Saturday, February 26, 2011

Three Funerals and a Reality

The death of Dwayne McDuffie cast a shadow over the whole comics industry -- while shining a renewed light on the possibilities for the artform that he showed. The next day three funeral-themed issues of major mainstream comics happened to come out, some of which fulfilled those possibilities.

The most high-profile was Fantastic Four #588. This is one of Marvel’s best books by its most important writer, and the death (for now) of Johnny Storm was handled in a monumentally moving way last issue. I can’t wait for Jonathan Hickman’s new “FF” book, and maybe he can’t either, because this final “mourning” issue often felt like something to get out of the way; some moments were very touching and there were others where I couldn’t fight off a mental image of Garth Ennis laughing his ass off. Superhero deaths are a ritual that, in the typical sense of that word, happens again and again, and before blasting into the next adventure the Fantastic Four creative team didn’t quite know how to stop.

With much less fanfare but more weight Issue #169 of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon was observing the death of its sole title character (but still moving on), through the Dragon’s teenage kids conveying the mixed emotions and honest bitterness that losing a parent early brings on. Dragon is a rare real-time superhero series where you can’t go back, and that’s as good a formula as we’ve got for going forward.

Taking fantasy closer to the world we know was Amazing Spider-Man #655, detailing the death of an everyday person, Marla Jameson, as a casualty of the superbeings’ endless warfare. Marcos Martin’s crisp yet surreal compositions and writer Dan Slott’s imagination and human touch conveyed the distorted senses and toxic thoughts of a loss you feel responsible for, creating an unqualified and stunning work of art. Slott is the funniest man in comics when he wants to be, which he rightly didn’t here, but like all real jesters, he sees straight to the truth.

The story must go on, but for its absent players to have meant anything, it’s proper that a change is made.

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