Is the Concept of Resurrection in Sci-Fi Problematic?

While writing – and very superficially at that – about Avengers: Endgame, the Fort Smith Times-Record had something to say about resurrections in superhero comics that I feel is insulting and makes a mockery out of everything science-fiction’s supposed to be about. First, I’ll comment on the matter of aging:

 

And, while many fans will grieve for those whose story is over, it’s not a bad thing at all. If these stories went on forever, as they do in the comics, one by one the actors would have to be subbed out anyway as they aged out of the roles. Feige and the other masterminds aren’t immortal either, so one way or another, just about every major aspect of the MCU will be modified over time.

 

And what’s that supposed to mean? That unlike the James Bond movies and Doctor Who, they can’t replace one actor with another? What nonsense. Besides, if memory serves, they’ve already done it with a few X-Men films (and Batman films before that), so what’s the point? What matters is the talent the hired performers can bring to the table, not a single actor alone. Now, here’s the part about resurrections:

 

As Mr. Spock once said, “the only constant in the universe is change.”

So why not control that change? Why not make it count? Why not tell a powerful story — one with a beginning, a middle and an end? The MCU was two/thirds of the way there before “Infinity Gauntlet,” and it looks they’re embracing the last part.

Comics, of course, have always taken the opposite course. There’s no permanent change there; Clark Kent is still a mild-mannered reporter after 81 years, and Peter Parker is still in his 20s after debuting as a high school student in 1962. Even mortality is meaningless in comics, as what fans laughingly call “the revolving door of death” routinely brings the dead back to life with boring predictability.

 

What if it was a resurrection intended to correct a wrong? Namely, a death that was performed in the most obscene, offensive manner possible, as seen in Identity Crisis? This stupid article fails to explore all that, and that’s why it’s such a failure. I mentioned earlier Jeph Loeb’s resurrection of Kara Zor-El for Supergirl in 2004 was of mediocre quality story-wise, but Kara’s return, in itself, how is that not something to celebrate? And yet, Kara’s return was all but ignored by the MSM back in 2004, in favor of the abominable Identity Crisis, which saw Sue Dibny murdered in a most nasty, horrific manner, and worst, Jean Loring forced into the role of her murderer, predating Wally West’s denigration in Heroes in Crisis today. Is it any wonder story merit’s plummeted so badly when you have press outlets acting so selectively? That’s why change shouldn’t be controlled, because what if it leads to something truly offensive being kept solid in place as a result?

 

For example, a few years ago four of the most important and recognizable of the X-Men — Cyclops, Jean Grey, Professor X and Wolverine — had all shuffled off this mortal coil in pretty convincing fashion. Now all four are as spry as ever.

In fact, almost all of the X-Men have died and come back from the grave at least once. It’s hard to name one that hasn’t. Go on, make a game of it: Find the X-Man who has never enjoyed a temporary dirt nap!

 

A better idea would be to find the X-Man who hasn’t been exploited for tasteless crossovers like Avengers vs. X-Men, and pointless “events” like the “Death of Wolverine” more recently. Cyclops killed Xavier in the former, which was truly awful, and one’s gotta ask – how is that “convincing”, and in what way? And why is a sci-fi concept supposed to be held hostage to the whims of PC advocates who believe every death, no matter how repugnant should be kept canon till the end of time, but think resurrections, by contrast, are inherently disappointing? In that case, why mention Spock from Star Trek? The 3rd movie in 1984 resurrected Spock, after he’d temporarily died from the attacks of Khan in the 2nd. No wonder this article is such a joke.

 

Comics writers can only provide, as Lee himself said, “the illusion of change.” Sure, shake things up. But the Reset Button is never very far away.

But what if it isn’t? Well, it’s very possible that might make the story you’re enjoying that much better.

 

In that case, I can only figure the propagandist who wrote this never enjoyed Marvel’s resurrection of Wonder Man/Simon Williams in the 1970s. They’d originally killed him off after his debut in the mid-60s because of a spat they had with DC about how it sounds too close to Wonder Woman. But after Power Girl debuted in the mid-70s, a few years after Luke Cage did as Power Man, it was decided this was so ridiculous, and they went right ahead and brought back Simon, who became a prominent, popular staple of the Avengers franchise for many years. And that’s how resurrections can make the story you’re enjoying that much better. If the writer doesn’t think Lee’s stressing the “illusion of change” has any worth, he has no business making these flaccid arguments.

 

Sure, it hurts when a character you love dies — and is really dead for good. But it also makes you treasure the time you spent with them, and love the story all the more.

 

No kidding! Does that mean we’re supposed to love Spider-Man’s 2004 Sins Past all the more, after the hack job it did on Gwen Stacy? It may not change anything for real about the original stories from the Bronze Age where she took the fall, but it’s still a major embarrassment when a tale as awful as J.Michael Straczynski’s gets sent to press. The article also focuses on the Gotham TV show:

But once Full Batman is achieved, as it will be, we’ll find ourselves once again in The Land That Change Forgot. Once the Bat-status quo arrives, it will be permanent and as unchanging as the stars. Like the Ragnarok saga of Norse myth, today’s comics execute endless crises with endless apocalypses followed by endless rebirths. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Which robs the stories of their power. That takes endings.

Take, for example, the major comics characters who have died and had the courtesy to stay in the ground. The list starts with Batman’s parents, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, Spider-girlfriend Gwen Stacy, the planet Krypton and Flash’s murdered mom. Sub-Mariner’s Lady Dorma. Some of Daredevil’s girlfriends, maybe. (Bucky Barnes used to be on this list, but he came back in 2005 as the Winter Soldier after being presumed dead since … 1945.)

 

Oh, what’s this? Fascinating. So Geoff Johns’ hateful time-warp tampering with Barry Allen’s background from a decade ago was quite fine? Sick. Originally, both Barry’s parents died of natural causes in the months after his own death in Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid-80s. But Johns, a product of the school teaching nobody can take sci-fi seriously unless it’s made as grisly as possible, had to change everything. And as I’ve said before, and will again, it makes no difference whether it was in-continuity, it’s still a change for the sake of darkness, and that’s exactly what ruined superhero comics. In fact, it robs the original Flash stories of their power, as now, they’re apparently not supposed to matter anymore. Lest I forget, I’m still colossally disappointed with Ethan Van Sciver for serving as the artist of Flash: Rebirth, where the alterations first took place. Which, now that I think of it, was where Wally West was first marginalized, all for the sake of putting Barry back in the spotlight, and now, look where it led to: Heroes in Crisis.

 

We know this list pretty well, mainly because it is so short. And also because these characters can’t come back in their original iteration, although we do see versions from alternate earths and the like. But the resurrection of the originals would un-do something fundamental, some great sorrow at the heart of a hero. That makes their stories more powerful — and therefore more memorable.

 

Yup, I get it. No memorable stories with Wonder Man after he was resurrected in the Bronze Age. But, if it’s really such a problem, then how come no lamentations on how poorly handled Harry Osborn’s abrupt resurrection was nearly a dozen years ago after Spider-Man’s One More Day? Or Jason Todd’s during Infinite Crisis? Particularly irritating is when various plot points are tied into a company wide crossover, and that’s what robs the story of any real impact.

 

And pain, like death, is part of life. We should embrace that in our fiction, because it just makes the story better.

 

If we can embrace death in fiction, we can embrace renewed life too. These are science-fantasy-related concepts we’re talking about here, and if there’s sci-fi novels and films where it’s fine to perform resurrections, then it can be done in superhero comics too, and even convincingly, I might add. Heck, Hawkman’s whole Golden Age premise was based on reincarnation, which is close. We could even include the original Stargate movie from 1994, which led to the long-running TV show, and featured a life revival machine. If there’s anywhere you should complain regarding resurrections, it’s if the story involves real life tragedies like WW1 and WW2, Japan’s invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking, and even modern-day Islamic terrorism, where nobody can return to life. If we make these distinctions, and don’t let real life mix with escapist fiction, then we can build stories to appreciate however we will.

 

And that’s something this shoddy excuse for a comics-to-films article fails to comprehend.

 


Originally published here.
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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1