Should Superhero Stories Kill Off Kids?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A minor hero was turned into a rug. Another hero’s arm was ripped off. A hero tortured a bad guy for information.

An entire city was destroyed and a little girl who was the daughter and granddaughter of heroes was killed in the destruction. The heroes were helpless to bring the villain to justice so one of them murdered him instead.

A Watchman revival?

No, this was DC’s Cry For Justice, a mini-series about the Justice League of America.

Red Arrow aka Roy Harper Loses His armRed Arrow aka Roy Harper Loses His arm

Red Arrow aka Roy Harper Loses His Arm. Image copyright DC Comics.

And losing his arm wasn’t even the worst thing to happen in the mini-series to Roy Harper, probably best known as Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick.

In the last issue, it’s revealed that his kindergarten age daughter, Lian, was killed when the super villain Prometheus destroyed Star City. It’s not the first time the DC Universe has killed off a young child or an entire city for dramatic effect.

Roy’s not even the only Teen Titan to lose a child. He joins Donna Troy aka Wonder Girl who lost her estranged husband, baby son, and stepdaughter in a car crash in Wonder Woman #121 (1997). And just recently, Tempest (formerly known as Aqualad) lost his wife and baby son child in Infinite Crisis #3.

Death is certainly dramatic. And it’s been handled well in children’s literature many times. The Harry Potter series is full of the deaths of Harry’s loved ones, starting with his parents. But I think it all depends on tone. And I think Cry for Justice, like Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) and Identity Crisis (2004) before that, has completely the wrong tone. It’s not a mature tone that will help children and teens learn about how to deal with death and tragedy. It’s a juvenile tone that throws out serious issues for shock value and temporary angst.

Identity Crisis resulted in the overall storyline of the DC Universe going forward based on a rape. The series started off with the death of a pregnant woman in a move so melodramatic and over-the-top that my oldest daughter tossed the issue aside and said “and she was pregnant too? Oh, puh-leeze.” To me, there’s something inherently wrong with the tone of a mainstream supposedly all-ages universe if they’re basing the next few years of stories on a rape.

Things in the overall universe haven’t measurably improved since then. Infinite Crisis continued the carnage with a crazed Superboy from another universe ripping arms and heads off various Teen Titans in sequences as bloody as the one featured above. The heroes eventually won but only after more death.

Cry for Justice dealt out death left and right to loved ones and lesser heroes, ending with Star City’s destruction and little Lian’s death. The carnage sent Green Arrow off to commit murder. And the heroes failed to prevent all of it, from the death and destruction to properly bringing the villain to justice.

I’m getting utterly tired of stories in which the heroes fail or have Pyrrhic victories in which they stand around and mourn their dead. And generally their dead is not a superhero dying to save everyone. Lately, it’s been one of their younger sidekicks or even babies.

DC’s done some great things. My Comics Spotlight column on Blue Beetle last week showcased one of them. Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis had Superman singing a happy universe in being. (Though DC editorial seems to have forgotten this upbeat possibility.)

I’m sure that one of the reasons DC is resorting to gore and shock value is that they want to appeal to what they see as their target audience, which is mainly adolescent and young adult males. And crossover stories sell, no doubt about that.

But, c’mon, DC.

Do you really need to write in the death of a little girl in order to sell comics about Green Arrow and Speedy? Is that the very best storytelling possible for these characters?

The answer seems to be a resounding “yes” to these questions from DC editorial.

And that’s one of the reasons my kids read fewer and fewer mainstream American superhero comics. Because lately, it’s not stories about superheroes. It’s stories about people with super-powers fighting and dying with lots of cannon fodder.

I want the “hero” part of “superhero” back.

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