Killing Off Kids: The New Comic Book Craze

So now that DC and Marvel can’t kill women off indiscriminately without readers going nuts, what’s the next logical step? Of course: killing children. Grim, but now a comic book favourite...
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So now that DC and Marvel can’t kill women off indiscriminately without readers going nuts, what’s the next logical step? Of course: killing children. Grim, but now a comic book favourite...

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Comics have long been known to hate women. The prevalent attitude of using female characters to propagate a male character’s story has been noted for years as being unacceptable and, frankly, dangerous, and can be summed up by the Women In Refrigerators website that listed all the female characters who were killed off, or had really terrible things happen to them just so a male character can swoop in and save them from themselves (or something as equally ridiculous). Women were more of a catalyst than an empowering and realistic representation of what women actually are; fucking brilliant.

DC, and Marvel, have been progressively more enlightened with their attitude to women. Marvel have revealed that they will be publishing an all female X-Men comic which, although written by a man, will throw some light onto a much maligned aspect of the Marvel Universe. Hopefully this will try and wipe away some of the smudges that stories like Identity Crisis have left behind. And both companies have been hiring strong female writers and placing them on massive books, with much success; most things that Gail Simone touches turns to gold, except that awful two issue arc of Teen Titans she did with Rob Liefeld.

So now that DC and Marvel can’t kill women off indiscriminately without readers going nuts, what’s the next logical step? Of course: killing children.

Which is precisely what’s happening. DC Comics have killed off two major child characters in the space of one week, with Bruce Wayne’s biological son Damian Wayne, and Cliff Baker, the son of much forgotten about hero Animal Man going to the masked graveyard in the sky.

In this week’s Batman Incorporated Damian Wayne was killed off fighting an adult clone of himself and died saving the World, maybe to create a bit of drama for the other members of the Bat family (the events of which will be reflected in their own series) but more probably because sales can always use a bit of a boost and the death of a major character would do that quite nicely.

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Child characters being killed off isn’t anything new, and it’s even more prevalent if your name is Robin, with the most recent recipient of the name Robin being the fifth character in main canon, and the third to suffer a pretty grim death because of it. But children getting killed off at the climax of a story is nothing new; the death of Terra in the 1980s Teen Titans series, for example, the controversial murder of the second Robin, Jason Todd at the hands of The Joker in the infamous Death In The Family storyline, children are often one of the few targets writers won’t touch because the death of a child is a lot more emotional and resounding than, say, the death of a girlfriend, or Ace the Bathound.

Grant Morrison, the creator of Damian Wayne, and also the writer of Batman Incorporated has revealed that he always intended to kill Wayne off, but instead of doing it in the very first story arc where he appeared, he set himself the challenge of making the character, who was almost widely disliked, into something brilliant. And judging by the reaction to Damian’s death, he seems to have done that completely.

Which makes his death sounds like his death was a completely intentional, and an integral part of a larger plot, how traumatic experiences like rape and murder should be approached. They shouldn’t be a flippant flight of fancy, or in the remotest part titillating. They should be a serious and representative of what it truly means to have these terrible things to happen to you.

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Unlike Avengers Arena.

Whereas DC seem to be approaching the deaths of their child characters with thought and a focus on good story telling, Marvel are throwing sixteen of their characters onto a distant island and forcing them to murder each other.

‘Obviously a bad imitation of Battle Royale,’ you’ll probably say. And you’d be right. The credit for the original has to be given to the novel, but Marvel have supercharged the premise by filling it with teenage sidekicks and various other characters who people will only really know in passing. Perfect fodder for meaningless deaths and a hasty recast before anyone realises what’s happened. But where DC have put story telling first and tried to keep Wayne’s death a secret (damn you New York Post), Marvel are advertising this series as a high octane cull of characters no one has any emotional attachment to.

Although Avengers Arena may be getting rave reviews and massive adulation (with good reason, it’s really sort of brilliant) there are still fans out there wanting the series to be cancelled and the deaths retconned back to normal, and although only 61 people have signed the online petition to make Marvel Editor-In-Chief Alex Alonso pretend this series never happened that’s still an indictment that issues like the flippant deaths of children aren’t going down well.

Hugh Armitage, comics reporter for DigitalSpy, doesn’t see this as a problem, and instead sees bold advances in character development as the potential to create stronger stories that would make people want to read on and see what happens.

“I think it is interesting because people want to know if they are really being killed or something else...faked deaths of some kind.”

However brutal and cynical the motives behind Avengers Arena may be, it does lead, whatever cast remains, to an angsty bunch of teenagers with superpowers, which is either going to be a terrible attempt of making Dawson’s Creek with laser blasts, or a lovely story about the redemptive aspect of a good boyfriend/girlfriend.

It’s a shame that Marvel seem to be approaching this series with such cynical methods because there are many brilliant series out there that have changed what it means to be a sidekick in comic books; the Allan Heinberg run on Young Avengers, the Geoff Johns run on Teen Titans, and the Brian K. Vaughan created series Runaways. There’s no way that trying to mimic the success of Hunger Games will end well for this series, because as long as the series is written well and is as entertaining as a kitten trying to teach his tail a lesson, then it’ll be something to be proud of.