(v. 1.0 - 12/1/04)

The Ever-Ending Battle research project centers on the curious and unique relationship between mortality and the superhero comic book genre.

Image the property of DC Comics © 1995

Given the regularity with which characters presumably perish and then manage to return, it would seem as though this convention of the superhero genre has become a shared expectation for its audience; comic book readers know that "nobody stays dead in comics" and that "it's just a matter of time" before a late character's resurrection. Further, the number of undead, posthumous, ghostly, artificial, or otherwise not-living characters only compounds the situation of death being non-permanent in the superhero universes. Yet, this would seem to stand in opposition not only to the religious and spiritual themes that have arisen in even the mainstream titles, but also to the very notion of heroism itself: A hero being one who, in the name of defending or aiding another, risks injury and even death.

With mortality largely removed from that equation, how does the concept of Heroism remain intact for the genre? Is this predictable style of death and rebirth actually borne from the mechanisms of the medium itself – the union of word/image or the continuous storytelling of the monthly serial issues? How does the genre's pseudo-mortality interact with religious dogma, either on the page or off-panel? And how does this predictable cycle of death and rebirth – an "ever-ending battle" instead of the "never-ending battle" – reflect and impact on the genre's readership?

A number of approaches will be taken for the study. Foremost, a multitude of examples from within the corpus of superhero comic books will compose the primary data pool and each be given close reading and consideration. In hopes that topics for discussion will emerge from these samples themselves, the corpus will include, but not be limited to, the deaths, resurrections, or curious existences of:

Captain America's sidekick Bucky; Spider-Man's late guardian Uncle Ben Parker; Batman's slain parents Dr. & Mrs. Wayne; Kraven the Hunter; the oft-resurrected Wonder Man; the well-named Phoenix; S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Colonel Nick Fury; the planet Krypton; Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern, Parallax, and the Spectre; the Swordsman; Hawkeye, the Avenger archer; the reincarnated Hawkman; Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow; the death and return of Superman, including the plotlines associated to the event and its real-world coverage; Marvel's first "graphic novel," The Death of Captain Marvel; Norman Osbourne, the Green Goblin; Him, later renamed Adam Warlock; the original Supergirl; Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash; the Golden Age Batman; the second Robin, Jason Todd; X-Man Piotr "Colossus" Rasputin; Spawn; the Preacher Jesse Custer; John Constantine-homage Jack Carter; X-Men casualties Mimick, Thunderbird, Cypher, Warlock, Maggot, Destiny, and Illyana "Magik" Rasputin; Wolverine's fiancée Mariko Yashida; Boston Brand, Deadman; Death of the Endless; Black Racer of the New Gods; Mistress Death and her worshipper, Thanos the Titan; the Multiverse as a whole in Crisis on Infinite Earths; the "Heroes Reborn" Universe; the Identity Crisis murders, and so forth.
Image the property of Marvel Comics © 2002

Those data and their analyses both within the industry and by readers – a fuzzy distinction which will also be examined – will be combined with materials pertaining to Thanatology and Traumatology: The study of a culture's perception & reactions to death, as well as the study of reactions to tragic loss or sudden injury. These fields have lead in recent decades to the creation of hospice care, enhanced care for the elderly, and increased understanding for victims of loss and trauma. Preeminent experts such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Ernest Becker as well as reputable academic sources including Omega, Death Studies, and the Death, Society, and Human Experience textbook (8th ed.) will all be brought to bear on this hybrid study, with particular emphasis and usage of literary criticism (e.g. Stanley Fish, Sigmeund Freud, Post-Modernism, Absurdism) also incorporated. Preexisting research and criticism on the genre (e.g. Batman Unmasked, How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, Superman on the Couch) will also serve as secondary sources – the thoughtful reactions and analyses of those deeply familiar with the primary material.

In all, the goal is four-fold: 1) to discern whether any particular, qualitative conventions exist in superhero comic books' treatment of death that are unique to the genre; 2) to explore both how those conventions may have arisen and how they are perpetuated; 3) separately, to analyze how those conventions may continue to affect characterization and storytelling; and 4) to study what impact or influence these conventions have on their audience, and vice versa.

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