WARNING: The following contains Avengers vs. X-Men spoilers that you almost certainly read ten times last week, along with a lot of stuff that would have rocked your world in 2006.
Our community suffered a painful loss last week. After months of bravery, Professor Charles Xavier finally lost his battle with an omnipotent fire thing. He is survived by
his space girlfriend,* hundreds of devoted students and friends, a shadowy cabal, the son who pointed the fire thing at him, and his proud legacy as a civil rights leader.
For a mutant, Xavier was all too human, but he will be remembered as a hero to the outcast and a champion for the different. The only things that may tarnish his memory are a couple of years of apathetic authors and the cynicism of the comics crabosphere.
Before the body hit the ground, you started to see it: “Ugh. Another stupid Comic Book Event Death. Give me a break. We all know they’re going to bring him back in six months.”
You hear it all the time. It’s the conventional wisdom; “everyone knows” that that’s the way comics work.
Too bad it’s not true at all.
Believe me, I’ve said the same thing. When Nightcrawler died in the middle of Whatever That X-Men Crossover Was, I moaned, “We feel no impact from the loss, because it’s cheap and temporary. All killing him does is leave the next writer with a mess to clean up.”
Here’s the thing: that was more than two years ago. To paraphrase Chevy Chase, This just in: Nightcrawler is still dead.
The Sentry, in answer to a prayer of mine, died at the end of The Siege a couple of years ago. The Sentry is still dead.
Right before he died, the Sentry killed Ares. Ares is still dead, despite being a god.
The Wasp was killed at the end of Secret Invasion. That was three years ago, nearly four. The Wasp is still dead.
During Civil War six years ago, Goliath was killed. Goliath is still dead. He was thought to be killed by a resurrected Thor, but that turned out not to be the case; Thor, you see, was still dead. (I’ll get grief for citing that one, but it’s worth it.)
Lest we forget, the most infamous serial resurrecter of all time, Jean Grey, was killed by Grant Morrison nine years ago. Did you snark about it when it happened? How’s the baby you had back then doing in fifth grade?
How many other times has the “serial resurrecter” died, anyway? Once? By my count, she was a character for seventeen or so years, died for six, lived for another seventeen, and has been dead for nine. As a track record? I’d take it. Those are entire lifespans of comic book readership.
Jean Grey highlights the real issue, though. The last time I said something like this about her, the replies I got on the internet were all along the lines of, “Well, technically she was supposed to have died in the nineties, but it turned out her brain had jumped into another body.” “Well, technically she was supposed to have died in a cave-in, but it turned out she didn’t.” Before we nitpickers came along, these sorts of fake-outs were known by comic book readers as “comic books.” Other people know plots like these by names such as “half the serial fiction ever written.” Even Sherlock Holmes gave it a shot. You should have seen this Days of Our Lives my mom used to watch.
But those other media are deficient in one resource comic books have in abundance: an audience that derives half its enjoyment from complaining.
In the sixties, when Doctor Octopus was caught in an explosion in his underwater base that surely would have atomized and drowned him at the same time, I don’t believe anyone reading thought, “Pfft. Whatever.” When he showed up a year later with a bad mood and a very long story about where he’d been, did anyone read it and say, “This is bullshit“? Or is that an innovation we have brought to the table with our evolved sensibilities? Are crazy stories not, in fact, what we signed on for? There’s a lot of nonfiction at the library, kids. Go nuts.
I made some of these comments online last Wednesday, and I was more taken aback than I should have been by how many people came out to vociferously defend the right to be unhappy. For every example that came to mind, someone offered a counterexample. It’s almost as if comics as a whole were some kind of giant glass, and by volume that glass was as full as it was empty, and one’s satisfaction with that depended entirely upon how one consciously chose to look at that glass.
I was forwarded many an obituary for characters that are walking around now. Cap and Johnny Storm, of course. Bucky in Fear Itself. The X-Men’s Necrosha came up quite a bit, Cypher and Blink and whatnot. Hawkeye died, but the soreness about his death never will. Nobody mentioned that Spider-Man story The Other, confirming my suspicion that we’ve all decided that never happened.
Come on, though.
Cypher was a character for four years before dying in 1988, and wasn’t seen again as we know him for twenty-one years. When Cypher was “cheaply brought back,” there were drinking, voting, bearded people who had never seen him in a comic before. Before Necrosha, the Marvel Universe’s Blink was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #316 (October 1994) and died in X-Men #37 (October 1994). She was born to die, and then she was off the table for fifteen years.
The Bucky death, I’m not even going to dignify with acknowledgement. Was he even out of print for a week? You’ve gotta have a mystical Asgardian battle axe to grind to even have that come to mind.
Even though Johnny Storm’s was a classic, “we never saw a body” demise, his death and Captain America’s gave me pause. These might stick, I thought, especially as Cap’s death got into year two. (They kept Cap dead at least twice as long as they originally planned to due to the impact it had, otherwise known as the impact “everyone knows” these deaths don’t have.) When Johnny returned– with a bad mood and a long story to tell about where he’d been– it packed a cathartic emotional wallop.
Which brings us back to the good Professor. Regardless of whether or not we see him again– and believe me, I hope we do; I hope he’s in Uncanny Avengers #5 and you can all come back here and ride me about it– the history between Xavier and Scott made their confrontation and its ultimate end an emotional one for people who’ve followed them for a while. There was more going on there than energy blasts. It gave me food for thought and evoked an emotional response. I’m told that’s what stories are supposed to do.
*Wait, I forgot! Lilandra was shot to death in 2009, and is still dead.
Jim Mroczkowski has nothing to say about DC characters, because they’re all only a year old and the only guilty party is Resurrection Man. But it’s right there in the name.