Monday, February 6, 2012

The Revolving Door of Death

This video hit the internet this weekend, as a sort of side-door promo for "Chronicle", but it's pretty entertaining stuff in its own right.

Now, I've always said it's pretty easy to take any story, book, TV show, movie, or whatever else and talk about it in a reductive, distainful manner.  You can rant about anything, and be accurate (and this rant is, for the most part, accurate), but not actually be honest about what really happened in the story.

I do think this one is pretty accurate and entertaining, and relatively honest.  Let's face it, there's been plenty of craziness over the past however-many-years in comic books.  (Comics, everybody!)  Death of Superman is hardly the craziest story out there. 

But one bit in which this recap is a bit dishonest is the idea that Superman coming back to life killed "death" in comics, and hurt sales in a way which Action Comics never recovered from.  The revolving door of death had always been a common trope in comics.  No one stays dead except Uncle Ben and Thomas & Martha Wayne.  Death is not a permanent condition in that world.  No one was upset that Superman came back; him coming back was pretty much assumed from the get-go.  If anything, they were mad about how it was done, with a bit of handwaving that essentially said he didn't REALLY die, he just went into a "healing coma", while still claiming that he DID really die.  It's classic having-cake-and-eating-it situation.  Superman coming back wasn't earned.  He just woke up when he needed to. 

Is that dramatically interesting?  No, it's lame.  That's what made people mad. 

If anything was killed by the Death of Superman, it was the idea of manufacturing a Collector's Item out of whole cloth.  Tons of people bought the Death of Superman issue and vacuum-sealed it, forgetting that the thing that makes a collector's item worth something is its rarity.  The bubble finally burst on the collector boom of the late 80s and early 90s, and sales of EVERYTHING dropped.  People weren't buying anymore with the hopes that they were squirreling away a fortune to be cashed in 30 years later. 

Still the video is fun, and it reminds one that if you want your stories to matter, then the consequences have to pay off.  Death can't be the same thing as a bit of a nap.

1 comment:

Daniel Fawcett said...

I found the clip to be mostly spot-on in its criticism, too... except for the kicker about death having no importance.

You nailed it in part with your response. But there is something else to consider: the discourse conventions of heroic literature.

Death has never been final in heroic or mythic lit. King Arthur will return when England is in her Hour of Need. Orpheus, Krishna, Osiris, and Dionysus all fit the bill. As does Jesus.

The problem is that, in every "Dying God" myth, there are consequences and real struggles. But in "The Death of Superman," there were no consequences. It was a cheat. If some of Superman's friends had to search the globe to find a Kryptonian "Regeneration Key" that was lost when Kal El crashed to Earth, there might have been some dramatic tension. I could have bought that. But a "healing coma?" Lame.