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Committed: 3 Great Comic Book Funerals

103013_vforvendetta1

As a (supposedly) lightweight medium, over the years comic books have managed to provide us with a safe space to look at some very difficult aspects of human existence. One of our most fundamental fears is death, the fear of our own and of the loss of people we love. It is tough to say which is the worst or most complicated to confront, but suffice to say that dealing with death isn’t really at the top of the list of accepted smalltalk. It is a difficult experience to broach or express, and exploring the broad range of experiences of death isn’t something we generally choose to discuss or share in our daily life. But within comic books, the mourning ritual has been dealt with in some very personal, evocative stories, often providing us with unexpected opportunities to meditate on loss and impermanence. In the instances below, (picked at random out of the many comic book funerals which have touched me), there are three very different depictions of the fall-out of loss, from the very intimate moments of mourning to the actions which spur change and growth.

103013_xmenUncanny X-Men #138
Elegy for Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl, aka Phoenix, aka Dark Phoenix)
Despite the conflict surrounding the decision to let Jean Grey kill herself for her act of genocide committed as Dark Phoenix, or the ridiculous levels of retcon which have caused her to be reborn and die so often that it no longer has any meaning, when it actually happened for the first time, it felt incredibly real and absolutely final. At the time when I was buying the comic book in the UK, the Uncanny X-Men was only available to me in an oversized, black and white reprint. This format meant that the funeral issue “Elegy” following Grey’s death had that much more impact, since the featureless black clothing of the attendees and the stark, cold, white sky swamped the page, dominating the story with a brutal austerity. Unfortunately those comic books are still stashed in the UK so I can’t show you those pages, but as you can see from this opening page (right), the impact is there even with the addition of a bold red sky to warm it up. Over the years, buying the back issues, I’ve found the contrast quite amazing. The color makes the stories seem so much warmer overall and less shocking, as if the color lends them a humanity which they might otherwise miss. Personally I loved the way Bryrne and Austin’s clean, harsh black inks look in isolation, and as this was the first funeral I experienced (albeit fictionally), it provided better preparation for the real thing later on. That absence of color and shock of harsh contrasts might have been an accidental coincidence of that particular comic book, but it is exactly that feeling which characterizes real loss and mourning.

103013_requiem2Final Crisis: Requiem
The Funeral of J’onn J’onnz (aka Martian Manhunter)
While it wasn’t a permanent death (as is, unfortunately, the norm amongst caped, crime-fighting superheroes), the fact that the epic Final Crisis crossover event comic book allocated an entire issue to the funeral of the Martian Manhunter had tremendous impact. Writer Tomasi’s obvious affection and understanding of the character shone through on every page of the comic, and in amongst the upheaval of Final Crisis, that issue of calm reflection by the people J’onn J’onzz knew and loved stood out. Watching them each mourn in their own way and pay homage to a dear lost friend was a powerful thing to share with the world. His strong, grounded presence was felt in the lives of those he left behind and it was a rare thing to see a superhero comic book acknowledging the importance of loss. Visiting each bereaved character in turn, we share their love and the gift of friendship they shared. This acknowledgment of the importance of J’onnz to them is a very tangible, realistic kind of immortality.

103013_vforvendetta2V for Vendetta
The funeral of V
One the marvelous aspects of V for Vendetta as a comic book (rather than as a film) is the true anonymity of the character of “V”. Gender, accent, and age are unknown, there is a real possibility that V could be anyone, any sort of a person from any place. With the death of V, it is clear that his protege Evey will follow in the same footsteps, taking on the mantle and the mission of V. In a book with so much death and destruction, V’s grandly British version of a Viking funeral is representative of all the aspects of human rebellion and instigation which characterized V’s life. The flower-laden train carriage slides into the tunnel and disappears from view, with Evey (and us) mourning the ending of one life and simultaneously knowing that the explosion of this train will free multitudes. By exploding the seat of power in Downing Street, the old limitation that has gone before is a death which (like V’s) creates a space for the new. It is a potent metaphor and a very tangible representation of the rebirth which can only come through death. It is a beautiful culmination to Evey’s journey, and a powerful reminder of the necessity of death and new growth. V’s death robs the unknown of an intrinsic fear and gives Evey the courage required to keep moving towards the future. For the story and for the characters, death is not the destination at the end of a journey (or the culmination of the book) but simply another stop on the line.

13 Comments

Ultimate Spider-Man’s funeral should be an honorable mention. The scene with the little girl is a tearjerker.

Hickman and Dragotta’s work on the Funeral/Grieving issue of the Death of Human Torch is one of my favorite issues ever.

Karen Pages funeral in Daredevil.

There are no words….

Kevin Smiths best writing since Clerks.

All great choices. As much as I disliked DC’s handling of J’Onn since that one-shot that sucked (Brave New World?), the funeral was very well-handled.

My favorite service for a deceased comic book character was in Sandman. “The Wake” was mostly a series of vignettes focusing on how the main character’s death affected the vast supporting cast. The tributes were moving, funny, and bizarre, while Michael Zulli’s art was sumptuous.

AverageJoeEveryman

October 30, 2013 at 11:36 am

I know many didnt like the going crazy and “death” of Hal Jordan but I really enjoyed the funeral issue in Green Lantern 81. Especially the part at the end with Swamp Thing when he never got used in the regular DCU.

I don’t know about “great”, but the funeral of Sue Dibny in “Identity Crisis” always stands out for me, partly because it’s the last actual appearance of Jack Knight.

“Elegy” is also a cool issue since it summarizes the entirety of the X-Men title up to that point, which made it useful for newer fans in a time when trades and reprints weren’t as common.

I can’t believe no one has mentioned the funeral of “Mac” in the 13th issue of Alpha Flight. I believe the character died in the previous issue, and #13, if I recall correctly, was entirely silent, with not one word spoken or thought. It was absolutely brilliant and devastating, and was the first one that came to my mind when I saw the title of this entry.

I didn’t first read “Elegy” until last year or so and I hated it. I thought it should have been titled “Cyclops Thinks” since that’s all that happens for an entire issue. But I am not much of an X-freak or a team book person in general. To each their own.

I definitely agree with your pick of the Jean Grey funeral. At that time she was a popular character, and her death was very much unexpected; breaking the Marvel rule of not killing off main characters. The funeral issue had powerful images, but the story behind it and the character who died really added to it’s impact.

Along a similar lines, the Alpha Flight #13 funeral dream sequence had a big impact on me. When Alpha Flight issue 11 announced that one of the Alpha Flight characters would die in issue #12, I spent the month between issues wondering who would die. I assumed (wrongly) that the character killed would be one to cause the least disruption to the status quo; a marginal character we might only slightly miss. So when I finally got my hands on issue 12, I was shocked to see Guardian’s death on the very last page. Guardian was the complete opposite of marginal — he was basically the Canadian equivalent of Captain America. He was the glue that held the team together. So I spent another month between issues 12 and 13 wondering if this all might just be a trick, and Guardian was still alive. But again when I finally received issue 13, the funeral at the beginning (even being a dream/nightmare) was for me the nail in this deaths coffin.

http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/alpha_flight_13.shtml

The death of the “fake” Mr. Miracle in JLI deserves honorable mention. It was very touching and poignant, and it helps that I came to the series late, and didn’t know it wasn’t the “real” Mr. Miracle who had died.

Jim Corrigan’s funeral at the end of John Ostrander’s “The Spectre.” This was a weird one, as Corrigan himself attended and it was really an opportunity for him to say goodbye to the DC Universe. It had a pretty good guest list, including the JLA, JSA, and a rare (at the time) non-Vertigo appearance by Swamp Thing.

I second that eulogy issue of FF for Johnny Storm. Even though we the buying public knew he’d be back, the characters didn’t and their heartbreak was palatable.

It’s not quite a funeral, but I remember really being moved by Sandman #20 about Element Girl as well.

A wonderful anti-Funeral, which filled me with tremendous disgust, was the funeral given to the x-men’s Skin, where instead of honoring the memory of a character that had once been a part of a beloved team (to some, me anyway), it turned into this ham-fisted anti-religion diatribe with a completely ridiculous “twist” ending. AND he got the character’s name wrong!

I was so amazed when I first read Elegy. It’s a shame it usually isn’t collected with the rest of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
As for other ones not on the list, my absolute favorite funeral is Ted Knight’s in Starman. The use of a Watchmenesque large grid system created a lot of amazing moments showing the transition of emotions within each eulogy and between the characters.

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