.Your favorite superheroes are over 50 years old! Before they got dark and gritty, they did some goofy things. Welcome to Midlife Crisis on Infinite Earths where we look back at the less than illustrious adventures of some of the biggest heroes in comics. In this edition, we are talking about… Death?!
Marvel Comics has rocked the world of Spider-Man recently with its current “Dead No More” storyline, aka The Clone Conspiracy. In this series, the Jackal, who is a cloning genius, has succeeded in using his technology to (apparently) resurrect the dead.
Right off the bat, they brought back Gwen Stacy. She is Peter Parker’s first major girlfriend. That was until she died thanks to his life as Spider-Man. It was a heartbreaking moment in comics which shaped the direction of Spider-Man for decades thereafter.
Back in the day, death in comics was pretty final. When you cashed out it was for good. Everyone was an Uncle Ben. This is because the loss of someone near and dear added a dimension of realism to characters that made them more human, more relatable, and opened many avenues for storytelling.
Not so much anymore. Characters are killed off and resurrected all the time. This is one of the great things about fiction: nothing has to last forever. However, I would have to say that it is also its greatest folly. Over the years some iconic characters died in noble of ways. The fact that characters are being brought back for something as gaudy as nostalgia is kind of appalling when you think about it. You have basically taken every feeling about that death, every bit of nobility of the sacrifice, every heartbreaking emotion, and made it pointless.
Don’t believe me? Well, have a seat on Nick’s Nihilistic Navigations of the Neither Realms!
Bucky Go Blewie!
Bucky Barnes was the faithful boy sidekick to Captain America in the 1940s. When he wasn’t hanging out with his grossly inappropriate band of boy stereotypes, he said witty things while Cap gave Hitler the ol’ right hook. That was until one faithful day in 1945 that Captain America and Bucky tried to stop an explosive drone plane.
As Avengers #4 details, Bucky ended up getting blown to smithereens while Cap ended up a patriotic popsicle. When Captain America was revived in the modern day, the whole death of Bucky thing kind of ruined his day.
Bucky’s apparent death added a layer to Captain America that made him a more dramatic character. Somehow the idea of the exciting world of the future, what with its civil rights and woman voters, was somehow less amazing when you’re still dealing with the loss of your best friend.
Putting it lightly, Bucky’s death rattled Captain America pretty bad, as watching your best pal get blown to kibbles and bits is want to do. It impacted Cap for years.
During the early days of the Avengers, Rick Jones was their boy mascot. When Captain America joined the team, Jones latched onto Cap and insisted that the Star-Spangled PTSD sufferer train him to be the new Bucky.
It wasn’t just that, but Bucky’s death also really brought home the fact that Captain America was a man out of time. That silly kid in the domino mask brightly punctuated the fact that everyone Cap knew and loved during the war was most likely long dead.
The profound sense of loss regularly poured over into his modern life, especially when dealing with Sharon Carter, Agent of SHIELD. She wanted to live a life of danger, but Cap was so worried she’d get killed in action that he insisted that she take a desk job. As degrading as that might sound, he didn’t want to see another loved one cut down in the prime of their life.
He also spent a lot of his time trying to confirm that Bucky was actually dead and had it confirmed multiples times. He even traveled back in time to witness the trauma a second time.
He was in Russia the WHOLE Time!
Bucky being dead was a comic book staple for well over 40 years, until 2005 when Ed Brubaker began writing Captain America. He created a storyline which revealed Bucky actually survived the explosion (minus an arm) and was recovered by the Russians. This being the end of World War II, they trained Bucky into being their brainwashed assassin the Winter Soldier. For the ensuing decades, he’d go out and murder people before being put into suspended animation.
When Captain America finally discovered this, he restored Bucky back to normal and there was a heartfelt reunion of sorts. With the revelation that Bucky was never really dead, it all makes Captain America seem really, really bad at his job given how frequently he was tricked into thinking Bucky was dead. Also, it kind of makes all his maudlin whining seem more like he was being Emo before that was a thing.
Mutanting for the Cure!
The 90’s was one of the worst period of comic books ever conceived and they came up with some storylines that dragged on forever. During this decade the world of the X-Men was rocked by the spread of the Legacy Virus, which targeted and killed mutants with their own powers. Basically, it was a poorly conceived commentary about the AIDS epidemic of the time.
One of the first victims of the virus was Illyana Rasputin, the younger sister of Colossus, who at the time was an adorable little girl who couldn’t harm a thing. It was a heartbreaking moment that led to Colossus temporarily leaving the X-Men to join Magneto before getting back on the right track again.
Eight excruciatingly long years later, writers remembered that the Legacy Virus was a thing, they decided to whip up a cure. However there was one caveat: In order to cure everyone of the virus, a mutant had to inject the cure into himself and let it burn out their mutant powers, effectively killing that person.
While the rest of the X-Men were playing debate club, Colossus decided to commit to the ultimate sacrifice in the memory of his dead sister.
How Resurrection for the Sake of Nostalgia can be Creepy (and stupid)
Joss Whedon later brought Colossus back three years later in a story that strikes me as dumb. See by this point some aliens from a place called Breakworld feared that mutants would destroy their world. So their solution was to resurrect one of them (Colossus) and come up with a cure for mutants, because reasons? Joss Whedon is a fantastic writer and all, but this entire plot was kind of stupid. Seriously. It involves a massive bullet being shot at planet Earth. It’s just that dumb.
Anyway, the whole plot line seems to be a vehicle to rekindle the romance between Colossus and Kitty Pryde. Long time X-Men readers might remember the Colossus/Kitty romance from back in the day when 18-year-old Colossus courted 14-year-old Kitty Pryde.
And for what? So Kitty Pryde seemingly sacrifices her life to save the Earth from the giant bullet. Love and loss. See, I told you it was stupid.
Now, I know what you’re saying: Well he still sacrificed his life in the memory of his dead sister so it still kind of means something right? Sure. Until they resurrected Illyana and made her a demonic teenage sorcerer (and a mutant!)
But hey, he also cured the Legacy Virus forever right? Well, about that….
Dying With Dignity… Sorta.
Aunt May was the rock in the world of Peter Parker, aka the Amazing Spider-Man. There were a few things you could always rely on Aunt May for, her wheatcakes recipe, doting over her nephew, and having one foot in the grave. For decades, Aunt May was the rusty tailpipe of the Marvel Universe. She had gotten a lot of mileage and as much as you really needed to accept that fact and let go, you hoped that she would just hold on for at least another few miles.
Enter the 1990s, which, as I explained above was the worst decade in comics ever. You know where this is going. It was the height of the awful Clone Saga and Aunt May’s failing health was the only thing that was following continuity. She suffered a stroke and was in a coma for a while.
When she woke up wanted to see the top of the Empire State Building one last time before shuffling off the mortal coil. Peter obliged and May revealed that she knew Peter was Spider-Man the whole time and that she was proud of him. She died not long after that.
It was also around this time that Peter got his wife Mary Jane pregnant. When they discovered that it was a girl they decided to name it May, after Peter’s beloved Aunt. This is kind of an important thing you see…
The Biggest Dumpster Fire in Comics
On top of clones, the 90’s was all about bringing back many of Spider-Man’s foes who were long dead. The Green Goblin was one of them because at this point Parker’s life just wasn’t miserable enough. See, when Mary Jane had their baby, they were told it was stillborn.
What followed was a huge plot involving the Green Goblin leading Peter and Mary Jane to believe that the baby was possibly still alive. When Spider-Man went to rescue what he thought was his infant child he found this instead:
In possibly one of the most convoluted bait and switches in comic book history, the Green Goblin managed to bring Aunt May back to life. See the woman who died of a stroke wasn’t the real Aunt May, I’m going to leave the comic book to explain it to you:
Hey, what about that Spider-Baby? Is it dead? Alive? So far as I can tell, it was probably put in that dumpster where plot holes go when they’re not wanted.
You Just Can’t Keep a Good Lady Dead
Sure, they hit the reset button on the relationship between Peter Parker and his Aunt May, undoing everything that built up to. But really the 90s Spider-Man stories were such a god-awful mess I can understand how they just wanted to forget it and start fresh. To be honest, the makeup test actually turned out better.
It was when J. Michael Straczynski began writing his iconic run on Amazing Spider-Man. He breathed new life into Peter Parker/Aunt May dynamic. Instead of a hacky, “Hey, I’m dying and totes knew you were Spider-Man the whole time!”, they had May discover Peter was really Spider-Man while in relatively good health. Aunt May had to come to terms that Peter was the superhero she really disliked. Eventually, she evolved into being a supportive confidant of this secret.
This all went tragic during the original Civil War event. In it, Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world to show his support of the Superhuman Registration Act. Later, he changed his mind about the law and became a fugitive. Hiding out in a motel room, Spider-Man was targeted by the Kingpin. This ended with Aunt May getting shot in the gut by a bullet meant for Peter.
The Details are in the Devil
That’s not enough for Peter, he literally makes a deal with the devil, Mephisto. He gets his Aunt May all hale and hearty. This comes with a sacrifice: his marriage no longer exists, and that kid he was destined to have will never happen.
Well, one thing that can be said about all this, Peter is just not ready for children.
Aunt May: The Original Black Widow?
Seems a little suspicious to me. Just sayin’.
Well that’s enough doom and gloom for this edition of Midlife Crisis, but don’t worry, this is two parter! In our next edition, we’ll take a look at the many pointless deaths in the DC Universe! Until then, check out the other articles in this series.