I bring all this up because when I got home from looking at provocative art, I saw on many blogs, and the New York Daily News, that one of the original members of the X-Men had died in Avengers Vs. X-Men issue 11, which was released yesterday. (For those who don't know, Wednesday is new comic book day across the USA! Additionally, it looks like all melodramatic comic plot points will now be released in either celebrity magazines or venerable newspapers, as if these stories involved real people.) If you intend to read or have been reading the Avengers Vs. X-Men storyline, and somehow have missed the onslaught of blogging and such about the now-dead X-Man, DO NOT READ FURTHER, BECAUSE I WILL SPOIL IT FOR YOU. TAKE A SECOND, AND CLOSE THE WINDOW.
Go on, leave, read the book and come back.
... Is it just us caught-up readers and impartial people here? Good! So at this point either those who know or don't care are aware that Charles Xavier, aka, Professor X, was totally killed by protege and leader of one-half of the X-Men, Cyclops! Proof positive lies below!
Which leads me to ask, what exactly are the consequences for offing a stalwart, though recently oddly absent character like Xavier? Will Scott be put in some sort of mystical jail, now that he's gone all Dark Phoenix? Will this death shake up all the Marvel books, somehow causing the reboot that leads to the Uncanny X-Men turning into the Uncanny Avengers, as forecasted? Brian Michael Bendis, AvX's main champion, is obviously not spilling many beans about how Professor X's demise will affect everybody and everything, but he does speculate that stuff will happen, sometime, in the future. So! We don't really know what's coming down the pike.
Which is what concerns me here. Because Marvel is only answering questions about plot and possible forward momentum in company interviews; Bendis does wonder what it would be like emotionally to kill one's mentor but overall nobody's talking about conflict, grander thematic plans, or meaning. For this book, or subsequent books. Writers and editors only mention plot forwards, not how the murder gives weight to any larger emotional resonance they've been building. So at the end of AvX, it looks like dynamic will change, but perception won't. Nothing will be translated into something different, surprising, or thought-provoking (as with the candy in that art piece). And that's cheap in a time when we're getting press releases about bombastic comic characters while grappling with large instances of death on a daily basis. I mean. If we won't confront death, if we don't try to make sense of death in our narratives, then how can we deal with it in reality?
There are instances of mourning turning in meaning in comics, of course. Death has become synonymous with rebirth in hero books, largely because of the stunt that was The Death of Superman storyline. At the time, it was revolutionary; DC had run out of stuff to pit Superman against, outside of death. His croaking gave Superman books a shot in the arm! (For a history lesson on how his death came about, check this out.) For a pretty darn accurate plot summary of the whole death storyline, delight in this video -- starring Elijah Wood and Mandy Moore, of all people:
So by giving a grand meaning to death via resurrection, and going back to that well repeatedly, comics writers actually killed death. And consequently, robbed it of any possible meaning. Even Barry Allen, the second Flash, whose demise was one of the few permanent sacrificial deaths in comics has come back! Barry's death actually had major thematic consequences for his successor, Wally West. Wally had to grow up and defend his uncle's legacy. Mark Waid's classic run on the character led to a dissection and celebration of human potential, and that couldn't have happened if Barry's death hadn't motivatted Wally running in the first place. But death doesn't just need to have two consequences: life or death. Legacy can be a kind of life, too. So can the afterlife (look at Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? for more on that possibility)! All sorts of meaning can be explored in comics. But it's just not happening with death, because we as readers don't demand it. We don't demand that writers give weight to characters' trajectories (especially in the New 52, which is all about plot, sex, and violence), and we certainly don't demand to be confronted by our own mortality in challenging ways. But how else will we truly learn what a hero is, if we don't face the hero's ultimate enemy, and ask for mature stories about death and grief? If we don't have reference points, how can we understand our own humanity?
Comics are largely allegory and often magical, so maybe that's why I'm expecting something as symbolic as that candy to appear at any moment, and change my perspective on death. Because comics have the ability to be off-the-wall and take us in to the fantasy, they can not only solve problems easily, they can also make us think about and appreciate life and death in a new way. I'd like to say that Xavier's murder will shift our perspective on these things. I want that to be true. But until we demand transformation (and not just this kind), as people, as readers, our thirst for more will not be satisfied. Something to keep in mind if you stop by the Art Institute's contemporary wing sometime soon.