WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS!
I bought the first issue of The Savage She-Hulk off the rack when it was first released. Yes, I am that damn old. I was a kid. I loved the character instantly. I always have loved Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk. She was a lovely blend of compassion, toughness integrity and irreverence. She defended the oppressed in the courtroom and she defended the planet with her mighty, green fists on a hundred battlefields. She gave her life, this week, fighting Thanos and I’m going to miss her…for a while, anyway.
Life isn’t cheap in the Marvel Universe, Death is. Death is an important part of storytelling. It’s the ultimate price a hero can be called on to pay. Good comic writers use it judiciously. Bad editors come along and undo it capriciously. A well written, heroic death can add gravitas and drama to a storyline. Unless, of course, you know the character is too profitable to stay dead. With that in mind, I mourn She-Hulk but I know I will see her again…sooner probably than later.
Yes, she’s dead. She flat-lined, there can be no doubt. Except, there’s always that pesky gamma to contend with. Jennifer Walter’s body is crawling with it. Somehow, that weird stuff will reanimate her body just when sales demand it. She’ll be out of her grave and fighting Queen Medusa for control of A-Force before Christmas. Sooner if sales begin to lag. Hell, in the pages of A-Force, they haven’t even bothered to sideline Shulkie yet. She and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel are having a grand time fighting sea monsters. But I digress.
At some point, everyone in the Marvel Universe has been dead. In fact, recently, nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe was dead. They got better. They always do at The House of Ideas. What major character at Marvel has ever managed to stay dead? Frank Miller killed Elektra twice, decapitated Bullseye and had DareDevil burn his body. They both came back. At one point there were multiple dead Jean Grey’s. Now there are multiple live Jean Grey’s. It’s amazing that Marvel has managed to keep Wolverine dead for a year. Even that will be undone, no doubt in grand fashion with multiple variant covers. Sigh.
It almost seems as if no one can stay dead at Marvel. But there is that one guy. Bill Foster/Goliath. Bill Foster wasn’t a big name in the MCU. He was a background character. He showed up on a lot of teams. If there was a global crisis, you could count on his presence. That is, until the Thor clone killed him in Marvel’s first civil war.
Bill’s death was sudden and shocking. It was meant to be. It lent gravity to the situation. Characters suddenly found themselves reevaluating their motives and agendas. Alliances were broken. Sides were changed. At the end of the civil war Bill Foster and Steve Rogers were both dead. Guess what, Steve is alive again. Bill is still interred in 38 burial plots, paid for by Tony Stark.
Now, a new civil war has begun at Marvel. The first two casualties are She-Hulk and Commander James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine. They both fell as, they lived, heroes. Their deaths added instant poignancy and drama to the story. They were meant to. Marvel has spent some time and energy, lately, pushing Rhodey to the forefront. He’s been featured prominently in multiple titles, he’s been involved romantically with Carol Danvers and, of course, he’s always there when the world is ending. His death was vicious and hard to take. But, he’ll be back, won’t he? Everyone comes back in the Marvel Universe….don’t they? Maybe not.
Rhodey has a few important things in common with Bill Foster. Neither of them had their own title, ever. Both men had, at some point, played second banana to an older, more established character. Both Rhodey and Bill got their superpowers from the technology in their suits. And, of course, both Rhodey and Bill were African-American.
I don’t want to join the chorus of outraged writers accusing Marvel of treating Rhodey as the disposable black man. It’s a trope we have all seen way too many times, especially in comics. I don’t think that’s what Marvel is up to. They have made a serious commitment to diversity lately and I think Rhodey’s race is incidental to the storyline. But here is the quagmire Marvel finds itself in, now. If Rhodey remains dead, if they bring back the green woman and let the black man stay dead, then everyone is going to accuse Marvel of being racist; fairly or not. If Marvel does bring back Rhodey, then once again, they will be accused of cheapening death and lowering the dramatic stakes for all future stories.
Marvel has written itself into a corner. They obviously needed to kill a character close to Tony Stark in order to have a motive for the plot. But, by picking James Rhodes, they have opened themselves up to accusations of racial insensitivity. Deserved or not, those accusations will sting. This is the age of outrage. Everyone is looking for something to be upset about. Right now, I think I’ll just be upset about losing two wonderful characters…for a while, anyway.
He also sings for the Supra-70s band, RIFLE.