Yeah, so this was really the day to read comic books all about death and mourning.
Both Fantastic Four #588 and Amazing Spider-Man #655 take the silent approach.
The first, in the wake of Fantastic Four #587 and the death of the Human Torch, sees the team and the family suffering the death individually in their own ways over the period of a month. The art is raw and moody, a darkly and complexly coloured Jack Kirby feel, well away from the slick Alan Davis cover. We see moments, juxtaposed well away from each other, in their own capsules. And it is silent all the way, although a few blackboard words makes it clear that this event is affecting every member and, especially with Valeria, setting up some very juvenile emotional reactions being made flesh by her beyond-her-age intelligence. And a new family member that will no doubt form the basis for the future of the FF series. And no, I don’t mean Spider-Man
And yes, we do get a chapter, with words and more traditional superhero artwork, Spider-Man and Franklin talking about the deaths of uncles, and their feelings of culpability.
It is a solid work, as the final issue of Fantastic Four it’s as grim as all hell, and it’s probably not the best thing to read the day after you discover someone very real and important to you has died. So, you know, if you’re looking for escapism in the Fantastic Four, this probably isn’t the week to do it.
Amazing Spider-Man takes a remarkably similar approach to the extent that it looked planned. Last issue saw the death of J Jonah Jameson’s wife, Marla. And, while we get a much shorter period, it is also taken up with silent scenes of getting through the seconds, through the minutes through the days.
But as the words return so does the escapism, albeit in dreams, and grounded in reality. In some remarkably twisted and pirouetting artwork, contrasting the previous simple panel to panel storytelling, we see Parker revisiting all the people who have died on his watch. As they hold him responsible for their deaths, we know it is Parker doing this to himself, culminating in a rather shocking Uncle Ben scene and making an impossible promise that is broken almost immediately.
Both these books seem to be hellbent on emphasising the importance of death. The impact it has on people, physically and psychologically. How it changes people, changes motivations. And it’s important, important, important, too important for words, only heady silence can portray the emotional wrench of death. This isn’t just a story gimmick, this is IMPORTANT.
But it isn’t. Not in a comic book anyway. And published the day after the comics industry learned of the death of Dwayne McDuffie, it feels like an insult, if not a deliberate one. I’d hate to think how I’d have reacted to this is an actual nearest-and-dearest family member had passed on. Would I see these comics as sensitive, appreciative and understanding ways to death with the subject of death of a loved one, incapsulating aspects I was feeling but unable to express myself. Or would I just see this grief packaged as entertainment and want to rip them up? Right now, I’m leaning to the latter.
Of course in such circumstances I probably wouldn’t be reading any comics. Unless I was seeking some kind of escapsim. In which case, this week, I’d have made the wrong choice.
Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London.