What Grinds My Gears? Unnecessary Comic Deaths and Manufactured Events!

The Human Torch feature image

Something has been nagging at me for some time now: gimmicky comic book marketing ploys.  We all saw the damage this practice did to the industry in the 90’s.  I thought that everyone had learned their lessons, and that the industry I love would not be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.  You might think I am talking about the DC Comics “The New 52” relaunch, but no, that seems to be going rather well.  I am talking about pointless comic events, and more to the point, killing off a beloved character only to bring them back a few months later.  I’m looking at you Marvel.  Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch in particular.

A copy of FF #587 autographed by Jonathan Hickman from my personal collection shows why you should get things signed at the beginning of a con, rather than near the end.

Remember the circus earlier in the year when Marvel decided to kill off a member of the FF, in bagged issues of Fantastic Four #587, then actually spoiled their own story before the issue was even available to the public?  Everyone (including myself and many writers here at Comic Booked) wrote articles looking back at Torch’s career, and mourned his passing.  We also felt betrayed that the surprise was spoiled for us.  Just a few weeks after FF #587 was released I saw unopened copies selling for $25 at a convention.  It sure felt like the 90’s all over again at that point.

The Human Torch gets ready to go out in a blaze of glory.


This is the last time we saw The Human Torch. Notice that he is not actually dead at this point.

The funny part of the whole event was that no one really believed it!  The final images of The Human Torch were clearly leaving the door open for his triumphant return.  We never actually saw him die.  I spoke with many other people who were confident that this was only a temporary death, as is common in comics.  Hell, many people even seem to have correctly pinpointed the issue in which he would likely return, the upcoming issue #600 in November!  Marvel started teasing images in August that hinted at this resurrection.


Return of the FF teaser image

Recent advertisements in Marvel’s own comics have become even bolder at giving away any surprise that may have been.  It feels like this triumphant event, 50 years and 600(!) issues of the same title, are being cheapened somehow.  Is this all really necessary?  Fans have been complaining far and wide, that the FF seem like guests on their own revamped title now.  Many people I talk to are just plain burnt-out on “special events” and the plethora of crossover issue that go with them.  One exception to this phenomena seems to be Spider-Island, which fans and critics just can’t seem to get enough of.  Now is the love for Spider-Island because it is a special event, or because it is written and executed well?  In a time when comic book publishers are trying to come up with a winning formula, I suggest that they start asking themselves some tough questions about what their readers really want.  Thank you for reading my rant.

FF #600 advertisement

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Comments (10)

I agree. I don't know if mainstream characters now can really "die", since characters have been brought back so many times that no one trusts it. They can only disappear for a little while.

Greg Armstrong

The clock is now ticking on how long it will take for Bucky Barnes to come back. I'm guessing it won't take 60 years this time….

James Victor Von Hal

It works sometimes, and then sometimes it blows up in their face.

Man you must be pissed at Arthur Conan Doyle for killing off Sherlock Holmes and then bringing him back for that Baskervilles story :-p

It is overdone though. And we do not have the slow build. Look I lay most of the blame on the publishers but what is worse is that even the writers do not take it seriously anymore.

Greg Armstrong

The writer who kills off a superhero probably does take it seriously, but then they switch creative teams on the book and there is an inevitable fan backlash, and so they are brought back within months. The publishers should stick to their convictions but now they realise the death swindle boosts a titles sales, it will never happen.

Your zen koan for this evening. How can a comic book character truly "die" if the story never ends?

Event books are the reason I don't read Marvel or DC comics with any regularity. I found most of the stories confusing, awful and Extending your thoughts a little I found that comics are now just $4 commercials for Warner & Disney products not serialized entertainment. This started long before Warner or Disney had as direct a hand in the day to day business interests. But it's clear that if there is talk of a Green Lantern film sequel, quality & content are no longer factor. And the comics will bend to avoid confusing a potential new audience. No matter how incoherent.

Final thought: If DC is ready to make your 15 year (!) run of Batman comics irrelevant and effectively (more) worthless than it already was with a re-re-reboot, then the long time comic fan is only worth as much money as he/she can bring. Sound like an excellent Lex Luther plot to separate a foolish person & their money. It's working.

Futher! If television can produce an excellent show based on a comic like "The Walking Dead" they can make a decent film/tv show/comic out of almost any of the more people friendly properties. It's ridiculous.

Greg Armstrong

I've not bought any comics for a year now. I let my standing order lapse because I was spending far too much per month (£250+) at my local comic store, I found myself months behind on some storylines, so I wasn't even reading half the books I was buying due to backlog.

I have spent the last 2 days sorting out my comics and in every 3 longboxes, there is now one box full of spares that I can now sell. I am ditching My Wolverine and X-Men Legacy books, and controversially, My Amazing Spiderman books, I have only collected that title for about 4 years and so I know it will never be 'complete' (i.e. never going to get all back-issues – too expensive). Some of my DC titles and event books are going too, now they have been rendered useless by the DCNU.

However, the vast majority of books I am ditching is because I was swindled into buying them. For example: I'm talking about 'Incredible Hulk' becoming 'Incredible Hercules', I kept buying it thinking its a gimmick for a few issues before it reverted back to Hulk again, but no, they not only rebooted Hulk, but it quickly became 2 titles with Rulk thrown in too, then immediately we got War of the Hulks crossing over into She-Hulk title as well, so in my quest to collect 1 book, I was suddenly collecting 4 or more.

I enjoyed the Herc title, but I always hated how it had been forced upon me. I like Hercules. If Marvel want me to buy a Herc book, then launch a separate title that feels like it has importance within the Marvel universe, with a good story, and promote it well. Don't pull the old switcheroo on a title and leave people wondering. You fooled me once, but when you did the same thing switching Iron Man to War Machine, I cut that title immediately, knowing another Iron Man title would not be far behind, and I was right.

The swindle was even more evident with the big event books. I only have myself to blame for buying the pointless crossovers that occur during big events, but in times past a 'crossover' was just that – you had to buy certain books across several titles to get the whole story sequence.

Now, the crossover titles are just insignificant sub-plots to the main action, which can easily be missed without detracting from the main title. All this serves to do is annoy the regular and non-regular buyers for that title, who dislike the contrived story (often breaking up an ongoing story line) and shoddy rushed artwork, all rapidly created to shoehorn the character into the 'event' at short notice.

Anyone want to buy a box of Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Fall of the Hulks and Siege titles? Wow sounds epic right? Well no not really because they are all pointless tie-ins.

Marvel should take note because they didnt lose me as a customer because I got pissed off with them, they lost me as a customer because my geeky need for completion of a collection was force-fed until it made my collecting habit too time-consuming and financially impossible, until it collapsed in on itself like a star collapsing into a black hole. It seems for these Marvel Events there is an 'Event Horizon' – I was unable to escape it until it destroyed me…

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