As if the teases of the end of Secret Wars and the start of Civil War II and oh, yeah, we have that Avengers: Standoff thing as well haven’t been enough to exhaust you when it comes to Marvel’s big event books, the House of Ideas released another random teaser this afternoon, with absolutely no information attached:
“Dead No More”? Is that some kind of Faith No More cover band with everyone dressed up in Deadpool masks or something? Because, when it comes to the current Marvel output, the idea of dead means dead is, at best, a malleable concept.
It used to be, when superheroes died (or supervillains, come to that), fans would know to just wait for the inevitable resurrection; it became such a trope that characters inside the stories would refer to it — there was a line in an X-Men comic about heaven having a revolving door, I seem to remember, and Final Crisis had Superman specifically call out for J’Onn J’Onzz to be resurrected at his funeral… which he was, of course, at the end of Blackest Night, an event literally built around the fact that comic book characters couldn’t stay dead. But in these heady days of All-New, All-Different Marvel, something else is afoot: dopplegangers.
Think of the characters who are, in theory, “dead” in the current Marvel Universe, after all: There’s Wolverine — who has an alternate universe version wandering around as “Old Man Logan.” There’s Cyclops — who has his younger self running with the All-New X-Men. (Same goes for Jean Grey, of course.) There is, potentially, Reed Richards — pending tomorrow’s final issue of Secret Wars, of course — but his Ultimate Universe bad guy self has shown up in New Avengers already, just in case. Hell, even Gwen Stacy is up and around in both Spider-Gwen and Gwenpool.
Who are we left with whose death counts? The Watcher! He’s still dead, right? Or has another Watcher taken his place already? (Probably.)
None of this should be surprising, of course; Steve Rogers, post-Secret Wars, has become the world’s most fit 95 year old in Uncanny Avengers because, as much as fans might want Sam Wilson to be Captain America right now, Steve Rogers is too important a piece of intellectual property to leave off the table for too long. Similarly, The Mighty Thor might star Jane Foster right now, but Thor Odinson hangs around like a bad smell, waiting to take back the hammer at some undisclosed point in the future. All-New, All-Different might be the slogan, but the primary operating procedure of Marvel remains exactly the same as it’s been for years now: not change, but the illusion of change.
Of course, the fact that none of these characters are the “same” ones that died — there is, technically, a Wolverine buried under that Adamantium shell he was left in back in Death of Wolverine back in 2014, after all — is the kind of thing that allows both Marvel and Marvel fans to pretend to themselves and others that the deaths “stuck” and weren’t reversed or rendered useless by the fact that there was a spare lying around ahead of time. And, technically, they’re correct; if the only Wolverine you care about is the one who appeared in Uncanny X-Men #94 back in 1975, then, sure, he’s not around anymore. It’s just that, for all intents and purposes, there’s another guy just like him and he’s got his own book as well as his appearances in Extraordinary X-Men.
In a way, this wiggle room makes the doppleganger syndrome feels like even more of a cheat than straight-up resurrection; by saying, no, this really is a different character, honest, it allows creators to jettison whatever piece of history or mythology they don’t want to deal with (“This Wolverine never thought that wearing an eye patch and calling himself ‘Patch’ was a convincing disguise, that’d be dumb!”) and stealth reboot characters perpetually, fearlessly, keeping them pristine for whatever licensing opportunities might present themselves.
All of this has been buzzing in the back of my head since I read about the plotting session for April’s Civil War II, which launches with an Armageddon 2001-style reveal that one hero is destined to do a bad thing, which leads to said hero’s murder. I read that, and I thought, is that it? It feels all too cynically constructed to shock, and appeal because of that shock — and sure enough, Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley is quoted as saying that the death is “the marketing hook” for the book — and yet, utterly meaningless, because who cares if Speedball is killed before he has the chance to turn into Penance 2: This Time The Spikes Are Sharper? There’s probably a Speedball from Earth 278456 who’s been conveniently lost in Weirdworld this entire time, waiting to replace him in a relaunched Speedball series the month after Civil War II finishes — and better yet, this one wasn’t fated to do anything bad, so no moral problems there!
(I find myself thinking about DC’s multiverse, and the rarity of characters switching earths for any length of time. Those that did — Black Canary, Red Tornado, Mister Terrific in the current continuity — weren’t replacing existing characters. Perhaps that’s what DC was missing all along, the chance to think of the Infinite Earths not as the playground for multiple Crisises, but endless cannon fodder to make Death of Superman II, III and IV that much easier.)
And so, yes, sure; “Dead No More.” As a slogan, it’s catchy and frustratingly vague — but let’s not pretend that death has become an even more meaningless concept in Marvel’s comic book output in recent months than it was before.
Get ready for the return of…..wait for it…….Uncle Ben!
Or probably just Wolverine.
Or the senses-shattering debut of… Benverine!
(Assuming they can get Ben Vereen to sign off on it, obviously.)
Maybe it means Wade Wilson is just going to call himself ‘Pool now.
Really, who cares? Can any sensible reader take Marvel’s marketing seriously for more than a couple years or even one “major event”?
Oh, and Gwenpool is technically not a Gwen Stacey variant, apparently, even though that’s how she started life on a variant cover. In continuity, she is “Gwen Poole.”
My favorite “even the characters know death is pretty much meaningless” moment came during Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four run. After Ben dies, Reed’s reaction isn’t to grieve – it’s “Okay, let’s get him back”.
Best case scenario, Marvel is doing something weirdly esoteric, like killing Death (and therefore people cannot die). More likely, though, it’s a bog standard resurrection; the twist is probably something like the character in question has been dead waaaaaay to long for this story to work properly (see: Norman Osborn).
Or maybe (to riff off your insight), this is an extended bottle series where Thanos finally gets a therapist and digs, really DIGS, into his insecurities and abandonment issues and can ultimately deal with his unhealthy desire for codependence with, well, you know whom.
The thing that makes Marvel’s ads like this into comedy is that they promise to upset the status quo, but what status is quo for Marvel anymore?
Has there been a status quo since Civil War that’s lasted for more than a few months?
Sure, character X got replaced by a doppelganger and “nothing will be the same.” But, what really won’t be the same is that the doppelganger will likely be gone replaced by some new status quo 6 months from now.
At some point, they lost the magic of the “illusion of change,” and instead just made it all about actual change. The characters are all so consumed with adjusting to their constantly changing new circumstances that they’re not really characters any more, just action figures a child (often petulant) is throwing into a new whacky scenario every time he plays with them.
I’m tending to agree with the message here…too cynical to buy into any “marketing hook” here. Might I look in on the hype machine from time to time and be pleasantly surprised by some element or another? Sure. But actually investing emotionally in Big Two intellectual properties seems a little too retro.
I do prefer the “doppleganger syndrome” that Marvel is employing over DC’s no-return versions. I can endure or even enjoy diversions like Old Man Logan or Lady Thor or Black Captain America more, feeling the option of inevitability is there as opposed to having to say goodbye to a familiar version like Convergence Lois & Clark once their miniseries is wrapped. For that reason Marvel’s have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too works more for me than DC’s there-can-be-only-one approach.
Maybe Marvel can embrace the cynical and bring back Black Goliath just to kill him again in Civil War II.
Great piece, Graeme, you’re right – death has no sting, unless the person to temporarily off you is the Scorpion.
(Should that be ‘hasn’t’ as opposed to ‘has’ in the last sentence?)
Hey, death is the new black, as it were. Sadly, the big two have developed their characters in such a manner that my lifelong love of mainstream comics have now pretty much defined me as ” not the target audience” anymore. That’s ok. There’s lots of other comics to read that aren’t from the big two.
Does Marvel Comics even have a marketing division any more? It seems a majority of the promotion for comics is handled by editors and creators. Creators write their own solicitations and big up their books on social media. Editors and creators both go on the major mouthpiece websites and do interviews which are in essence extended commercials.
In my dystopian vision of corporate comics, I can see the execs slashing the promotional budget and shunting those duties off to creators and existing Marvel staff, the philosophy more or less being that they’ll take up the onus because if their book doesn’t sell, then they’re out of work.
A lot of my skepticism about Marvel Comics’ marketing budget comes from how shoddy the promotional material they produce actually is. I seem to recall much use in promos of existing covers (which they’ve already paid for) with figures in “silhouette,” i.e. crudely blacked out on Photoshop. Also, things like these “Dead No More” teasers, or the earlier All-New Marvel NOW! teasers with simple text on a black background… I don’t think it’s a happy accident that it doesn’t cost any money to produce something like that.
More and more with multiple versions running around the Marvel Universe, it’s reminding of pre-New 52 DC. Spider-families and Hulk families and Cap families and Thors and Wolverines…