A reader of my blog with the royal yet ranch-hand name of Roy Brander recently commented:
“But the comic-book hero adventures all have to be *close* scrapes with death, over and over, like Bond movies, where you can hardly believe they survived. “
Depends on the comic.
Batman, back when Adam West was Batman, would end up in a cliffhanger deathtrap in every show. Catwoman would be crazy to marry him. Of course, on the other hand, she was the one putting him in the deathtrap when she was the guest-star, and what girl does not like teasing her guy a little bit? With sadistic death?
On the other hand, Spider-Man, as best I remember, never ended up in the hospital, never got a broken leg, rarely got a black eye. He could dodge bullets, and spin a web into a bulletproof shield, and so on.
Of course, on the third hand, Batman never got married, whereas Spider-Man did. Maybe there is a good reason for that.
Iron Man, at least in the original run of the comic, refused to get married, not because he thought he would die of a gunshot wound in his invincible armor, but because he knew his heart would fail.
Superman, who is even more invincible, at least in some versions of the character ends up with Lois being Mrs. Lois Kent.
And Reed Richards, rocket scientist, knew his bride could protect herself better than nearly anyone on earth, between being invisible and being able to erect an invulnerable force field. He is not the only Super who got married, but he is the second most famous to do so.
(The most famous being, of course, Mr. Incredible, who gave up his life of danger, and settled down to a nice, routine job as an insurance adjuster. I am sure the domestic bliss would not make him yearn for the dangerous glory days of old! That would be nuts.)
The least famous super wedding, at least from coign of vantage, is that of Nightwing and Starfire. I never even knew there was an issue, or a timeline, where that happened, and I have never heard the wedding mentioned or discussed. But they had a child, who grew into the smokin’ hawt babe named Nightstar:
It is a sign of the sad times in which we live that this superheroine was reimagined as the self-insert character from the heart of the realm of Beyond-Parody, beyond the boundary of I-Swear-I-Am-Not-Making-This-Up, in a oneshot called I AM NOT STARFIRE:
Which introduces the idea that there may be OTHER reasons why no one wants to marry a Cape. I mean, you would have to be blind or something to fall for a monster like The Thing!
So, the point is well taken, that Supers are likely to be killed in the line of action, it is also true some of superheroes simply live safer lives than others, no more dangerous than what a Marine, or a Cop, or a Lumberjack might face, or a sailor in a storm, or a missionary in a communist nation.
And a lot of Capes just don’t get married for exactly that reason.
Of course, they also do not age. Ben Grimm served in the Pacific as a fighter pilot in World War Two.
Comics, admittedly, are not so realistic, as genres go, but, honestly, how would being Mary Jane, wife of Spidey, not seem as if it must be noticeably worse than being the wife of a prizefighter. He gets into a fistfight every day, but Spider-Man is not likely to be killed, or even wounded, by the Tarantula or Stiltman or Pastepot Pete, or even Doc Oc or the Scorpion.
Most of the drama in many of these superhero stories is detecting the crime and chasing down the criminal. The early run of Hawkman has him basically acting like Philip Marlowe, just with wings, and carrying a mace instead of an automatic.
Of course, Hawkman is the third most famous happily married Cape in superherodom. He was together with Shiera since his fourth episode, and, technically, the two were married before he met her, since they are both reincarnations of an ancient Egyptian couple.
Having said all that, please note Capes are more or less immune from dying from bad luck — no superhero ever perished because he sneezed or blinked while disarming a bomb, or accidently dropped his bat-lockpick trying to unchain himself from an exploding squid.
If real life, such things would happen all the time. See the death of Captain Amazing in the film MYSTERY MEN, for example. Pure fumbled die roll, caused by one too many a flip of the double-throw switch during a squabble among the player-characters.
If the genre were one where the fans did not demand returning characters, well, then, Sherlock Holmes would have died wrestling Moriarty when both went over the brink of the Reichenbach Falls.
Likewise, Zorro, in the original story, revealed his identity and hung up his mask after “Curse of Capistrano” with no idea in mind of a sequel.
Likewise for THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE — the ending was to be the children returning to their old lives, youth restored, at the precise moment they left, and the mind-bending oddity of living through a second childhood after having been an adult is never addressed, because it was never meant for this story to continue.
Likewise for GODZILLA. He was obliterated by the oxygen-destroyer, and his radiation-scarred lizard body turned into a skeleton. As long as mankind learns its lesson, and halts nuclear testing, unwise human tampering in the order of nature will not produce additional monsters to rise from the deep and plague us.
In war stories, for example, THE SEVEN SAMURAI by Kurosawa, four of the seven can be dead before the end, because that is the grim point of the story. The soldiers die and depart, and the farmers gather the harvest, singing.
But you cannot have sequel, the THREE SAMURAI and its sequel, the TWO SAMURAI, not the mention THE LAST SAMURAI, unless each sequel starts with a recruiting sequence to introduce the new candidates to fill out the roster.
For similar reasons, you cannot have a sequel to GONE WITH THE WIND, even if the estate hires a hack to write a book called a sequel, because Scarlet Butler is not going to survive yet another war, recover and prosper with her way of life destroyed, and get married and divorced again.
Nor can you have a sequel to NINETEEN-EIGHTY FOUR, because once the boot is seen trampling the human face forever, it would be simply a different book, to have Codename: V overthrow Big Brother, or a different genre, not a dystopia; or it would be a repeat of the first, and we could see Winston Smith get more broken under torture, and forget his love for Julia even more entirely.
But in the Adventures of the Lone Ranger, John Reed has already been left for dead at the beginning of the first episode, and if his likelihood of surviving pitched gun battles was the same as it really was for gunfighters in the real Old West, the show would have been a one-shot about his retaliation against the gang that killed his patrol, and then he would retire, or be dead.
Superhero stories, with a few exceptions like the Alan Moore’s THE WATCHMAN or Archie Goodwin’s MANHUNTER (from Detective Comics vol. 1 #437-443), generally do not end with the character dying, and, if so, not from a lucky shot by a mook during a shootout, or an icy patch of road during a car chase. Such is the nature of story telling.
It is not because men who live dangerous lives do not die young. They do. It is correct to say that there are old heroes and bold heroes but not any old, bold heroes. The numbers always get them.
It is because if the hero is dead, there is little room for a sequel.
Originally published here.