Monday, November 2, 2009

Killed DC Heroes: Pre CRISIS

Call me old-fashioned if you will! But with the latest bounties and murder storyline in JUSTICE SOCIETY, I must say it: comic book murder is overdone to the point that it's no longer dramatic or powerful. It used to be a real event when something like this happened. Now, it's body parts, entrails and blood everywhere. And, often, there was purpose beyond "death." Take Mister Terrific's murder; the whole suspense point was that no one was on the satellite but the JLA and JSA... so whoever murdered Mr. T was a good guy. Of course, that's not how the story turned out. Go read JLA 171-172 for that. :-) Before I go on, enjoy this sketch of 3 dead heroes (Golden Age Batman, Silver Age Batwoman, and Golden Age Mister Terrific).

Now, I will look at killed-off heroes in the DC Universe from 1935-1985 (up until the CRISIS series). I may need your help, but here we go:

  • Ferro Lad (Legion—30th century, died saving galaxy from the Sun-Eater, 1967)
  • Doom Patrol (Chief, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl; sacrificed selves; 1968)
  • Larry Lance (Golden Age, Earth-2, died saving Black Canary, 1969)
  • Wing (Golden Age, Earth-2, announced dead from battle with the Nebula Man, 1972)
  • Invisible Kid (Legion—30th century, crushed by Validus, 1974; tho he came back in 1983 I think)
  • Chemical King (Legion—30th century, died preventing the outbreak of a world war, 1977)
  • Batman (Golden Age, Earth-2, dying of cancer, fights Felix Faust to the death, 1979)
  • Mister Terrific (Golden Age, Earth-2, murdered by the Spirit King, 1979)
  • Batwoman (Silver Age, Earth-1, murdered by the Bronze Tiger, 1980)
  • Air Wave (announced killed by an escaped convict, 1981)
  • Crimson Avenger (Golden Age, Earth-2, died saving city, 1981)
  • Terra (Earth-1, killed in rock slide using own powers, 1984)
  • Karate Kid (Legion—30th century, killed by Nemesis Kid, 1984)
So...15 over the course of DC's first 50 years. Happy to update with your edits. In the meantime visit the Wikipedia article of DC's dead heroes for an EXHAUSTING look at the 200+ DC characters (most "brutally slain") in the past 24 years.

Sign of the times, or weak story-telling? Or, I'm old fashioned.


Javier said...

Agree, 1000 percent.

I just chalk it up to formulaic writing. Killing even innocent unnamed bystanders used to big a huge thing in comics. Now it is just an incidental plot point in comic writing.

Today's writer seem to only be able to write stories that last 3 or 6 issues, have multiple subplots, end with a big fight, have no real resolution at the end, and a supporting character gets killed (keeping the hero from feeling really good about what they have accomplished.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Fish. Invisible Kid from 1983 was Invisible Kid II. All three Legionnaires were in the 30th Century. Batman of Earth-2 was killed in Adventure Comics sometime around 1980. All of the deaths were big deals. Now, not so much. patrick

Tim Fish said...

No, no... they brough Lyle Norg back at the end of the "Prophet and Omen" saga, just as LSH went from newsstand to deluxe edition. Although, I stopped reading around then so I am not sure if it was truly Lyle Norg or not.

Xavier said...

Can Granch from Amethyst princess of Gemworld be considered a hero? :p
He dies from his father hand in Amethyst Princess of Gemworld Ltd 6, October 1983).

About the whole Invisible Kid Lyle Norg, I think they explained it as "yes, he is dead, he has to come back to the land of the dead because he can't be at peace among the living because he's not". So I would count him as dead. :p

Xavier said...

There was something about Proto I of the Legion but I think it's perhaps a retconing. It was revealed that Proto 1 had to die in the famous (let put our sticks up in the hear so that thunder can reach it) to make Living Wyre come back from the dead.

Matt28800 said...

It isn't just DC marvel is killing everyone too. and now they are bringing them all back for a romp in this X-Force/X-Men/New Mutants Cross over... just so they can kill them all again. All so violent!

Tim Fish said...

Yes, I know Marvel is crazy about the dead too. But it's just that I am a DC geek...

Anonymous said...

Since you reminded me, yes, Lyle's spirit did return, but he was dead. IIRC, the new Invisible Kid's powers were unstable and he sometimes had strange plot points... er, experiences. :) patrick

Matt28800 said...

I must say i was shocked a little ways back to find out that DC was making a fighting game connected to Mortal Kombat (for non video game nerds it is a fighting game that became very well known because of it being the first fighting game to include "FATALITIES" where you could MURDER you opponent after beating them up.) But i guess having their characters killing people is no longer something they care to avoid. Though only DC bad guys in the game have fatalities, the super heroes have very similar moves call HEROIC BRUTALITY. What is heroic about beating the crap out of someone ;-/ here to see what i am talking about:

Xavier said...

Yes, the whole "Invisible Kid return" was juts a challenge. Giffen and Levitz sometimes did think like that. Giffen (os is it the opposite) made Inivisible Kid return and dare Levitz to find an explanation for it. We can say it was a fun idea but it turned out pretty badly (and don't start me on this lame Jacques Focart character:p)

Anonymous said...

I think there is another side to the formula. The audience. People by their nature, adapt. Even to the most horrible things. This is nothing new. However the ability to take in information not only has come quicker, but in all the details.

As used as this example will be, when Columbine happened, it was horrible, and it captured our attention for so long, we watched and digested the information. How much attention is anyone one person giving the shooting at the military base that just happened? Attention yes, but I don't it shocking. I've gotten used to the idea that because guns are so easily accessible, it leads to some one thinking killing is a solution.

The same goes with entertainment. Once you do something shocking, you need to up ante, to continue to shock. However, with entertainment, comics are clearly a product, you might as well compare them to softdrinks. Coke must never change. We will accept different kinds of Coke, so long as the original coke is there.

You can not really remove Superman, Batman, or anyone from the comics universe, because they the "cokes" of the industry.

However they have now set up a situation they can't win. The death of a character is, ultimately viewed as the biggest shocker. But since overcoming death has been made so easy, such the norm, no one thinks death is that important anymore.

Comic book writers and creators would do well to learn a few things. Take JK Rowling. Death was ever present in her Harry Potter novels. The main villians goal in life was to avoid death at all cost. Because in her world, death was final, there was no coming back. Have such a hard fast rule, makes everything more real, more dangerous, because you believe the rule, and accept it. When a character dies, he's dead.

But you have no such belief when it comes to comics. It's either a super deity bringing them back, an alternate world where they died, or any other hacked idea the newest writer/editor can come up with to justify bringing a character back.

Tim Fish said...

Tim: I don't know... you've noted a great example of good story telling that doesn't rely on "brutal slayings." I also think animated series such as JUSTICE LEAGUE and TEEN TITANS also told great stories without the slayings. Many of which were written by DC veterans like Gail Simone, Marv Wolfman and JM DMateis. The debate rages on! :-)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, it's completely possible to tell great stories, that don't involve a death. Traditionally, death represented a point of view of the authors, generally that what that character stood for, was wrong, or that the system in which the character existed, can't protect that type of person.

So when death is used to simply shock, it means nothing. Once you are shocked, you are less shocked the second time, until death is a yawn. Then you start to get things like the Blackest Night.

But good stories, that don't rely on shock for effect, require more depth then you often find in comics these days.

That problem I would say lies in how comic book creators come about. Fanboy turned creator.

pbowser said...

Hi Tim

I have JLA 171 framed and hanging on my wall -- I read that comic over and over again as a kid. It wasn't until the internet came along that I was finally able to find out what happened!