By Jeff Jensen
Updated January 21, 2011 at 07:25 PM EST
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Marvel Comics created a media stir last month when the publisher announced that it would be killing off a member of the Fantastic Four in an upcoming issue of the super-group’s long-running comic book. According to Comic Book Resources, Marvel issued a notice yesterday to retailers giving them permission to make this story available for purchase one day earlier than planned. Fantastic Four #587 was supposed to go on sale Wednesday, Jan. 26; now you can buy it on Tuesday, Jan. 25. In an advisory to retailers obtained by CBR, Marvel explained:

“Due to the expected mass media attention scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 25th, Marvel is allowing retailers who have received copies of Fantastic Four #587 to make it available that day… This unexpected opportunity is a result of both the new earlier shipping schedule and worldwide mass media coverage. Marvel cannot guarantee the secured press placement will hit on 1/25 (as other breaking news may bump it), though if it does, retailers who have received the issue may sell their copies. For retailers who don’t receive early shipments, or have customers calling in advance of the shipment arrival, Marvel encourages them to take down customer information and inform them when copies do arrive.”

I really like the current writer on Fantastic Four, Jonathan Hickman, who is one of the brightest new talents on the comic book scene. I haven’t been reading his Fantastic Four run, but his non-superhero indie comics The Nightly News and Pax Romana were brilliant. My guess is that regardless of who’s getting snuffed — Mr. Fantastic? The Invisible Woman? The Thing? Torch? — I bet the story will be competently executed. But ick. And… whatever. Playing the death card to drive sales and generate mass media attention for the fringe medium of monthly comic book periodicals is not only cliché and sorta sickening, but it also can’t be trusted as a meaningful creative decision worthy of your emotional engagement. Why? Because the death never sticks. DC Comics killed Superman. Guess what? He’s back. Marvel killed Captain America. He’s back. Just like Jean Grey, Elektra, and many other rubbed out-and-resurrected comic book superheroes before them. I know Marvel execs have been out there promising that we can trust that this newest character assassination will “matter.” Sorry. Not buying it. Why should I? History tells me the death won’t stick, and common sense tells me that each member of the Fantastic Four is too valuable a piece of intellectual property for Marvel to retire for good. Truth is, publishers do this stuff to burnish said value. Death creates opportunity — for reminding consumers of their affection for a character, for creatively retinkering a property that needs a relevancy makeover, for selling a lot of comics with a resurrection story, for priming the market for a bigger franchise relaunch. Put another way: I fully expect Deathsploitation’s Latest Super-Victim to be revived within two years, most likely timed to the announcement or arrival of a new Fantastic Four movie.

Which reminds me: Did you know that Marvel is also allegedly killing Spider-Man this year, too? Don’t worry: It’s only the “Ultimate Universe” version of Spider-Man (though that’s not immediately apparent in the sensationalistic promo materials for this stunt), not the “official” Marvel Universe iteration of the character. So prepare to be yet again manipulated into feeling the grief of fake superhero death — and start wondering if it’s all preamble for a relaunch of Ultimate Spider-Man next year when Sony releases its rebooted Spider-Man franchise.

Okay, True Believers: Am I being too cynical? And if you think I’m being unfair because I haven’t been reading Hickman’s storyline — point taken. But can you at least not see from the outside looking in how contrived and phony these death stunts look? Debate.

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