Whenever a comic gets stale, writers will shake things up by either killing someone off or introducing a new character. This might sound simple but in the comic world where characters have a long-standing history and relationship with readers built over decades in some cases killing off a character can be like losing a friend. Tough situation to be in, unless you're Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel's greatest hit man. As long as there's a good story, he doesn't really care who goes down.
As the writer for most of Marvel's current line-up of comic hits, Bendis has astounded editors and fans alike with his boundless energy and never-ending stream of shake-ups. After firmly cementing himself in the comic world with his work on titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil and Ultimate Fantastic Four, he's been handed one of the biggest books of the year. Avengers # 500 has been talked about for months. Now that it's out, Bendis should get an award.
Combining his talents as a writer with his experience as an indie filmmaker, Bendis wrote his early work like a movie casting real people to pose as his characters, photographing them, and then using Photoshop to enhance the pictures, which gave the comics a film noir feel. Flipping through the pages of Torso, one of Bendis's early graphic novels depicting Elliot Ness's first case after the takedown of Capone, one can see images and layouts that recall a cinematic world.
In tackling Avengers, Bendis has harnessed his flair and created a page-turner of a comic. From the opening scenes of two members discussing who their number one "can't have sex with" person is to the finale, in which the superhero team's mansion is blown to pieces, you can't imagine what else could go wrong. In the aftermath, Ant-Man is dead, Jarvis is hurt and the rest are too stunned to really absorb what just happened. Once Ant-Man's death has sunk in, the Vision appears and smashes into the already ruined mansion. Now thoroughly confused, the remaining members gather around him and to the combined shock and horror of both Avenger and reader, Vision delivers five Ultron robots from his mouth before disintegrating. All this, and the storyline is just beginning.
You're left wondering why Marvel didn't make it a double issue. Or a triple. Or hell, just release the whole damn storyline as a graphic novel and be done with it. Blowing up the Avengers mansion is will affect every Marvel book until Bendis is finished with them which will hopefully be never.
This isn't the first time Bendis has killed people off and blown shit up. Ultimate Spider-Man, a title that regularly see things being destroyed, has recently seen the apparent death of Gwen Stacey. Yes, she's back, this time as a high school chum of Peter. In this version, Peter has been dating Mary-Jane from the beginning, so introducing Gwen into the book was a challenge. Based on previous history, most fans assumed she would be with Peter so when it turned out differently, the backlash was astounding. In spite of that, Bendis managed to weave her tale through the pages of the book without compromising any of the story. Recently though, Bendis has messed with our heads again, as she meets up with Carnage (remember him/it?) and at the very end, well, she sure looks dead to me.
Culling this dead wood from the comic forest has proven that fans want exciting stories that challenge and provide emotional stimulation. One of the most heartbreaking turns occurs in Ultimate X-Men when Beast dies. A core member of X-Men since the beginning, many would think him untouchable. After all, there are so many "red shirt" X-Men, it would be easy to kill some of them off while leaving the core group unscathed. It is precisely this type of thinking that make Bendis out for blood. In doing so, he provides a rich hunting ground for other characters to become more developed emotionally. After seeing Beast fall, his girlfriend Storm goes berserk and takes out a Sentinel by herself. Maddened with grief, she continues to beat the thing until Professor Xavier telepathically calms her into unconsciousness.
Killing off important characters isn't easy, even for Bendis. In doing so, he has paved the way for new stories, a new mansion and new characters that could easily succumb themselves to the whim of Bendis. He knows precisely how to pace a story, how to hook readers and most importantly when to deliver the goods. Especially when something needs to die.
Crisis in the DC Universe
Following on the heels of the JLA/Avengers four-part mini-series, the Identity Crisis storyline is the most important event in the DC universe since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic Watchmen. The Identity Crisis story centres on the death of Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man and beloved by all members of the Justice League, Justice Society and other heroes. Her death sets off a chain reaction of events, all geared towards putting the reader through the emotional wringer by master storyteller Brad Meltzer. By the time the story has unfolded, there will be more mayhem and a dark secret will be brought to light.
Death has always been a focal point of comics. Throughout the years, spectacular deaths have been carefully orchestrated to make the most of the moment. The "Death of Superman" was one of DC's most famous, in which the man of steel succumbs to injuries sustained while fighting Doomsday. Readers got to vote on whether or not Jason Todd (aka Robin) would live or die at the hands of Joker during a particularly bloody storyline in Batman. And who can forget Supergirl's great sacrifice during Crisis on Infinite Earths?
Killing off popular characters is difficult, but doing it properly takes skill and a devotion to the medium. There are so many characters in the DC universe that Meltzer could have chosen, but by selecting the wives of the heroes he's accomplished something else entirely, throwing readers into a whole different emotional realm. Not since the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline has so much been at stake. The super heroes are facing their greatest challenge and by killing off those closest to them they are learning a valuable lesson. Through them, the readers are also learning that no one is innocent and no one is infallible.