyone honestly believe that if Marvel decided to kill off, Wolverine next month, he wouldn’t be back in a year or two tops? If you do, I also have a bridge to sell you.

Sadly, with this announcement Marvel is just confirming what many suspected all along. It’s not about producing good, well thought out, satisfying stories, but generating gratuitous hype in the hopes of bringing in big bucks. But as we all know…hype will only get you so far.

- Hamilton Maher

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