They tend to say no one ever really dies in the comic books. These characters can always, and usually almost always are, brought back to life in some way or another. Really, some of the very few deaths that have stayed permanent are Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, and the parents of Bruce Wayne – Thomas and Martha. At one point, the death of Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes, seemed to be a pretty permanent death. Until the brilliant writer Ed Brubaker decided to bring him back, by making him a brainwashed assassin. It’s safe to say that when a major hero dies, even if it takes a couple of decades, they’ll eventually return somehow.
But does this make their deaths any less significant? For some, a major superhero dying is always going to feel a bit hollow and pointless, because, in the back of their mind, they know it isn’t going to last. And it all fairness, that is actually a pretty valid point of view to have when things like this happen. But even then, if it is advertised well enough in advance, a major death can certainly drum-up huge conversation. Not only will it make the news, with media outlets talking about the shocking decision, but it just may, in fact, bring in more sales from readers, which is never a bad thing at the end of the day.
This is what happened with characters like Superman way back in the 1990s. Since then, there have been numerous announcements of characters that are going to be killed off in upcoming issues. Geoff John’s recent DC Rebirth brought back some very beloved characters that disappeared from DC continuity for quite some time. The Flash, Supergirl, even Spider-Man have all met their end in tragic stories, but they were all able to go out like heroes. One thing is for sure, there are a number of deaths that left a much more significant impact on readers and comics than others. Here are 10 of them.
10. Ted Kord/Blue Beetle
When it comes to gruesome deaths, it doesn’t get any more straightforward than getting your brains blown out, which is exactly what happened to Ted Kord. As the Blue Beetle, Ted was confronted by Maxwell Lord in the Infinite Crisis story, and asked to join Lord’s evil organization. Lord planned to keep all metahumans and superheroes under strict surveillance by humans. When he declined, Ted took a bullet to the head. This was all before the DC universe was rebooted with the New 52. The DC universe lost one of its lighter characters in this story, in a visually visceral way.
The death of Superman is not remembered as being a phenomenal story, but the Man of Steel actually dying certainly attracted big sales numbers in the early ’90s. Now, in terms of sheer exposure, this is probably the biggest superhero death in comics – this was something everybody was talking about when it debuted. And spoiler alert – the ending of this story was pretty much used for the ending of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Just like in the comic, Superman dies at the hands of one of his greatest villains, Doomsday. For DC, this issue pretty much did exactly what they hoped it would by bringing in a big audience to buy more comics.
Supergirl/Kara Zor-El was a big part of the Silver Age in DC Comics, and her death in the Crisis on Infinite Earths story was just one event that signaled the end of that era. Luckily, the character was able to go out like a hero, protecting her cousin Superman. Though you can imagine this just made it an even bigger tragedy for the Man of Steel. See, up until this point, Superman at least had family on Earth with his Kryptonian cousin Kara. But as soon as she was gone, he was alone – truly the Last Son of Krypton. Kara didn’t reappear in any stories for nearly two decades before her death was retconned and she was brought back to life.
7. Hal Jordan/Green Lantern
Hal Jordan is not the first Green Lantern, but he is the quintessential Green Lantern. Hal’s home of Coast City was completely destroyed by Mongul, with 7 million people losing their lives in the process. Hal isn’t taking it too well, using the power of his ring to create a construct that recreates the entire city. But this was a selfish use of his power, which the Guardians forbid, and when he is called out his behavior – he snaps and begins attacking all of Oa and takes the full power of the Central Battery. The story ends when Hal eventually ends up sacrificing his life to save the world by reigniting the sun before it completely dies out.
6. Steve Rogers/Captain America
Superman and Captain America have some similarities, like their altruism and honesty – which makes Cap’s death pretty significant within the Marvel universe. After the long and arduous Civil War battle, Steve Rogers had surrendered and was ready to comply with superhero registration. But he was taken out by an assassin, who we thought was Crossbones until it was later revealed that a brainwashed Sharon Carter was the one who shot him. His death had a pretty big impact on other heroes in the Marvel universe, with Wolverine, for example, ready to go on a vengeful hunt to find Cap’s killer. This also eventually lead to Bucky Barnes picking up the shield and taking on the mantle of Captain America.
5. Jason Todd/Robin
The first Robin, Richard “Dick” Grayson, had grown up and became a hero on his own, Nightwing. Batman recruited another young troubled youth, Jason Todd, to be his next Robin – after catching him trying to steal the tires off of the Batmobile. After years of fighting by Batman’s side, Jason’s death was decided upon with a DC Comics phone poll, asking readers whether or not they wanted to see the character die. Apparently they wanted to see it, so the Joker ended up beating Jason to death with a crowbar – at least we thought he was dead. Writer Judd Winick decided to bring him back, under a new alias: the Red Hood.
Rorschach has to be one of the most popular characters from Alan Moore’s brilliant, game-changing series Watchmen. Throughout the entire story, Rorschach is portrayed to be a pretty resilient and a man who, once his mind has been set, won’t stop until he accomplishes his goal. When he, Night Owl II, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II realize the heinous plan by Ozymandias to unite the world through an alien attack, everyone is willing to keep Ozy’s dark plans a secret – except Rorschach. He stays defiant and isn’t willing to keep quiet about this, leaving Dr. Manhattan no choice but to kill him, which Rorschach angrily begs him to do. It’s a moment that’s handled beautifully in the comics, as well as in the film.
3. Barry Allen/The Flash
The other incredibly important death that took place in Crisis on Infinite Earths, is that of The Flash/Barry Allen. Though it’s also very bittersweet and poignant, because he is ultimately the one who saves the day in the end. Barry was able to put an end to the Anti-Monitor’s plan to destroy the world with his anti-matter cannon, by running, of course. Barry ran so fast he created a speed vortex that would absorb the power of the cannon, but he ended up dying in the process. Writer Marv Wolfman created a loophole in the script for the character, however, implying that he didn’t necessarily die. Ultimately his death was retconned and he was brought back, but before that, it was believed that Barry became the very same lightning bolt that struck him to give him his powers. His nephew Wally West took on the mantle of The Flash, no longer Kid Flash.
2. Jean Grey
Jean Grey started out as the weakest among the X-Men, and years later became the most powerful Mutant in the X-Men universe. The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most beloved X-Men story arcs – a story that features Jean Grey becoming overwhelmed with God-like powers. Jean became a force of complete and utter destruction called Dark Phoenix. After consuming a star and inadvertently killing the everyone who lived within the star’s planetary system, Grey was close to destroying the entire universe. But like a lot of these story arcs, the character eventually comes to some sort of redemption moment. Jean is able to gain mental clarity, and fully in control of herself. She decides to commit suicide in order to keep her fellow X-Men, as well as the universe, from harm.
1. Gwen Stacy
Gwen Stacy has been one of Peter Parker’s biggest love interests, but she can technically be put on the list due to her being her own hero in Spider-Gwen. Even though that’s much more recent, Gwen’s death occurred decades ago and was one of the most pivotal moments in the life of Spider-Man, right up there with Uncle Ben’s death. The Green Goblin threw Gwen off of the George Washington Bridge, and despite Peter’s efforts to catch her with his webbing, he realized she was dead when he pulled her up to safety. Her neck was broken and he was never sure if the whiplash from his webbing caused it, or if Green Goblin had broken it previously – which just made her death that much more difficult for Peter.
It stayed with him for several issues after this. He tracks the Goblin down and avoids being killed by his glider, as it kills the Goblin instead. However, Spider-Man gets blamed for his death, while he is still grieving over the loss of his girlfriend.