It was 1985 – 1986; DC Comics was in the middle of Crisis on Infinite Earths, one of the first 12 issue maxi series in comic history. It was a plan to simplify the DC Universe, which quite literally had infinite earths. They promised heroes would die, history would be changed… the DC Universe would never be the same.
I remember the cover clearly in my head (yes, I own the comic, but it’s wrapped in plastic safe and sound); Superman, outfit torn all to hell, holding the limp body of Supergirl, surrounded by all the other heroes in the DC Universe. Inside this issue Supergirl sacrificed her own life to save that of her cousin: Superman. I was 14. I cried when I read that issue.
It was a defining moment in comic book history. It was a defining moment in my history… and it sold comics.
Other heroes in comic book history have also given their lives for others: Jean Grey (a.k.a. Marvel Girl), Flash, Green Lantern, Thunderbird, Green Arrow, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, Donna Troy… I probably could add to the list ad infinitum.
In 1988 DC offered readers the chance to vote to let the new Robin (Jason Todd) live or die in an upcoming issue. This was a very controversial idea and sparked all kinds of debate. Believe it or not the readers voted to have Jason killed… and it sold comics. In 2001 Marvel’s Colossus injected himself with the serum for the Legacy Virus, knowing it would kill him but would save countless others from the deadly disease… it was sad, and heroic… and it sold comics.
But, these heroes don’t stay dead.
Jean Grey is alive and well, apparently she didn’t die, but her body was taken over by a universal spirit which later tried to destroy the universe. Supergirl is alive. I don’t know how they plan to explain this one to me.
Jason Todd is alive… Green Arrow, Green Lantern…. I’ve even seen an X-Men comic with what truly appears to be Colossus gracing the pages (I haven’t actually bought an X book in a while so I could be wrong).
Donna Troy (Wonder Girl for those of you not in the know) has died and come back to life so many times I don’t know what to think. This month, she gets her own special: The Return of Donna Troy. To be fair DC should consider adding numbers to specials like this; The Return of Donna Troy part 347.
Here’s the thing: The storylines where these heroes have sacrificed their lives were significant (well, most of them). These stories affected your readers in such a way that they are sometimes considered to be defining moments in our lives. When you continue to bring these characters back to life again and again it lessens the lesson, lessens the experience, and lessens the value of the character, the comic and your company. Comic books are, in my opinion, an art form.
Superman and Lois Lane get married; Peter Parker and Mary Jane get married, Green Lantern’s assistant gets beat up for being gay; George W. Bush and Lex Luthor were both President of the United States; Green Arrow’s sidekick is HIV positive; Supergirl dying… this is life imitating art guys. These are stories that touch the imagination and make us think about the hard issues, the life issues, the happy issues, the sad issues. Don’t make cheap excuses to sell comics.