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No R.I.P. For Superheros: How Funerals Are Handled In Comic Books

There’s no such thing as a simple goodbye for superheroes…

Recently, Marvel announced they’re killing off one of their most popular characters…X-Men’s age-defying, claw-bearing Wolverine! While this may come as a shock to some, to many who follow comics and comic-based movies it’s just another iconic superhero flirting with the great beyond.

The world of super-powered crime-fighters is fraught with peril, and sometimes even the most powerful succumb to the dangers and fall in a valiant effort to save the world, right a wrong...or, not to be too cynical, boost sales and garner media attention.

Just like soap operas, nothing in the world of costumed crusaders is ever simple, so it’s no surprise that even superhero funerals often serve as more than just opportunities for friends and family to say their goodbyes. Here are some ways in which memorials are manipulated…

The Funeral As A Classic “This Isn’t Goodbye, It’s See You Later”

There used to be a joke among comic book fans that “nobody stays dead except Bucky” (a reference to Captain America’s old Robin-esque sidekick who actually remained dead for many, many years before, yes, eventually being resurrected, too). So funerals are often time-delayed plot bombs – the ticker is set, and we count down to that character’s inevitably explosive, emotional return. [Photo Source: Marvel]

The X-Men universe has their “Death of Jean Grey” storyline, where original X-Team member Jean Grey (known as “Marvel Girl” and then later the aptly-named “Phoenix”) sacrificed herself in order to stop her increasingly out-of-control and genocidal powers. It’s one of the most powerful deaths in comics, with a whole issue dedicated to her funeral. Of course, Jean would return to rock the X-universe many times over since. Will the same fate await Wolverine in the upcoming “Death of Wolverine” series. Probably. [Photo Source: Marvel]

Perhaps the biggest and most shocking funeral was the one held for the most famous and iconic superhero of all time: Superman. In 1992, DC Comics decided that Kal-El had finally met his match (in the form of a brutal alien named Doomsday). DC initially seemed willing to stick to their guns on this, but then slowly paved the way for Superman as we knew him to return to his former glory. [Photo Source: DC Comics]

The Funeral As Motivator

More often than not, funerals in comic books are used to jolt a hero (or potential hero) into action. The death of a loved one becomes just as important to a character’s identity as their costume or superpower. These dearly departed become manifestations of their conscience, driving them against impossible odds or correcting them when they go astray. The two most iconic examples: Batman and Spider-Man.

Had young Bruce Wayne not seen his parents gunned down in an alley, would he have adopted the mantle of the Bat and become Gotham City’s protector? [Photo Source: DC Comics]

And if Peter Parker hadn’t given in to a moment of selfishness and let his Uncle Ben’s eventual murderer get away scot-free, would he have taken Ben’s advice that “with great power comes great responsibility” so deeply to heart? [Photo Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]

The Funeral As Origin Story

Death is rarely an absolute ending in comics, but in some cases it's literally the beginning of a hero’s journey rather than the end. Even damnation isn’t a hindrance – witness characters such as Spawn or Ghost Rider. Both start out as relatively (well, in a comic book world anyway) “normal” guys. [Photo Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]

Spawn is CIA agent Al Simmons, Ghost Rider is circus stunt biker Johnny Blaze – but dying (and going to hell) sees them both imbued with supernatural powers used for “good” (well, good-ish – defined as punishing people even worse than they were). Some heroes have to witness death in order to adopt an alter ego, and others have to literally die in order to be reborn as something else. [Photo Source:]

The Funeral As The Start Of A Mystery

Comic books have their roots in old pulp paperbacks, and as everyone knows all great noir is fueled by wrongful or mysterious deaths. (“Funeral plots?”) So when someone close to a group of heroes dies suddenly, it brings out the sleuth inside all the capes -- “DC” does stand for “Detective Comics” after all. The Justice League gathered at the funeral of Sue Dibny -- wife of the hero Elongated Man -- in 2004’s “Identity Crisis” series, which sent Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern et al on a dark journey of not only Whodunit but Whydunit. It took the usual “POW!” “BIFF!” storylines and made it introverted and emotional, stirred on by the funeral of someone who was, by all accounts, simply an innocent bystander. [Photo Source: DC Comics]

The Funeral As A Final Act Of Defiance

There’s nothing like a well-planned funeral...and we should know. Comic book heroes (or anti-heroes) rarely leave anything to chance, even their own final arrangements. In Alan Moore’s subversive classic V for Vendetta, the main character is given a dramatic Viking funeral – the train car carrying his body explodes underneath future London’s seat of political power, paving the way towards revolution. [Photo Source: Warner Home Video]

In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, aging Bruce Wayne must convince a government-controlled Superman that he is dead in order to continue his resistance underground…and goes so far as to temporarily stop his own heart and have himself buried six feet under. Superman’s super-hearing catches the faint return of Bruce’s heartbeat at the funeral…but he winks at Batman’s sidekick Robin and takes off, willing to let his old rival continue his struggle unimpeded. [Photo Source: DC Comics]

Written by Eric Alt

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