DC writer reveals the big secret of death

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Now, I know it may be hard to believe sometimes because of all the “deaths” that occur in comics, especially right now in the DCU, but there’s not always a mandate where we sit around and say, “Who we gonna kill this time out?”

XXXXX’x death came to be simply by the organic flow of the story. I was doing my outline for the issue and suddenly I had written XXXXX sacrificing himself and {redacted]. It felt right and I called Adam [Schlagman], Eddie [Berganza] and Geoff [Johns] and they were all on board with it, so we did it. There wasn’t a “bump in sales” mind-set or a “can we get more press” attitude. Character and story drove it. That’s the big secret.


Peter Tomasi, interviewed at CBR

Comments

  1. But, see, the drama of the moment is always undercut by any later resurrections. This has happened way to often to have the “deaths” make any real lasting impact.

  2. Tom Spurgeon says:

    It sounds like these imaginary DC editorial meetings are being conducted by Ray Parker, Jr., which I’m all for.

  3. Silly country mouse listening to DC spin doctors.

    In reality Tomasi was part of a large and overriding conspiracy at DC lead by Geoff Johns whose purpose was to destroy XXXX and remove him from the GL books forever.

  4. I was really surprised by the death of XXXX, it was cool to read it in the comic book and not stumble on it on the web. =). It was a great “Oh, Crap!” moment. Yes, comics has used the death card too much and we dread for the Resurrections but you know I really like that Hal came back. Green Lantern has been on of the few books I really look forward too. One of the down sides of working in the industry is that there aren’t many surprises, we talk to each other at cons, meetings, parties and go to the offices. We know of these stories in advance, and we see the artwork as it’s made, so it’s great to get a moment of “Oh WOW! They killed him!” Who knows maybe he’ll stayed dead….But then, If the story IS going the way I think it Is, I know a great way to bring him back……..LOL.

  5. The death of XXXX marked the end of my childhood.

    I’ve been scarred and traumatized forever… or until next year.

  6. Synsidar says:

    Death would be taken more seriously by readers if the writers and editors took characters’ deaths more seriously. How many deaths, intended as actual by the writers, have been respected? If a death is convincing within the context of the story, that means the character’s story has been told, and bringing him or her back to life is a waste.

    Mockingbird’s death in AWC #100 was a nasty surprise at the time, but her death was well-written and handled well in subsequent stories. Her “resurrection”, conversely, was terribly contrived and only served to point out that she has nowhere to go. Her niche in the Marvel Universe is gone.

    An example of a token death was the Wasp’s demise in SECRET INVASION #8. Anyone could have died — the death was that meaningless within the context of the plot. Her death was also unrelated to any aspect of her character.

    The notion that there are always more stories to tell about (fill in the blank) is false. If the writer’s familiar with the character and the chosen ending for the story makes him think “This has been done before”, the story isn’t worth telling.

    SRS

  7. David T. G. Riches says:

    You mean like when Hal Jordan went rogue and killed a bunch of Green Lanterns including Kilowog only to have him bring them all back when he was the Spectre or was that when he was made supreme Lantern? The fact is I fully expect to see the return of Vin Diesel or Mr Braflawski whatever after his great sacrifice just like I saw the return of Connor Kent or switch universes Jean Grey or Magneto or Dr Doom or even the Wasp because just when you think they are done with that character someone somewhere comes up with a way and a reason to bring said character back from the suspected dead. So until South Park explains why Kenny is so fatally accident prone I say just sit back and go with a good story.

  8. Cole Moore Odell says:

    If you get hit by a bus, that’s also probably unrelated to an aspect of your character.

    I think comic book readers who gnash their teeth about resurrections robbing death of its “meaning” are failing to understand what they’re reading. Superheroes overcome obstacles. Overcoming being dead is a pretty big obstacle. Sure, it can be executed poorly, or too much, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the basic idea.

    This kind of complaining often comes from people who haven’t read enough comics to really get the idea of “illusion of change”. Of course, the paradox is that by the time you’ve read enough superhero comics to see their cyclical nature, you’ve read way too many superhero comics. (It’s sunny outside. Go ride your bike.)

  9. Synsidar says:

    This kind of complaining often comes from people who haven’t read enough comics to really get the idea of “illusion of change”.

    The “illusion of change” policy is based on the belief that the publisher is producing throwaway entertainment, i.e., junk, and that most customers will tire of reading the junk after some period of time, so why try to retain them as readers? Working for someone who is knowingly producing junk and considers producing something more artistic a waste of money doesn’t inspire anything.

    SRS

  10. Cole Moore Odell says:

    The notions that various plot points and story twists in these books should have “real lasting impact,” that they should be “taken more seriously” or “respected” seem silly to me. It speaks to a desire on the part of readers to want their superhero comics to function in a way that the books are not designed or intended to function.

    Someone please make a straightfaced, convincing argument why a publication like “Green Lantern Corps” is not in fact throwaway entertainment, junk that reasonable people should indeed tire of after some period of time. Anyone who wants to grow old with GLC and its family of characters, in a symbiotic relationship of mutual respect and dignity where the dead stay dead, just like my grandma (who has so far had the courtesy not to insult my intelligence and devalue the story of her fatal heart attack by coming back) needs to be hit in the head with a brick either less or more.

  11. Michael says:

    And yet, every single big event storyline uses character death in the marketing material, and the first thing on forums whenever one is announced is always “who’s going to die this time?”

  12. I actually believe Tomasi, because if DC were going for the sales bump, they would’ve hyped this issue WAY more. Very few of us saw this coming — there wasn’t any major “somebody’s gonna die buzz!” in the days before, because there were no “with this issue, we’ll break the internet in half!” solicits from DC.

    A resurrection in the context of this story, which is all about death and rebirth, is a piece of cake. The surprise will be if XXX stays dead. I’ll bet any paranoid unhappy XXX fan (maybe you, e360?) that he’ll be back before “Blackest Night” is over. Incidentally, that resurrection will not rob the issue of its power; I’ll be happy when he’s back, and that won’t change the fact that I was glued to my seat the whole time, cheering when it looked like the Green Lanterns had figured out a way to turn the tide, dismayed when things went horribly wrong, and slack-jawed when XXX stepped up to the sacrificial plate to save the day. Tomasi and Gleason delivered an awesome chapter of this story that contained a complete surprise; kudos to DC for not telegraphing it ahead of time. (In fact, I wish I didn’t know what happens next — I wish they’d redacted the cover of the next issue.)

  13. Cole Moore Odell says:

    I’m not saying that the publishers aren’t exploiting readers; sure, they feed into it in order to sell books–it’s in their interest to foster the illusion of significance that will compel people to buy the books month after month, under the mistaken impression that things “matter” and are all headed somewhere. The system depends on both the sucker and the suckee. It feels very funny to assert that they’re encouraging a naive reading of their material, considering the majority of what they’re selling, but that’s pretty much the case. If they depended on readers whose primary interest was in the creative execution or the talent involved, they’d sell like the artcomics publishers. So they go after narrative junkies and occasionally, investors. The same thing happens with TV shows–X-Files as a prime example.

    I’m fascinated by DC’s recent Geoff Johns-directed events, in that they undermine their own supposed meaning through glaring real-world scheduling problems. Darkest Night stepped on the toes of the as-yet-incomplete Flash: Rebirth, which itself spoiled part of the ending of Legion of Three Worlds. One on hand we’re asked to read these things with breathless anticipation, while on the other the schedule itself illuminates that it’s all just lights and noise, where the start of the next chapter doesn’t even require the end of the last chapter.

  14. Synsidar says:

    Superhero stories don’t have to be written for stupid people. A corollary of the “illusion of change” policy is that intelligent people don’t read comics and marketing to them is a wasted effort. Those beliefs have become part of a self-perpetuating cycle. There’s as much potential in many superhero characters for good stories as there is in any fantasy fiction character, but the writer has to want to work. The fact that there have been inventive and successful writers at Marvel indicates that there’s an audience for good storytelling, but editors have to want to do their jobs well too.

    SRS

  15. A character’s death “came to be simply by the organic flow of the story.”

    Image that.

  16. michael says:

    comic book superhero death? we’re expected to take that seriously? O.o

  17. I’ve been ducking bricks since I was ten-years-old. Thirty-eight-years later, one hasn’t hit me yet. Comic books are awesome.

  18. Cole Moore Odell says:

    Jim, I think comics are awesome too, in my case for 34 years, since I was four.

    Not so awesome are the readers whose sole enjoyment of superhero comics seems to be cynical anger at certain kinds of stories. They want never-ending yarns about the characters they love, just like when they were kids, but with the sophistication and force (provided by actual closure) of Watchmen, to satisfy their more mature sensibilities. That’s a tough thing to pull off, and has led to where we are now–the constant bait and switch of the Event Comic, which sells itself as a blockbuster finale, only to transform into more endless middle, setting up the next event.

    I’m not criticizing that structure, only recognizing it–but I think an unwillingness or inability to recognize how these stories work is what leads to some of the frustration when a character seems to die. If a reader complains that a death is meaningless, they are making an argument in favor of “meaning”. So, what is that meaning? Forty years ago, would they have been just as passionately upset when Superman seemed to be killed by kryptonite on page 9, only to be revived on page 10?

    I understand arguing against bad comics. But it’s all in the telling. The blanket objection to character resurrection that we get when these things happen leaves only a couple of possibilities: 1) stop killing characters at all, which these fans wouldn’t like because it wouldn’t be mature enough; or 2) never, ever bring back any character that seems to get killed, which arbitrarily shuts down a lot of storytelling possibilities. I just assume that the reset button will always be hit eventually, and try to enjoy the ride–some people are souring on Brubaker’s Captain America right now not only because Reborn is kind of boring, but because we’re finally getting to the point where we’re realizing that the direction this has always been heading is back to where we started. If Blackest Night and Siege end up where people currently expect them to (mass resurrections in the former, a restoration of the pre-Civil War Marvel Universe in the latter) I think there will be a similar deflation.

    I think a lot of this boils down to peoples’ frustration with marketing–having their chains jerked by publishers who hype deaths as meaningful. But the answer to that is to stop letting them jerk our chains. The kinds of superhero comics we have the comics in the direct market are the joint responsibility of the publishers and the self-selected readership that pushed us to this point.

    The only superhero comic complaint that’s more annoying than “stop bringing back the dead” is “why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker”.

    BTW, Jim, nice Sgt. Rock story in the new Back Issue.

  19. Terry says:

    >>>There wasn’t a “bump in sales” mind-set or a “can we get more press” attitude. Character and story drove it. That’s the big secret.

    Drag that one out and you can fertilize the lawn.

  20. @Synsidar

    I don’t think the illusion of change really has to do with comic creators thinking their fans are stupid.

    I think it first came about because comics where aimed at kids/teens and they expected that their readers will get into something else as they get older and be replaced by a new group of readers. Because of this cycle of new readers one doesn’t have to move the story forward much, just enough change to the status qua to make things interesting for those reading at that time interested.

    Now the illusion of change isn’t because of high turnaround in readership but the fact that a lot of people that read comics now (or at least the vocal ones) seem to prefer things not to really change. In fact a lot want comics to be like they where when they where younger and because of that we don’t really get much change in comics and in fact a lot of the change we get is going back to how something was in the past.

  21. Rebis says:

    Terry, if they’d wanted more press, they could’ve had plenty — at least on comics sites. Interviews with Tomasi, DiDio, et al., would’ve been set up ahead of time by DC, ready to go live last Wednesday (or at least Thursday). It took all weekend for most sites to catch up with the fact that XXX was dead (or “dead”), precisely because they didn’t hype it.

    @Cole: Great stuff, there.

  22. Don’t worry about xxxx! Let me worry about xxxx!

  23. Synsidar says:

    The principle I follow re storytelling is, “Stories won’t be better than a writer wants them to be.” Consciously following the “illusion of change” policy while writing a story guarantees that the story will fail in an artistic sense because drama (conflict) is impossible. I don’t respect the policy, or people who enforce it, because they’re taking a “least amount of effort required” attitude toward their jobs.

    Change in a story doesn’t have to be radical. A conflict can result in a philosophical change, a change in attitude, or a change in a relationship. A new character can change dramatically while the lead reacts to the change. Writing such stories requires only the intent to attend to the basics, instead of thinking, “Ultra-Man might have fought Mr. Nemesis 49 times already, but Mr. Nemesis has a new plan, and the art is terrific!”

    Death as a dramatic element in a story isn’t profoundly different from other dramatic elements, because in a close-ended story, the characters’ stories have been told anyway. The emotional impact is different. That’s why the presumption that a death in a comics story is false ruins the story. How can the ending work if the reader knows he’s being misled or manipulated?

    If Marvel were able to create new characters that succeeded, death wouldn’t be the problem that it is. If Marvel were to treat their adult readers as adults instead of constantly professing that their readers are teens who think that marriage is dreadful and boring, and are failing in science classes, there would be more emphasis on writing the adult heroes as emotionally mature adults who know something about science.

    My favorite writer, Steve Englehart, had a successful career writing stories that featured change. His VISION & SCARLET WITCH maxiseries, despite unconventional story content, sold well enough to continue as a series, but Marvel Editorial apparently decided against it. His success is evidence that there is a market for good stories, but prerequisites for writing them are the willingness to do research and to work on a story, modifying elements as required, instead of thinking that the first and/or easiest idea for a story is good enough.

    SRS

  24. Glenn Simpson says:

    You actually can have death without resurrection. It’s easy. You tell stories for about 10 years, kill off whoever you feel you need to. Then at some point you just stop telling stories about that universe and start a new one with similar characters, using all the characters who got killed in the last one, if you want.

  25. they couldn’t push for press cause they all know it’s only lasting one issue.

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