Life and death are fluid elements in comic books. The minute you accept a character is gone for good is when creators plot their revival. The reasoning for this is the iconic appeal of comic book heroes. Generations of comic book fans grew up with Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and many other superheroes. If superheroes stay dead, the upcoming comic book fans will miss out on what made them famous in the first place.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been comic book deaths of epic proportions. The more a household name a superhero is, the bigger deal their death will mean to the larger population. Nowadays, it’s harder to count on your hands the heroes who haven’t been killed compared to the ones who have. If you haven’t met the grim reaper, you’re missing a notch on your superhero utility belt.
The following is a list superhero deaths fans will never forget. We’re going to stick to the Big Two of comics – Marvel and DC. The names you read will be familiar to novice comic book fans and the Wednesday Warriors (a name for comic book fans who head to their local comic book store every Wednesday for New Comic Book Day).
15. War Machine Catches A Sucker Punch From Thanos
Civil War II is the latest crossover event to grace the pages of Marvel. An Inhuman named Ulysses has the power to see future events. Captain Marvel believes heroes should use this as a tool to stop crime before it happens. Iron Man thinks the future isn’t something to be altered with. Before the disagreement boils over to fisticuffs among Marvel superheroes, Ulysses has a vision of Thanos attacking a facility. Captain Marvel leads a super team called The Ultimates into battle against the Mad Titan. The Ultimates, along with War Machine, get there first and engage Thanos. During the fight, War Machine catches one massive left hook from Thanos square in his chest. War Machine is just a man inside an armored suit, while Thanos is an alien from another world. Advantage, Thanos. What made War Machine’s death resonate with fans is he almost suffered the same fate in the summer blockbuster movie, Captain America: Civil War.
14. Colossus Sacrifices Himself To Find Cure for Legacy Virus
Back in the 90’s, the X-Men comics introduced a deadly threat called the Legacy Virus. It was an airborne plague only affecting mutants. Illyana Rasputin (younger sister of fellow X-Man Colossus) perished from the disease. Beast worked around the clock to find a cure to the Legacy Virus. The pathogen mutated and started to affect humans as well. Beast finally found a cure but it came with a price – a mutant had to sacrifice himself in order to spread the cure more quickly. Colossus decided he was done grieving for his younger sister, took the needle filled with the Legacy Virus cure and injected it into his body. Activating his mutant powers supercharged the cure, while also killing him in the process. Colossus was one of the longest tenured X-Men before he passed. His death rocked the team for years to come.
13. Barry Allen Can’t Outrun A Crisis On Infinite Earths
Barry Allen is the O.G. of superheroes meeting their demise in the line of duty. In the 1980’s DC event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry sacrifices himself to end the Anti-Monitor’s reign of terror. Anti-Monitor plans to destroy the Earth with an anti-matter cannon, but Barry uses the powers of the speed force to suck in the cannon’s power. It ultimately becomes too much for Barry to contain. Barry stayed dead for decades until DC decided to bring him back to life in 2008’s Final Crisis. Since then, Barry Allen has become the premiere scarlet speedster of the DC Universe.
12. The Fantastic Four Becomes The Fantastic Three
Johnny Storm, AKA the Human Torch, is a member of Marvel’s first family of heroes, the Fantastic Four. Johnny also happened to be the only member of the Fantastic Four to never die – until writer Jonathan Hickman got his hands on the hothead during his massive run on Fantastic Four. As the Fantastic Four are facing a swarm of bug-like creatures in the Negative Zone, the Human Torch sacrifices himself to save The Thing. This put the Fantastic Four down a member – and the Fantastic Three doesn’t have the same ring to it as Fantastic Four. The Amazing Spider-Man, a close friend of Johnny Storm, took his place on the team during his absence. It was revealed Storm survived his battle in the Negative Zone, and he eventually returned to the team and his family.
11. Hal Jordan Meets His Emerald Twilight
In an interesting bit of irony, Hal Jordan’s demise is linked to Superman’s (who we will get to shortly). For now, all you need to know is after Superman died, four Supermen rose up to take his place. One of them, Cyborg Superman, destroyed Hal’s home of Coast City. The trauma of losing his home and loved ones drove him insane and allowed the physical embodiment of fear, Parallax, to possess his body. The entire Green Lantern Corps was wiped out by a crazed Hal Jordan. It took all of the heroes of Earth to stop his rampage. Hal ultimately sacrificed himself to stop a villain named Sun Eater and reignite the Earth’s sun. After becoming the host of the Spectre, Jordan eventually learned the truth about Parallax and his soul was returned to his body.
10. Ultimate Spider-Man Meets His Ultimate Fate
Back in 2000, Marvel Comics launched an alternate world called the Ultimate Universe. The purpose of the Ultimate Universe was for Marvel to re-imagine their classic heroes for a modern audience. Ultimate Spider-Man was the highlight of the Ultimate Universe. Peter Parker’s origin as Spider-Man was freshened up for a new audience, along with new takes on his rogue’s gallery. Almost a decade after publishing Ultimate Spider-Man #1, Marvel killed Peter Parker/Ultimate Spider-Man in the Death of Spider-Man story arc. Spider-Man died battling his nemesis the Green Goblin. With Spider-Man dead, the world learned Peter Parker and Spider-Man were one and the same. Marvel used this opportunity to create a brand new character called Miles Morales, who took up the mantle of the Ultimate Spider-Man. The primary Marvel Universe’s Spider-Man will make his own appearance later on this list.
9. The Student Surpasses The Teacher When Cyclops Cuts Down Professor X
Professor Charles Xavier could show up a few times on this list. The man has faked his death a time or two. However, there is no faking what Professor X’s star pupil, Cyclops, did to him in the crossover event Avengers vs. X-Men. Cyclops gained possession of the powerful Phoenix Force and started to reshape the world in his image. Members of the Avengers and X-Men tried to stop Cyclops, with no success. Charles Xavier thought he could reason with his former protege. Instead, Cyclops took the life out of his mentor. Cyclops blamed his actions on the Phoenix Force, but his friends still see him as a murderer. To add insult to injury, the evil Red Skull stole Xavier’s brain and merged it to his own to utilize Xavier’s telepathic abilities!
8. Wolverine Is The Best There Is At Dying
Wolverine is blessed with the mutant power of a healing factor. This allows him to dive head-first into any situation with no regards for his well-being. So how does one go about killing the unkillable? Easy, by removing his trusty healing factor of course. This is what Marvel did ahead of their Death of Wolverine miniseries in 2014. In the lead up to Death of Wolverine, Logan lost his healing factor to a virus from the microverse. After fighting through a gauntlet of his enemies, Logan is drawn back to the Weapon X program that gave him his adamantium skeleton. There, Logan finds three new test subjects for the adamantium bonding process. In freeing them, Logan sacrifices himself and is encased inside hot liquid adamantium. As it hardens, he suffocates and dies. Wolverine becomes the world’s most unbreakable garden statue.
7. Batman Bites The Omega Bullet
There are a number of instances one can pull from where Batman appeared to meet his final fate. The one I will focus on took place during the end of the 2009 DC event Final Crisis. Batman battled Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips, wounding him in the process. In retaliation, Darkseid vaporized Batman with his Omega Sanction beam. All that remained of the Caped Crusader was a charred corpse. What really happened is Batman was sent back to the past, where he had to use his extraordinary detective skills to find his way back home. What made Batman’s death stand out is it was very similar to another superhero death that took place at almost the exact same time. I’ll get to that death a little later on in this list.
6. Civil War II Adds Bruce Banner To Death Toll
Civil War II has a number of problems, the least of which is the delays in its scheduling that have the finale hitting stores near the end of the year. Another problem is how it’s handled fan-favorite characters like War Machine, Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner.
In the lead-up to Civil War II, Banner was replaced as The Hulk by his friend, Amadeus Cho. Marvel must have decided with Cho as the Totally Awesome Hulk, keeping Banner around wasn’t necessary anymore. The Inhuman Ulysses had a vision that Banner would destroy his friends and allies in a Hulkian rampage. A group of heroes went to confront Banner, and he declared he’d found a cure to turning into The Hulk. With a parade of superheroes in attendance and tensions rising, Hawkeye put Banner out of his misery with an arrow between the eyes in Civil War II #3.
Hawkeye claimed Banner approached him previously and asked that if he ever turned back into the Green Goliath, that Hawkeye would put him down. A court system ultimately ruled that Hawkeye was innocent and released him. The fallout of Hawkeye’s actions will play out in the new series Occupy Avengers.
5. Doctor Octopus Dies, Takes Spider-Man With Him
Try to stay with me, because this might get a little confusing. Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus, learned he was dying from all the abuse his body has taken over the years at the hands of the Amazing Spider-Man. Knowing he was nearing the end, he devised a diabolical plan to save himself while one-upping Spider-Man.
Doc Ock gained the ability to transfer his consciousness into the metallic body of his Octobots. He then used one of the bots to swap his brain into the body of his arch-nemesis. Octavius retained all of Spider-Man’s memories, while Spidey’s brainwaves went into the villain’s dying body.
As Amazing Spider-Man #500 ended, it appeared Spider-Man died inside Doctor Octopus’ body. Spidey made Octavius promise him that he’d continue the legacy of both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. It was then that Octavius vowed to become the Superior Spider-Man. We soon learned in Superior Spider-Man #1 that part of Peter’s consciousness still lived inside Spider-Man, and he was able to reclaim control over his body and kick Doc Ock out.
4. Fans Vote To Kill Off Jason Todd Robin
It’s rare that comic book fans get to have a say in how a storyline plays out. In 1988, DC Comics decided to allow fans to vote via the telephone on whether Robin, The Boy Wonder, would perish at the hands of the Joker in A Death in the Family. The Jason Todd iteration of Robin wasn’t well received by fans, so in a close vote, the verdict came down to kill Robin. This was unprecedented in the world of comics – fans being allowed to vote for one, and the result of that deciding if a character lives or dies.
Joker proceeded to beat Robin with a crowbar and left him to die in an explosion. Whenever Jason Todd was referenced going forward, it was in relation to the machinations behind the decision to kill him. DC finally brought Jason Todd back to life as the vigilante Red Hood, and he’s back to working alongside Batman.
3. Captain America Is A Casualty Of The Superhero Civil War
Captain America may not have died in the blockbuster film Captain America: Civil War, but he did bite the big one immediately following the comic book mega-event of the same name.
The comic book and movie Civil War both saw Captain America and Iron Man on opposing sides of superhero registration. After battle lines were drawn and blood was shed, Steve Rogers decided to surrender rather than continue to fight his friends. As he’s being led up a set of steps, it appears he’s shot down by a sniper. What really happened is while Crossbones shot from above, a brainwashed Sharon Carter delivers the fatal shot right next to Cap.
Remember in #7 how I said Batman’s death was similar to another hero’s? That hero would be Captain America. The gun Sharon used to shoot Cap was really a device that froze him in space and time. Captain America is experiencing everything from his past, just like Batman did. The race is on to bring Cap back to the present, which ultimately happens.
2. A Phoenix Shall Rise Again… And Again….. And Again
The X-Men’s Jean Grey may be the poster child for comic book resurrections. She has died and been brought back to life more times than any other high profile comic book character. Her first “death” took place while the X-Men were in space battling the Shi’ar Empire.
Jean took on the power of the Phoenix Force, which is a cosmic entity with enormous powers. The Phoenix Force basically turned Jean into a God, with the power to wipe out planets with a single thought. It started to corrupt her, which led to the infamous Dark Phoenix Saga where Jean destroyed a solar system while under the influence of the Phoenix Force. Galactic empires like the Kree and the Shi’ar wanted Jean to perish for her actions, but the X-Men and specifically her boyfriend, Cyclops, stood beside her. In a battle on the dark side of the moon, the X-Men took on the Shi’ar Imperial Guard with Jean’s fate resting in the balance. In the end, Jean sacrificed herself rather than see more people die at her hands.
It turns out the Jean that died on the moon was a duplicate the Phoenix Force created when it took over her body, and the real Jean Grey was alive and in stasis on Earth.
1. The Man of Steel vs. The Ultimate Killing Machine, Doomsday
The Death of Superman in 1992 rocked the comic book landscape. The Man of Steel was believed to be unbeatable, and the thought of him somehow dying was crazy. DC Comics proved this to be false by creating a brand new threat for Superman named Doomsday. Doomsday had no backstory upon his introduction. He simply showed up and started running through the Justice League International until Superman arrives. The two brawl across the country, ending with the final fight at Superman’s home city of Metropolis.
Superman and Doomsday deliver killing blows to one another, ending their path of destruction. The DC Universe mourns the loss of their most heralded sign of truth, justice, and the American way. The fallout of The Death of Superman was the emergence of four new replacement Supermen – The Man of Steel (John Irons as the armored hero Steel), The Man of Tomorrow (Cyborg Superman), The Metropolis Kid (a teenage clone of Superman that later became Superboy), and The Last Son of Krypton (Eradicator, former villain of Superman). It was during this Reign of the Supermen that Coast City, home of the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, was destroyed.
The real Superman is revived when the Eradicator steals his body and takes it to the Fortress of Solitude. He then harnesses Superman’s powers using a regeneration matrix, which Superman escapes from.