Ah, the comic retcon. It’s an age-old comic book trope that the jaded regard as a cheap, narratively convenient tactic to justify a deus ex machina, or to bring back a popular character after their big death issues flew off the shelves. Many argue that retcons are a necessary evil of the medium—after all, how can anyone freely write a great story when they’ve got decades of canon continuity to keep track of? But even the most grounded realist has to admit the life and death cycles of superheroes can be extremely confusing, especially to the uninitiated. So many characters have gone under surprise resurrections, it’s arguably more surprising when someone stays dead.

Secret Avengers 15 Death of Captain America

Take Captain America for example. When his death (the Civil War one, not his origin story death) hit shelves, even the New York Times paid attention, putting a picture of Cap shot on the courthouse steps on the front page of the NY Times site. People paid attention, readers and non-readers alike. It was a big deal, in the sense of comic book narrative and American history. Tony Stark cried and stuff. But when it’s revealed none-too-soon later that Cap is still alive, the big mourning feels cheapened. Wouldn’t it negatively affect how a reader would be affected of the death of the (literally) shiny, new replacement Captain America? (Who himself is a freshly-resurrected Bucky Barnes.)

In Secret Avengers #15 (Nick Spencer and Scot Eaton), the Black Widow says no, it shouldn’t. The entire issue seems to be devoted to aforementioned resurrection-weary readers; a thinly-veiled direct attempt to convince readers that the ever-present possibility of resurrection actually doesn’t cheapen death in comic books, but actually makes it more powerful. A stone-faced grieving Black Widow descends upon the offices of a news site that published an article boldly proclaiming that “Captain America Isn’t Dead!” Seeking to find out how they know Captain America is alive, she roughs up a blogger a little only to find out they have nothing… except massive page views. “A couple anonymous quotes, a tease here and there, and we place our bet,” the blogger explains. “I mean, we’ve got good odds here. This isn’t the first time Captain America’s died.” And he brings in shades of the NY Times “Captain America Is Dead” story, telling Black Widow that “most people only seem to give a damn about you when you croak.” Natasha shoots back that—to sum it up—such a sentiment is rude and that Captain America deserves more respect than some made-up tabloid anti-obituary. Another staff member tearfully says that superhero deaths aren’t like real deaths that real people like her father have. And this is where things get a little meta.

Secret Avengers 15 Blogger

When the staff member says “real people,” the use of “real” instead of “normal” is peculiar. It’s as if she’s not just speaking of the denizens of Earth-616, but of real humans like you and me. It becomes abundantly clear these news bloggers are supposed to be cyphers of ourselves, the resurrection-weary, when he pipes up: “She’s right. You want people to feel bad about this stuff, dying’s gotta mean something,” he says. “’Cause right now, I’d sign up for your kind of death. Nice, long six-month nap, you come back healthier than ever and everybody loves you. Awesome.” He then immediately discredits himself by bringing up Jean Grey, probably the worst possible example of happy resurrections, but he does get the point across.

Secret Avengers Black Widow from Comicbookbrain.com

This is when the Black Widow becomes Marvel, telling us exactly why resurrection is much more deep and powerful than the simple convenience we think it is. First off, she dispels the notion that resurrection is as easy as a nap. Car accident victims are traumatized by the event, and while it might make them extremely uneasy to ride in cars again anytime soon, with enough time they can get back into the groove. But when heroes return, they have to face battle and death again, and almost immediately. They have to be strong in order to face something as traumatizing as death again so soon, the Black Widow’s argument goes. Second, knowing that someone you love might have the smallest chance of coming back keeps you from moving on with your life, or if you do move on your resurrected loved one could be left devastated. “Could you really ever heal knowing that?” she asks in all bold.

The editor of the site now clears all the mooks, stunned by Black Widow’s bold question, from the room. She’s the all-knowing one, above the mooks, who get’s what Black Widowis saying, the fan who understands. “They love their cynicism, don’t they? But you and I both know they need these stories,” she says. “They want to believe there are people out there who can beat anything—even death.” The editor’s wording is important here, since the people of Earth-616 don’t need to “want to believe” anything, superheroes who beat death really exist in their world. This is a message aimed at us, the readers. And that she greatly admires the heroes and their compatriots who choose a life where they have to die and live again, “just to inspire us.” Black Widow leaves, and the editor deletes the “Captain America Isn’t Dead!” post, finally allowing que sera sera instead of hedging jaded bets about whose really dead or not. But hopefully by now you’ve been convinced, because, of course, Bucky Barnes wasn’t dead this whole time.

Bucky Barnes Winter Soldier from Comic Book Resources

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