I'm Just Sayin'…#81
by Greg Manuel on May 11, 2010

Sooo…I see Nightcrawler died.

Went down in the line of duty, trying to get Hope, the first newborn mutant since the Decimation, into X-Men territory before she could be captured by the super-Sentinel Bastion (now with 50% more Super-Adaptoid?)  in X-FORCE #26.

He certainly went out in a heroic fashion, and the effects are going to be felt by those he left behind, for sure – as our boy Glaze posted earlier – and yet…I dunno. It doesn’t feel as powerful as it should. At least, not to me, anyway.

I’m not sure why that is, because we know that shocking developments are still possible in mainstream superhero comics, if they’re done just right. Case in point…


…or even more recently…

…so why does what happened to Nightcrawler feel so…underwhelming to me?

I think this is why:

Not that there’s necessarily anything within the image that gives away who was under the sheet…I’m sure there is – the font in the warning text, that there’s maybe three or four characters there that’s already gotten the “death” treatment, whatever – but I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m wondering if the issue isn’t so much whether or not life and afterlife have become a revolving door in mainstream superhero comics, but that death itself, that specific moment when the coil is shuffled, here-one-second, gone-the-other, isn’t treated like the sudden, jarring event that it truly is.

The way I see it, death in comics can still have an impact, but only if publishers are willing to go after all-around sales, and not just Shipment Day sales. What I mean by that is, I imagine the only reason you get an image like the one above, is so that readers will be on the lookout for the issue in question. “Marvel said somebody’s going to die – I wonder who??” At least, that’s what the intended reaction is supposed to be.

You know what I think they should do? Stop doing that for a while. Not stop killing characters – stop announcing it in solicitations, or teaser images or interviews with Newsarama or at convention panels, or whatever. If you’re gonna kill somebody? Just kill’em. I’m figuring, if you do it in an exciting fashion for those folks already reading that comic, word of mouth will do the rest. That’s what death is like for most – it happens out of nowhere, and then word spreads: “Hey – didja hear?” So try it out next time, Marvel & DC – see what happens…

As I’m sure you know, one website that I read a lot of for some really insightful comic book commentary is MightyGodKing.com. From his many reasons why he should write DOCTOR STRANGE (here’s his latest – enjoy!), to some choice hilarity involving Photoshop and Archie characters…

Heh. This one’s my favorite of that bunch…click for more, you’ll love’em! 

But it was his impassioned salvo against JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE RISE OF ARSENAL that made me send a comment to one of his posts for the first time, that I think I’d like to discuss here as well.

Quoth the Mighty One: “But on top of this being about Roy Harper, whom you don’t care about much when you think about it for more than two seconds, it’s a terrible series because it seems to be designed to remind everybody that superheroes, as a concept, are really quite stupid. We all know that superheroes are a stupid concept and they don’t work if you think about them for two seconds.2 When Roy screams out that the entire idea of kid sidekicks just endangers kids or that Donna Troy abandoned her kids to go “whore around in space with Kyle Rayner”3 all it does is remind me that I am reading a comical book about people in tights fighting crime and how none of that actually makes sense. It’s like if I was reading Lord of the Rings and Sam suddenly started whining about why hobbits shouldn’t have hair on the tops of their feet. It makes the entire comic feel like a judgement on the reader for enjoying the genre, for crissake, and it’s something DC in particular just keeps doing again and again and again, and when it’s not this particular thing, it’s something else about how I don’t like comics in the right way and every time it happens I want to read DC comics less and less.”

Now this was the point he made that got me thinking. On the one hand, he’s right…the idea of costumed amateur athletes/hand-to-hand combatants having successful careers fighting crime is completely unfeasible in the real world. But then, most fiction falls under that category – because for one thing, the real world is way too unpredictable, and for another, there’s no way any of us could tolerate being part of a circle of friends who do nothing but crack jokes.  But this is only true if you’re looking on the surface. If you ask me, the concept of the superhero isn’t about the costumes or kid sidekicks at all.

And don’t doubt for a second how important that concept is.

Dig, if you will – ACTION COMICS #1.

I went with this image just cuz I liked those old serials. :) Now, back to my point…what were the first two things Superman did in that comic?

He stopped a wrongful execution, and kicked the crap out of a wifebeater.

You know what’s difficult about stopping a wrongful execution, and kicking the crap out of a wifebeater? Proving them can be time consuming, and regular people get uncomfortable about getting directly involved in sticky situations.

Superman isn’t, and why is that? Because thanks to his investigative abilities as a reporter, He knows the woman going to the electric chair doesn’t belong there. And thanks to the power vested in him as the last survivor of Krypton with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, he can get in there when it’s time to step in and give a bully what’s coming to him.

That is why the superhero concept is important, comic book heads – it speaks of our civic duty to one another as human beings. The colorful costumes and flashy powers are the trojan horse through which an ages-old lesson is delivered: when you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is wrong, you MUST act to right it.

Got it? I’mma say it again. When you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is wrong, YOU MUST ACT TO RIGHT IT.

But the problem is, we don’t always know when we should step in on someone else’s behalf. (What if I’m wrong? Who’s to say it’s any of my business? Who decides who gets help and who doesn’t?) Or we might know, but we’re too afraid to act. (What about my own safety? Sure I could stick my foot out and trip that purse-snatcher, but now he’s gonna come after ME!) These are the things that freeze us normal everyday folk in our tracks whenever we think we hear gunshots in the night, or see a person hurt in the street. And that’s why most of the most commercially successful superheroes not only have the power to protect the innocent and fight evil, but their most important power is usually the one that gives them the ability to know when they are needed.

That was the original point of “mild-mannered newspaper reporter Clark Kent” (he can afford to be mild-mannered while he’s gathering his intel; he can be as rude as he likes when he dons the red cape and puts that intel to use!) before the superhuman senses and myriad of super visions came in addition.  That’s the point of the Spider-Sense. That’s the point of the Eye of Agamotto. That’s the point of  the Bat-Signal, the Lasso of Truth, the Shadow’s network of agents, Captain Marvel’s Cosmic Awareness, David Dunn’s I-know-what-you-did touch and Lion-O’s Sword of Omens. It’s how Matt Murdock knows when you’re lying.

And the Golden Age was replete with characters who acted because they just knew it was the right thing to do. But then a generation later, it was almost as if people needed reminding of this – or perhaps, to add a more realistic edge to the medium, humanity’s own flaws were reflected back at the reader – so thanks to Stan Lee and others like him, the lesson became as follows: When you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is wrong, YOU MUST ACT TO RIGHT IT…

…and if you don’t, THE COSMOS WILL PUNISH YOU.

Examples of this addendum, especially in Silver Age Marvel Comics are plentiful…

…but what are some of the exceptions? Sound off if you can think of a few, comic book heads; especially from Silver Age or later…


Just a new webcomic I’ve learned about recently, hehe…

And it looks like I used up my word count for this edition, but I’ll be back with the best example of the hero that knew when to act, and we will get to talking about him next time. So until then, I’m Greg Manuel and I’m just sayin’, is all…

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