I was reading this piece on Fearless Defenders, in which Carla Hoffman talks about a certain spoiler and how it managed to trick an audience who repeatedly say that death in comics is meaningless. And y’know, she’s absolutely right – comic fans (and critics) might like to pretend that we can see what’s coming down the line, that comics are predictable…. but comics proved us all wrong.
Spoilers for Fearless Defenders below
So one of the most frequent statements uttered by comic readers is “death is meaningless in comics”. As mainstream comics move onwards forever and ever, and in theory would outlive all of us, so no character is ever going to be killed forever. Spider-Man might be dead right now, but Marvel already killed and brought him back in the past. Bucky came back to life. Captain America came back to life. Every character – aside from Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy – seems to have died and then come back to life at least ONCE.
Yet judging from the reaction to the most recent arc of Fearless Defenders, we aren’t as cynical as we make out. You see, in the story, the character Annabelle Riggs was killed off… and fans went BALLISTIC.
Not only was Annabelle Riggs a female character killed off in order to further the story of a different character (Valkyrie) but she was also a lesbian. When she was killed off, fans didn’t just react to the classic ‘fridging’ trope – they reacted with all the fury of a fanbase denied a new strong LGBT character.
But just as toast always lands butter-up, Annabelle Riggs has returned alive and well, one issue later. Which… makes all that anger seem a little silly, doesn’t it? Some fans threatened to quit the series, some attacked writer Cullen Bunn, and many websites fuelled the fire.
And they’re now proven to have fallen into the trap. Annabelle was always planned to live on, and another character thought dead has come back to life. For all fans speak of expecting every character to come back to life… fans certainly didn’t see this one coming.
I wonder how much this pleases the creative team. Cullen Bunn, Will Sliney and Ellie Pyle had this planned from the start (in my email back-and-forth with Will whilst we ran our character profiles on The Beat, I’ve suddenly realised he’d made frequent reference to her upcoming death/rebirth, the SWINE!) and must have been prepared for some backlash.
To what extent does a creative team enjoy being attacked, when they know that the attackers are going to be proven wrong in a month? Some creators take delighted glee in the fact they know more than anyone else does about the future. Others play up the shock of a death for months, knowing they’ve already established the means by which the character is coming back.
Any discussion of a book raises the profile of a book, after all. But if a prominent website gets outraged about an incomplete storyline, can’t that have a negative effect on sales? As Hoffman notes, there may be some readers who found out about Riggs’ death and dropped the book immediately. They may never find out that she came back, or that this was the plan all along.
For all fans might pretend they’re in the know and can predict a storyline months before it happens – Fearless Defenders proved that death can still have impact. It’s fascinating how the Annabelle Riggs storyline caught everyone out, making established websites, known critics, fans and anonymous tumblr writers all look foolish for overreacting too quickly. Comics are a continuing medium, and a story is never complete until the writer leaves the book.
But we still fall for the same old trick, time after time. Well played, Fearless Defenders.