Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rick Remender and Death

I wanted to talk a bit more about Remender's take on death and this time, I'll be delving into specifics, so if you were thinking about reading the new Captain America series or Uncanny Avengers, spoilers ahead. He said to his nonexistent audience.

To recap from the last post: Remender knows that you know that you're reading a comic, so instead of overdramatizing a character's death (like hack writer Cristopher Yost) when you know they're just going to be resurrected later, or killing off a character just for the shock of it (like hack writer Josh Whedon,) Remender focuses on the circumstances of a character's death, and the lasting effects it has on character's relationships.

So, to start with Captain America, began with Steve getting sent to an alternate, dystopian dimension for over 10 years. Right away, this is a clear signal to the reader that everything that happens in these pages is not entirely "true", because Captain America exists inside the larger Marvel universe, where he's on the Avengers team, punchin' stuff. Any kind of astute reader knows that Steve isn't really inside this dimension for over a decade, and you start imagining what could be going on -- could be a dream, could be a computer simulation, could be a time dilation (it's this one), maybe that's not even Captain America -- The point is, you're aware that nothing counts.

And you're very much aware of this when Steve adopts a young boy, Ian, and raises him as his son. Remender spends almost a full year on this arc, with Steve raising his son and making the protection of him top priority in the shitty world he lives in. But the reader knows (and Remender knows that the reader knows) that Ian does not and will not "exist" after Steve inevitably leaves the alternate dimension that he may or may not actually be in. Even with all this going on, you still get attached to Ian, knowing this he's doomed, and the focus then becomes not on whether or Ian lives or dies, but how it's going to crush Captain America when he inevitably kicks the bucket.

Again, another great thing about Remender's writing is not just the fact that a character dies (see: hack writers mentioned above,) but the way they die. In Ian's case, Steve's fiance, Sharon, enters the alternate dimension to try and save him, thinks that Ian is a threat and shoots him in the fucking neck. First of all, this is a really traumatic way for a child to die, not only for the reader but for Steve as well. Second, this was not an accident; Sharon intentionally shot Steve's child in the neck in front of him. Morbid though experiment, but can you imagine your feelings towards the person you love after they purposefully shot your son in the neck? Again, never mind the fact that the reader is unconvinced that Ian isn't "real", he feels real to Cap and has become endeared through the reader through a year of characterization and Steve constantly repeating how important Ian is to him.

I don't want keep harping on Yost and Whedon, but compare Nightcrawler and Coulson to Ian. Nightcrawler gets killed fairly unexpectedly, but dies "heroically" and then with much dramatic fanfare. Nevermind the fact that every person at his funeral had died and come back to life, this is sad dammit, so feel feelings. Whedon kills characters completely unexpectedly -- often in scenarios where the notion of "character death" hasn't even been introduced, so it comes as an even bigger shock -- but it serves no thematic purpose other than "You liked this character but he died." It doesn't even serve to villainize the antagonist further. Like, "Oh Loki's going to enslave humanity and slaughter millions of people, but, meh whatever. What? He killed that guy I spoke to three times? NOW I CARE."

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