By Jackie Morse Kessler
Growing up, I read comic books. Not Archies, either; superhero comic books. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America…you name it, I probably read it. When I was a kid, maybe 10 years old, I read a graphic novel (which back then meant a deluxe edition trade paperback comic book) called The Death Of Captain Marvel. It was all about, you guessed it, how Mar-Vell, the Kree warrior whom humans called Captain Marvel, died…of cancer. At one point, all the superheroes have gathered, waiting for the end, and Spider-Man—who is perhaps the most human of all the Marvel Universe superheroes—breaks down. He laments that this isn’t how superheroes are supposed to die. They die in battle; they die saving the world; they die doing the right thing; they’re not supposed to succumb to cancer.
That haunted me. I actually crawled into my closet and sat there, rocking in the dark, thinking about how unfair it was for a superhero to die from something so mundane. Death didn’t care about things like Good and Evil. Death is a constant. All living things die, period.
My God, that’s terrifying.
It wasn’t until I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I saw another side of Death: a friendly, charming side. Oh, Death still does her job; if anything, she’s incredibly dedicated. But she also appreciates life. That stayed with me, too, just like the death of Captain Marvel.
And then, there’s Piers Anthony’s Death, from On a Pale Horse. That’s just some guy who gets the job. Death…as a regular person? Uncanny. That, too, left its impression, as did Terry Pratchett’s Death, who speaks in small caps and without quote marks.
The character of Death in my book HUNGER definitely has its roots in all of these previous incarnations. For some reason I still don’t know, Death in my world looks and sounds exactly like Kurt Cobain. (I wasn’t even a Nirvana fan when I wrote HUNGER.) He’s got a wicked sense of humor and can be rather terrifying at times, but he’s also a bit of a dreamer (and the other Horsemen have actually called him a slacker; in his point of view, everyone comes to him in time, so what’s the rush?).
And currently, he can play the guitar and has a haunting singing voice.
Would Death have appeared in HUNGER, even if I’d never read The Death of Captain Marvel? Of course. But it would have been a very different sort of Death, quite possibly one that didn’t hint at very frightening things, the things that make us retreat to our closets and rock in the dark.
Happily, I’ll never know.
I don't really want to pick favorites, but Jackie's post is definitely a favorite of mine throughout this tour. Don't forget to swing by the Crossroads to see the question for the day. You need all 16 answers to enter for the grand prize!