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mister_terrific said on May 14th, 2010 at 10:43 am

Ah, you and your Earth logic…

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And here I just got through trying to make a case for making comic book death have some kind of meaning again:

http://comicsnexus.insidepulse.com/2010/05/11/im-just-sayin-81/

It’s a fine mess the Big Two’s gotten us into, huh? John you are one of my favorite people to read – so glad to find you on here on top of your regular blog…

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P.S. I will say this, though – a writing buddy and I came up with a GREAT idea for the Sentry that could give him some purpose in the Marvel Universe…AND allow writers to kill him over and over and over again if they want! 😀

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LightlyFrosted said on May 14th, 2010 at 11:03 am

Actually, the problem with every superhero who dies returning from the grave is twofold; firstly, that death loses meaning, but secondly and equally importantly, the act of returning a character from the dead loses its meaning.

In a non caped setting, returning a character from beyond the pale is INCREDIBLY significant. Bringing Spock back in Star Trek was a freaking QUEST, the return of Sherlock Holmes was at least interesting to read, and hell, there’s a religion founded around a guy who got crucified and came back three days later. He may also have had other things going for him, but that one is considered fairly significant.

Death, arguably still has meaning in the Marvel/DCverse. If an innocent bystander gets offed, chances are the forces of fate won’t convene to bring them back – so far as I can recall, they still haven’t brought back Ben Parker or Gwen Stacey, to say nothing of Bruce Wayne’s parents. I could be wrong of course, but those deaths still have meaning – but if they were returned from beyond the pale, while their deaths may or may not still have meaning, that resurrection certainly wouldn’t.

And really, the same applies to both heroes and villains, on the provision that they seem the slightest bit relatable. But that’s another problem.

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Even with the Waynes and Gwen, they stil mess with the characters’ (and readers’) heads by teasing us with the bodies being dug up, or a clone showing up, or what have you. The only death that seems to have meaning anymore is that of Skurge the Executioner. “Thor: God-Size” established that bringing him back to life would destroy the entire Marvel Universe. That’s hardcore.

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Death makes for great drama. Therefore it’s not going to leave any writer’s toolkit anytime soon.

It’s the resurrections that are the problems, not the deaths. The deaths should be meaningful; likewise the resurrections need to be as well. Colossus’s return in AXM, for example, was wonderfully poignant. The “oh yeah, these guys are alive again” panel in Blackest Night? Not so much.

Blame bad writing. That’s the real culprit here.

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Totally with you on Sentry; never liked the character. And Fallen Sun was painful. It’s the comic you’d get if Homer got to write Poochy’s funeral after he died on the way back to his home planet.

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Fred Davis said on May 14th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

so far as I can recall, they still haven’t brought back Ben Parker or Gwen Stacey

They brought Gwen Stacey back during the clone saga. It was a clone saga plot point, that’s how badly it was done.

A better counterpoint to the notion that comic book creators should never kill off a character is Aunt May’s first death during the 90’s, which was a brilliantly done and good story… which was completely undone by her later resurrection.

Though obviously a “they should never kill characters off, except the Hood and Sentry” rule should be taken to obey Cherryh’s Rule AKA “no rule should be followed off the edge of a cliff.” There’s ALWAYS going to be exceptions.

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Exactly, Fred. When I say, “Stop killing off characters,” I don’t actually expect comics writers to never ever ever do a story that involves someone dying. I just mean that when you’re in the middle of a billion-dollar grossing film trilogy featuring Magneto as a major character, and one of your writers says, “Hey, I’d like to decapitate him on-panel,” the answer should be “No,” not “Yeah, sure, we’ll just resurrect him a couple of months later.” (Especially since the big shock moment wasn’t Magneto’s death, but his being Xorn to begin with.) Since everyone knew Magneto wasn’t really going to stay dead, they shouldn’t have killed him.

And that’s just one example. The Martian Manhunter’s death was equally cynical and played for shock value. “Where were you when the Martian Manhunter died?” Waiting for his resurrection a year later. The reason the deaths in the original Crisis were so shocking was that they weren’t common, they weren’t intended to be reversed, and they weren’t done just to make people say, “OMG so-and-so died!”

Rein in the deaths, and the deaths that do happen will have more of an impact. Don’t kill characters you’ll need, and you won’t have to do so many resurrections. It’s that simple.

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Can we hold off the moratorium on resurrections until Ryan Choi comes back? Please?

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Can Prometheus fall under the “He’s not dead enough” rule as well? He’s almost as bad as the Sentry.

If I was ever given a chance to write comics, I would specifically make it a point to never kill a hero. If I was editor of DC/Marvel, I would require every single death to be justified to me, and I’d still throw out most of them anyways.

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hell, there’s a religion founded around a guy who got crucified and came back three days later.

A whole lot of them, actually. As a matter of fact, by the time Christ’s writers got around to him being resurrected the entire “god dies and comes back” thing was so hackneyed and overdone that, had the people of the time thought about it for more than half a minute, they would have had the same reaction to it that we have every time another of Jean Grey’s clones becomes a deity and explodes.

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@Thok: actually, Prometheus was pretty cool when Morrison was writing him, but he’s been handled horribly ever since.

@John: Erm…must we criticize the basis of an entire belief system on the grounds of comicbook storytelling conventions?

And it should be noted that resurrections need not always diminish the impact of a death; the Green Goblin’s death by his own glider is still powerful and chilling today, even with the knowledge that he’ll be back eventually in a move that was a total Ass Pull on the part of the writers. Hell, his resurrection was actually a good thing in the long run despite it’s being completely ridiculous, even by comic book standards.

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You know you can make a Justice League of characters who have died and come back? Look, Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman (let’s not even get started), Aquaman, Martian Manhunter. Kill off Wonder Woman, bring her back, and you’re there. You could probably make an Avengers team of resurrections too, or X-Men.

I remember at a panel a few years ago, someone asked Joe Q when Mockingbird would come back. He said, “This is the problem, even a minor character who died in the 90s has people expecting her to come back. That’s why dead means dead.” Then in Secret Invasion, lo and behold. I don’t know when the policy was reversed or if they wanted to use the character before the copyright expired or what. But it really stood out to me because of that panel discussion.

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Sean D. Martin said on May 14th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

@Rbx5: Erm…must we criticize the basis of an entire belief system on the grounds of comicbook storytelling conventions?

Erm…waitaminute. You mean he WASN’T a fictional superhero?

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@Ken

Wonder Woman has already died, too — Byrne did it during his run on the book.

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I’ve always preferred the stunt double excuse. :-^)

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Kid Kyoto said on May 14th, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I’ve got a better idea, MAKE NEW CHARACTERS. Is Mockingbird or Martian Manhunter so irreplable they have to be pulled back through the pearly gates to serve once more?

Couldn’t they Mocking Bird have a sister or cousin or best friend who takes up the mantle (and what a responsibility it must be!).

If no one in comics can die then it loses a dramatic tool and battles become as meaningless as a looney tunes episode.

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I remember there was a time, back in the day, when killing a superhero invoked an replacement rather than a resurrection. We went through a number of Green Lanterns and Flashes, a number of Spidermen, and whole teams of X-men.

And in many ways, it kept the genre fresh. Writers had space to create new characters and replace the old ones. If Dazzler never bit it, why would we need Jubilee. If Jean Gray hadn’t died, would there have been a serious place for Psylock or White Queen?

Batman Beyond was – in my book – one of the best reboots of the Batman saga I’ve seen. Largely, because they resurrected the idea of Batman while creating a whole new cast of villains. Why? Because so many of the old villains were dead. One of my top favorite episodes was the one where Terry McGinnis tracks down Bane, only to discover his steriod-addled remains. And the “Joker Gang” as a crew of two-bit hooligans made for an excellent legacy counterpoint to Gotham’s future.

These riffs and re imaginings were what kept comics fresh. But when you’re just regurgitating the same tired crew of heroes, you end up running the same tired plots as well.

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And while I’m slowly beating off to Batman Beyond, I would like to say it’s the perfect setting bridge to start working you towards major backstory arcs in The Legion of Superheroes.

You’ve got an eon’s worth of space to explore, and while the DC Universe has toyed with things that are “futuristic”, they rarely delve seriously into “the future” and the legacy all this crazy Superhero-ness leaves behind.

The problem is the major publishers don’t want to leave money on the table. And there’s always money to be had by printing out another run of Superman. Publishers don’t want to release copy writes and let indie writers hit the motherload without the publish’s hand out to catch all the money. At the same time, they don’t want to risk printing a bunch of duds that lose money.

Ultimately, if you’re really sick of regular comics, I’d recommend doing what I did. Go webcomic.

Check out some Dr. McNinja.
Read Warren Ellis’s Freak Angels.
Pick up Order of the Stick, or Erfworld.
There’s Clockworks – a Steampunk Adventure that’s been warming up nicely.
And the It’s Walky story arc, at it’s peak, was a classic.
Girl Genius is another absolutely amazing steampunk.
And, zomg! Gunnerkrigg Court

Indie comics have a smaller fan base that tends to roll with the punches. The characters don’t have this inherent monetary value that demands their resurrection. And the writers are the creators, so they value their creations enough not to have cat girls show up in the freezer today, only be be revivified tomorrow because Cat Girl Comic just sells so damn well.

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Now I want there to be a completely unpowered, non super bystander who somehow got in on the “never actually stay dead” gig. Just some guy who lives in New York who keeps getting caught in the crossfire of super-battles, and then gets resurrected in absurd, improbable ways.

4 issue miniseries, someone get on this STAT!!!

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See I can’t mind Martian Manhunter’s death. Because in the next issue you got a big ol’ “MAN I HOPE HE COMES BACK TO LIFE” line from Superman. Morrison knew exactly what was going to happen, and that’s probably why he did it.

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Problem why they kill heroes so much: it justifies their annual mega-crossover miniseries that they want fans to buy in the millions. The stories won’t sell if fans don’t think the stories will have epic consequences. And they can’t kill some backbencher like Starman or Blue Beetle, it’s gotta be a big name like Captain America or Martian Manhunter.

Problem with killing popular and well-developed characters: your writers and artists are going to want to keep using them. There are reasons why those characters got to be so popular in the first place: they appealed to archetype, they had origins that made them sympathetic or acceptable to the reading public, and they were fun to write about/read about. So if you kill them, your fans (and your artists/writers, especially if they were fans that grew up and got hired on) are gonna want them back.

So your solution – STOP KILLING THEM – is too obvious and doesn’t need further explanation. But the problem remains: how else are the publishers gonna keep up with their epic crossovers without the threat THAT TONIGHT SOMEONE DIES?

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@Kid Kyoto: the solution of creating new characters isn’t flawless. DC and Marvel have been creating new characters for years. They’ve tried to get the new characters to fill in for the heroes or villains that had been killed off (or safer still stuck on a bus to Coast City)… but the new characters can get disliked quickly if done wrong and you’re stuck with a title that stops selling.

The best example of that is the early 80s Justice League Detroit, where they dumped most of the best-known heroes and left it to J’onn, Vixen and a trio of raw recruits (Vibe, Steel and Gypsy). It wasn’t received well, so half the team got killed off during the Legends crossover and was replaced with the Giffen-DeMatties era Justice League.

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Sorry, Zifnab, but I can’t let this one go by. “If Dazzler never bit it, why would we need Jubilee.”

…um…Dazzler wasn’t dead when Jubilee was introduced. In fact, she appeared in Jubilee’s debut issue. And Jubilee wasn’t a replacement for Dazzler anyway. She was a replacement for Kitty Pryde, who wasn’t dead either; she was over in ‘Excalibur’ at the time, thinking all the other X-Men were dead. (Which they weren’t.)

While we’re on the subject…

“If Jean Gray hadn’t died, would there have been a serious place for Psylocke or White Queen?”

Absolutely, because those characters didn’t take on their current role until after Jean Grey came back. Jean Grey returned in FF #286, almost a full year before Psylocke popped up in the Uncanny X-Men. (She existed before that, of course, but she didn’t become a prominent X-character until then.) She wasn’t replacing Jean, she was replacing Xavier…who was lost in outer space, not killed. As to the White Queen, she became a prominent good guy in the 1990s, when Jean was already a fixture in the X-Books and living in the mansion once more.

If you mean, “Would there have been a romance between Scott and Emma without Jean’s death?” Well, probably not, but since I find that particular relationship to be the least convincing, least passionate piece of editorial-fiat since Phoenix was written out of Excalibur, I don’t know that I’d cite it as a big plus to comic-book deaths. :)

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Mary Warner said on May 14th, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Yes! I’m all in favour of calling a halt to all these deaths. (Well, they could still permit one every few years, but they’d have to really think it over.)

But more importantly right now– Is this true??? Is the Sentry dead?? Oh, please, please, please let it be true!
(Yes, even I’ll make exceptions to the no killing. Mostly for characters that never belonged in the Marvel Universe to begin with.)

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@Josh R: You should check out Peter David & Chriscross’ intial run on ‘Captain Marvel’ – A supporting character is killed by a Wendigo wannabe, and spends several arcs haunting Rick Jones’ ex-wife Marlo. Then at one point, she is resurrected, tries to reconnect with her parents – who don’t recognize her! – and then is promptly hit by a car. Back to being a ghost – *cue sad trombone riff*

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Uber Geek said on May 15th, 2010 at 12:04 am

Another problem is when there are stories involving the afterlife that show dead characters who are later revealed not to have been dead in the first place (Mockingbird, Bucky)

Also, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the characters (Elasti-Girl, Gold, Jason Todd) who were resurrected in the most ridiculous way imaginable: a soon to be nutjob pounding on the walls of reality.

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Yeah, we can stop killing characters and have the4m linger around forever.. like Aunt May and Alfred.

Aunt May.. with her mutant ability to survive every deadly illness known to man. And Alfred who was ancient back in the 40’s and must be now pushing 150.

If we stop killing off characters, then the obstacles they face no longer hold any real menace and we’re back to the silliness of the golden age.

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vortexgods said on May 15th, 2010 at 1:55 am

I remember once in Doctor Who they had the Master burned up in a fire. He caught fire, and completely disintegrated on screen. Oh, and they made sure we knew it was actually him and not some robot duplicate or clone.

Sometime in later episodes he was back, and the Doctor was like, “Whaa…?” and he said, “Come now Doctor, you know I’m indestructible.”

Once a comic book violates the Law of Death with any character, death becomes almost completely meaningless. It becomes impossible to permanently kill anyone off, because we already know that they can be brought back.

The best solution I ever saw was an episode of Justice League called “Hereafter.” Superman gets hit with a Toyman Death Ray, except it isn’t a Death Ray, it’s a time displacement ray. We then follow Superman’s adventures in the far future in parallel to the mourning for him in the present day.

The important thing is that they didn’t even really pretend Superman was really dead in that one… because that would be ludicrous.

On the other hand, if you want a comic book where characters actually die, I suggest ones which have single authors with total creative control. Rorschach (Alan Moore) isn’t coming back, neither is The Mock Turtle (Kurt Busiek).

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The gratuitous resurrections are what finally made me put down comics. I still love the characters, but it’s gotten silly, and I’m tired of this insane hard on that the editors have for the silver age status quo.

I should say here that I’ve always been a DC guy. I read the occasional Marvel story, and love their current movies, but Superman is my guy, that’s all there is to it.

DC’s biggest appeal, to me at least, was the Legacy Heroes. All of the big names in the DC roster either had picked up the torch from someone before them (Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman Blue Beetle) or had someone waiting in the wings, training to someday replace them. (Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Flash, GL sorta, Wonder Woman, Aquaman)

Kid Flash became the Flash, we got a new GL, Robin became Nightwing and a new Robin was trained, Wonder Girl became Troia, Speedy grew into Arsenal, and Aqualad into Tempest. There’s more, but you get the drift, the iconic characters became mantles or legacies to be passed down to the next generation.

The maturing of those characters and the natural evolution of the relationships they had with their mentors was what really kept me coming back to the DCU.

And they’ve thrown it all away with countless gory deaths that served only to shock, and resurrections of characters that had been improved upon.

There should be room for both ongoing evolution and development of characters and classic storytelling. I would be hard to convince that there is any story that could be told with the Barry Allen Flash that could not be told with the Wally West Flash, or even Bart Allen. But if there is, that’s why we have titles like Legends of the Dark Knight. It ran for years and years, doing great stories of Year 1 Batman that were out of continuity. There’s no reason that such a concept couldn’t be applied to all the legacy heroes.

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Aulayan said on May 15th, 2010 at 5:59 am

“So why not just let death die for a while?”

Now you did it. Brightest Day, they’ll kill off DEATH. Yes. Death, The Endless Death, the cute gothy death.

THEY’LL KILL HER AND IT’S YOUR FAULT FOR SUGGESTING IT!

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Sofa King said on May 15th, 2010 at 9:44 am

LONG LIVE MOCK TURTLE!

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4 issue miniseries, someone get on this STAT!!!

Or, maybe, a couple issues of Doctor Strange?

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Master Mahan said on May 15th, 2010 at 7:30 pm

No gratuitous deaths? But then how will mediocre writers get cheap drama?!

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vortexgods said on May 15th, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Well, on the plus side, if they kill off Death of the Endless, then the following couplet comes true:

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

That’s right, Strange Aeons will come to the D.C. universe, Cthulhu will rise from R’Lyeh and everyone will die. Even Batman.

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Actually, Zenrage, your example is also my counter-example. You say, “It’s silly to leave Aunt May alive all these years,” but when they killed her off back in the 90s? They brought her back a few years later. (In a contrived resurrection that involved the Green Goblin lying to his own diary.)

These characters stick around because they fulfill important storytelling functions. Kill them off just because “well, they need to die”, and you’ll only have to bring them back again. And then we’re back to the same old argument.

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Brian T. said on May 16th, 2010 at 11:24 am

Considering how most of the people writing superhero comics today seems really stuck on the comics they read growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, I would expect them to at least be familiar with all the ways writers used to be able to create dramatic tension while still being CCA-approved.

You don’t need to red shirt members of the Teen Titans you don’t like to make your story dramatic. Put innocent bystanders in danger. Force the good guys to get more creative in order to save the day. Make the villains smarter. Have their secret identities actually matter and force the hero to work extra hard to keep his boss from finding out he’s really the superhero he hates for no particular reason.

There are a million things they used to do in comics when I was a kid back before Geoff Johns’ and Mark Millar’s hacky writing somehow became the templates most people at Marvel and DC are expected to follow.

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^ What this guy said.

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Kid Kyoto said on May 17th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Really this comes back to the uncomfortable friction between relaism and fantasy in comics that has been building since the 70s and 80s.

When readership moved from kids to teens to adults writers made stories more realistic. And realism means sooner or later with bullets and lasers and explosions everywhere someone’s gonna die.

But at the root of comics are child-like fantasy tropes where no one ever gets hurt and nothing ever changes. Aunt May is always there making wheat cakes.

I think the suggstion we all go off and read Girl Genius or Death Note or Afrodesiac is a great one. Until DC can decide whether it’s writing gritty action books or kids cartoons we’re going to get books that satisfy no one.

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As an aside to this, I’m sick of people making the argument that Batman just needs to Get Serious and Kill The Joker to Stop Him Once And For All.

Because if it ever happened, the Joker would just come back a couple or five years later, and you’d have succeeded in nothing except making Batman a murderer.

If consequences meant anything in comics, you’d just have the villains go to jail, followed by them staying in jail, after which they wouldn’t escape and would then continue being in jail for the length of their sentence, like the vast majority of criminals. But since they don’t, killing’s no more lasting than anything else that anyone does, but being a killer will mark a character pretty much forever.

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For all that I expected J’onn’s death would be a temporary thing, the final image of Batman leaving a Choco on his coffin still made me choke up.

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Munkiman said on May 17th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Oh man I have been saying this forever. They didn’t have a problem with character resurrections in the Silver Age because GOOD CHARACTERS NEVER DIED.

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Yeah, they never die, they never get old, they never retire. If one creative team does something the next creative doesn’t like, out the window it goes. If the next creative team preferred the first version, back in it comes. “No, really, I don’t care what Magneto told you guys; the Whizzer and Miss America really were your parents.”

If you can’t tolerate this sort of thing, then really, there’s no point in arguing about it, because the no-talent hacks who make comics for dorky fanboyz are never going to change. And we dorky fanboyz get what we deserve.

No, I’m not bitter and angry.

L.

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Austin Clark said on May 19th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Except for the Sentry. The only possible reason to bring him back is so that Superman can come to the Marvel Universe and beat him up while telling him how much he sucks.

Fixed that for you.

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Well they did it in one universe. Project superpowers with all the public domain heroes, chapter 2 issues seven and eight have been awesome and partially because their mix of swamp thing and dr strange has now flat out stated that the heroes can’t die. just be imprisoned or changed for a while. it is now a basic premise of the universe that someone in tights with a bit of “mythic energy” in them will not die under any circumstances, period. Yet somehow I am on the edge of my seat awaiting the next issue. Its tense and well paced and really exciting and its building a pretty big universe. but apparently someone out there is listening. we have the first comic book universe to banish death.

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[…] Accordingly, I started off angry at DC for its callous attitude towards the character, and honestly, I’m still a little angry. Regardless, that anger and frustration has developed into lingering disappointment. Specifically, I’m disappointed that DC continues to use death as a storytelling crutch. (John Seavey says it better here.) […]

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[…] I’m gonna come back to this in the next column, because I’m going to have a lot to say about the chain reaction of thoughts this news triggered in me. But I have other things I want to talk about this time around, and the first thing I want to do is pick up where we left off in my previous column. On the topic of killing off comic book characters (whether it be a fan favorite like Nightcrawler or a total hot mess/capital-F Failure like the Sentry), recently joined MightyGodKing.com contributor and one of my favorite comic book commentators on the web – John Seavey – offered a simple enough solution: JUST STOP DOING IT.  […]

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