I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Superheroes, Cheating and Resurrection

My good friend Arthur over at Arthur the Lesser wrote a comic book related post titled "A Little Less Bright" on his non-comic book blog recently, and it deals with the idea of death and resurrection in comic books. He details that there are some characters who are dead, and who must remain dead for the sake of the story and lists Uncle Ben, Bucky Barnes, Gwen Stacey, and Barry Allen as his examples. Aside from characters such as these and characters who don't really matter (thank goodness there are no such thing as people who don't really matter in the real world), there's a high likelihood that a character is going to come back from the dead. He then cites a series of comic book characters who have come back from the dead (sometimes despite being on the don't touch list) - Bucky Barnes, Jason Todd, May Parker, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter - and this list is nowhere near exhaustive.

Arthur's post was really about a boy in the real world who was dying of cancer. His last wish was to be a superhero, so he died a superhero. His name was Electron Boy, but the people close to him knew him as Erik Martin. Erik Martin's story is important, and as close as we may get to our comic book heroes they will never be as real as Erik Martin was when he was alive, as he is in the hearts and minds of those who were able to be a part of his life. I do not wish to disrespect Erik, but I really want to focus on another ethical issue, so let us shift now from the fact that heroes like Electron Boy don't get to come back to life and rejoin their families, at least not in "this life," to the fact that the unwritten code for what one must do when a loved one dies must be re-written in a world where the people who surround you consistently come back from the dead. I'm not talking about zombies. I'm talking about your beloved wife coming back from the dead if you're Cyclops and your wife is Jean Grey. I'm talking about your aunt coming back from the dead if you're Spider-man and May Parker is your aunt.

The focus of this post is a discussion that I was a part of on a comic book web site called Comic Vine. The message board topic was about how Cyclops cheated on Jean Grey. I started writing on what has happened during the numerous times when Jean Grey was dead and Cyclops tried to move on with his life. In fact, I argued, it would be much easier to say that Cyclops cheated on Madelyne Pryor with Jean Grey than that he cheated on Jean Grey with anyone else. Of course, I was way off topic. It seems that they were talking about how, during the Grant Morrison run, Cyclops telepathically cheated on Jean Grey with Emma Frost and the ethical implications. (Is it really cheating if it's all mental?) And I think that's why I'm focusing on the other side of the discussion here. Yes, Jean Grey was dead and Cyclops was trying to move on. He dated Aleytys Forrester, the daughter of a ship captain, after she died and then he married Madelyne Pryor and had a very important child with her. (But, let's face it, Cyclops had proposed to Jean Grey, a woman who was then going by the name of Phoenix. We'd already seen death and rebirth by that time and her name was Phoenix. He had to - and I believe he did - know that she was going to come back.) But when Jean came back he left his wife and child and everyone seemed to be okay with it because we believed that they were meant to be.

Is there a new rule in comic books that if your true love comes back from the dead your responsibility belongs to that person alone? I can't help but to think of the movie Castaway, where FedEx executive Chuck Noland returns from a deserted island, only to find that he was believed dead and that his true love has moved on with her life. In the end, Chuck Noland simply has to find another way, another love. But Cyclops returns to Jean Grey. Now, nothing of this new rule excuses Cyclops from wrongdoing. It's more like the daughters of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth: If Roman Catholicism is true then Mary is the true-born daughter and Elizabeth is a bastard; If Protestantism is true then Elizabeth is the true-born daughter and Mary is a bastard. No matter how you look at it, someone's a bastard. The same is true for Cyclops, only he is the bad guy in both cases. If the normal rules of society, marriage and the unwritten rules of love hold true, then he cheated on Madelyne Pryor when Jean Grey returned to life. But if there is some comic book clause regarding resurrection then he should have waited for Jean Grey and marrying Madelyne Pryor was the act of cheating. In all likelihood, however, both are a kind of cheating.

I know there are some people who think this is ridiculous. But I want you to think about this. Some of you don't have to think too hard: you've already had this experience. You have loved someone very deeply and then you have lost that person. It took years, but you found the courage to move on with your life, to love someone else, because that's what the other person would have wanted. Now, imagine you live in a universe where you experience the return of lost friends and enemies quite often. You might not have any reason to be certain that your lost loved one will return to life, but the chance alone seems to warrant a different way of acting, a different unwritten law of love. Some will live forever without taking another significant other, simply because of love, because of an impossible belief that you might once again share a bed. Some think this is crazy. I really don't. The way I love Amy, I can't imagine ever being able to love someone else again. But if Amy passed and there was a real hope, maybe a one in three chance, that she'd be returned to me in a few years, that impossible hope would be possible, maybe even probable. And if, in that time, I took on another significant other, I would consider myself the most wretched of the wretched.

It makes me want to write letters. Dear Kitty Pryde, you say Colossus died? Just wait longer. Dear Colossus, you say Kitty Pryde is no longer with us? Have hope. She shall return. Dear Cyclops, you say Jean Grey is dead? Again? The Phoenix will probably return like she did last time. Dear Black Canary, has your beloved Green Arrow left you? Just wait longer. Dear Lois Lane, has your protector fallen? He's effing Superman. Do you really think he can die? Without being insensitive, I want to tell these people in the world of abundant resurrection that they need to stay true to the people that they love. They do not have the choice to move on. A death is not a kind of breaking up. Because when they come back, they still often act as if nothing has changed. As should you, the living of the comic book world. Our lost loved ones aren't returned to us in "this life," but yours often are. Find a way to be true to them. Don't just hook up with the blonde who wears lingerie all the time, reads minds, and turns to diamond.

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