Not you, Ms. Lion. This time we’re talking about a different dog.
I don’t watch a lot of Family Guy, mostly because I just don’t get the show as a whole. There are the occasional gags I find funny and I like the first Star Wars parody but I never really got into the regular series. And from what I hear about the show I don’t think I missed much in recent years. A friend of mine who used to really like the show lost interest in it.
So what does Brian Griffin have to do with Aunt May? The answer is Rowdy C Moore. Recently my Reviewers Unknown colleague took a look at Brian’s death. While Rowdy also doesn’t like the show and Brian was a huge part of the reason why, there was something about his death that rubbed him the wrong way. In the video below, Rowdy compares Brian’s death to the request that Aunt May should have died instead of the Spider-Marriage being erased during “One More Day”, the event that won’t die and stands as a neon sign of Joe Quesada’s failings as editor-in-chief of Marvel. While I’m with him about Brian, both as Seth Macfarlane’s mouthpiece and as an unnecessary “shock death”, I disagree with him on Aunt May. I mean, I like Aunt May but there are good reasons her time should have been up.
First, watch Rowdy’s video for context.
[UPDATE: 11/23/2014: Since Blip took his video down and my host won’t let me post video from Zippcast, here’s a link to his site’s posting of the video in question. Watch there first for context.]
Let’s start with the areas that I agree with Rowdy on. As a writer (unpublished doesn’t change the fact that I’ve written comics and the occasional prose since middle school) I do not believe in the notion that characters are disposable. If I create a character, and I’ve created many, I do not want to kill them off unless that’s why the character was created, the story can go no other way, or there is nothing left to do with the character and can’t be just written out (rare but it happens). And we’ve seen over time that a character can cheat the death they were created for if they find a strong enough fanbase. (Except for Damien Wayne, who in my opinion was Jason Todd done right. If Todd had been written like Damien, evolving as a character instead of always questioning Batman and being a jerk, maybe fans wouldn’t have called for his demise, slim margin as the phone poll was.) Killing a character for shock value (Lian Harper, for example) means losing that potential as a character to create interesting stories. I’d rather see a writer write out a character rather than kill them off because even though he or she can’t use them doesn’t mean that someone else down the line couldn’t.
That doesn’t mean that a character can’t outlive their usefulness when times change without them. I said as much when I went over the character changes on M*A*S*H* oh so long ago. However, they couldn’t just kill off every character, which gave Henry Blake’s death such emotional weight, depicting just how unfair war can be. When Supergirl (whom I thought had more, pardon the expression, life left in her) and Barry Allen died in Crisis On Infinite Earths their deaths had meaning and nobody could figure out what to do with Barry because CSI was a long ways off. (That doesn’t make his return any less cheap, mind you.) If you must kill off a character their death must matter, have weight, and in the case of a superhero, be epic and awesome. That was the problem with Ted Kord’s death. There was also Roy Fokker in Macross/Robotech. Rick Hunter had reached a point where he no longer needed a mentor and, being a war story, Fokker being killed was inevitable. However, his passing was a rather important event and very well told. Compared to his death in the non-canon Do You Remember Love/Clash Of the Bionoids.
When it comes to civilians there’s a bit more of an opening as to having them perish in how mundane (in comparison only, death is hardly “mundane” unless you work at the morgue) it could be. Brian’s death was meaningless because there was more to do with the character. Crap as his purpose became (Macfarline’s “mouthpiece” for his social/political views) he still had one. The character also served as a foil for Peter originally but later for Stewie. There was no reason for him to die.
Generally speaking this is also true for Aunt May, especially where she was just before One More Day–romantically involved with Jarvis, aware of Peter’s double identity even before the Civil War stuff, and even her health was showing signs of improvement. From a general perspective she didn’t need to die.
She also didn’t need to live.
Aunt May died during the Clone Saga, at least originally. Her health issues and seemingly clueless outlook when it came to Peter had run thin. I’ve joked that May spent so much time in the hospital that they have a reserved bed for her in ICU. They had run out of stories to tell with her. Peter had a confidant in his wife, Mary Jane, and didn’t live with May anymore. She no longer served a point storywise though she was still important to Peter. Her passing signified a change in Peter’s life, and perhaps it was part of the “new start” they planned with Ben Reilly. (Apparently moving to Florida wasn’t an option.) While she died in a hospital bed during the most convoluted storyline in Spider-Man history (even including One More/Brand New Day) it was still a proper send-off for the character.
And then for whatever reason she came back. I won’t get into the silly way they “resurrected” the character other than she wasn’t really dead and Norman Osborn (speaking of characters not staying dead) was involved. To the credit of the Spider-Writers at that time she was actually advanced after this. She became a stronger person, she learned Peter’s identity and we learn she at least suspected for a long time. She would even begin a romance with Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler. (If you only know Iron Man from the movies, Jarvis is a human being in the comics.) Yes, they fixed what was broken but at the time she originally passed they hit a wall.
By the way…all pretty much undone by Brand New Day. No Jarvis relationship, although she married Jolly Jonah’s father. (Still trying to decide if that’s creepier than Dock Ock without going into Spider-Ock.) I haven’t really followed Spider-Man as “Superior” pretty much killed what little waning interest Brand New Day didn’t kill when it undid more than the marriage, but it appeared to me Aunt May was back to the doting aunt. With the movies and various cartoons, plus the Marvel Adventures take we’ve had much better Aunt May’s the past few years.
But the big reason fans wanted May gone over Mary Jane wasn’t some hatred of May as Rowdy suggests, at least not with people I know. It was more that Mary Jane was Peter’s wife, May was still mostly unnecessary and then there’s the problems of One More Day itself. To be more specific, the part where May pretty much told Peter “I’ve had a good life, but now it’s time to go and be with Ben, so go live your life with Mary Jane”. As ridiculous as the lengths they went to cut all abilities to save her were the story should have been Peter coming to terms with her passing…because that’s what happened when she was originally killed off.
As for Rowdy’s claim that Peter wouldn’t be Spider-Man anymore if May died because of him (Uncle Ben died because Peter did nothing to help others and it came back to strike him) I think he’s forgetting (or hasn’t heard of) Gwen Stacy. She also died because of Peter’s life as Spider-Man and while he mourned for a while (and giving up the Spider-Man identity is one of Peter’s rotating storylines) he ended up remaining Spider-Man and continuing to help others. That’s part of who Peter is and I don’t think losing May would have caused him to give up being Spider-Man. While I’m tired of comic writers who think killing a loved one is the only way to make a character become a superhero, or to make them a “better hero”, whatever the heck that means, it’s not completely without merit even if it isn’t a requirement. Peter would have had to adjust to May’s passing like he did Gwen’s. How would it affect how he sees Spider-Man and what strain it may or may not put on his relationship with MJ or his other friends would be an interesting aspect to the character, throwing in the fact that everyone knew he was Spider-Man.
So it’s not the fact that fans hated Aunt May but that she had run her course in Peter’s life plus the way they endangered her as part of the plan by the Spider-Writers to wipe the Spider-Marriage out of continuity instead of “aging” the character with a divorce. Personally, I think they may have been some life left in the old girl once the Civil War events settled down and now the heroes pretty much get along. But if I had to choose between Aunt May and Mary Jane, I’m going to side with the wife over the ailing aunt as both a fan and a writer. “For that reason shall a man leave his aunt and cleave to his wife” to paraphrase the Bible.
Brian Griffin’s death was meaningless and I can easily point to a ton of other character in comics who can say the same. For example I’m tired of Jonathan Kent being killed off and making Martha a widow when originally they died together. (Plus Lara was made a widow just before Krypton’s destruction in Man Of Steel instead of dying alongside her husband but they were the first ones to stupidly break that tradition for no reason.) As for Aunt May, she shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place but everything in that story pointed to May’s passing and maybe to avoid losing his marriage…or worse, making a deal with the devil analog, maybe she should have gone. But that’s what happens when death becomes a cheap plot device.