The hero can’t die in a cliffhanger

Posted: July 26, 2010 in All, Comic Books

Your cliffhanger doesn’t have to be impending doom. It just has to end on a beat that changes something.
In “Kryptonite,” the second issue has a good cliffhanger. Superman stands Lois up for a date because he has to save islanders from a volcano. So Lois goes on a fake date with this criminal. She’s got a microphone in her bag. She’s trying to expose him for the criminal he is. The cliffhanger comes when he drops her off from their “date.” He doesn’t see, but she turns around, and there’s Superman, floating in mid-air, waiting for her. She looks like she’s been caught in the cookie jar and he looks heartbroken.
The story is retro, so you know Superman and his supporting cast won’t be killed. Chances are, they wouldn’t be killed in a modern story either. But this cliffhanger hit on just the right beat in the story. A turning point.
Another good one was Hellboy. At the end of one issue, a villain is changed into a lizard woman.
The point is that we know that the main character is never going to die. And if they are, we will have heard about it already. (Like with Superman and Captain America.) There are no surprises. So the cliffhanger can’t be Doctor Octopus with his arms raised, just about to do in Spider-Man. We know Spidey isn’t going to die.
There are exceptions to this. In a team book, one member of a team can die and the comic will continue.
Also, sometimes the cliffhanger is a question mark: How will the hero escape the villain’s clutches. Maybe this is a bad example, but that simple question kept me around after the commercial break during the Adam West Batman show.
And taking this a step further, sometimes just defeating the villain was a mystery enough. Many promotional words on the cover of a comic book would question: Just how will Daredevil defeat this villain?

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