Micro/Macro Death

(This is a blog reply to @cbishop blog)

My most recent blog was one about Dejah Thoris and the likelihood of her foot soldiers to die alongside her, which brought up a counter point of the cliche of the "Hero doesn't die." In short this rule depends on the maintenance of a main character to an overall saga, as the character and the saga become one and the same as opposed to two separate plot devices. The saga exists as a collection of stories, and could be considered the macro version of a single plot or story (which a single plot or story serves as a micro version of a saga.) With the lack of death for the main characters, there can be a lot less of overall tension, as unless one immerses almost stupidly into the story, that it is difficult to believe that the characters die and stay dead.

This has manifested itself in a lot of different ways recently and not so recently. There used to be a comic rule that "only Bucky and Robin stay dead" but now this is pretty much "only Uncle Ben stays dead." Of all the stunt deaths in the recent years how many will stay gone? Popular characters like Damian or Rogue? Likely not. The entire "Return of Bruce Wayne" was in essence fan service about how Batman cannot die, even being the most mortal of heroes. And in an episode of Secret Avengers, Black Widow discusses with normal civilians in a quasi-fourth wall approach about how heroes are unfortunate to die and un-die whereas the civilians argue that at least heroes experience un-death. Unnamed civilians die all the time, without consequence.

I am a writer of fiction (though unpublished at the moment) and so the problem of death at least in the "Hero doesn't die" role is different. I have played with some stories where the hero dies, but in essence if the hero dies then there is a point to the death, in that the death served a dramatic purpose or to somehow make a relevant point somehow. In the concept of a story, the victory over death (especially against the odds) is one which humans have to root for, because we are all afraid of death in one way or another. Because of this, stories generally tend to end with the character alive. There is nothing really wrong with this, at least on a superficial level, as the vast majority of notable fiction ever written ended with the protagonists on the better end. The problem where this arises in the serialized format is that it takes this one format, where characters overcome great odds, and it perpetuates it. In effect, any one adventure that any superhero lives through is somewhat of an "adventure of a lifetime" and in effect a version of that adventure, whether it be in a comic or in a television show could most likely be drawn out into a book/movie length story, and a large part of human literature depends on that concept. Even serialized movies highlight much more the direct threat to the heroes. For instance one never really believes that Indiana Jones is going to die, but his stories are shorter and more self contained than chasing away death every month.

The modern day is a good one for those with creative minds. Even a hundred years ago, writers of fiction were essentially limited to writing books or writing plays, but in the modern day there are other avenues openly, namely movies and comics (though it could be expanded to include video games and other media). It should be remembered though that writing in each medium poses a separate set of unwritten rules and cliches, and that death of characters is one among them which operates differently. This helps set up the unrealistic treatment of death in comics, but also serves as a reminder for writers to understand their medium or they become their own cliche.

Posted by cbishop

Very nice. I might have more to say on this, but I'll have to think about it. I just spent hours on one of my lists, and my brain is feeling a little toasted. I've linked this in my blog, by the way. ;)

Posted by RazzaTazz

@cbishop: Ah very nice. Take your time :)