People die. It happens. But why can legacies only be passed along after death? The old hero dies and a new one rises to take their place. It happens all the time, but what’s wrong with doing it a little differently? Why can’t the old hero just move on? Super-heroics is a dangerous business and people will ultimately die, but is it impossible to simply retire, to live? How does killing the hero do anything but hurt the franchise?
Barry Allen died so that Wally West could become the Flash, Ted Kord was murdered and Jaime Reyes replaced him as Blue Beetle, (almost) every single character ever named Manhunter was killed so that Kate Spencer could step up to be the brand new Manhunter. This goes beyond just legacy characters too. It seems that in order to introduce a new concept, you must first destroy an old one. Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back from the dead as the Winter Soldier, but in the process he kills off Jack Monroe, the hero known as Nomad. Obviously, not many people cared one way or the other about Nomad, but now that character is off the board forever (I highly doubt anyone will be attempting to resurrect him, ever). Whatever potential he may have had in the future is now gone. Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man was brought back to life during Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, but then his daughter, Stature, and Vision are killed in the same series. Creators often talk about world building, but too often the elimination of characters are used to launch that idea of world building at the reader. It seems that in order to build you must first destroy.
Not everything needs to be protected forever. Change is needed, whether it’s creation or destruction. The killing of Jack Monroe was a small price to pay for the return of Bucky and his ongoing role in the Marvel Universe. He became Captain America, he’s starring in his own ongoing series and he is set to appear in the new Secret Avengers series. That’s so much more than what ten Jack Monroes could have contributed. However, was the death of Richard Rider, AKA Nova, really that necessary in order to introduce a new Nova, Sam Alexander? If the Nova concept and the Nova Corps itself is Marvel’s version of the Green Lantern Corps, isn’t there room for more than one Nova? Or, at the least, was Rider’s death necessary for Alexander’s rise?
There are currently ~3600 members of the Green Lantern Corps, a multitude of different colored lanterns and four (now five) Earth-based main characters in the franchise. Things seem to be ok. DC already used the ‘destroy everything’ method to introduce Kyle Rayner back in the ’90s. To destroy is to isolate your readership. Everyone has ‘their’ version of a character, and to eliminate one is to declare that fanbase invalid. “You shouldn’t be interested in Hal Jordan, you should be interested in Kyle Rayner!” and now “You shouldn’t be interested in Kyle Rayner, you should be interested in Hal Jordan!” Obviously you can’t please everyone, so you can either please the majority, or try to give everyone a slice of the pie. In the New 52, both Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner have their own titles, that way both fanbases are happy. But what about Wally West? Is there no room for him? If Green Lantern can fit thousands, I think Flash can fit two. Before the reboot, the Flash franchise looked like it was going places. Barry Allen returned and now there were two Flashes, Max Mercury was back, Bart Allen was resurrected, and Iris Allen became the new Impulse. There were rumors about a second Flash title and a Kid Flash title, then everything was canned and eventually rebooted. Maybe the Nova franchise isn’t strong enough for two titles, but I think it could only be strengthened by two main characters, even if the spotlight was focused on only one of them for now.
This leads to the question of why there needs to be ‘only one.’ DC and Marvel fear that too many characters with the same name might confuse their readers. They changed Wally West’s costume in order to differentiate him from Barry. When there were two Batmen running around, they had different costumes, even though the idea was supposed to be that Batman is everywhere. Logic would dictate that they would want to look exactly the same then. Publishers thinking their readership is too stupid to figure things out is what leads to unnecessary deaths. “There can’t be two Blue Beetles, how will people tell them apart.” Even though they look nothing alike.
Once you kill a character, they’re dead (well, not really, but still). If you keep a character off on the sideline creators now have more material to pull from when they need it. Jay Garrick and Alan Scott weren’t eliminated because of the presence of Barry Allen and Hal Jordan. No one was confused. There were two Batmen and two Captain America for awhile. That was pretty awesome. Imagine the idea of a hero retiring and then being allowed to live their life, or even training their replacement. Maybe even fight along side them. Maybe you won’t have that big gasp moment that comes with death, but there would be more potential for stories in the future. Imagine if Batman Beyond was about Terry McGinnis taking up the mantle of Batman after Bruce Wayne is killed? It wouldn’t be the same and it wouldn’t be as powerful. A death scene is quick and then it’s over, letting a character live on for the future provides endless possibilities. When Jack Knight retired as Starman, he stayed retired. There still managed to be a successor to his legacy, even without his death. The development that was most shocking though was that he hasn’t been seen since. It’s allowed to happen.
The death of Peter Parker has been discussed to death, here and everywhere else across the internet, but imagine a Superior Spider-Man with Peter Parker as a mentor instead of a memory. Spider-Man fans would be less divided and more accepting of the change, if it meant that ‘their’ character still had a place. Death is cheap. At this juncture in the comic book industry, allowing characters to live is the real shocker.