9 Stories The Superhero Media Keeps Retreading

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By Caitlin Donovan | More Articles
September 18, 2015  09:11 PM

There are some stories that, for better or worse, superhero media can’t seem to let go of. So they get retold over and over again. Let’s go over some of the biggest superhero stories that refuse to die and see if we can figure out why.

1How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?

Batman #246 (1972), DC Comics

A Batman comic from the 1970’s once dramatically asked “How many ways can a “Robin” die?”  We’ll probably find out the answer to that soon, as DC Comics seems determined to exhaust every possibility.  3 out of the 5 of the young people who have taken the role of Batman’s sidekick have died horribly.

Batman #428 (1988), DC Comics

It all started in 1988. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, had grown up, so Jason Todd took up the mantle. DC Comics conducted a phone poll where readers called in to decide whether 15-year-old Jason should be killed off. Thanks to a particularly dedicated hater calling in several times, Jason got beaten with a crowbar and blown up. 

Detective Comics #806 (2005)

The next dead Robin was also the first main-continuity female Robin, Stephanie Brown.  She barely lasted three issues as Robin before getting tortured with a power drill, shot, and kicked down a flight of stairs. 

Batman Inc. #8 (2013), DC Comics

The latest death was Damian Wayne, who was impaled at the hands of his own clone. He was ten at the time. A ten-year-old who’s killed people, sure, but still ten. The way things are going, the next dead Robin will be a toddler.

All of this is not even counting alternate continuities.

Why does DC keep doing it? It’s because violently killing off a child is a lazy and quick way to get publicity and boost sales. DC really cashed in on the controversy Jason Todd’s death, so they reuse the story. The death of a beloved icon creates the illusion of maturity and edginess in storytelling.

But there’s really nothing “mature” about killing a kid for cheap shock value. It’s just exploitative and ghoulish.  Also, every single one of these dead Robins have come back to life, making death itself seem pretty meaningless.  Batman also looks callous and irresponsible, going through kid sidekicks like preschoolers go through pet goldfish.

Unfortunately, it looks like Dead Robin Syndrome might even make its way to the movie-verse.  What might be a memorial case was spotted in the Batman vs Superman trailer.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Brothers Entertainment

Speaking of which…

2Batman vs Superman

The Dark Knight Returns #4 (1986), DC Comics

The Batman vs Superman fight hitting the big screen soon is nothing new. Ever since Frank Miller had the two battle it out in The Dark Knight Returns, comics have constantly pitted the two against each other.

Here are just a few of the comics that have Superman and Batman battle it out: 1991’s Superman Annual #3, 2003’s Batman #612, 2003’s Superman: Red Son #2, 2011’s Justice League #2 and 2014’s Batman #36.

Justice League #2 (2011), DC Comics

The obsession with having comics’ two biggest icons of masculinity beat the snot out of each other is no mystery. It’s a comic book nerd’s version of “my dad could beat up your dad”. It’s a childish way to determine which hero is “better”. I think it’s also undeniable some might find a sort of… thrill in watching these macho men go at it.

That’s why the Superman vs Batman fight in Holy Musical B@tman! (an unofficial parody musical)  is my favorite. It pokes fun at the childish hyper-masculinity and plays the homoerotic undertones to the hilt, showing how ridiculous (but kind of fun) these fights really are.

I’m also fond of Darwyn Cooke’s version in The New Frontier Special, where the fight ends because Wonder Woman pulls them apart and tells them to stop behaving like children. It’s a bit like this:

Superman Secret Files and Origins (2005), DC Comics

I really want this to be how Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice ends. Complete with the hair pulling.

Speaking of Wonder Woman having a rough time…

3Amazons Get Attacked

Wonder Woman #104 (1995), DC Comics

There is nothing DC Comics seems to love more than destroying Wonder Woman’s homeland.  Themyscira (more commonly known as Paradise Island) has been decimated several times. Just a few times the island was destroyed and/or the Amazons were slaughtered: 1995’s The Second Genesis, 2001’s Our Worlds at War, 2005’s Infinite Crisis and 2007’s Amazons Attack!  It’s a wonder there were any Amazons left at all.

Wonder Woman #4 (2011), DC Comics

DC’s recent reboot has only made this trend worse. It only took four issues of Wonder Woman’s new series before her mother was turned to stone (and later destroyed) and the rest of the Amazons were turned into snakes. So much for respecting a cool culture of warrior women and maintaining Diana’s supporting cast.

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Caitlin Donovan is a long-time nerd with a passion for superheroes and epic fantasy. She lives in North Carolina with her cat and wrestles with writing novels and doing editorial work when she's not ranting about pop culture online. She runs a blog at ladyloveandjustice.tumblr.com
@Caitlin Donovan | caitlin@epicstream.com