Monday, October 5, 2015

Arc of Triumph... Phoenix Rising?

Doug: This one comes up around the BAB periodically, so we're going to use it as a launching pad for a larger discussion. As I've mentioned, I've been reading Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America from around 10 years ago. Previously having stated my disdain for the resurrection of Bucky Barnes, I've been converted. Given Brubaker's deft storytelling and "plausible" explanation (hey, it's still a funnybook) for Bucky's reappearance, I went to the Dark Side. But as I've also said, I've taken this with a hefty grain of "What If?" Many of you have remarked that there are certain deaths that simply should not be undone -- Ben Parker seems to top that list. So given today's story arc within the broader context of deaths in comics, we'd like you to expound on this as an issue. As another nugget for starting us out, why is it that long-time Cap fans just assume the Red Skull is going to pop again soon, regardless of how he met his "last" demise. Why is that OK?


J.A. Morris said...

I believe the difference is that Red Skull has (literally) been "dying" since his first appearance in the 1940s. Bucky was killed off, stayed dead 40 years and his death was a defining part of Cap's character. I read the Winter Soldier story I didn't care for it. But it wasn't so much Bucky being alive that I didn't like. I had more trouble with the whole "Bucky's a killing machine and he went on assassination missions by himself in WWII" business.

As for Phoenix, I had less of a problem with that because that's what Phoenixes do, they rise. But I wasn't crazy about the way that story played out, with Jean stuck in Jamaica Bay. And in that case, it retroactively hurt the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Doug said...

J.A. --

I've thought a lot about the aspect of Bucky being the heavy in the Cap/Bucky team, and for me at least it made sense. I thought Brubaker made a point to place Bucky's age as 18-19 whenever he was revealing those "untold tales". And there was precedent at least then-recently as well -- if you think of the 2-page splash at the end of Marvels #1, when the All-Winners are attacking the fortress, Bucky is loaded down with automatic weapons. I'd argue there, however, that Alex Ross depicted him as maybe closer to 14 than 18. So at least Brubaker made Bucky of the age when our young men can be drafted.

Additionally, I was also questioning the role of Cap and Bucky as "heroes" with all of the killing. I've been mulling that over in light of my disdain for the end of the Man of Steel movie. But I think we are so much more cognizant about the horrors (necessities?) of war these days that in a distasteful way it makes sense and seems less repulsive to me.

As to Phoenix, the Dark Phoenix Saga happened right after I left comics, and I'd not read it when Jean Grey was revived. So for me, the thought of seeing the original X-Men in X-Factor had me very excited. Too bad that series rapidly declined. Shoot, I'd argue that the premise was sketchy from the beginning. But much later, after having read DPS, I can see why long-timers were put off by the revival. X-Men was becoming a mess by that time, and this just complicated that corner of the Marvel Universe all the more.


Redartz said...

I think the "What if?" factor is integral to this issue. Perhaps my viewpoint has shifted a bit : with comics constantly re-booting and changes occurring with great frequency, the days of extended continuity in a comic series seem to be over. Therefore, I now look at comics series kind of as lengthy movies; some much lengthier than others (Amazing Spider-Man had a nice run of 700 before the credits rolled).

This being said, character revivals don't bother me as much as they once did. Haven't read Brubaker's Cap stories, but Dark Phoenix worked okay imho. As J.A. noted, "that's what Phoenixes do". Take Gwen Stacy in Spider-man; she never was actually revived until they rebooted the universe quite recently. Sure, there were clones, but that's not the same thing; really...

And with villains, it is simply expected that they will keep coming back; it's part of the comic book experience. Suspension of disbelief, and all that. What bothers me more is when characters (villain, hero or supporting character) are portrayed acting totally against their history. Again, with Amazing Spider-man- the "Sins of the Father" arc, with Norman Osborn and Gwen hooking up as an example. Abysmal mistake, defies reasonable suspension of disbelief, and is best ignored as part of the overall backstory.

To sum up, someone said in a comment within the past few days that a good story is what counts. I fully agree with that sentiment!

dbutler16 said...

I think it's OK for the Red Skull to come back because he's a villain. We expect supervillains to get resurrected. Hey, nobody's going to kill of the Joker permanently, because he's too good a character to lose permanently. Then again, that goes with any popular character, even if it's popular in the "we love to hate him" category.

I guess I don't mind characters coming back if it's well done. I'm still undecided on the whole Barry Allen thing, but overall I guess I'm OK with it. Hey, he was a major character who stayed dead for an incredibly long time, and after so many DC reboots, why not just bring the guy back?

Doug said...

One thing the "writing for the trade paperback" trend of the last 15 years or so has done is given me a focus on just reading good self-contained stories. While I like the continuity aspects of Marvel's Silver and Bronze Ages, really after that a lot of events and happenings drop off my care-o-meter. Over the past few decades, I just like to seek out good Batman stories, or good Superman stories, etc. I used the work "entertained" last week -- that's a goal.

And by the way, my copy of the new Monster of Frankenstein trade arrived over the weekend. Huge book -- the size of the Epic Collection trades Marvel has been producing lately. Really a nice collection, and includes several stories from the B&W magazines. I'll say a quizzical look crossed my face, however, when I spied the art team from a few of those non-color stories, and this plays off our weekend topic of Big John Buscema. What's your first impression of Big John being inked by Syd Shores? Yeah, me too. It bears further inspection.


Doug said...

"word", not "work", above in previous comment.


Humanbelly said...

I agree that Ben Parker has to be the end-of-discussion, no-qualifiers, permanent-and-forever example of a character whose death must never, ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,EVER be recanted, reneged, reversed, or fudged in ANY WAY WHATSOEVER. It should never even be entertained for 5 seconds in any story pitch. And the kewl young writer who pitches it should be escorted briskly from the offices, even as he protests, "Dudes! Dudes! Can'tcha just hear me out??"


Does anyone recall that right around the time of Brand New Day/DisAssembled/Civil War, there was a subplot in play where a mysteriously resurrected Ben Parker was lurking around-?? 'Cause my god, there is no level of storytelling integrity that can't be trumped by the overwhelming appeal of cheap SHOCK VALUE! I think he turned out to be from an alternate universe or something (of course), but in a way, that single, rather under-the-radar story decision exemplified how horribly astray Marvel Editorial (Marvel Corporate?) had gone in managing and tending its own product at that point (10 years ago?). Figuratively flailing and shooting in every direction with panic-stricken abandon. Particularly in the Spidey titles (although I suppose it's hard to single any venue out. . . ).

I was subscribed to Cap throughout Winter Soldier-- and although I "got" the retro-fitting, and recognized it as deft and reasonable, I hated the fact of it. The only thing in its favor is that it obviously carried a LOT of weight and consequence, as opposed to an easily-brushed-off, "oh, he was alive all along-- how nice!" tack. Bucky-as-Cap, however, turned me away permanently.

The whole Jean Grey resurrection/beginning of X-Factor was excruciating. Jean's death actually carried considerable weight and meaning-- self-sacrifice with a sad purpose (as opposed to being an accident of the situation, like with Gwen Stacy). But-- that wasn't really Jean?? It was really the Phoenix Force itself?? And that "Force" had preserved Jean in Jamaica Bay. . . . why, now?? It was such an ugly, dismissive slap at the emotional investment of so many fans-- just so's they could re-unite the "Original" team of X-Men. . . in a book whose premise and execution (plot & script-wise) was solidly 15 years behind the curve.

Gwen Stacy needed to stay dead, and happily sounder minds than Stan's (at the time) prevailed in the long run on that one. Spidey #141 did nothing but make me feel bad.

Professor X, on the other hand, was a MUCH-needed resurrection back in the X-Men's first run-- and even though his explanation was one of the hokiest ever, since no one was reading the book then, it avoided any unpleasant scrutiny.

Down the road a bit-- even though it was gut-wrenching to go through, I think Sue's losing her & Reed's second child was a brave, tough move- and went a long, long way toward keeping the characters anchored in a recognizable "real" world, where personal tragedies like this do happen, and people endure. Re-writing reality to restore her to the family was beyond my ability to accept or adapt to.

Oops-- there's work to do-- gotta run!


Doug said...

As I was reading the Death of Captain America trade, I was surprised to see Charles Xavier walking. I did not have any idea that was the case these days (and maybe by now it's not).


Humanbelly said...

Actually I think. . . I think I heard that he may be dead again? Um. . ."for real". . . ?


Dr. Oyola said...

He's dead and Cyclops killed him will possessed by the Phoenix Force, and now Red Skull has his brain and powers!

click Here

Dr. Oyola said...

the above should read "while possessed. . ."

Doug said...

Osvaldo --

Oh, my.

I stand justified in my departure from new comics (Brubaker's Cap notwithstanding).


Anonymous said...

On the difference between hero and villain deaths, I would say that the returning villain is a long established convention in superhero comics, so its ok; on the other hand, we know the hero will win out, no matter how threatened s/he seems to be on the cover or at the cliffhanger ending, so their death necessarily has more impact.
Of course, the history and popularity of a character comes into it too, which is why X-Men readers get a lot more worked up over Jean Grey than Thunderbird.

Personally, I think the death of a superhero or supporting character should be permanent, otherwise whats the point? Even if I like a character.... so what? Bring on a new one - maybe I'll like them too. Part of the problem with mainstream US comics is the endless recycling of the same core characters; even when written well (which often doesn't seem to be the case) the law of diminishing returns inevitably comes into play.I mean, Winter Soldier was ok, but I enjoyed reading Criminal more.


Anonymous said...

Just saw that exchange about Cyclops, Prof X and the Red Skull. Sounds brilliant.
Maybe I was wrong about new stuff and recycling...


ColinBray said...

In the weighting of these things, good writing trumps strained or disrupted continuity in my view.

It has to be that way, how often does the fan community complain that 'nothing changes in comics' and then a change comes along and the same chorus cries out 'hey, they changed my comics!'

Good writing and plausible explanations for character change (which to a degree respects continuity) are the only way out of this particular dilemma.

That's the middle ground which says 'Gwen got it on with Osbourne' = BAD; Winter Soldier = GOOD.

Redartz said...

Well said, Colin B.; well said...

Humanbelly said...

'Magneto is Pietro & Wanda's real father = GOOD (respects established continuity AND character traits, while creating extremely interesting new avenues for the characters, ripe for exploration).

'(fill in the blank superhero name), whom you've been following for years was actually a Skrull the whole time, even though their very own thought balloons scream otherwise.' = BAD (in order to serve one current storyline, it is deemed acceptable to wreak havoc across broad swaths of peripheral characters' personal histories).

There is a difference between this kind of change (retconning what was previously thought to be true) and the kind of organic change that occurs from legitimate character growth-- like Peter & MJ getting married. The latter, I think, is the kind that fans do tend to protest most loudly about--- which I never fully understood. But that's a debate we've had 'round here a number of times, uh-huh.


Steve said...

I also think it's important to consider that Brubaker's "Winter Soldier" was a retcon of a story that was itself a retcon - Bucky's apparent demise was told entirely in flashback after Cap awoke in the modern era, there was a never an actual Golden Age Captain America comic book featuring the story of how Bucky died. There's also the consideration that Brubaker's story doesn't "undo" the impact of Bucky's apparent death on Cap. Steve really thought Bucky had died and lived with that grief and guilt for years.

ColinBray said...

Great points HB and Steve.

Martinex1 said...

I think the balance on death and resurrection stories tips to the unappreciated when the initial death had impacted another character’s defining moment. Ben Parker should not return because the grief of his death and the possible culpability of Peter in that death drove Peter to be the Spider Man that we all love… a hero driven by a sense of responsibility. Likewise Bruce Wayne’s parents should not return; it would lessen a defining moment. I would also argue that Gwen Stacy reinforced the death of Uncle Ben in Peter, adding a dimension in his grief that even if you do the right thing you cannot save everybody. Those deaths seem untouchable to me. Handled by a good writer, I suppose there could be a resurrection that works but I am hesitant because for me the impact of that loss and grief would have to be replaced in the character affected.

I always perceived Bucky’s death as a driving impact for Cap. Not only did Steve Rogers have an unbending sense of duty and loyalty, but he also through Bucky’s death understood that there are dire consequences. Life was protected, because life was so fragile and so easily lost. Avengers #56 and other stories of that era defined that for my interpretation. Steve was constantly grieving for Bucky, seeing Bucky falling from the plane, refusing to replace him with Rick Jones, and being angered if innocent lives were in jeopardy. Somewhere along the line, Cap stopped thinking about Bucky as much; it was less of an emotional anchor and I think that gave way to the possibility of Bucky returning. I also don’t mind the Winter Soldier, but I almost have him in my head as an entirely different character. He is not the Bucky I understood that Cap missed; he was something entirely different. I would expect Cap to have trouble rectifying the two. It would be like meeting a long separated childhood friend who at a young age was wiry and fun and athletic, but now is balding, chubby, and sarcastic. It is hard to see those as the same people.

Jean Grey also hits that note for me. Not only does her death reinforce the gloom and hopelessness of the XMen of that time, but as already noted it affected the reader in the same way. We had such high hopes for Jean and her being able to overcome her adversity… but alas she could not. Her death and its resulting sadness hung in the air; no matter what the XMen might achieve in their heroic exploits, they could not save her.

There are countless examples of other resurrections that would not affect any other character’s emotional trajectories. Captain America himself was resurrected (lost and assumed killed in action before reappearing). But his return was considered positive to all around him as he was a legend. The story began with his return; his story was not undone by his return. Wonder Man also fits that mold. He was a one time villain, but his return started a whole new story. Villains return all of the time because their death did not have a positive emotional or driving impact for anybody… character or reader. As soon as a villain steps across the line of emotional impact, it should be more heavily considered if they should return. In the story, “This Man, This Monster”, the Pseudo Thing villain grows sympathetically and learns to appreciate heroism and ultimately sacrifices himself for that ideal. He should never return. However, the Mole Man getting buried in generic rubble; he should be and will be back.

For me there is a clear line and the extremes would be NEVER returning “The Boy Who Loved Spider Man” and ALWAYS returning Ultron. It’s just a question on where characters fall on that scale.

Anonymous said...

I never minded Bucky coming back, because (as Doug said) Brubaker did it so well that it's easy to forgive. I thought bringing Norman Osborn back (and Harry for that matter) was a mistake; Norman's death was the perfect way to end his long rivalry with Spidey culminating in Gwen's death...bringing him back lessens the impact of that story for me. And Harry died in a moment of triumph, getting past his father's legacy of hate and saving Peter's life, so bringing him back negates that (not to mention how illogically Harry's return was done, as part of the "Brand New Day" stuff).

Mike Wilson

david_b said...

Not much to add on Bucky here, HB said it best for me regarding Gwen, as well as Mike on Norman and Harry. Having not been a XMen fan, I did pick up Jean's revival in both Avengers, FF, and later X-Factor, but didn't have too many feelings either way.

As I've mentioned countless times, I was actually strongly-miffed with the entire 'clone' idea for bringing Gwen back. It was like my time was wasted as the Marvel Bullpen had me care and feel sorry for Peter and his group, then 'Voila, she's back..' (I know, to an extent..., only as a clone). It wasn't a decision I liked at all, hence it made my dropping ASM, as a result, kinda easy.

As for Bucky, there's not much else to say, other than it doesn't matter how he came back, nor whether Cap dreamt it or not (without us actually seeing it, etc..), it nevertheless removed the construct of Cap's internal angst, what made him a hair more vulnerable to us, and how we looked at how heroes dealt with death of loved ones.

In retrospect, I'm not really sure what 'Bucky as Winter Soldier' really brought to the Revisionist table anyways (and I just reread his Wikipedia page to verify..), but that all belongs to the comic readers of today to discuss/defend.

I'll stay comfortably tucked away in the Silver/Bronze Age. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

Cyclops killed Professor X while possessed by the Phoenix force. There's not one part of that sentence that not completely and utterly wrong...

I think the resurrection that bothers me the most is still Jean Grey. The ending of the Dark Phoenix story just had such resonance; any tampering with it, but especially having it not be the 'real' Jean is just criminal.

As for Bucky being brought back, it's not something I was too happy with. However, although I haven't read "Winter Soldier", I did recently read Roger Stern's "Forever Allies," featuring Bucky as Cap, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I guess I don't mind it too much. And I didn't mind it at all in the Marvel movieverse...

Rip Jagger said...

Bad pennies always turn up again, so villains like the Joker, the Red Skull, and such like are always going to get another go. Heroes too are almost always going to get revived, assuming there's sufficient monetary incentive. With the return of Bucky I now say any character can return, for real. Bucky was always the one I held up as the absolute, the definitive death in comics. With his return to the fold I see no limits.

I prefer it otherwise, but thus it is.

Rip Off

William said...

The plot device I despise above all others is the ret-con. The "Everything you thought you knew is wrong!" kind of thing. Especially when it alters the outcome of a long established story. Or alters the entire history of a beloved character (like the Norman Osborn & Gwen thing did).

That's why I wasn't a big fan of the Phoenix revival (at least they way they did it). Because it erased the entire significance of the original Dark Phoenix Saga. I mean, that wasn't really even Jean Grey who died. So, basically the whole story is null and void. They could have brought Jean back but still have made it so that was really her in the original comics.

I am also not a fan of Winter Soldier for the same exacts reasons.

I think of the ret-con as just a cheap storytelling gimmick for those times when a writer couldn't come up with his/her own original ideas.

pfgavigan said...


I didn't quite realize it until I read some of the comments here regarding Captain America's emotional state regarding the death of Bucky, but in retrospect it seems so obvious.

Stan Lee's revival of Captain America is a man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I'm not kidding. If he had been in combat state of awareness from 1941 to 1945 he would be a prime candidate. And his behavior after his revival, the guilt over Bucky, nightmares, inability to move on with his life, failure to establish new emotional relationships, inability to integrate into the great society,ect.

I know that there's no way that Lee meant to imply something like this, but it's a reasonable explanation for his behavior.

Hey Doug, thanks for the mentioning of Syd Shores. He and John Buscema were a fantastic collaboration in Marvel's black and white line that was tragically cut short. See if you can find the issue of Dracula Lives where Shores provides the finishes over Jim Starlin's layouts. He also provided some first rate inks over Tom Sutton for Ghost Rider, especially in the (in)famous Witch Woman story line.

As for the Jean Grey revival, I sort of have a degree of sympathy for most of the creators involved. Apparently Jim Galton and the executives at Marvel wanted another X-book and the idea of reassembling the surviving members of the original team in a new title was the most logical choice. As I understand it, and this isn't gospel and I make no claim that it is because I wasn't there, the suits wanted Jean Grey in it and would accept nothing else. The creatives came up with the best possible solution available and, in my somewhat disinterested opinion, it work well enough.

As for the creator who I don't have much sympathy for; according to several sources, and I fully admit this might not be correct, John Byrne deliberately diverted from the agreed story line and made the Phoenix an evil entity from the get go. The editor of the book had the page inked and lettered as Byrne indicated, but this was caught by Shooter before printing and he had the page redrawn by another artist and scripted in accordance with the set out plot.

This apparently was one of the last nails in the coffin of the Byrne/Shooter ability to get along.



Anonymous said...

Stan Lee might not have intended to imply PTSD, but its something Jack Kirby certainly knew about. Not trying to bring up any kind of Stan v. Jack thing, just noting that its something thats definitely there in the original comics. Like in Avengers 4, those first images of Cap waking up....


Dr. Oyola said...

Yes, Phoenixes always rise again, but Jean Greys don't - so if they had brought back the Phoenix in a new for (like Rachel Summers, who is a character I really liked) or some other form, I have no problem with that as it makes perfect sense, and could still lead to lots of drama and danger and feelings of anxiety AND would give writers and artists the opportunity to develop difference incarnations over time.

For those that don't know, btw, the Phoenix force was split into five parts by a big gun Iron Man shot at it as it approached from space and the five pieces went into Cyclops, Namor, Emma Frost, Colossus and Magick. hehehehe.

Dr. Oyola said...

Dang it! That should read "a new form. . ."

Humanbelly said...

Good job, Osvaldo-- I had yet another wordy post making the exact same point about the Phoenix/Jean Grey confusion-- and it's one of those ones that got erased via a single incorrect key-stroke during the posting process (my laptop keyboard is terribly prone to that-- it's gonna give me a stroke). Thanks for getting that distinction out there.

@PFG-- man, yeah, if you read those first several AVENGERS issues after Cap returns, I think there's no question that both Stan and Jack recognized that Cap was a seriously, SERIOUSLY damaged individual-- and no one seemed to recognize it at all in the context of the book. It may have been subconscious on S & J's part to some degree, but Cap could have been the poster child for veterans struggling to return to normal life. . . and not getting anything near enough support from greater society. The one image that sticks with me, although I'm not sure from what issue, is Cap being served dinner, alone, in the mansion dining room by a still-to-be-named Jarvis. . . and Cap is sitting there eating-- again, ALONE-- in his full outfit. Mask on, gloves on, full chain-mail suit. While this may have really been just a holdover from DC's style, where the heroes seemed to wear their uniforms for EVERYTHING, it jarred the heck out of me the first time I saw it. At one point a few years later, HBSon read that issue, and his reaction was exactly the same-- "Why in the world does Cap wear his costume to eat dinner??" Not a guy in a good mental place at all.

HB (paying attention to the keys, now. . . )

Anonymous said...

Yes HB - the chain mail is a dead give away. Talk about character armour...


Anonymous said...

Hmm generally speaking I've never been in favour of resurrecting any character, be it Bucky, Jean Grey, Norman Osborn or Ben Parker. The main exception is Bucky, and only because Brubaker deftly crafted a great story from that. Yes, like Doug I had my doubts when I heard of the whole Winter Soldier premise. Bucky resurrected as a brainwashed cybernetically enhanced assassin? Yeesh, it sounds really ludicrous but you have to give Brubaker credit for writing a compelling story from an otherwise outlandish idea. If you still can't wrap your mind around that, then you can just dismiss it as a 'What If?' alternate dimension story.

As for villains like the Red Skull or the Joker, you know these guys will be back because they are so deliciously evil! If there's no body then they're not dead yet! Which reminds me of Dracula - I don't mind his many resurrections either, because, well, he was already dead in the first place!

Somehow, the biggest turnoff for me has always been bringing back Gwen Stacy from the dead. If I see a cover with anything remotely implying that Gwen is alive, I'm running for the hills! I've never been a fan of the numerous Gwen Stacy clone storylines; it just seems to me to be a cheap way of building angst in Peter Parker, knowing how he felt about Gwen and his role in her death.

- Mike 'wait - Professor X is dead?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of super-heroes returning from the dead, although I make exceptions for Bucky and... Huh. Nightcrawler, because he's one of my favorites and never should have been killed off? Hmm... Can't think of another. Anyway, what!s worse are the cheap shock deaths that goose sales every few months. Professor X! Human Torch! Wolverine! Dead, all dead! For real! Until they aren't. So annoying.

- Mike Loughlin

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