The art of great storytelling is to have true peril and danger for the characters. Readers should always expect the unexpected. As the world of comic books is filled with superpowered beings who are basically gods, having the threat of real peril and danger on a weekly basis is difficult, as we know that the superhero is always going to win and always going to survive. Or at least, usually they will. However, sometimes death comes for the good guys and the heroes in these comic books and when that happens, it sends shock waves through their universes and the fans go crazy. You never know what might happen next.
Obviously we are talking about comic books here, and more often than not, these deaths aren’t permanent and the fallen heroes find their way back to the mortal coil through some twist of fate or mention of some kind of dream sequence. Sometimes it’s a stretch, while other times it actually benefits the story. But even so, these deaths are significant within the stories and have a lasting effect on many of its characters. Of course, some deaths are never rectified and they stay dead in order keep certain heroes on their paths to greatness. With this list we look at the 15 most important deaths in comic book history.
15. Alexandra DeWitt
The first entry on our list may not be the biggest death in the comic book world or may not have even involved a big character, but the importance and significance of this death is great. Not only did this death destroy The Green Lantern, and a lot of their fanbase but it also showed what comic book writers would do in order to increase sales; not only have a character there just to kill but to kill that character in such a terrible way.
After the events which saw Hal Jordan destroy the Green Lantern Corp when he was possessed by Parallax, Earth’s Green Lantern fell to Kyle Rayner. His time as Green Lantern wasn’t very successful so the writers decided to have Rayner find a note on his table supposedly from his girlfriend, and then found his girlfriend’s dead body stuffed into a fridge.
14. Gwen Stacy
Mary Jane Watson may be the love of Peter Parker’s life, they’ve been together, apart, married, and apart again! But the most important woman in Parker’s life has to be Gwen Stacy, or at least her death is pretty important. Before Gwen’s death, innocence and loyalty were always rewarded. No matter how important or superpowered you were, if you were good and true, you would survive.
Then came the moment in which all of that changed forever and suddenly any character at any time could be killed. The image of Gwen’s death is still a powerful symbol for the changes in comic books, from light and family friendly to the darker, grittier stories we know today. The significance of Gwen’s death also had repercussions for Spider-Man too, as it changed the way the hero lived his life and how he saved people. Gwen’s death is still regarded as one on the most important points in comic books, the only reason it’s at number 14 on our list is because of what the comic book writers did to her memory afterwards – most notably, when they flashed back to her and Norman Osborn having an affair!
13. Arthur Curry Jr.
As with the previous entry, innocence has always been rewarded in comic books and the purer you are, the safer you are. Just like Gwen Stacy’s death changed so many things for Marvel comic books, Arthur Curry Jr.’s death did the same for DC. Considered by many fans to be a “watershed” moment in comic books, the death of Arthur Curry Jr. moved DC from the lighter silver age to the much darker bronze age.
Arthur Curry Jr., or Aquababy as he is more commonly referred to as, was the son of Aquaman and Mera. When Black Manta kidnaps Aquababy, he forces Aquaman and Aqualad to fight each other to the death in order to free the child. Aquaman manages to break the bubble prison Aquababy was contained in, but he was too late and the baby died. This was the first time that DC comics showed us that no one was safe from death.
12. Dark Phoenix
A good comic book trick for great storytelling is to have a good guy turn bad. This has happened in many stories and in many mediums, but the original, and still most famous and shocking, good guy gone bad story is Jean Grey. Being the epitome of good and the nurturing mother figure to the X-Men makes Jean Grey’s fall from grace even more shocking.
In The Dark Phoenix Saga, which many X-Men fans still regard as the greatest X-men story of all time, Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix and the power of the Phoenix Force takes her over completely and she threatens to destroy everything. In the ultimate sacrifice, the last ruminants of Jean Grey commits suicide in order to save the universe from her. When Dark Phoenix sacrificed herself, the comic book world was still in a place where the good guys win and if the good guy goes bad, they’re helped back to the side of good and all is forgiven. But this moment single handedly changed that and not only saw the hero die but it saw the hero take responsibility for their actions and pay the price.
When you have a hero whose main power is that he can withstand most injuries and heal himself from anything, it can become difficult to put that character in any real harm. This is the case with wolverine. Everyone’s favorite X-Men has had a difficult time within the comic books over the years. Not always the traditional hero, Wolverine has instead found himself on the outside as the loner. Being involved in some major X-Men, and other Marvel, storylines, Wolverine has always come out on top and he is always unharmed. That is until recently.
With a long life of regret behind him, Wolverine finally met the end in the most heroic way for the character. Having already been weakened from a virus, Wolverine learned that Dr. Abraham Cornelius was ready to fuse other beings to the famous Adamantium. Wolverine took it upon himself to stop this by puncturing the vats of Adamantium with his claws and letting the liquid metal pour over him, encasing him in the metal that made Wolverine so famous. A fitting end to a true comic book legend, and proof again that no character is safe.
There are some events and deaths in comic books that are the very reason for a character’s being, who they are, and how they will achieve the greatness they will become. One such death is that of Superman’s parents – and not only the death of Superman’s parents, but the destruction of the whole Kryptonian race and the planet. There is no denying that Superman is one of the greatest and most famous of all superheroes in all comic books, and the only reason he was able to achieve this was by everyone he knew dying, and the baby Kal-El being sent to Earth.
Not only is the death of Kal-El’s parents important for the character of Superman, but having them die in a heroic way gives them importance to the future Clark Kent. Even after their death, Superman hears their advice and is guided by their ideals and values. This is one of the few deaths that always has to happen and therefore is vital to the comic book world.
When Superman first burst onto the comic book scene way back when, his main story and the driving force for the character was that he was the last of his kind, a master stroke in storytelling, as a character that is looking to be accepted is something a lot of people can relate to. However, by the time we get to the silver age of comic books, Superman finds himself with a super family and his cousin Kara Zor-El is at the centre of that.
In an effort to streamline, not just Superman’s story, but the whole DC universe, DC came up with Crisis On Infinite Earths. Many things happened within that storyline but none so shocking and harrowing as the death of Supergirl. Dying at the hands of Anti-Monitor was devastating enough but the image of Superman holding a dead Supergirl and howling in pain, is still hard to see even now.
8. Peter Parker
There are some characters that have consistently been popular in all mediums since they first appeared. One of the most beloved comic book characters is Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. Having successfully been a fan favorite in the pages of comic books for years, Spider-Man has also proved himself popular on the big screen and small screen alike. So when Peter Parker died, fans went crazy. Not just because Parker was dead but because, for a moment, it felt final and that this death would last.
Not only did Parker’s death shock fans, which is rare, as most characters in comic books come back pretty soon, but not this time. The reason that this death has extra significance is because of the introduction of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Not only was Peter Parker dead but there was a new Spider-Man in town. This was a lot to swallow for some fans and the writers of this story arch received countless death threats. Now of course Parker is back and Morales is a popular and important hero in the Marvel universe.
7. Barry Allen
Another casualty of DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths, this was one of the most important, heroic, and heart-wrenching deaths out of any comic book and any character. The Flash, aka Barry Allen, has been officially linked to the start of the comic book Silver Age with his debut in the 1950s, and his death signifies the start of the Bronze Age. For many years, The Flash has not only been saving lives as “The Fastest Man Alive,” but many have seen The Flash as the heart of the DC superhero universe, which makes his death even more important.
As Anti-Monitor is set on destroying everything in creation, The Flash has a plan. Creating a distraction, The Flash finds the anti-matter energy core and does what he does best. Running faster than he has ever ran before, The Flash literally runs himself into nothing. Disintegrating as he runs, The Flash doesn’t stop and doesn’t give up until everyone is saved. A fitting end to a great hero, as he didn’t just save the universe, he saved every universe and everyone in them.
That’s right, The Dark Knight died. The most famous character in comic books and a man that can seemingly do and survive anything, despite not having any powers at all, Batman is the king of the vigilante heroes. Fighting crime, superpowered beings, and aliens since the 1930s, Batman has risen to near mythical status as he always wins the day no matter what and everything gets nicely shrugged off with the explanation “because he’s Batman!”
However, the truly brilliant and groundbreaking Final Crisis saw Batman meet his end. Not only that, but Batman had to choose to break his one rule and use a gun. Facing off against the overlord Darkseid, Batman picks up a gun and uses it on him. However, the bullet merely wounds Darkseid, so he unleashes his deadly Omega Beams on The Dark Knight and Batman is incinerated. Although Batman’s death didn’t last long, it turned out that he wasn’t dead, he had just been transported back through time, the ramifications for the character and those around him has been huge.
5. Bruce Banner
This is the most recent death to happen to a superhero, and a death that we’re yet to fully see the ramifications of, although we are sure they are going to change everything in the Marvel universe. Often being compared to the “immovable object,” The Hulk has lived through everything and seemingly couldn’t be killed. Bruce Banner has tried to kill himself many times but The Hulk is there to stop him. Other superheroes and villains have also tried to kill Hulk but to no avail. Even being exiled into space didn’t phase The Hulk. But the events of Civil War II finally saw the big green monster bite the dust.
Fearing that The Hulk is becoming too powerful to control, Bruce Banner starts taking Hulk-repressing pills in order to keep the monster at bay. However, the rest of the superhero community aren’t convinced and decide to act. In the middle of an intervention, it’s left up to Hawkeye to fire the fatal arrow straight into Bruce Banners eye. The special arrow fired by Hawkeye kills him stone cold dead.
4. Captain America
Before the shocking events of the previous entry in Civil War II, the first Civil War had an even more shocking and devastating act that still has some fans shocked today: the death of Captain America. His death was so big and unexpected that it actually made world news as if he was real! That’s how shocking it was.
After the events of Civil War, the superhero community split into two fractions, those who wanted the heroes to be registered and those who didn’t. Always standing for freedom, Captain America has been a symbol of that since the very beginning, so as the Civil War raged on, the resulting conclusion is the image of Captain America lying dead on the ground. He didn’t die in an epic blaze of world-destroying action, he died the way he lived: fighting for freedom and standing up for the little guy, the only way Captain America knows how to be. His death is still causing ripples through the Marvel universe and things may never be the same again.
3. Uncle Ben
Now we come to our top 3 most important deaths in comic book history. These deaths don’t just have to happen in order to set our favorite heroes on their paths, but they also changed the very comic book worlds they inhabit. The first of these and our number 3 spot goes to Uncle Ben.
Peter Parker may not have had the easiest life; losing his parents young and being forced to live with his Aunt and Uncle wasn’t the greatest start. Having said that, Parker was raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben in a loving and responsible way. So when he was bitten by a radioactive spider and changes started to come, it was Uncle Ben that Parker turned to for guidance and advice. So when Uncle Ben was shot by a criminal – a criminal that Parker could have stopped – his death made Parker take responsibility for his actions and made him the superhero that we all came to love. This moment forged Parker’s very being and made him honest, pure, and always on the side of good. This death, no matter how many reboots or remakes, always has to happen.
Just as Captain America’s death was shocking and even newsworthy, long before that came the death of Superman. Not only did this make the news but the death of Superman caused such a shock wave in comic books that it’s still remembered, and being felt, today.
Superman. The Man of Steel. The last son of Krypton has always been the epitome of strength, power, and honor, and a true hero. He always got the bad guy and he always fought for truth and justice, until his face off with the monster Doomsday. In this epic battle the two went all out in a real fight to the death. Although this story arch was called The Death of Superman, we still felt like The Man of Steel would live. But he didn’t. Superman managed to stop the superpowered alien but it cost him his life and the eternal boy scout had fallen. Although Superman, and indeed most other heroes, came back, it was the first real moment in comic books where we felt anyone can really die and no one is safe.
1. Mr. and Mrs. Wayne
The number one entry on our list of most important deaths in comic book history, is the one death that everyone agrees to be the most important and significant death ever. The shooting of The Waynes in an alley is the sole reason that the young Bruce Wayne grows up to become the crime fighting vigilante we all know as Batman.
Although there have been many other characters and heroes that have been forged out of a death of a loved one, The Waynes are the archetype for pretty much every comic book, story, and hero that has come after it. It’s fair to say that The Waynes death didn’t just create Batman, it created the entire DC universe and maybe even all superhero universes and comic books. For this reason, The Waynes death will always be the most important and a death that can never ever be changed.