Since the inception of comics, death has played a vital part, just as in life. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman to avenge his murdered parents. Peter Parker dons the red and blue tights after a selfish act results in his uncle’s death. These are deaths which are set, defining the fabric of the characters and what exactly makes them heroes. However, often in the comic universe, death is a much less permanent reality, almost becoming a joke at times. Recent comic book deaths have got me thinking about the representation of death, and whether anyone ever really stays dead. Spoilers will most definitely follow.
The most recent death that comes to mind is that of Damian Wayne, Batman’s son, and his Robin. When he was first introduced he was a bit of a dick, not caring for people and only really becoming a crime-fighter as it allowed him to beat up bad guys. Over the years he developed some empathy, eventually dying to save some civilians who previously he would not have considered worth his time. His death was controversial due to its graphic nature and the fact that he was only 10 years old. He died in Bruce’s arms, his tiny frame fully evident. Batman has been particularly moved by the death of his son, with the current Batman books focusing on his overwhelming grief. Something makes me think that this death won’t last for long though, as its been shown many times that Damian is the Batman of the future.
However, he wasn’t the first Robin to die. Back in 1989 DC asked readers if they wanted Jason Todd to live or die through a phone voting process similar to X-factor. Whilst a narrow vote, Todd proved unpopular enough to warrant his death at the hands of the Joker. This almost caused Batman to cross the line and kill the Joker, deciding that he had committed too many horrific acts to let him off again. His death didn’t prove all that permanent however.
A few years ago in some ridiculous time altering storyline involving Superboy, Jason Todd was brought back to life. While at first he was a villain, when Bruce Wayne was temporarily ‘dead’ (he was actually being transported through time despite his corpse being clearly shown, don’t get me started), several characters attempted to replace him including Todd as a gun toting lunatic. After the first Robin, Dick Grayson, took on the mantle of Batman, Todd became Red Hood in an anti-hero role.
The latest death that is current rocking the Marvel universe is that of Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-men, who was killed at the hands of his first student Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops. Xavier had been a kind of background figure in the X-men comics for quite some time, Cyclops having taken on the leadership role years ago. Many characters have argued over how much Cyclops was in control, as he was possessed by the Phoenix at the time. Many of the Avengers blame him, calling for his arrest or death, whilst others believe he is not to blame.
This is not the first time Professor X has died though, in fact he was shot in the head back in the same story where Scott officially took over leading the X-men. At the end of the comic his body disappeared and it was revealed that he had been saved by the school’s training room which had taken on human form (no seriously!). He’s also died many times before that. The first such ‘death’ was during the 60s when he faked his death so he could be off-world preparing for an alien invasion, apparently not telling his X-men anything and just letting them mourn him for 2 years seemed like the best course of action. Back in the 90s Xavier’s son travels back in time in an attempt to kill Magneto so that Xavier’s dream will be easier to realise, Charles took the bullet for his friend and his death allowed the mutant Apocalypse to rise to power. The X-men were eventually able to go back in time and stop this from happening, restoring the timeline.
He doesn’t fare much better in alternate universes either. The ‘Ultimate’ version of Xavier had his neck broken by Magneto a few years ago, during a storyline in which he wiped out a great deal of the Marvel heroes including Scott and Wolverine. The comic X-treme X-men focuses on a team of X-men from different alternate universes who are brought together by an evil version of Xavier that was sacrificing them one by one. They now travel through the multi-verse killing Xavier’s who threaten the time stream.
There does seem to be a sort of finality to Xavier’s current death that was not present in these previous ones however. It has a real impact on the universe as a whole with Cyclops (possessed or not) killing his father figure, forcing new people to take on his vision. Furthermore Xavier’s brain was removed from his body by Red Skull in Uncanny Avengers. This seems pretty final.
Over in Buffy comics, long time cast member and Buffy’s father figure Giles died last year in a battle with a possessed Angel, who promptly broke his neck when Giles tried to stop him. Bucking the trend slightly, the series Angel & Faith has followed the storyline of Angel attempting to resurrect Giles, something which they think is a likely option. The quest to bring Giles back has had a strong effect on Angel, who believes it is the only way to gain redemption for his crime. Resurrection has a reputation of going poorly in the Buffy universe with most attempts leading to zombies. When Buffy’s friend brought her back they unintentionally ripped her out of heaven. This return to the harshness of Earth left her emotionally scarred. Angel & Faith is entering its final story arc where we will get to see if they can succeed and what kind of effect it will have on Giles if they do.
It will be interesting to see what happens with these characters. Will they get to rest or will some writer down the line be reaching for a shovel?