Thursday, August 09, 2012

Guest Post: Living With The Consequences (or Why I Can No Longer Read the X-Men) – by Jonathan Wood

Jonathan Wood is the author of No Hero and Yesterday’s Hero. I invited him to write a guest post, and he has decided to get something off his chest about Marvel. It’s a grumble we have in common…

As a general rule, I try not to wish death on anyone. I’m not always successful (I’m looking at you jackass, singing along to your MP3 player on the crowded subway car. You can be taken down by a herd of horny wildebeest and I will stand by, cheering them on), but I try.

That said, man did I want Jean Grey to die.


I think this is OK. For starters, Jean Grey isn’t real. She’s a figment of Stan Lee’s imagination, elevated to melodramatic heights by the purple prose of Chris Claremont. But despite Claremont’s ability to overwrite any sentence imaginable, his epic run on the classic X-Men titles and the culmination of his Phoenix Saga stand as one of the high points in comic literature.

OK, that may be a little bit subjective, but bear with me.

Jean Grey’s death stands as the operatic culmination of the Phoenix Saga. She sacrifices herself so her friends, and most importantly her love, can live. Claremont can try to undermine the moment by fitting more adjectives into his sentences than clowns fit into cars, but even he cannot screw up the emotional impact of this moment. It’s staggering.


But, now, imagine how awful that moment would have become if, three or four issues later, Jean Grey had come back armed with a bag full of bad excuses about how she survived. Or wittering on about how she was an identical clone. Or whatever else the author had decided to use to shit all over the readers. Or, worse, imagine what little impact the original moment would have had if you already knew this writing douche-baggery was going to happen.

Welcome to every character death in the X-Men subsequent to Jean Grey’s demise.

I am being a little unfair here, of course. X-Men is not the only franchise to ret-con any meaningful moment into oblivion. Hell, Captain America was dead for about half a nanosecond. But X-Men is the franchise that has done it to me personally the most, so here they can be my straw men, and I can be the guy delivering blows to the groin.

XMen-Beast2I get that X-Men is a big, money-churning franchise, and that people will get upset if a favorite character dies. Hell, if I find out anyone is taking down Beast I’m going to get myself a torch, a pitchfork, and let Joe Quesada’s ass find out exactly what happens when I make mine Marvel. But, at the same time, Marvel has created a situation where nothing meaningful can happen in their franchise. Plot points are like the sticky notes they probably write them on – slowly peeling from the wall, falling down, and being swept away. Cause has no lasting effect. The whole thing becomes meaningless. And quite frankly that’s why I no longer read it.

Actions need consequences. That’s how we find meaning in the world. It’s how we find meaning in our literature. It’s how life works. We may not like all our decisions, but we are stuck with them, we have to live with them.

So I’m glad Jean Grey is dead. And that’s is why I’m going to stand over her grave with an AK. Any Marvel writers coming near it are going to get it in the face. And I am more than happy to live with those consequences.


  1. Basically you're arguing that continuity in comics is everything. I disagree. Strong stories are more important. I don't mind a reset in comics. It's like the Family Guy. Whatever happened the week before has no real consequences. As long as you're telling a great tale (or even a series of tales), so what?

  2. I agree. It was pretty emotional for a comic book. However, I did like when she came back in X-Factor. The emotions of Scott moving on, then Jean popping up were well done as retcons go.

  3. I think if you're bringing a character back to life there has to be thought behind it, not just "They've been dead for a while, time to bring them back". The first Jean resurrection worked because there were serious consequences from her death (Scott moved on, married, had a kid). Her reappearance changed a lot of things (Scott left his wife, formed a new team, etc.). A lot of times it seems the deaths are repealed so quickly you've barely noticed the character's gone before they're back, with no repercussions at all.

    I also got the impression that the writers (and therefore the characters) didn't know their own backstories. I stopped reading X-Men for years when Rogue abandoned Gambit in the desert after learning he'd helped the Mauraders set up the Mutant Massacre. Like Rogue was never evil and, oh I don't know, stole the memories of Carol Danvers (who was a friend of the X-Men and an Avenger at the time), effectively destroying Carol's life (for several years). That's not even all she did. But it surprised me that with her own history she'd be so angry about Gambit, after the YEARS he'd already spent atoning for his crimes (and they knew he was a thief when they let him join).

    End of rant.

    Anyway, I agree with you. Character deaths shouldn't be used as a quick ratings scheme. And they should involve a measure of permanence.

  4. comic characters died all the time, cable, nightcrawler etc I'm hoping cyclops dies in this avx event