Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fictional Mortality

I've been drifting back to prose lately. Most of it is fantasy. Oh, I'm still reading comic books, don't get me wrong, but Marvel keeps getting bleaker, and my interest in that is decreasing at a higher rate than my interest in DC is increasing. And my interest in the DC monthlies is primarily the surreal metafiction (Air, The Unwritten, Greek Street...) that's been coming out of Vertigo lately.

My favorite fantasy series these days are urban. Not paranormal romance so much, but adventures centered on wizards and werewolves, peppered with vampires, fae, and djinn? Sure! A little romance on the side is good too. Spices things up a bit. And then there are the reasonably strong female protagonists:

-Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville, the snarky werewolf radio talk show host, whose personal growth is pronounced as the series progresses.

-Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson, the coyote shapeshifting VW mechanic with, among other things, a great gift for finding trouble (and getting out of it.) There is also a comic book mini-series, which I would recommend. The trade is coming out in late August, according to Amazon.

-Rachel Caine's Joanne Baldwin, a Weather Warden with slightly more strength than mental acuity. To be fair, though, she has more magic than most Wardens, and I think she's smarter than she lets on. Just started reading the series, though, so I can't know for certain...

Those are my three favorite series so far, but the world of urban fantasy is still pretty new to me, Buffy and Charmed episodes of my youth not withstanding.

And then there are the more traditional fantasy series, not the least of which is George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I bring up ASoIaF because, well, let's put it this way. You learn very quickly not to get too attached to characters because NONE OF THEM are safe. POV characters are almost as vulnerable as non-POV characters, and none are exempt from the threats of mutilation, torture, death, or worse. (And believe me, there are fates worse than death in ASoIaF.) I don't think Martin will kill off all of the Starks (none of whom are named Tony or wear high-tech power armor, by the way), but you never know. The point is, I do know what to expect in terms of character death, I have since close to the beginning of the series, and I don't expect it to change.

Character death is somewhat less frequent in the urban fantasy series, but the key protagonists generally don't die, or if they do, they get resurrected pretty quickly for obvious reasons. It's okay to get attached to the leads, at least. The mortality rate for likable supporting characters is naturally higher.

But comic books. I thought I knew what to expect from Marvel, starting out. It's my own fault, really. I thought it was safe to get attached (as much as one can get attached to fictions), in spite of jumping in at the tail end of House of M, because they are comics and... yeah. I don't know why I assumed it was safe.

Of course, it's not safe. I know that now. Of my favorite trio -- I think of them as an unofficial trio, which I know I've mentioned before -- only one is neither dead nor MIA. That would be Sue Richards, who a few months ago I was almost certain they would send the way Janet van Dyne.

And I have no idea what terrible fate they have in store for Jennifer Walters. I'm not sure I want to know.

Ultimately, I'm not sure it's worth it. With the urban fantasies and ASoIaF, I know what to expect, and it's fine. The stories are good, sometimes great, and I can accept them for what they are. But the cape and cowl yarns? Story quality fluctuates depending on creative teams and editorial edicts. The constant isn't the storytelling, but the characters, and it's the characters I seem to follow. If my favorite characters go away, temporarily or (rarely if ever) permanently, then, I suppose, so do I.

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