The C-List Massacre


scourge of the underworld, captain america styleWARNING: The following page spoils the hotstepping hell out of the last several months of Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men: Second Coming, a little bit o’ Siege, and a run of Captain America comics from twenty-five years ago that you still might get around to reading. Also, it might bum you out a little bit.

This summer has just been oppressive, hasn’t it? The last month or two have been downright leaden; I’ve felt them pressing down on my shoulders when I try to get off the couch. It may be all the 100º days, coupled with the fact that my air conditioning broke last weekend. It may be the punishing glare of the sun, or humidity levels that feel like breathing cream of broccoli soup. On the other hand, it may just be the cumulative emotional impact of having blood spurt in my eyes every other time I open a Marvel comic this summer.

Granted, that may be a mild exaggeration. The Fantastic Four and Avengers seem to be roughly intact post-Siege, Ares notwithstanding. (You’re right. The Sentry’s dead too. Thanks for mentioning that; I needed some cheering up.) For a battle that ended up bringing the entirety of Asgard down like a bad round of Jenga, it’s appropriately miraculous that the Siege only really cost them Loki. Still, those three deaths, two of which have almost built-in “Undo” buttons and one of which we must never look directly at again for fear of stirring the unholy beast, were like an amuse-bouche compared to the viscera smorgasbord a couple of books have had running lately.

Have you been following Amazing Spider-Man lately? Holy hitlist, if you’re in that book you better hope your name’s on the cover, because everybody else is getting fitted for toe tags. Or maybe it just seems that way because of the expectations I’m coming in with: “I can’t wait for Spidey to swing by and trade quips with a mugger before having one of his patented Marvel Hero Personal Problems, certainly without a member of his supporting cast being murdered in every issue for the foreseeable future.” Over the course of the last story arc, we have seen the (sometimes ritualistic) killings of Mattie Franklin, Kaine, Madame Web, and a Kravinoff or two just for good measure. Before that, before that, the bastards killed Little Billy Connors. Little Billy Connors was eaten alive! By his father! What was he, eight? Cripes.

And no, we’re not exactly talking Mary Jane and Aunt May here. Although she’s been around since 1980, Madame Web hasn’t exactly been one of Peter Parker’s regular poker buddies, and I only know who Mattie Franklin is because she was somehow even more ill used in a few chapters of Alias back in the day. The last time Kaine popped his head out and saw his shadow, the only thing anyone had to say about it was, “Oh my God, why do they insist on bringing up Kaine again? Why can’t they just pretend Kaine never happened, like the rest of us?” Apparently, it was so he could end up pretending to be Spider-Man and dying nobly. (Seriously, though: now? Let us never speak of him again.) Still, even though they weren’t the most venerated or storied characters in fiction, they were still characters with histories and presumably even fans, and I never felt like any of them needed to die. I don’t think I’d have the chutzpah to put a character that’s been around for thirty years up on the chopping block. By the time Madame Web breathed her last, I was muttering to the pieces of paper in my hands, “You understand that you’re going to need supporting characters again one day, right?”

karma lost her leg gaaaah that is horrificAt the same time, in another corner of the universe, we had X-Men: Second Coming. Second Coming was the story of Hope, the savior of the mutant race who gets dozens of mutants disemboweled just by being in town for a day and a half. In addition to Nightcrawler, the “death” of whom I have already whined about, this storyline also punished Cable for being interesting for the first time in his life by making him sacrifice it. For good measure, we got to see the deaths of just about every teleporter the book had to offer, including poor also-ran Ariel and (apparently) the Vanisher, one of the few Lee/Kirby creations to high-five the Reaper in this outing. Second Coming had its share of deaths, but where it really excelled was the horrific mutilations that would seriously traumatize anyone for years except the people in these books. Karma got her leg chopped off and was partying by the next issue of New Mutants. Toad lost a finger, which would be enough to send me into therapy well into my forties. Sack lost his head (which it seems is only sort of a big deal if you’re Sack). Hellion lost both of his hands and has spent the subsequent books waving his stumps around and sarcastically carping like an inconvenienced sitcom character, like the lady at the rental car counter didn’t have the sedan he reserved. I keep looking at him, thinking, “Aaaagh that is too horrible to contemplate” while he finishes off his latest one liner. “Boo hoo, let me get you a tissue… oh, wait, that’s right, I don’t have any hands.” [audience laughs] [Jim cringes so hard his testicles recede into his chest cavity.]

Oh, and Second Coming also ended with Hope slaughtering the entire League of Racists, which I’d make a much bigger deal about if I weren’t so sick of the X-Men fighting racists.

On the whole, it sounds like a lousy summer to be a c-lister, and not a great time to be on any other list either. (They killed Bullseye? They killed Dracula??) I’ve been increasingly bewildered watching the minor leaguers fill the dumpster these last few months. I find myself thinking of the Scourge of the Underworld back in ‘85. Though Scourge was nominally a Captain America villain, he appeared in about eleven other books before Cap eventually caught him. It was the weirdest crossover of all time: the way I remember it, you’d be reading, say, Thor, and then towards the end of the book a villain who barely had any reason to be in the book would show up for a page, only for Scourge to emerge from a nearby shadow and kill said villain and slink off. His victims list was a Who's Who of "Who?" It was like some kind of supervillain clearance sale: “We need to reduce our inventory by 40% by the end of the year! Everyone must go!” It was the first time I encountered the word “gratuitous.” I still remember thinking, “At this rate, who’s going to be in these books?”

Of course, I was simply naïve; there were plenty more where those guys came from. Marvel prides itself as a licensing company on having a portfolio of over 5,000 characters (a list I would very much like to see) so this summer’s body count barely makes a dent. Still, while I’m sure these brushes with mortality were all included to give their stories stakes, I find myself feeling like they achieved the opposite of their intent. The more they throw souls into the hereafter like coal into a locomotive, the more death seems to lose its sting. These are the people who taught me the trope “Every character is someone’s favorite”; I would love it if they could keep that in mind for the next couple of months, even when it comes to a guy named “Sack.”

 


Jim Mroczkowski is glad to be the hero of his own story but feels bad about his friends’ limbs. Any casualty lists will be updated via Twitter.


 

Comments

  1. Rick Remender brought all the villains Scourge killed back to life in his Punisher book. Actually the Hood brought them back, convinced them Frank was the one who killed them, and then Frank killed them all over again. It was awesome, even for someone who never read the Scourge storyline originally.

  2. I waiting for Spider-Man to make a Star Trek red shirt wise crack. "No Mary Jane don’t go out in that red shirt it’s dangerous!"

  3. I’m sorry to bring it up but Kaine was resurected in the last page of Grim Hunt.

    I really am sorry.

    As far as I know the Sentry is still dead.

  4. From that old article on Nightcrawler:

    "Never mind the indignity of having to die in an issue of X-Force. I’d rather have my body found in a JCPenney’s fitting room halfway into a sundress."

    Jim is brilliant. 

  5. Oh my God, you’re right!

    I have an uncanny ability to go into denial about those things. I did the same thing when Sean McKeever unkilled Fantomex. Maybe it’s my mutant power.

  6. It only proves your point about the lack of "sting" death has in comics.

    Kaine died to be bring Kraven back, but Kaine didn’t really die, so how is Kraven back?

  7. @Jimski  Is that power related to your cover-blindness power

  8. In Remenders PUNISHER, Frank killed off like 12 C-list half arsed villains!

  9. "Justice has been served !"

     

  10. The thing about C-Listers, especially villains, is that they die all the time and just come back later because the death was forgotten. I distinctly recall, for instance, The Spot being slaughtered in Wolverine’s Enemy of the State story a few years ago. Then he’s back and fine in Amazing Spidey not too long ago.

    Characters like those can be killed and resurrected without any explanation, because ultimately nobody really cares about them that much.

  11. I’ve always been a fan of c-listers coming back as different people. Let’s say the Looter dies, then years later Bendis has a great idea for an issue and he needs the Looter. Why not just have some random thug stumble on to the Looter’s hideout and become the new Looter? I love it when it’s that simple. Mirror Master and Trickster are excellent examples of this.

  12. Okay…

    Character deaths are a big issue for me as a comics reader. I usually don’t like them. The gratuitous mutilations in Second Coming exasperated me. I can’t help but feel that a good writer should be able to be dramatic without resorting to random deaths. We all know it’s a pointless exercise anyway. At the same time, I’m all but convinced that this mostly happens due to reader expectations. Unless "character X dies" is ticked on the Checklist of Big Event Happenings, there would be immediate complaints that nothing happened.

    Certain writers indulge in this far too often, and completely sour my feelings toward them.

    But this article does come across as slightly disingenuous to me. Sure, it limits the scope of the discussion to this summer, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking DC is any less guilty of this. Blackest Night had a number of throw-away deaths (which, admittedly, worked in context) and it’s only been a few months since the Lian Harper debacle. Hell, the constantly dying Teen Titans are already becoming a running gag, one which flared up again less than two weeks ago. If J.T. Krul thinks a book needs lightening up, then damn, you have problems.

    Someone made an observation about Miss Martian that I found rather poignant. They suggested that she probably isn’t dead, because considering the levels of violence in Brightest Day so far, there wasn’t nearly enough gore.

  13. Of all the gratuitous deaths, I thought the Kaine death was at least the most fitting. Finally put the clone saga to rest, with Kaine doing one redemptive act to close it out. Now you never have to mention the word clone in Amazing Spider-man again… But they couldn’t do it. Not even letting us get out of the storyline before bringing him back. Maybe Kraven killing his family provided enough "death juice" so that both Kraven and Kaine could go on living? That sort of rationalization makes my head hurt.

  14. There are too many terrible characters in comics. May they all die in a wood chipper.

  15. Who’s Who of "Who?"

    Brilliant!

  16. Kaine didn’t come back I just looked at the back issue unless I missed something, and I may have, he was dead at the end of the story which ended in the savage land. If your referring to the back up I’m pretty sure that’s set prior to Kraven’s original death.

  17. maybe they are all skrulls and not really dead so we can do this all over again in a few years.  

  18. Kaine pop out of his grave at the end off the gauntlet arc,,he’s now being called tarantula

  19. I was distracted from reading this article by realizing that "in 1980" and "30 years ago" were the same thing.  Now that I’ve had my old-people moment, seriously, what is with this?  I gawked at the Bullseye death in ‘Shadowland’ because he got so much damn development in Thunderbolts and the various ‘Dark’ books — yeah, I guess they want to make the event ‘big’ by killing off a top-tier villain but couldn’t pick one who hadn’t recently been treated like an actual character?  Isn’t that wasting a lot of people’s work?

    I can’t believe I just bitched about the death of Bullseye. 

    The best thing I recently realized about ‘Second Coming’ is that Elixir, the X-Force member with the power to heal people, was sidelined from the crossover with no explanation.  Like, "this is a bloody battle, many will be wounded, some will die, what use could there possibly be for the guy with healing powers?"  I don’t even know. 

  20. I only want to add: oh, I love that Scourge pic! It only ever appeared in The Marvel Handbook in the 80’s, and I don’t think he ever actually dressed exactly like that in the comics. That pic is Byrne, if I recall correctly. I remember sitting for hours and trying to mimic the whole "fedora-and-skull-mask" look.

  21.  I know this isn’t about the Punisher but…

    Just always remember Nothing the Punisher does is ever in continuity. Earlier in this volume he blew up an entire bar of Supervillains at Stilt-man’s funeral. I don’t think any of the deaths stuck.

  22. @Ohcaraline Well Bullseye’s death has an automatic get out of death free card. He was killed by the Hand they always bring you back.

  23. @Minion  You are so right.  He should be back by the end of this event.  

  24. I love it when characters get killed in comics. I just wish more of them would stick.

     

  25. Lol, I remember that. I never liked Karma, so I guess that’s what I’d call a sweet SLAM maneuver: skewered lesbian asian mutie :/

  26. I have like tons of hard covers of her and Illyana being such dicks to the rest of the team. Needless to say I was satisfied that Illyana was captured once more.

  27. captamerica101 (@Autobot_Hunter) says:

    about the blackest night thing, did any non-green lanterns die? All the ones I can think of came back.

  28. I think Damage is still dead.