Fear the Reaper

Posted: February 16, 2013 in On Comics
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain

One common topic that has come up in our discussions about young adult literature is that of death’s presence; his very, very frequent presence. It seems as though authors have a hard time hitting home emotionally without having to axe some beloved character. It happens in The Hunger Games, the Outsiders, the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.. the list goes on and on. We are bombarded so frequently with death that we’ve actually reached a point where it no longer surprises us anymore. Whether this is good or bad is up for grabs; some say death is a part of life, but I like to think that horrendous, disease-ridden, bullet-to-the-face death should still surprise us when it happens.

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Superheroes are ordinary under the surface. Pain and pleasure are specific to no one.

As you can probably imagine, death in comic books is by no means a new thing. Oftentimes, (like in Marvel’s Civil War), main characters are killed off in attempts to shake things up in a continuity that consists of godlike beings and infinite destruction; obviously, surprise is hard to come by when you live in a world where the Hulk has wrecked your car more than you have. Death as a device in comic books is an entirely different monster. People die and are resurrected in the most obscure ways: fountains of youth, time travel, etc. etc. While it is an initial shock when your favorite caped crusader is unable to cheat death for the 6,000th time, it is almost never permanent. Because of this, comic writers have to rely on other ways to leave lasting scars on our heroes. I know I’ve been making a lot of Batman references as of late, but one of the newest issues of Batman, “Death of the Family”, does this perfectly.

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Eventually, either the cat or the mouse will lose.

This is an issue in both comic books and in conventional literature: how do you shock an audience that has seen it all? How do you shake the reader awake after they’ve seen countless deaths, horrible break-ups, life-altering trips to the doctor, so on and so forth? The key after getting people so used to explosions and door-busters is subtlety. That’s right. Subtlety. Famous musical producer Rick Rubin once said that a whisper is just as powerful as a scream, and when it comes to issues like death, this is equally true. The truly unexpected is that which creeps up on you, not that which parades up and down the street. In “Death of the Family”, the Joker successfully kidnaps all of Batman’s closest allies: Afred, Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, etc. The beauty in the Joker’s plan is not the physical damage done, however. The Joker, a character known for being chaotic and wreckless, deliberately attacks the Bat-Family’s emotional cohesiveness. He shatters their faith in Bruce Wayne, leaving the group fractured, and taking away the few anchors that Bruce has left to normalcy. Someone being literally dead is tough to deal with, but what if you are emotionally dead to someone? What if someone you loved and trusted was revealed to be your greatest threat? That almost makes death seem like a better alternative.

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It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.

Discretion or not, some people will ask if we should be getting used to death at all. Sadly, whether we should or not, we are. Death is an issue that we can’t just sweep under the rug. Like all ugliness, hiding it away will not resolve the issue. Maybe when a character in our latest novel dies, rather than be focused on the plot twist that occurs because of his absence, we should empathize with those around him. Superman’s accidental killing of his wife and child in “Injustice” isn’t just a great M. Night Shamylan-styled plot twist, it’s a horrific tragedy the likes of which no man (human or not) should have to face. Cape and tights or not, if you shed a tear at all when *SPOILER ALERTS for Catching Fire and The Outsiders* Cinna met his gruesome end or when Johnny finally succumbed to his wounds from the church, *END SPOILERS* then there shouldn’t be any reason you can’t empathize with a man who has lost his family and his city in the blink of an eye. We like to think that we’re all some kind of men and women of steel; that we haven’t any time for death, and that death is operating on our schedule. But that’s just it, we aren’t invulnerable. We aren’t supermen. We expect death to come beating down our door and giving us several weeks notice, but like I’ve said, he works discreetly. Even if we were invincible, as we’ve seen, even gods can be brought to their knees.

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Mors expectet

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