Death Done Right

There have already been far too many supporting characters killed off in the pages of Spider-Man. Want a list? Uncle Ben, Bennett Brant, Frederick Foswell, Captain George Stacy, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn. Want some more? Ned Leeds, Lance Bannon, Nick Katzenberg, Seward Trainer, Ben Reilly, Miles Warren, Nathan Lubensky. You get the idea. Yet here comes cover date October 2002 and two more supporting characters have shuffled off this mortal coil. (SPOILERS HERE, FOLKS) And they didn't even get to do it in the main Spidey titles, either. One met his end in Tangled Web, the other breathed her last in Spider-Man: Quality of Life. One's death was done right and one was done wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The one done right is the Spot in Tangled Web #17. Although his powers were always intriguing, the Spot was never used all that well and was ultimately relegated to a membership in the Legion of Losers before sliding into limbo. What better fate for such a character than to be used well in an entertaining story and to go out in a blaze of glory at the end? In "Heartbreaker", the Spot manages to get paroled from The Cage by apparently working up his courage and turning on his cellmate Tombstone. But the Spot turns out to be the linchpin of Tombstone's own escape, when he opens up a portal that sends Tombstone to a heart surgery appointment in Switzerland. On the last page of the story, he is callously murdered by Tombstone for his troubles. Writer Daniel Way has managed to take a character that nobody cared about and make the reader regret the character's death, even as the reader is shocked by the suddenness and the harshness of the execution. That's how you do a comic-killing right.

The one done wrong is Martha Connors in Spider-Man: Quality of Life #4. Martha has been a participant in the Spider-Man universe since Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #6 (November 1963) and deserves much more as a character than to be eliminated in this manner. Writer Greg Rucka is capable of some terrific stuff but here he uses Martha's illness and death simply as a plot device to drive a ho-hum, unnecessary story. There isn't even any real suspense in it. Martha is given a "ten percent chance" of survival from her cancer in Quality of Life #1 which immediately leaves the reader with two options. Either Martha dies of her cancer or she gets one of those miracle comic book cures. Both are dissatisfying. When Martha dies in #4, the whole thing is anti-climactic and takes place "off-camera", as if Rucka knew that the event wasn't worth the effort. And so, a character that has been around for almost forty years is killed off simply to get the Lizard mad. That's how you do a comic-killing wrong.

Did I mention that there have already been too many supporting characters killed off in Spider-Man? Take a look at that list again. Look at how many terrific characters are off-limits to modern writers. Some deaths, like those of Frederick Foswell and Captain Stacy were handled so well that they make the loss of the character acceptable. Others, like Lance Bannon and Nick Katzenberg were misconceived and regrettable. If a writer is going to add to the list, he really ought to choose carefully, make sure the story serves the character well, and the character's death serves the story well. One of these stories deserves to be read because of that. The other one of these stories does not.