Marc Alan Fishman: Wanted, Dead or Alive … Not Both.
So I guess when the AV Club is reporting on the future death of Wolverine, the cat is out of the bag, eh? In yet another PR stunt, the mainstream comic houses show their full hand in hopes mega media attention will somehow garner a boost in pulp sales. I’m reminded of that saying concerning the definition of insanity. And surely this is a topic we, the snarky columnists of any number of media outlets, have covered… well… to death. It’s still worth another look though, so indulge me, kiddos. It’s time to beat a dead horse.
Isn’t it a shame when the knee-jerk reaction of your most dedicated fan-base upon hearing about the death of a beloved character comes with an audible snicker and eye roll? Suffice to say when I’d read the newswire piece it didn’t come as a shock, as much as a continual reminder that my favorite medium was often regarded as kitsch. And truly, no other medium comes to mind – save perhaps for soap operas or pro wrestling– where the announcement of a significant loss bares no bitter fruit as much as it comes complete with scoffs from the peanut gallery.
Wolverine to be stripped of his healing factor and killed. Peter Parker’s mind is destroyed, only to be inhabited by Otto Octavius. Batman banished forever in time by the impact of some Omega beams. Superman dead. Thor dead. Professor X dead. Steve Rogers dead. Jean Grey dead. Colossus dead. Hell… Bucky Barnes dead. Phil Coulson dead.
Feh, I say. Feh! In each instance of the leaked announcement, I immediately retort “…until sales drop, or a movie comes out.” And if you’re a betting man, you’d be smart to go all in each time. I think though, that ranting and railing against something you could count on as easily as the tide coming in, is a waste of negative feelings.
What sits at the root of all of these stabs into the mainstream ether is the soul-crushing realization that our beloved cape-and-cowl crowd are all for-profit entities, each built to harness the dollars and cents of a loyal customer base that has proven more often than not to continually purchase product even while loudly protesting it. Simply put, one need not sweat the wrath of the fanboys and girls until they leave you high and dry at the checkout counter. And as attendance at comic conventions continue to swell, and the multiplex becomes choked annually with blockbuster after blockbuster… there’s little need to fear that our ink-and-paper rags are going away while the licenses need to be coddled.
And what would you do if you were the EIC of a major comic book publisher? You’d keep hitting your cash piñatas until they stop dropping Tootsie Rolls. One can’t simply let their comic character live and die with the times. They must constantly be in a cycle or dramatic repartee with one another. They must converge on mighty battlegrounds. They must make odd alliances. They must recalibrate, reinvent, and redefine their very being every few months. The moment they stop, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Even to let a mortal man, like Frank Castle – a character whose very mission is clearly drawn in severe black and white terms – die a hero’s death, is really just another way to bookmark him for a new series later. One cannot simply let a comic character die… not when there’s a bloodstone to find and money left on the table.
To learn of Wolverine’s impending dirt map should not actually be met with a scoff, and an upturned nose. As in nearly all my aforementioned examples of re-re-retconned demises… in their immediate wake came some of the best stories I’d ever read concerning that character! When Batman was time-bulleted away, Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics gave me the Dick Grayson I’ve always wanted to read. When Dan Slott took the leap to let Otto drive as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, he opened up a fantastic object lesson in proactive versus reactive heroism. And when Wolverine bites the big one, it will be less about ending his story as it is opening up a new chapter in the plethora of X-books that will no doubt be touched by the loss. Death, as it were, is then less about the loss specifically of the character in question, rather, it’s about the aftermath that needs to be considered.
It is sad to me that we must accept this as fate; that our heroes and villains are merely pawns in a never ending churn and burn of story arcs and universe resets. In the time since its inception, the Marvel Universe (the 616), and the DCU (whatever we call current continuity since it’s neither new, nor 52) have relegated themselves to reinvention at every turn of the corner. Unlike a soap or the WWE, where fictional characters can eventually die in real life… or even Doctor Who, who remains the same alien in spirit, but purposefully reimagined to coincide with the times – mainstream comic books must remain forever in Neverland. While DC tried hard to create legacies with a few of their major heroes (The Flash and Green Lantern, most of all), they too eventually succumbed to a massive PR stunt (the still-absolutely-unbearable Flashpoint), in order to move the zeitgeist back into its clutches.
So mourn not for James Howlett, folks. Let no tears stain your mutton-chopped cheeks for his once robust form. For now, he will join any number of other X-Men at the famed Marvel Island. He’ll enjoy the umbrella drinks, and free bacon… as the 616 spins out of control.
Because let’s face it, a world with Wolverine leaves a roster spot open on at least 1,246 different teams. And that is why we mourn.