With the recent events in Spider-Man 700, it seems a great hero has fallen. But does the death of Peter Parker really matter?
Over the years, almost every major superhero has died in one way or another. Peter Parker is now dead not only in the main Marvel Universe, but in the Ultimate Marvel universe as well. Captain America was “killed” during the Civil War event, Batman during Final Crisis, Wonder-Woman, Wolverine, The Flash, Hawkeye; the list goes on. The difference is that in comics, just about everybody gets resurrected in time. For Superman, the absence was one of only a few months. For Captain America, 2 years. In the end though, most of them come back.
The majority of the characters who are truly dead start out that way like Thomas and Martha Wayne, Ben Parker or Abin Sur; characters who’s death in fact creates the hero. Others are killed off because of unpopularity rather than any real storytelling significance. Jason Todd (Batman’s third Robin) was killed because his fate was put into the hands of the readers, and they voted that he should die.
Some heroes have a planned death; Batman died and was resurrected in a single run written by Grant Morrison. Characters like Hal Jordan however, who was dead for nearly ten years,have been resurrected by completely different writers than the ones who killed them in the first place. Even if a writer intends a heroic and final death for a character, they are slaves to the will of the publisher.
Death in real life, and indeed in almost every form of media, is permanent. Death in superhero comics is anything but. If a character dies in a movie, tv show or a book, you can almost always expect them to stay that way. Even in video games wherein a player goes through multiple “lives”, you can usually expect them to stay dead if it happens during a cut scene. In comics however, whether it be through cloning, magic, deception or a mighty punch to the walls of reality, almost all of them return. Professor Charles Xavier has “died” no fewer than 5 times, so when he was killed once again in the pages of Avengers Vs. X-Men, the revelation was met with a resounding “meh”.
The Impermanence of death in superhero comics poses a real storytelling problem. Even the death of the dog in old yeller was more meaningful than the the death of Batman because you know that the dog is never coming back. The death of a character can be heart-wrenchingly emotional and dramatic plot device, one that comics no longer really have access to. Sure, we would hate to lose the characters we know and love, but the stakes seem almost nonexistent (not to mention making heroes like Mr. Immortal wholly redundant) when every death leads to inevitable rebirth. Major comic publishers have the choice to make a change, but it may be too late. At this point, even if a popular hero were to die in a completely permanent sense, it would be like the boy who cried wolf. No matter how poetic, how poignant or impactful, not a single reader would really believe it.
Some though would ask, do they need to change? Superhero comics at their core have always been a form of escapism. In a time when the world was at its bleakest, comic books starring super human heroes filled the newsstands with that which the world’s youth needed most. Hope. Since the late 40s, comics have of course become progressively more dark. The core however, is the fantastical. A world where the rules are different from the ones in our reality. Where good is good, and justic prevails in the end with no fail. Where batman faces awful criminals and villains and yet spares their lives every single time, a world where even Adolf Hitler gets punched square in the face by the hero. Perhaps that is also a world where goodbye is never final.
There are upsides and downsides to this trope of the comic industry. While some writers may feel stunted by the inability to kill characters off, others are given a chance to write characters that would otherwise be unaccessible. Seasoned comic readers may feel irked when a character dies given its inevitable outcome, but a character coming back and starting over gives new readers a chance to enter a world that may have been too daunting before. Whether for better or worse, the concept of superheroes as immortal is likely one that is here to stay, and maybe that’s just it. Like the gods of Greece, Superheroes are modern day myths and legends, Bigfoot Hercules and Davey Crockett all at once, and as they say; Legends never die.
Have any theories on when Peter Parker will be back? Want to share your favorite superhero resurrection? Let us know in the comments below.
This article was first posted on January 4, 2013