Cause of Death

Superman dies.

That was a headline in the entertainment section of the newspaper back when I was about 13 years old. “The Death of Superman” received all kinds of attention from the mainstream media. I recall hearing stories on the evening news announcing the upcoming event.

Of course he was back in about a year, to no one’s surprise. I, like many comic collectors, sighed and muttered, “I knew it!” The obvious marketing ploy and the inevitable resurrection cheapened the story.

Those memories came to me as I read about the upcoming Death of Archie in the ages-old comic series set in Riverdale.

When they were younger, my two teenagers sometimes picked up Archie comics. There was a level of “traditional” morality to the comics, and by that I mean something far different from current political debates about “traditional marriage” and such. This was more of a Leave It to Beaver 60’s vibe of wholesome humor and lighthearted drama where the biggest dilemma was how Archie dealt with being caught between Betty’s and Veronica’s affections.

Archie dying certainly shakes that up.

Instead of planning a resurrection, the writers avoid the end of the various Archie comics series by placing this death story in Life With Archie, an alternate timeline series that flashes forward to glimpse the near future of life after high school. They’ve shown how Archie might live as an adult, and now they can show how he someday meets his untimely demise. That way they can continue telling Archie stories and selling comics.

What got me, though, is the effort to jam a political agenda into the book. It’s blatant message-fiction.

How does Archie die? Channeling some Jack Bauer heroism, Archie dies protecting “the first openly gay Riverdale character” who is running for office on a platform focused on increased gun control.

“Look how progressive we are! Look how progressive Archie is!”

Sacrificing himself for another person is heroic, and I have no issues with that. Heroism is laudable and comic books are a way that we as a society reaffirm those values to our children.

The openly gay individual as the target is sadly all too reflective of true stories where people have been bullied, tormented, or even killed. I’m not looking at the writers’ choice to use the gay character as part of “the homosexual agenda” or whatever. Even though it feels like how so many episodes of Glee featured Kurt in the spotlight facing some dilemma, I’m not upset about the candidate being targeted or about Archie moving to protect someone who might be marginalized in many areas of the country.

Again, I think there’s a worthy lesson here. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Perhaps it’s “Everyone has value.”

What actually got me irritated is the gun control angle. Having the gun control advocate suffer an attempted assassination, and the title character dying by gunshot as a result, seems a ridiculously obvious effort to make an appeal to stricter laws. “Oh the horror of gun violence! If only we could pass more laws to protect ourselves! Don’t let Archie’s death be for nothing!”

In Chicago, Illinois, my hometown, over the weekend of the 4th of July, there were 82 injuries and 14 deaths by shooting. Chicago also happens to be known for its (excessively?) strict laws about gun ownership. It’s not some cowboy state like Texas with a bunch of so-called “rednecks and crazies” strapping holsters to their belts and carrying rifles into stores. And yet, in the very city with some of the tightest gun control legislation in America, gun deaths and gun violence are constantly in the news.

Do we really think someone willing to murder another human being is going to suddenly take a step back and reconsider based on a new restriction on gun ownership? People who conduct drive-by shootings, when a new law gets passed are they going to open their eyes and declare, “Oh geez, I probably shouldn’t have sub-machine guns” or something? I’m sure that gang members routinely read over the latest legislation to ensure proper compliance. “Hey mang, it looks like we gotta store the bullets separate from the gun, and the guns gotta have a lock on the trigger so some kid doesn’t accidentally shoot himself. Good thing I checked the laws; I’d hate to be an irresponsible gun owner.”

Even the plot of the Archie comic reveals how utterly thoughtless is this line of logic.

Are we supposed to believe that an individual willing to assassinate a political candidate in person, up close, in public is going to be afraid to break a law concerning possessing a firearm?

Stories can certainly convey meaningful messages about beliefs and ideas, be they religious, political, social, or cultural. But good story comes first, not a ham-fisted message with a veneer of a plot draped over it. Preaching in a story is creative writing kryptonite. That’s why this smacks of a publicity stunt, and as a result, the “Archie’s death” comic is completely cheapened.

Fool me once, Superman, shame on me. Fool me twice, Archie? Not happening.

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