|"...and No More Lonely Nights."
Most comics have, of course, always invested heavily in violence and destruction in order to create drama – not just superheroes, but also westerns, science fiction, sword and sorcery and also not just anything within the over-arching adventure genre but also often in books whose focus was intended to be biographic, historical, inspirational or comedic. Criticism of this violence is also nothing new, and obviously has had little effect overall on the industry – pre-Didio DC specifically is notorious for the invention of a corpse-stuffed refrigerator which handily and tackily cut the fledgling Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s supporting cast down by one for a cheap pop and a tragedy-based emotional gravitas awarded to a character who – despite being the high-profile successor to a highly popular predecessor -was effectively a cipher.
|Here, cat-slappin' action like you like
it, happy now?
What makes Didio’s tumultuous turn at the helm (and putting aside the argument as to whether he's individually personally responsible for the phenomenon) remarkable is the frequency and haste with which characters are offed, and for such little reason. There’s a philosophy of “putting the toys away” which has helped make DC comics what Neil Gaiman once impressively observed was the largest story ever told by humanity – Didio’s DC seems dedicated to breaking as many of those toys as possible, faster than they can build new ones, and shrinking the potential for new stories with every exploded face.
There are a lot of elements of this open to discussion in terms of story development and narrative theory and the general psychology of conflict and gender and such, so while I could go on at length about this (and do, over at the Tumblr, despite my best intentions) I try not to, as I find that it sort of winds me up – and not in the Secret Wars II way, not in the manner of Kitty Pryde and Wolverine or Captain “Split” Marvel, where the stories are so inspired yet inept or cluelessly enthusiastic or generally enjoyable for how thoroughly they miss the mark.
|Three different villains in three different
titles during the same month back in
2009 all made references to wanting to
rape Supergirl. That's not grim-and-gritty,
that's the sign of a fuckin' problem.
I promise you, that isn’t my complaint – I don’t want to read comics which are exactly like the ones I read when I was a kid. For one thing, I’ve already read those, I want something new. For another, I’m an adult now and I’m looking for more emotionally and structurally complex comics. And for yet another reason, most of those comics weren’t very good – if comics in 2001 were exactly like the comics of 1981, I might walk into DC’s Countdown:Arena and let two bigger, meaner versions of me from some grim alternate universes slaughter me off-handed – what would be the point?
I wouldn’t mind the death, destruction and degradation if only it had some purpose in the storyline – I wouldn’t mind a hundred thousand deaths or the massacre of an entire nation (well, I’m in luck!) if it made even one character feel sad for more than a panel.
So, what follows is what I am sure is an incomplete list, but of those which stuck out to me in recent memory of the most meaningless deaths in the DC Universe as of late. Add your own, we could make a list long enough to been seen from space and to have its face punched out through the back of its head by Black Adam.
|Meet the new Kryptonians - Dead-El, Deceased-El,
Asphyxiated-El, Blowed Up-El, Knifed In The Gut-El ...
The Superman story arc New Krypton brought back the original bottle city of Kandor BUT – in an admittedly unexpected twist – immediately enlarged the city, sparking a culture clash between one hundred thousand newly re-displaced and freshly super-powered Kryptonians and a planet full of normal humans ill-suited to accommodate the unexpected guests.
There’s obviously no limit to the potential of a story which suddenly introduces a metric shit-hiaz*of flying transients – at the very least, you’re bound to see some new heroes and villains and some stunning cultural clashes and investigate a weird and previously unknown world.
But no, the villains were pretty much Zod and Brainiac, the heroes were some Metropolis regulars and the culture was a rigorous caste system with some obvious inequities we readers could stomp our feet and go “boo” at.
Naturally, it’s still pretty remarkable that we were introduced to as many as a dozen assorted new Kryptonian faces out of that 100,000, since the subsequent series were dedicated to blowing up anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred at any given moment. And just to make sure that no Kryptonians escaped the devastation, almost all the survivors asphyxiated en masse in space. Boom.
So: 100,000 potential new characters, a year of comics in a multitude of series and the whole point was a bunch of super-corpses in space. Hooray for comics!
(*It’s the only unit of measurement I remember from the original World of Krypton miniseries. It’s liquid. So. That’s grosser)
|And for your birthday, we got you ... being royally
screwed over. Make a wish and blow out your wife!
It pains me to have the former Elongated Man on this list, because I have to admit that I was one of many who bought the hype and became emotionally involved with Ralph’s character arc in the ambitious although flawed (yet still underrated) series 52.
A Silver Age staple and superheroic take on The Thin Man, the crime-solving adventures of Ralph and his globetrotting heiress wife Sue are fondly remembered by a lot of comic fans. The serial detective format of the stories didn’t translate into the Bronze Age and beyond, but a lot of writers found purchase in the portrayal of the couple as a bickering, buoyant pair of partnered romantics.
SO BRING ON THE MURDER! Ralph and Sue undergo a trial separation in the form of Sue’s freshly murdered corpse being set ablaze just before she gets the chance to tell him that she’s pregnant. Oh, and it was also Ralph’s birthday, no kidding. And Firehawk stole his wallet. I’m kidding about that. And this too: Superman farted on him also, I guess. Why stop with the misfortune there? We’re only an issue away from retconning a rape for Mrs.Dibny, after all, let’s rub some salt in this shit.
Ralph spent a year in the series 52, and I’ll spare you the many twists and turns and sidetracks which he encountered – like I say, for all its flaws, 52 is a helluva read, so you might owe it to yourself to check it out – but will cut to the chase: In the end, Ralph and Sue are reunited in death and are partnering up once again as … RALPH AND SUE DIBNY, GHOST DETECTIVES!
All’s well that ends well, right? And there even seemed to be some real potential in the premise of a deceased detectives solving supernatural crimes – well, there was, but the Ghost Detectives thing fizzled. Ralph’s and Sue’s next big moment came cackling in the pages of Blackest Night, where they murdered Hawkgirl and Hawkman with maces. C’est la vie.
|"Dear Sirs, this letter is to inform you that you are to
have your asses handed to you on the following date ...
The Golden Age Flash was occasionally bedeviled and/or assisted by a trio of comic relief caricatures of the very popular Three Stooges. Going under assorted names – but most frequently under the collective sobriquet “The Three Dimwits” – the characters Blinky, Winky and Noddy were effectively harmless and all but forgotten comic characters.
Since passing the mantle of the Flash on to Barry Allen, Jay Garrick’s comic sidekicks only made a sparse few appearances, the last before their final appearance being all the way back in 2000. In 2009, James Robinson added them to the prodigious body count of his Cry For Justice series, alongside a bunch of gorillas, Global Guardians and other tertiary supporting characters.
The point of their brutal murder seems to have been to give veteran superhero some sort of additional motivation to do good – probably unnecessary since Garrick has been doing the superhero thing for more than seventy years. It’s like deciding in 2011 that television host Guy Fieri needs a reason to look like a shaved, greased ewok – he’s already doing that.
Back in the days of Animal Man, Grant Morrison postulated the existence of a comic book limbo where characters who’d fallen out of publication disappeared, awaiting their calls back up the ranks. It’s slightly funny and slightly embarrassing to imagine Winky, Blinky and Noddy being summoned to Limbo’s county line, being asked to step back into continuity. “You’re needed”, says an authoritative editorial voice, so they step up from Limbo into the hyper-reality of comics … and return less than five seconds later, newly murdered and subsequently re-forgotten…
|Haha, yes it is.
To be fair, I wasn’t all that big a fan of the “all-new” Atom – he resembled the “Same-Old” Atom a little too much for my tastes. The leap from Golden Age Atom and pint-sized pugilist Al Pratt to Silver Age Atom and super-physicist Ray Palmer described a dramatic distinction. Meanwhile, Modern Age Atom Ryan Choi is (like his predecessor) a physicist from Ivy Town who wears a red-and-blue costume and shrinks. Yawnsville. OH BUT HE’S ASIAN I forgot. Worlds of difference.
Still, I didn’t want him brutally beaten and murdered, especially just to give gravitas to Ray Palmer – again, who’s already had character motivation for the last fifty years – and a supervillainess who murders with the heat from her va-jayjay. I’m not even kidding. God, I have a headache.
What makes Ryan Choi’s recent assassination so puzzling is that he’s been a frequent guest on the very popular Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon, the primary source of media which is turning the current crop of kids into the fans of tomorrow. Just like the movies, television shows and cartoons of my generation’s youth informed our perception of a (Richard Donner-inspired) Superman, (Tim Burton-inspired) Batman and (Super Friends-inspired) Justice League, so too will Brave and the Bold form a lot of kids’ expectations about the comics they’ll be reading in a few years (and hopefully into adulthood).
To that end, they’re going to be a little surprised at their anglo Atom and even moreso that Aquaman is glumly hucking undead sea animals out of the waves…
|"Just bein' a good guy, here, sittin' in my
good guy chair ..."
There is a rumor that, as 52 came to a close, Didio allegedly stuck his hand into the carefully simmering stew and demanded some big “event” storyline. Given the bloodiness of the big event – the plodding World War III - and how it upset the carefully-built house of cards up to that point, I’m comfortable taking that rumor at face value.
Furious at the leadership of the nation of Bialya for personal injuries and an invasion of his home country, Captain Marvel-baddie Black Adam goes on a super-speed murder spree. He manages to rack up an impressive genocidal bodycount of TWO MILLION people inside Bialya’s borders with his own two fists before the super-heroes of the world gather to curtail his afternoon-long indiscretion. That’s what we call focus.
Black Adam’s subsequent punishment was exceptionally mild and, for that matter, short-lived, but what made the storyline intolerable is that, somehow, the character came out of it still treading the line in DC’s decade-long is-he-or-isn’t-he love affair with the question of whether Black Adam is truly a villain or just a good man making very hard decisions.
I can answer that question for them: HE KILLED TWO MILLION PEOPLE. IN AN AFTERNOON. I can barely get my laundry put away in an afternoon, I’m going to have to call anyone who can kill in the seven digits before Judge Judy a go-getter for badness. Which he would be, you know, if all those deaths had a point beyond shock and gore …
|Cute kid, right?
They smooshed her under a brick.
The infant daughter of former Teen Titan Roy Harper and international assassin Chesire (it’s complicated), killed with tens of thousands of others – both showcased and not – in the godawful Cry For Justice.
Ostensibly, Lian Harper was killed so that Roy Harper – a former heroin addict – would have sufficient reason to backslide, lending the character a certain amount of gritty conflict as he struggled against the allure of drugs. Of course, he’d also just had his arm amputated and replaced with some exceptionally uncomfortable, phony baloney robot prosthetic and his mentor had killed a dude and also he’s apparently got erectile dysfunction (Thanks comics. Thanks for letting me know that) and, you know, he’s a professional recently promoted to the pinnacle of a pretty high-stress career where maniacs shoot at you all the time and also one other thing oh yeah he’s a former goddamn heroin addict.
So he had more than his fair share of reasons to pick up the needle once more, and the death of his daughter not only wasn’t really necessary – it was bad writing.
Obviously all of these horrible things happening to Roy Harper in turn are awful, but they also make him a man who has nothing to lose – and, frankly, with that being the case, I don’t see why he shouldn’t shoot up. If Lian Harper were still alive, then we’d have the potential for an interesting story – a man having suffered a crippling injury and struggling with a persistent addiction, but he has so much to live for in the person of his daughter, whom he loves more than life itself. Can our hero battle back his demons for the sake of his daughter and her best interests?
Good stuff there, potentially, but it’s moot now because she’s been smooshed dead. Roy Harper is literally a character with nothing to lose and nothing to live for, so … fuck him. What’s the upshot of him beating his addiction and becoming accustomed to his prosthetic and being able to get his wood up again (THANKS COMICS. THANKS SO FUCKING MUCH FOR THAT)? Narratively speaking, there’s nothing except what will probably be a poorly-received by-the-numbers four-issue miniseries, so that’s just … that’s just great.
|That's actually a pretty good fuckin' question.