It’s a little silly, isn’t it? The way we get so attached to fictional characters that it stirs up our very real emotions. Whether it’s movies or tv shows or books, we genuinely care for people that simply don’t exist: creations of someone else’s imagination.
Why did people cry for Charlie on Lost when Dominic Monaghan is alive and well? What about Dumbledore’s untimely demise both on screen and on page? The wizard’s existence is even further outside the realm of possibility. Probably because as human beings, we don’t operate purely on logic. The same brain that tells us the odds are stacked squarely against us is the one that will give us the courage to defy them. The desire to believe in the unbelievable is in our DNA.
Most people don’t bat an eye when a comic book character dies. I’d wager most people don’t realize it or most simply don’t care. “Comic books are for kids,” they say, even though the majority of titles out there are anything but. The last major comic book character death anyone paid attention to beyond hardcore fans was Captain America, and even then it was only for the symbolism — the death of the American Dream. No one gave much thought to Steve Rogers, a once scrawny weakling whose journey began when he wanted the chance to fight for his country.
Maybe it’s the over-exposure of the characters. Unlike movies, tv shows, and traditional books that take snapshots or condense a character’s life into short periods of time, comic book characters are nearly ageless to preserve their involvement in popular titles. Men and women who should be too old to fight continue anyways or receive some miracle solution to rejuvenate their youthfulness. Some die and come back so often it’s almost a joke. By that same token, however, comic book characters have more extensive histories and an everyday presence in their readers’ lives than any other media has managed to accomplish.
The very first comic book I ever read was the Giant-Sized X-men #1. It introduced a brand new host of mutants, including Kurt Wagner, a German-born blue, furry demon-like man with teleportation abilities. I was instantly drawn to him, something I attribute to the fact that my race made me appear different than everyone else around me. It was something I couldn’t hide.
For a long time, Kurt carried around an image-inducer that allowed him to disguise himself so he could fit in when he was out in public. As opposed to hiding his true self, it was a way for him to get past his own shyness due to the pre-mature judgement he was often subjected to; his true personality was allowed to shine, a man who was always upbeat, constantly making jokes, and looking on the bright side of every situation. In time, he shed the disguise and became comfortable with himself, despite the shock he continued to give new acquaintances.
In time, new facets of his persona developed that to this day I’m not sure which one of us was mirroring which. One in particular, though, really hit home — he was a Christian. Throughout his travels and adventures, the only thing he was more devoted to than his friends was his faith. Adventuring all over the universe and then some, he bore witness to atrocities and events that would’ve shaken a lesser man. He was subjected to torment and betrayal by hypocritical members of his own denomination, yet remained steadfast in his dedication to the truth. He even passed on the opportunity for romance on multiple occasions in favor of priesthood. This is a man who knew his priorities and kept them straight.
The latest comic book event has pitted the X-men and the last handful of mutants on Earth against a collection of misguided religious zealots out to purge the world of the “sinful mutant plague”. Their number one M.O.: to kill the first mutant baby that’s been born in years. It reflects Biblical happenings like crazy. So far the casualties have been minor, until the latest issue.
While using his abilities to transport the young girl (symbolically named Hope) to safety, they’re ambushed by a creature far too powerful to resist. Exhausted and battered, Kurt’s final act is a selfless one. Calling on his Father for strength, he sacrificed his life to get Hope to safety. His last words, “Worth it. I believe in you.”
If the world was more aware of his existence, they might hail this as another symbolic superhero death. The death of religion. The way it consumes the innocent who fall in its destructive path. The death of faith. But that isn’t what I see.
I see a man who was more than talk. Who, when push came to shove, didn’t hesitate to put his life on the line. He recognized his death was necessary for the greater good and came through for a girl he barely knew. Because he believed.
Like most comic book characters, there’s a good chance somewhere down the line, a writer will find a somewhat convoluted and strange way to bring him back, most likely due to the irreverent tinkering of a villain. Part of me wishes they wouldn’t, because his story has been handled so well over the years. It was such a perfect ending I think it should be his first and only death. But if his resurrection comes to pass, I won’t frown on that symbolism either.
Until then, Ruhe in Frieden, mein Freund.