Quesada on “Dead Means Dead”

In his latest Cup O’ Joe column at MySpace, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada responds to selected reader questions. As is typical of these things, there’s lots of “thanks for asking about (character), (fan). Look for (upcoming comic) where (character) will be appearing.”

However, seven questions in (search for “3r41n14c” to find the start), Quesada tackles one I’m surprised he let through. This is an excerpt:

I’ve purchased Marvel products for the past 25 years, and it is just now I’m coming to say this regarding death/resurrection in comics. I’m tired of reading or hearing about the integrity of storytelling and the medium’s past use of the device, especially when Spider-Man: OMD added up to be the Clone Saga of this decade. Adding insult to injury, and acting much in the way politicians tend to, there was a promise of “dead means dead,” that was thrown out the window in a matter of months. If you can bring back all these supposedly-dead characters, why the hell can’t we bring back Wolverine’s trademark cigar?! He can kill but he can’t smoke…makes perfect sense.

I guess that’s the joy of being E-I-C…you don’t have to bend your will to the wants of the people. Much like George Bush and thousands of others left in charge with “big decisions,” absolute power has again corrupted absolutely. If only ALL the “good” stories could end with a magic spell…

Any chance you’ll go back to drawing and let someone else direct for a while, Joe?

After saying the equivalent of “smoking killed my family members, I’m EIC, and I can do what I want,” Quesada tackles the idea of death being permanent in comics:

As for my promise of “dead is dead.” First, what you’re throwing out here is the sound byte that the Internet and newsgroups ran with, but not the entirety of what I said. Again, you can Google my views on this and if I’m not mistaken, I’ve talked about it a little here in the column as well. I never said we would NEVER EVER be killing off or resurrecting characters again.

Well, no, but that was clearly the desired intention that fans take away, because the only point of making a big deal out of it would be to indicate something different from what went before. And it’s just as clearly no longer the case, what with Bucky returning and even a Spider-Man storyline where Uncle Ben came back.

But I took him up on his suggestion and googled ” “dead means dead” Quesada”. Here are the high points of what I found. I was mainly looking for statements that could be considered official, straight from Quesada or Marvel, and there were fewer of them than I expected.

The earliest reference I found with a primary source was a 2003 Chicago convention report:

Quesada also talked about whether or not Magneto was actually dead in light of the stated “dead means dead” policy: “When I said ‘dead means dead’ I was talking about significant deaths,” the EIC said, citing Karen Page’s death in “Daredevil” as an example (as opposed to an obscure or assumed death). “So we’ll have to wait and see if Magneto’s was significant or not.”

That approach was reiterated in this 2004 Toronto convention report:

While Quesada said he is very much into the philosophy that ‘dead means dead’, he also said that he is willing to have a character return if the writer can prove that they have a really good reason to do it. As for Whedon’s return of Colossus, Quesada “couldn’t say no” and “[Whedon] nailed it.” Joe also said that they will never have a character return from the dead if their death is a ‘classic’ death. Who would be an example? Gwen Stacey or Captain Marvel.

So the oldest references I came across are already talking about exceptions. And I can think of relatively recent major, promoted stories that covered the return of those last two characters, although I think they turned out to be time travel or tricks or clones or something.

Next came a “press conference” about Decimation from October 2005 (link no longer available). This was the major storyline that was going to radically cut down the number of mutants, remember? Here’s the relevant quote from the Newsarama coverage:

Editorially, Quesada added, there is now a mandate that no new mutants can be created wholesale – only five or six new mutant-based characters that were already in the pipeline will be seen. And that the ones going away won’t be coming back…

“As long as I’m here as Editor in Chief, they’re not coming back,” he said, later promising that there won’t be a big event in two years where all the missing mutants come back. Quesada further went on to say that reducing the number of X-Men has been a priority since he began as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.

(Note: I think that was 2000.) I haven’t cared enough about the mutant books to judge whether or not that’s accurate. I haven’t noticed a bit “mutants return!” promotion, but I suspect that instead, they’ll all just creep back in around the edges until the net effect is a return to the status quo. In reply #28 in that thread, a respondent is already expressing concern that the statement on death meaning something has “clearly not held true.”

The only other major mention that came up was a Joe Friday column from September 2006, back when they used to be hosted on Newsarama (link no longer available). By the way, if the information in the introduction is correct, Quesada is now the third longest-running Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, after Stan Lee and Jim Shooter. In response to a question about going back on “dead means dead”, Quesada says:

you have to be able to change your mind in the entertainment world. If you don’t you’ll find yourself quickly looking like yesterday’s news and or out of business. Let’s also not forget the stuff I say just to get the fans riled up and talking [laughs]. And also, I could just be plain wrong about something and shouldn’t I have the opportunity to change my mind? I’ve now been E-i-C for six years. I’m sure all the talented men you mentioned above knew more several years into their tenure than they did when they began. I’m no different. The idea is that you grow into and with your position.

All of that is very reasonable. Everything an entertainment company leader says about their products should be taken with a boulder of salt, because their single purpose is to SELL THEM TO YOU.

Calling “hypocrite” or “liar” or even “why didn’t you stick with what you said?” is thus pointless. You’ll never know whether plans honestly changed or whether what they said was true at the time (even if the time was only a moment) or not. And they don’t care. Just don’t believe any promises of real changes, because the number two priority (after profit) is maintaining the status quo.

Oh, and I didn’t realize that the storyline in Runaways #19-21 (from fall 2006) was called “Dead Means Dead”.


7 Responses to “Quesada on “Dead Means Dead””

  1. Jer Says:

    First of all, any superhero fan of any tenure at all should know better than to take a statement like “Dead Means Dead” from an Editor in Chief as gospel. Even the Editor in Chief cannot guarantee that a policy like that can hold. He just can’t. Resurrections are an integral part of the superhero genre now, no matter how much some vocal contingent of fans don’t like it.

    Where the hobgoblins of consistency and “realism” end up intersecting with the superhero genre, the hobgoblins will die a horrible, bloody, nasty death at the end of the genre sword. The genre tropes are too powerful and the contingent of fans who want “dead” to actually mean “dead” is much smaller than the fans who want “dead” to mean “dead” EXCEPT for “insert character Y here, who shouldn’t have ever been killed in the first place because writer X was a jerk/hack/The Devil and killed her/him off stupidly”.

    What’s more, it’s pretty clear that the current crop of WRITERS falls more into that latter camp than the former, which makes it far more likely that “back from the dead” stories will get told.

    Personally I prefer Grant Morrison’s approach to the whole mess. It’s a superhero comic. Certain tropes in superhero comics are as powerful as the laws of physics are in the real world. You might as well roll with it and explore how the inhabitants of the fictional world deal with living under those laws rather than trying to force the fictional world to try to be exactly like the real one. But then, I tend to think character death is about the laziest form of drama a writer can reach for in a superhero comic, so I’m sure my bias colors that judgment.

  2. James Schee Says:

    Yeah dead means dead just isn’t something one can hold to. Plus who really expects someone to hold to something said years back?? (other than you know marriage vows of course!)

    There have been a lot of times in my life where something I believed or believed in. I later as time went on and I learned and changed changed my mind on.

    Doing so in business is logical and a way to keep up with the times you live in. Otherwise you become a dinosaur and are soon extinct.

  3. Charles RB Says:

    “Quesada further went on to say that reducing the number of X-Men has been a priority since he began as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.”

    He was EIC when Morrison stated there were 16 million mutants and would replace humanity in five generations. Presumably this is one of those changed-his-mind deals and he can’t admit it as that would imply the previous stuff he let in, he’s since decided was wrong to let in.

    Re superhero resurrections – the returns from the dead are one of the reasons why I’ve developed a “meh, it doesn’t matter” approach to DC/Marvel superheroes and buy less of them. (Which isn’t that bad a deal really, I can get the same “itch” scratched in different comics)

  4. Ralf Haring Says:

    I vaguely recall the whole “dead means dead” thing popping up when Claremont first started X-Treme X-Men. I think he killed off Psylocke with the intention of bringing her back, but that was kiboshed by Quesada.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Charles, I tend to agree. More deaths happen as a futile attempt to raise the stakes and make stories more meaningful and/or powerful, and that’s a bad idea. Because they are reversed, and they have come to mean nothing. So where do you go next?

  6. sleeper Says:

    Johana: “So where do you go next?”

    To make progress, you’d have to show you were genuinely committed to telling a good story (instead of merely using that as a tagline) by adhering to the rule that stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Marvel only exists to develop properties for other, more lucrative media and has no intentions of telling good stories. Good stories have finales.

    Where do you go in the context of Marvel’s current model? Nowhere… none of their cash-cow characters are at risk and everything is predictable.

    Charles: “Re superhero resurrections – the returns from the dead are one of the reasons why I’ve developed a ‘meh, it doesn’t matter’ approach to DC/Marvel superheroes and buy less of them. (Which isn’t that bad a deal really, I can get the same ‘itch’ scratched in different comics)”

    I agree. A lot of other comic fans either agree or are starting to, which is why I don’t have a very rosy image in mind when I think of Marvel and DC’s future sales.

  7. Lyle Says:

    My google-fu hasn’t been lucky with this one, but I vaguely remember “Dead means dead” being something that came more from Bill Jemas. At least, it seems like that policy’s depature matches Jemas’.

    As for superhero deaths, I think for me part of why they don’t have much impact, anymore, is that they’re too often a substitute for drama. When characters were killed off less often there was also more build-up because the writer didn’t get to do this kind of dramatic event often… and a return from the dead similarly had big repercussions.

    The one title I can think of that does death well is Runaways, which has had at least two deaths and one return and in each case the moment managed to be shocking.

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