You’d think comic book fans would have learned by now.
The “twist ending” is, by now, one of the most overused tropes in comic books. It’s a necessary evil that keeps the industry fresh and exciting, as we wonder how the hero is going to get out of this one. It brings the press running and it brings readers into stores and dollars back into the industry. Still, seasoned readers should know better by now. We’ve seen heroes die, come back from the dead, die again, and live again. This stuff is cyclical and we know it’s not permanent.
What’s amazing is the frequency at which the reading population keeps losing its collective minds.
The latest incident came in the form of DC Comics’ Superwoman #1, which unveiled Lois Lane as a new, heroic successor to Superman. It had a modest advertising push, a cool premise (Lois has Superman’s powers, but she’s dying!), and then the first issue came out and Lois dies on the last page.
True to form, some readers have objected, including one very vocal columnist who complained that she’d waited for years and years to read a Lois Lane solo comic, only to see her killed in another great fakeout. This author objected as if all her childhood hopes and dreams had been crushed in one fell swoop by a tyrannical, uncaring DC Comics.
People: it’s the first issue.
Mainstream comics are, like it or not, “written for the trade” these days. It’s no longer the norm to have a self-contained story in a single issue. They’re written as five- or six-part stories which build to a complete picture in a single collected edition that will look pretty in Barnes & Noble. A single issue is now equivalent to a chapter of a novel…if novels were sold one chapter at a time over six months, anyway.
Shock events and twist endings are a necessarily sales mechanism to keep the story fresh and exciting, and to distinguish any given book from every other book it’s competing with out there. Superwoman has to compete not just with every non-DC book on the market, but in a certain sense, every DC book as well. Everyone’s buying Batman. A book about “Lois Lane with powers” will draw everyone from speculators to female-empowerment advocates, but staying power is a tricky animal. As we’ve seen in the past, new titles—even ones with a diversity focus—suffer from dwindling sales over time.
And yet, even with shock endings, this stuff is never permanent. For goodness’ sake, we just went through this back in May when Captain America was “outed” as a lifelong Hydra agent, and then that turned out to be a fakeout too. Cooler heads saw the explanation for the twist a mile away: that Captain America had been brainwashed by a Cosmic Cube, and that much of what we were seeing in the story wasn’t “real” and wouldn’t last. And much of that expectation came true in the following month’s issue. That still didn’t keep a chunk of fandom from losing its minds and even sending the author death threats, because a comic book dared to be different.
What I’m saying is: Lois Lane will be back.
Yeah, OK, Phil Jimenez could have been completely legit in that first issue and really intended to shock audiences with a “Superwoman isn’t Lois, it’s Lana” fakeout. Maybe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Between in-story clues and hints in upcoming solicitations, it seems like Lois’ story isn’t done yet. It’s only the first issue, with the second issue coming this week and more ahead of us. This story isn’t done yet, and readers are going to have to learn to be, well, patient.
This isn’t even about Lois, it’s about comics in general. Comics are a long-game art form and the “one and done” storytelling method is mostly a thing of the past. The industry is going to have to figure out if this is a viable business model or not—sadly, the common model this days is for first issue sales to be high, followed by long-term collapse as the curious and the bored walk away.
But that leaves those of you who walk out of, what, spite? Knee-jerk reaction? You’re going to have to learn to be patient and wait for the story to resolve. A first-issue cliffhanger is just that: a cliffhanger. It’s no longer necessarily the permanent tone for the rest of the story going forward.
If you’re upset that Lois died, hang in there. And if and when she comes back, try to hang in there when another first-issue shock ending happens a few months from now.