RON MARZ responds
For Ron, it must actually be a relief to be asked about the death of anyone but Hal Jordan. Proving that many comics fans take their favorite characters WAY too seriously, Ron has taken the heat for years now for killing the Silver Age Green Lantern in an editorially-mandated and infamous storyline. He responds to the criticism with surprising grace, considering the increasing venom of the story's detractors. Other works include half (with Peter David) of the "Marvel vs. DC" mega-story, "Batman vs. Aliens," and a long run on "Silver Surfer." (GS)
I think the obvious point here is that female characters, in general, have a rougher time of it. I think the knee-jerk reaction is they're more "abused," though I'm not sure that's fully the case. Male heroes go through all sorts of trials and tragedies, and generally triumph over them in the end. However, you could certainly make a list of male heroes (Captain Mar-Vell, Jason Todd, Bucky, various former GLs, Barry Allen, etc.) who have wound up dead or depowered. To me the real difference is less male-female than main character-supporting character. In most cases, main characters, "title" characters who support their own books, are male. Historically, male characters have been able to support their own books sales-wise, while female characters have not. I'm not sure this is the case anymore, but I suspect the mindset still prevails to a certain extent. So male characters who support their own individual titles remain somewhat immune to the kind of severe and permanent character changes you're sighting. It has more to do with sales figures than sex bias. So if "main" characters, including Wonder Woman, are generally sacrosanct, the supporting characters are the ones who suffer the more permanent and shattering tragedies. And a lot of supporting characters are female. Take Gwen Stacy, for example (even though it's a example more than two decades old). Her death was a tragedy, obviously, but it also served as a tragedy in Spider-Man's life; a case of a supporting character's death being used to adversely effect the life of the main character. Since most main characters are male, a way of introducing tragedy into that character's life is to have something adverse happen to a woman in his life. To my mind, as a writer you want to be able to introduce some sort of change or drama to your characters. You can kill off or otherwise severely change a supporting character. You just can't do so with a main character, in most cases, and certainly never without the blessing of the Powers That Be. In the case of Marvel's Nova, she died at the hands of a villain during my Silver Surfer run. Mainly, she died because she had been the current herald of Galactus, and I personally could not justify how a human being could willingly serve the world-devourer. Since she had been shown doing this happily for a number of years, I thought a sudden pang of conscience would come out of left field. And I wanted to give Galactus a truly amoral herald, one who actively enjoyed his job. There were secondary reasons for Nova's death, including illustrating how truly despicable that new herald was. But her death had nothing to do with her gender. Had a male character been willingly and currently serving Galactus, I would've knocked him off as well.
The more infamous example, I suspect, is Alex, Kyle Rayner's then girlfriend. I see a reference to her being "cut up and stuck in a refrigerator." Firstly, you assume incorrectly Alex was "cut up," which is frankly a rather common mistake. The real story behind that page is that as initially written and drawn, Kyle finds her body stuffed into the fridge. Her WHOLE body, in one piece. In fact, I still have a copy of that original page. The Comics Code went bananas and made us change the artwork so that the door was mostly shut. This had the effect of forcing readers to use their imaginations as to what the "unseen scene" was, and a lot of readers went for the most grisly thing imaginable -- a dismembered body. I think this actually says a great deal more about some readers' minds than it does about our original intentions. Score one for the Comics Code.
All that said, I can tell you Alex was a character destined to die from the moment she was first introduced in GL #48. I created her with the intention of having her be murdered at the hands of Major Force. I took a lot of care in building her as a character, because I wanted her to be liked and her death to mean something to the readers. I wanted readers to be horrified at the crime, and to empathize with Kyle's loss. Her death was meant to bring brutal realization to Kyle that being GL wasn't fun and games. It was also meant to sever his links with his old life, paving the way for his move to New York. And ultimately I wanted her death to be memorable and illustrate just how truly heinous Major Force was. Thus the fridge. From the reactions, I think I succeeded fairly well at those goals. It's five years later and people are still talking about it. More than anything as a writer, you want the audience to react emotionally to your work, to care. I wrote a villain committing a truly despicable deed. That doesn't mean I endorse or admire that behavior. I doubt Thomas Harris thinks of Hannibal Lecter as a positive role model, either. And it's probably worth mentioning that Major Force was punished for the act.
Comics have a long history as a male-oriented and male-dominated industry. That's not a statement of judgment, simply one of fact. I do think comics can and should be more sensitive to female characters. But these are times in which the general editorial mindset is "cut to the fight scene," in which half-naked women on covers spike sales. Publishers are unfortunately more concerned with survival than with sensitivity to women. And that's a shame. If we want to save our industry, maybe we should stop ignoring half the population as possible readers.