Killing Timeless Superheroes On Repeat for Profit, a Road Which Should be Lesser Traveled

I scoffed at it. I resisted it. I’ve worked comic book retail before. I know what this is. It’s festering shtick played for cheap. If you can finger snap beloved characters gone, you can expect most, if not all of them to return once the profit margin begs for it.

Granted, for sheer curiosity, I opened the blazoned summoning to “Death of the Justice League” a couple times two different Wednesdays on new book day. I even made the rare faux pas of lingering on the end pages because I just know better.

The generous bundle of copies remaining on the shelves two months after the book’s release was a strong indicator. Albeit, they were the standard cover copies, and not the variants and certainly not the glossy acetate packaging. The latter hung about the comic book shop I frequent for a few weeks before selling out. Out of nowhere, though, perhaps from a closed down pull box or another customer unable to clear out weekly held books in suitable fashion, an acetate cover copy manifested.

Add to my conundrum of being baited a Father’s Day gift certificate from my loving fiancée, and with it the freedom to try books I’ve passed on in the interest of saving money. Well… To the good, I was able to score the first three issues of Keiron Gillen’s brilliant Immortal X-Men plus the riotous and gory hijacking of Wolverine # 20-22 by Logan’s smart-assed, likewise indestructible foil, Deadpool. Best ‘pool writing I’ve seen in the past few years.

Damnation, I wasn’t going to play ball, but that acetate cover of Justice League # 75 was coming down the line at me like a routine groundout at first, the ninth inning with the winning run on third. By the time I read the thing, it’s exactly the way I felt about it. Good contact, sharply driven, but in the end, a blasé out to flub a game-ending rally. No walk-off. Extra innings toward an indecisive outcome.

Yes, I know all the marketing gimmicks and presentation tricks from comic book publishers. When I worked in a comic shop in the early 1990s called Alternate Worlds, we sold tons of books cased in sealed polymer bags, along with special covers done in gatefolds, tri-folds, prism 3-D designs, holograms, a plastic diamond angle (looking at and from you, Eclipso), die-cut embossing, chrome plating, you name it. Ask collectors who were there; the smoke and mirrors work favored by the publishers were masking mediocre to miserable material inside.

From this time period, I’m currently writing a fiction story based on my experiences in comics retail. Specifically, the notorious Death of Superman (or “Doomsday”) and Funeral for a Friend saga spanning from 1992 to 1993. If anything reeked of cash grab in the comics industry, it was this bald-faced ploy to knock off The Man of Steel, who had me and maybe 30 other readers nationwide at the time. To be a part of that shocking and momentous occasion was to understand public duping at its best. Most of the people who bought Superman # 75 and the entire Doomsday story arc, as it was largely sold to consumers plunking down a deposit toward the entire run over Supes’ four titles (and Justice League of America # 69) at the time, weren’t even comic book readers. They were investors looking to nab a slice of history it seemed would never repeat itself, save for the four print runs of the pivotal “death” issue.

As their rival imprint’s “distinguished competition,” DC Comics have been no strangers to running the death gambit with their flagship characters. What was originally mortifying and tragic in 1985 when the original Flash, Barry Allen, and Supergirl, were purportedly snuffed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, has now become more of an asterisk instead of an exclamation point. DC and Marvel have killed and resurrected their stable so many times now it’s not even liberally covered under a pervading “multiverse” clause. It’s become Mandolorian-esque: This is the way.

Marvel has ingeniously staked a godhead factor within its still-building Krakoa era of their X-Men titles. The mutant sovereignty has discovered the method toward regenerating their entire population as needs and Quiet Council decrees must. As if Wolverine hasn’t died enough times, or lest we’ve suffered the perversion of resurrecting decades-dead Gwen Stacy, rebranded as hybrid avatars of Marvel’s long-standing cast (i.e. Gwenpool and Spider-Gwen). Marvel can now slaughter mutants at wholesale and bring them back within a single issue. Skip the emotive funeral aftermath tie-in.

For all my blustering, you can bet that acetate covered Justice League # 75 came along with me. All of my knowledge and background in marketing, yep, I still caved when I saw an acetate version of the book re-emerge on the shelf and I had a gift cert to burn. Yes, the confounded acetate cover is cool-looking. You got me this time, DC, drat it.

The book’s been out a while, and everyone who cares about this stuff knows what you see with the comic carny huckstering is what you get with Justice League # 75. Is it any surprise this comes at an issue numbered 75, for all intents and purposes, Superman’s new kryptonite?

Save for Green Arrow’s part in it, however, this is the most pedestrian fall of comic titans I’ve ever read. I’ve been at comics reading for more than four decades, and I have a strong suspicion what Joshua Williamson and DC is up to by creating a minimalist finale to the title’s current run. We all do, considering it’s all precursor to the publisher’s upcoming Dark Crisis crossover. I can make a prediction what this has all been for, which, on the face isn’t much other than to see The Spectre swing sides and Jon Stewart’s valiant stint as lead Green Lantern nearly save the day.

In the end, oblivion rules over Justice League # 75 in the same shredding fashion as the heroes died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is my main gripe to the whole thing. Wonder Woman only just recently cheated death a few months ago for what, the fourth time? Now this? Not even Krakoa’s cloning prowess, assuming it could be loaned ad hoc across competitor lines, can handle this in-and-out genetic reassembly like Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s star brands on (and off) thars. Alfred Pennyworth’s death being the only in comics to have any reticence and gravity, much less sticking power these days.

Which is what this constant die-in, die-out motif in comics feels like: a sham unfurled with just one suckering lever pull. Pointless variant covers and wearying reboots of comic series back to Issue 1 ad infinitum being enough excuse to just let the super bodies hit the floor.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

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