Monday, March 25, 2013

Title Time: Death Be Not Proud

The Avengers, Vol.1 #56 (Marvel),
December 1968.
The New Titans #83 (DC Comics),
February 1992.
Last week, my class and I began working with John Gunther's memoir, Death Be Not Proud. Published back in 1949, it recounts the story of the author's son's battle with a brain tumor which ultimately leads to a cerebral hemorrhage that takes his life at the age of seventeen. No need for spoiler tags here--Gunther lays this out for the reader in his foreword, before quickly moving to a stark and honest recounting of his son Johnny's life from the time his doctor mistakenly learns of the tumor until his passing.

At one point this book was commonly taught in schools, and after finding it buried deep in the bowels of our school's book room (a converted service closet I lovingly refer to as "The Book Morgue") with imprints dating the copies back to 1982, I brought it back for use in my classes. It's not clear to me why this book has appreantly fallen out of favor with the English rteachers in my building, but this school year represents the third during which I have shared this book with my students. There is some (by today's standards) challenging vocabulary and contains subject matter can be sensititve--though niether of these factors should reasonably disqualify it from being taught.

Each year while reviewing lesson plans and updating PowerPoint slides, I randomly search for images that will be of use in bringing notes and thoughts to life visually. While doing this I am always surprised to find one or two new images that I had not previously associated with the work, but that are of interest. One group of images that I've recently come across is comic books which share the same title. Since Gunther himself borrowed took the title for his memoir from the first line of John Donne's Sonnet X: "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee..." its continued recycling makes sense. 

X-Men: The Hidden Years #15
(Marvel), February 2001.
Given the memoir's popularity, it seems only natural that after it became part of the cultural zeitgeist that comic book writers would take advantage of this built in recognition and use it to promote the passing of characters, often, as in the cases shown here, trumpeting such significant plot points on the cover in bold lettering.

The common phrasing is not always used as the primary selling point on the cover however as, unlike the cases of The Avengers, X-Men and Teen Titans, the title "Death Be Not Proud," has on occasion been used as the internal title of the story (back in the golden age of comics the titles inside and on the cover might vary). One such example is in the case of the most recent volume of Spider-Girl dealing with the accidental death of the protagonist's father. While the cover is more of a news stand pin-up, a common practice in modern comic books, the inside story is indeed entitled "Death Be Not Proud."

Interesting connections between literature and comic books, such as allusions to famous works of "serious" literature, sometimes turn up in the most unusual places. I'd venture to guess we haven't seen the last instance of Donne's famous line turning up in the "funny books"...

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Interesting. I read many of Gunters books and remember this one well. My sons were teenagers then...