Today Marvel Comics released Fantastic Four #587 which continued the story that began some 50 years ago with four people whose life was changed forever by a gamma radiation blast in space which changed them into the comic book heroes known as The Fantastic Four. Yet issue #587 is a game changer of sorts. Over two years in the making, the storyline for the Fantastic Four has come to an end with the death of Johnny Storm (The Human Torch), the brother of Sue Storm (The Invisible Girl) and brother-in-law of Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and BFF of Ben Grimm (The Thing). Death is something that is not uncommon in the world of comic book superheroes, even the most overtly messianic superhero Kal El – better known as Superman – has died. Yet death in pop culture is rarely death as we who live in the so-called real world experience it. In an interview on CNN, Marvel Editor-in-chief Tom Brevoort didn’t even deny that the possibility of rebirth stands over the newly deceased Human Torch:
“It’s very easy to develop cynicism about the stories we tell,” Brevoort added. “The only way to combat and conquer it is to have a story that touches on the humanness of people that has emotional resonance and truth to it. The fact of death is something every human being can relate to. I would argue that a well-told story of a character’s demise is not necessarily undone by them coming back later.”
In pop culture there is always this playfulness with the life cycle given the fantastical way in which life can be expanded beyond the limits of mere mortality – people change into superheroes, learn to become wizards, transport through time and space, and meet talking animals on the other sides of wardrobes. So battles occur, people die, and death takes for some but not all and not for all time. We cheer when our hero leaps up and saves the day in the darkest hour as we munch our popcorn. Then we blink at the light of day as we leave the movie theater and get into our car and have to face a world that is seemingly random, often painful, and rarely just in regard to who dies and who lives. And when people die… they stay dead. But life does go on, and we remember those who have passed from this mortal coil, living from our memories and continuing their life as a legacy of our own.
So will the Human Torch appear again in some distant new comic book?
It is pretty likely.
Does the knowledge of this cheapen the death scene in issue #587?
Don’t get me wrong – I love comic books, anime, manga and think that, along with the character Elijah Price/Mr. Glass from M. Night Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable, that they are indeed telling stories – albeit fantastical - that are more ‘true’ than we care to realize. But the comic nature of death is not something that I can believe in anymore. Yes, as a Christian I belief in a life that extends beyond the temporal but this everlasting-ness of life is also rooted in the death and life around us everyday. Death is a very serious thing and an ugly thing. There is no rhyme nor reason to it. It is indeed a release from pain and suffering, but it is also a loss of life pure and simple – it is a loss of loved ones, of beauty we behold everyday, the stillness of water on a clear lake, the sound of children’s laughter and the feel of morning sun on your face. It is as Hamlet mused ‘the final frontier’.
So… what do you think?
Does the promise of rebirth in comics help us expect a rebirth as well and therefore take away ‘death’s sting?’ Or does this pop culture cheapening of death distract us from the reality of death?