We all know our fair share of superheroes. But if you’ve ever stopped to think about them in a realistic sense, you’d know that nothing lasts forever. At some point, even the greatest of superheroes have to hang up their capes unless they’re immortal gods of some sort. (I’m looking at you, Superman.) However, comics rarely go into this facet of being a hero simply because of how heroism works. Those that strive to be superheroes can almost never truly quit. Villains will never stop, and crime will never cease. Because of this, they always have to be around to save the day.
That being said, there have been several times when a hero reaches the point that he or she feels the need to quit. Oftentimes, you’ll see them don the classic outfits once more, but that’s not always the case. A few times in comics, movies, and TV shows, there have been examples of heroes giving up on their efforts for good. While they may show their faces every once in a while after that, their time as vigilantes is done.
We’ll be taking a look at several sources of media for this list, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless. You’d never think these days would come, but here are 15 superheroes who quit and never returned. Grab the tissues, and be ready for the feels.
15. Black Canary (Dinah Drake)
Believe it or not, there have been two people who became the Black Canary over the years. The Golden Age Black Canary (who began in the 40s) was Dinah Drake Lance. She had all of the powers you know and love but eventually retired to get married to the man that she loved. However, some unfortunate circumstances would kill her husband, which landed her right into the arms of Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. However, there was some complicated backstory brought into the fold as readers began to realize that Black Canary would have to be a few decades older than the Emerald Archer. Because of how strange and somewhat disgusting this backstory turned out to be, DC had to reboot the story entirely.
Dinah Drake was still the original Black Canary and operated several years before Oliver Queen was stranded on a deserted island. Eventually, she retired and left her daughter to take up the mantle. It was the daughter who eventually met and began a relationship with the Green Arrow. Most people don’t remember Dinah Drake, but thanks to her inclusion in Arrow, more awareness for the character has since been birthed.
14. Charles Xavier (Logan)
Logan is sad from start to finish. But what makes it so endearing is that we know that there were some bad things that happened to the X-Men and the world. Even Charles Xavier was not exempt from this. In his old age, he began to have a brain disease that broke down his cognitive functions, which made him much more dangerous than ever before. Because of him wearing down, the X-Men were all but extinct, and he gave up on being any sort of Professor from that point on. He couldn’t have returned to his old ways even if he had wanted to. He was much too damaged.
However, as the young X-23 came into the picture, we got to see glimpses of the old Charles Xavier, albeit much sadder ones. He knew that he was the cause of something terrible in the past, but he could never remember what it was. By the time Logan took place, Xavier was little more than a shell of his former self. He required someone else be there to take care of him at all times, which was a sad role reversal for the once great professor.
13. Arsenal (Arrow)
Riding off of the Green Arrow train, there was a superhero on the show who actually quit and hasn’t returned. His name was Roy Harper, otherwise known as Arsenal. While the character was Oliver’s prime sidekick in the comics, he got a much different treatment in the show. While he was Ollie’s partner for a little less than a full season, Arsenal backed himself into a corner by making the press think he was the Green Arrow, making Oliver Queen innocent of all charges at the time. Then in order to get bad guys and police off his tail, Roy Harper had to fake his death and leave Star City. The mantle of Arsenal was then passed to Ollie’s sister, Thea.
Roy still exists in the Arrowverse and actually came back for a bit during season 4. Unfortunately, the actor’s ties with another show have prevented him from completely returning. Since then, he has completely retired from being an archer vigilante. This was a move that many fans of the Green Arrow character were quite upset with, considering how pivotal a character Roy was in the comics. For those of you wondering, Oliver no longer has a sidekick quite like Arsenal.
12. Batman (The Dark Knight Trilogy)
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy did a lot to ensure that the Caped Crusader had a solid arc that was finished by the time The Dark Knight Rises came around. This version of Batman was very different. He made several choices throughout each film that defined who he was as a superhero. However, as he continued in his ways, he began to get the vibe that he needed to retire and have someone else take over the role. After the death of Harvey Dent, he hung up the cape and cowl for seven years before returning to fight crime as well as Bane.
That said, this final battle he would endure to save Gotham City once and for all would be his last. Slowly but surely, Bruce Wayne hatched a plan where his death and the death of the Batman would be faked so that he could live on his own, away from everybody else. At the end of the film, he succeeded in his efforts. He passed the mantle to Robin, took his lovely lady, and left the country to start a new life. He never came back.
Hellboy is an unfortunate yet very interesting story. After the evil Rasputin conducted an occult ceremony, he brought to the Earth a creature from the depths of Hell. However, the Allies found Rasputin and took the creature for themselves to become an operative for the forces of good. This creature is the hero we know as Hellboy, and as amazing as he was, he knew he was on a ticking clock. After he retired from this Earth, he would become someone who would end up killing the entire world. Despite his attempts to stop his destiny, Hellboy eventually died and went to Hell (after quitting his job as an operative and never returning). While he was there, he took a lot of time to actually destroy the dark place. From then on, Hellboy moved elsewhere, a place that we don’t know and probably will never see.
Hellboy will always be a story of a creature who longed to be more than what he was created to be. Unfortunately, we know that he could only do so much before eventually meeting that which was prophesied. Thankfully, the Earth was saved, but he had to pay the ultimate price in his death.
10. Kid Flash (Young Justice)
Anybody who has watched Young Justice will probably tell you that it’s one of the greatest superhero shows ever made. There were many moments that made it so memorable, and that leads me to my point. When season 2 began, there was a gap of several years from the events of season 1. Slowly but surely, we were given the debriefing on what happened to the original members of the team. Eventually, it was revealed that after a teammate was killed, both Kid Flash and Artemis quit to become regular people. Artemis eventually joined the ranks once more to become a double agent for the Light, but Kid Flash continued to sit on the sidelines. He was willing to help out when it was absolutely necessary, but, in general, he completely gave up the life of a hero.
Unfortunately, this would end up being the aspect that led him to his ultimate downfall. He worked with the Flash and Impulse to stop a source of energy by running around it. However, because he was out of practice, he wasn’t quite fast enough to save himself when all was said and done. Kid Flash lost his life in the aftermath, and viewers were never the same.
If you don’t recognize the name Jewel, that’s because she goes by a different name these days: Jessica Jones. Jones was born with extraordinary powers and was inspired by heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers to become a hero of her own. She took on the name “Jewel” and used a colorful costume as well. Sadly, her time would be fairly short-lived, as the Purple Man would capture and use her for all sorts of pleasure. Once she finally managed to be free, Jewel quit being a superhero (a move that she justified after other Marvel heroes didn’t even remember her). Instead, she became a private investigator and brought many cheating husbands and wives out into the bright of day.
Later, she was offered membership into the Avengers, but she refused, still having memories of how they had forgotten her. She also had a daughter with Luke Cage and wanted to focus more time on raising her rather than fighting crime. Perhaps what was the most heartbreaking about her quitting was that her time with the Purple Man changed her into a much less unhinged person. She used to be bright and happy.
8. Sandman (Wesley Dodds)
The Sandman character has been one of the more intriguing vigilantes created, and we’re still waiting to see him on-screen. Many people have taken up the mantle, but there was one bearer of it who seemed to have the deck stacked against him: Wesley Dodds. He would find being a hero to be quite dangerous and actually attempted to retire numerous times before succeeding. Throughout his career, he would amass no small amount of guilt and regret over choices that he had made and actions that he had done. This would lead him to retire for a while before putting on the signature trench coat and gas mask. Even having a stroke didn’t keep him away from being a hero. However, his lover came down with cancer, which would eventually end her life. He knew that he wanted to spend her last days at her side. In order to do this, he became a hero one last time, then retired for good. It wasn’t long after her death that he died as well, thus ending the legacy of Wesley Dodds. Perhaps the sadness of the character is why we haven’t seen him on the big screen.
7. Hank Pym
Of all of the people to take on the Ant-Man persona, none were more controversial than the original: Hank Pym. While he developed the Pym Particle and had some impressive moments as a superhero, he was also mentally unstable. He was known for beating his wife and even got kicked out of the Avengers for doing so. His brain chemistry was continuously altered by the very particles that he created, and he was drastically changed over the years he was a superhero. Eventually, everything became too much, and he became very old. Because of this, Hank Pym stepped down as the Ant-Man and passed down the suit to Scott Lang.
This was a prime theme in the movie Ant-Man. Hank Pym refused to wear the suit again because of how much it affected him and had Scott use it in his place. While he was still heavily involved in the heroics of the new Ant-Man, Pym himself never used the suit after he retired. Keeping in mind that he was one of Marvel’s oldest heroes and one of the founding members of the Avengers, this was a move that made a lot of sense.
6. Iron Man (Earth-982)
Many times in comics, writers will introduce “What if?” scenarios and make them have little to no consequence on the real timeline by setting them in different realities. That’s how Old Man Logan did it, that’s how DC does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. One of Marvel’s scenarios came from an alternate Earth that showcased many of our favorite heroes about fifteen years older than they were in the current timeline. Much like the case with the start of Young Justice season 2, we had a lot of questions on what happened to many of the heroes and what they were doing. Apparently, there was an incident with Doctor Doom that resulted in the deaths of most of the Avengers. There were only a few who made it home, but they were never the same.
Among them was Tony Stark, whom you may know as Iron Man. After seeing many of his friends killed in the heat of battle, he couldn’t bring himself to continue as a superhero and ended up retiring. He still helped out a newer team of Avengers and gave them all kinds of upgrades, but he never went back out on the field.
The Knight family has been full of interesting discoveries, but it goes without saying that star power was their most exciting. Ted Knight found out that he could tap into stellar energy from the stars to give himself cosmic powers. The idea of being a new superhero motivated him every day, and he succeeded in becoming the hero known as Starman. However, he was eventually getting older and wanted his son to take on the mantle. His son agreed, but only if Ted would stop being the costumed hero. He agreed to the deal, and Ted Knight was forever retired.
Ted’s son, Jack, reluctantly took on the role of Starman. He felt that devoting time and resources to being a superhero was a waste and that there were better things brilliant people could do with their time. However, Jack’s fight became personal when villains killed his brother, so he maintained the persona. Eventually, his girlfriend had a baby and left Jack because he was a hero. After giving it some thought, Jack gave up the heroics to be with her and passed on the power to Courtney Whitmore, whom you may know as Stargirl, a member of the Justice Society.
4. Spectre (Jim Corrigan)
The Spectre has always been one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe, but it was also one of the most enlightening and tragic. Jim Corrigan was a detective who was murdered. However, that wasn’t the end of his life. God sent him back to Earth, albeit bound with the Angel of Vengeance known as the Spectre. Their mission was to rid the world of evil but understand it at the same time as well as learn how to move on from rage.
Jim Corrigan then became a powerful contender to any villain who dared cross him. He had ties to characters like John Constantine and Doctor Fate while he operated. Sometime after that, he eventually learned that the source of his rage and desire for vengeance came from how abused he was as a child. He forgave those who had hurt him and was finally able to move on to Heaven, effectively retiring from his role as the Spectre. The angel itself remained on Earth, though, and found numerous other hosts to bond with over time. It also appeared during Injustice to protect Superman against magic.
3. Batman (Batman Beyond)
Batman is one of the most impressive superheroes ever. Despite the fact that he’s just a man, he’s been able to take on villains who are larger than life. Through the use of his tech, fighting skills, and brilliance, Bruce Wayne quickly became one of the most capable fighters in the entire DC Universe. However, as I said before, he’s just a man. Whether you like it or not, there will come a time when Bruce Wayne has to put up the cape and cowl because his body will not always be able to keep up. That’s exactly what happened in Batman Beyond. Wayne had to resort to using a gun in order to defend himself.
Terry McGinnis then came into the picture. He was an athletic master but always seemed to find himself on the wrong side of trouble. Before long, he ended up face to face with a much older Bruce Wayne, and the Batman secret was unintentionally dropped. After some time, Bruce Wayne decided to make McGinnis the new Batman and trained him to do everything that he once could. Batman could no longer be out on the field, but by operating through McGinnis, it would be the next best thing.
2. Nite Owl
Watchmen is one of the most politically-fueled, violent, and thoughtful superhero stories ever created, and we love every minute of it. One of the main heroes in that series was Nite Owl. Taking on a similar approach to Batman, Nite Owl was a fighting expert who used fists and all kinds of tech in order to get the edge in combat. Much like the Dark Knight, there are a few people who have taken up the mantle of Nite Owl. The first one was Hollis T. Mason. While having a great run, Mason eventually decided to retire to open an auto business. It was then that Daniel Dreiberg approached him, wanting to take on the mantle. From that point on, Dreiberg became the new Nite Owl, and the one that is followed in the comic as well as the film. Much like his predecessor, Dreiberg ends up retiring as well after many years of fighting and saving the planet. After he was presumed dead by the entire world, he took the opportunity to take on a new identity and live a new life, much like (you guessed) it Christopher Nolan‘s Batman.
One of the more interesting heroes from the DC Universe is Ragman. The version being focused on for this list is the Garry Regan one. Several hundred years before the present day, the Europeans placed their hope in the Golem as their protector. After the Golem was no more, they then established Ragman. What was useful about this hero was that it was linked to a suit of rags that was passed down throughout many generations. Garry Regan was the last European who had the suit. He operated while Hitler was attempting to kill Jews. Unfortunately, he failed in his efforts and decided to hang up the suit. He then moved to Gotham City, where he would pass down the suit to his son, Rory.
What is quite interesting about Rory is that while he is the current Ragman, he made an appearance in the current season of Arrow. He was one of the most powerful members of the team, but after taking a nuke to the face, the rags became useless. Rory then retired from being a superhero and hasn’t been seen since. It’s interesting how these parallels work.