Tuesday, August 23, 2005


The always-talented Mr. Cronin, over at Comics Should Be Good, is discussing an unfortunately-worded quote from Judd Winick regarding the death of Blue Beetle:
We all threw around names of characters who would be the one to carry the story, knowing it's going to end with their demise. That's important that there's someone who discovers everything and dies for it. And in the very short list we kept coming back to Blue Beetle. And everyone in the room said, "I could do a great Blue Beetle series." And that's why he has to go, because he's actually the one who means something. And now he's gone and eleven years from now someone will bring him back and we'll be angry men about that. It's generational.

And the problem Brian has is that you shouldn't kill off good, useful characters. If there are more stories left in the character, then by all means, tell them.

My rebuttal? There are good stories left in every character. There's no such thing as a "good character." Before Keith Giffen came around and did JLI, who honestly cared about Blue Beetle? I've never read a single review of the character's series that wasn't "mediocre at best." I first came to know ol' Ted Kord through some of the post-Giffen JLI stories, mainly when he got put into a coma by Doomsday.

Now, anyone could have gotten pummeled by Doomsday. Lots of nameless extras did. But who took the real beatings?
*Superman--natch, he died.
*Supergirl--turned to goo.
*Booster Gold--lost his costume, and thus, powers in the battle.
*Blue Beetle--spent the next six months or so comatose.

Four guys took it on the chin in the Doomsday battle. Ted Kord was one of 'em. For someone who had been in absentia for years before Crisis, and really hadn't done anything noteworthy until Giffen's JLI, that's saying something. Until JLI, Blue Beetle's greatest contribution to comics was inspiring the Watchmen's Nite-Owl.

Before Giffen, Beetle *wasn't* a "good character." Giffen found a spin on the character that would allow him to tell stories that would elevate him up to first- or second-string status.

Before good writers got hold of them, who would have called Swamp Thing a "good character"? Jimmy Olsen? Prez? Animal Man? Snapper Carr? Brother Power, the Geek? Yet good stories have been told about them all.

So, why kill Blue Beetle? The fact is that Giffen *made* him a well-loved, fleshed-out, interesting character. Was some disrespect done to Ted or to Giffen by bumping him off?

I say thee nay. Beetle died pretty unceremoniously, but managed to prove himself (again) as an A-lister, as one of those heroes that people too often overlook. He's got no powers, he's not as rich as Batman, he's not as good a detective as Batman, he's not as good with computers as Oracle, he's just kind of second-best all around, and he's best as part of a buddy comedy. Yet he uncovered the grand conspiracy that existed under the noses of the greatest heroes in the universe, and did it all on his own. His death kicked off a pretty damn good storyline (even if you're not enjoying Infinite Crisis, it's still well-executed), and it's going to be remembered.

Would anyone have remembered if he'd just kicked it when Doomsday came rampaging through? Did anyone remember that Guy Gardner died (and then came back horribly mutated) in Our Worlds At War? Here, Beetle's death isn't just some one-panel impaling, it has meaning and repercussions.

Furthermore, let's say the Countdown meeting had gone differently. Someone says "Congo Bill," and everyone in the room agrees that they can't figure any other use for the character than cannon fodder.

What emotional impact does it have to kill off Congorilla? He's never had anything approaching an A-list status, or even C- or D-list. Who would care?

Maybe there'd be an emergency meeting of C.E.A.T. (the Congorilla Emeral--er, Emergency Attack Team), but that's about it. It'd say "hey, look, we're still afraid to make real changes to the universe! It's just another crossover!"

Killing off a character that people actually *like*, in whom people have an emotional investment, gives the story some emotional weight. It might be a little bit of a cheap trick, but they could have copped out by having him wake up the next issue. At least this way, he stays dead until someone decides there are more Beetle stories to be told.

And that's the other beauty of comics: you can always bring them back. Riddle me this, Batman: was Jason Todd a better character than the memory of Jason Todd? Was Gwen Stacy more important than her death? The Green Goblin? When you kill an important character and give it real impact, their death can become a continuity milestone. When Peter fights on that bridge, he always remarks how much pain the bridge has been party to. When Batman feels he's failed, he always looks at the glass case reminder of his greatest failure.

And yet, Jason Todd and Norman Osborn have both come back to menace their respective nemeses. Someone decided that they still had some good stories to tell, so they were resurrected.

Maybe Beetle's death will have some effect on the DCU that will justify it, just like Jason Todd's or Gwen Stacy's did. If not, he'll be back in one form or another within the next two or three years. If it does, we may have to wait the ten years that Winick predicts. Either way, Ted Kord's going to find out that the only permanent resident of Comic Heaven is Uncle Ben. Even Bucky doesn't stay dead anymore.


Brian Cronin said...

I personally believe that you shouldn't kill off good characters, this is true.

However, moreover, if YOU think that you can tell good stories with a character, then you should always tell those stories rather than kill the character.

It is one thing for ME to say "you shouldn't kill a good character," because, as you mention, there is differences over what IS a good character.

However, in this instance, the writers THEMSELVES say that the character is good, and they could have written plenty of good stories about the character.

Plenty of good stories about a character is always going to be better than killing off a character.

Tom Foss said...

I just think that that would leave only the red-shirts and Hydra guards to bite the big one. Any character is a good character in the right hands, and there are good stories to be told about all of them.

If you only killed off the characters who deserved it, or the ones like Uncle Ben or the Waynes, who needed to die to further the plot, then there wouldn't be many graves in any comic universe.

Blue Beetle was the sacrificial lamb of Infinite Crisis, the Uncle Ben or Bucky or Thomas Wayne or Krypton needed to get the story moving and give it some emotional impact. He just happened to have more history than the others.

I mean, you could tell great stories about Krypton and Uncle Ben (and people have, and do), but no one argues the necessity of their deaths.

In the long run? Beetle's death was a plot point. Beetle was more or less a placeholder, who was only Beetle because people care about Beetle. I, personally, don't like him dead, but I'd rather see him die in a big story than in the midst of some lame story, like the death of Ice, for instance.

Of course, I don't expect Beetle's death to last very long. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if he was back as part of One Year Later, but I can't imagine he'll stay dead for more than a year or two. And then they'll be able to tell all manner of good stories about him.

Of course, the question that is begged all around here...if they felt that they could write good stories about Blue Beetle, why hadn't they done so already? Is it better to let a character languish in limbo because no one feels like using him, or to kill him off for emotional effect? I'm not casting a vote there, I'm seriously asking.

I like Blue Beetle. I don't like that he's dead. I do like most of Infinite Crisis, though, so I'll swallow my pride and see how the story pans out before I cast my 'worthy death' vote. I liked Barry Allen and Kara too, I was pissed when Ice died, but I think later stories justified their deaths, and the universe is better for it.

And characters whose deaths were unjustified? Well, Hal and Guy are back among the living, and how many times has Metamorpho kicked the bucket? Red Tornado? If a character's death doesn't make for a better stry than the character's life, then the character's life will be restored. That seems to be the cardinal rule of comic death.