Better Off: Should Characters Stay Dead?

Captain America #25

It is the standard comic book cliche that death is only temporary. Whenever a main character (or even a minor character, for that matter) is given the axe, a few years - sometimes months - later, and he/she is back in the fold.

Marvel and DC use this as a tool to sell comics, and who can blame them? After all, it is a business, and death sells when it comes to comics. Even when we know the character will be back, we still buy those comics. Wolverine is a great example. Back in 2014, Marvel rolled out the Death of Wolverine story, and Logan met his demise that fall. It sold well enough even though we all knew it would only be a matter of time before he was resurrected. Now we’re in the midst of the Hunt for Wolverine crossover.

From a reader’s perspective, sometimes it’s better to leave a character permanently dead. I understand that doesn’t make good business sense when it is a popular character, and bringing characters back to life makes money. However, there are times when a character is given a meaningful, poignant death, and a cheap resurrection storyline ruins that. Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy are great examples.

The original Green Goblin, Osborn was Spider-Man’s arch nemesis and iconic antagonist in those early years of the web slinger. In 1973, Gerry Conway wrote a dynamic two-part story that brought a maturity to the Amazing Spider-Man that resonated for decades. Whereas the earlier Stan Lee tales were generally more kid-friendly, the Night Gwen Stacy Died transformed the Green Goblin from an over-the-top, childish villain into a true threat capable of murder. This was the moment when the hero, breaking the norm, did not save the damsel in the distress, and the emotional impact turned the cheerful Spider-Man into an angry, vengeful vigilante. The story came full circle when he chose not to kill the Goblin, who’s plan to impale Spider-Man on his glider backfired, and Osborn unintentionally killed himself.

For decades, both the Goblin and Gwen stayed dead, but they were immortalized as the two most important figures in the development of Spider-Man’s character. Then Marvel decided it was time to bring them both back, and it takes away from the emotional impact of that perfect bronze age story. Particularly with Gwen, Marvel has given us enough of her character to choke. There’s Spider-Gwen, Gwenom, and Gwenpool. These days we’re getting more than our fill of Norman Osborn in the Red Goblin storyline that, personally, I find lacking.

Remember the Death of Captain America story that, pardon the pun, capped the original Civil War? Between Ed Brubaker’s writing and Steve Epting’s art, this was a brilliant story that not only gave us a perfect death of an iconic character, but the aftermath gave Bucky/Winter Soldier a chance to grow as he reluctantly took up the shield and gave us a very different interpretation of Captain America that better reflected modern America. These days, with all the changes we’ve seen to Cap in recent years, it’s like that story never took place, which is a shame.

That’s what we are left with: great stories that, in the end, are hollow due to a standard resurrection story.

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