Once upon a time, many moons ago, death was a huge, huge thing in the comic book world. Simply put, regardless of how many battles or nefarious plans were undertaken, whatever occurred would usually end up with the bad guy either getting locked up in prison or somehow just about managing to escape from our beloved heroes.
That, of course, all changed, and the age-old moniker was that nobody stays dead in comics except for Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Even that, though, is no longer accurate, for Bucky Barnes would eventually be brought back to life as the totally badass Winter Soldier, and then Jason Todd would be resurrected and become an all-round uber-cool character, whether as The Red Hood, Nightwing, or even Arsenal. Luckily for us, Uncle Ben has at least had the decency to remain dead and buried (at least in mainstream continuity).
Still, even though death in comic books is pretty much old hat nowadays, that doesn’t mean that a death can’t shock readers to their cores in how it's handled or in its consequences. Even now, seeing a hero or villain take their (supposed) final breath can still send a chill up your spine if showcased in the correct way.
So with that said, here’s 20 of the most shocking, sinister and chilling deaths in mainstream comic book history.
20 The Death Of Jean DeWolff
After having a good amount of time invested in her in order to make her Spider-Man’s equivalent of Jim Gordon, Jean DeWolff had been positioned as a major player in the world of the Wall-crawler. That all came to an abrupt halt, though, when Police Captain DeWolff was shockingly murdered by the Sin Eater.
What was most chilling and game-changing about DeWolff’s death was the grim and dark tone it gave the Spidey books of the day. After The Death of Jean DeWolff arc, things would never be the same for Spider-Man, with a layer of gritty realism and violence now painted across his regular stories.
Acting as an almost dark noir tale, this story took away the warm, fuzzy, quip-centric Spider-Man stories so many had become accustomed to, and it instead shook things up in a way that had interest piqued as readers were drawn in by the “real” feel of The Death of Jean DeWolff and the work of writer Peter David.
19 Barry Allen’s Ultimate Sacrifice
While The CW’s The Flash has Barry Allen’s Scarlet Speedster as its focal point, that’s not always been the case where The Flash’s comic book stories were concerned.
To many, the greatest incarnation of The Flash is actually Wally West, who took over the mantle following Barry’s death in 1986 as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Managing to foil the world-decimating plan of the Anti-Monitor, the Sultan of Speed goes at such a speed and pulls in such power that his body simply burns away in an act of ultimate heroism.
The act itself was a huge, shocking one, but even more unnerving was that this marked one of the first times that a truly huge comic book character was killed off.
In a world where comic book deaths nowadays often mean very little and rarely stick, Barry Allen actually remained dead for over two decades before returning in 2008 as part of the huge Final Crisis event.
18 Wolverine’s Unforgettable Birthday
Sure, we’ve all received those boring, poorly thought-out birthday presents before, but none of us will have ever had anything anywhere near as bad as what poor Wolverine got one year.
Back in 1989, Silver Fox was introduced to comic book fans as Wolverine’s ‘one true’. Well, one of his ‘one trues’, for Logan has been known to fall madly, deeply in love with anyone who gives him a fleeting glance over the decades. But with a healing factor all of her own, not to mention how she barely aged, Fox really did seem like the perfect life mate for Wolvie. That is until Sabretooth got his claws into her on ol’ Canucklehead’s birthday.
With Wolverine having nipped out, the villainous Victor Creed entered Wolvie and Silver Fox’s home before raping and killing Fox. Left as a morbid birthday present, Wolverine returned home to find the cold, abused body of his partner waiting for him.
17 The Death Of Damian Wayne
Where Damian Wayne is concerned, the character has had an up and down time of it since being brought into main canon in 2006.
Brought into the mainstream by Grant Morrison, the character was initially rejected by a lot of longtime fans. This son of Bruce Wayne was deemed annoying and irritating to many. Then, something changed; Damian began to steal the show in whatever stories he was in, as he sought to prove himself better than previous Robins and would regularly quip wise in an arrogant way that was somehow endearing.
And then he died.
In Batman Inc. #8, Damian was shockingly killed by an artificially-aged clone of himself dubbed the Heretic. To make this even more emotional and chilling are his final words with Dick Grayson, whom he shared a special bond with as the Robin to Dick’s Batman.
As Damian said what a pleasure it was to fight at the side of “Richard”, it suddenly got a tad dusty in the room of many readers.
16 Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe
What’s so chilling about the Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe graphic novel is that it shows just how clinical and twisted someone like the Merc with a Mouth could be if they really put their mind to it and decided to stop fighting for the good guys.
Even though this particular graphic novel was doused in sarcastic humour and had its tongue firmly in its cheek, it was still a shocking (if not totally, totally entertaining) read to dive into. As Wade Wilson embarks on a mission to destroy the actual Marvel universe, we see him butchering the likes of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, The Punisher, Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, The X-Men and so many more in a whole wide variety of unique ways.
But still, it’s tales like that which get you thinking “what if…?” when it comes to all-powerful heroes having bad days or deciding to change their allegiance. Still, this particular time made for a hugely enjoyable read.
15 Televised Murder
After Max Lord killed the Blue Beetle and then manipulated things so that Superman attacked Batman, Wonder Woman, and anyone else who happened to get in the Man of Steel’s way, the genius criminal mastermind pushed things just a little too far for one of DC’s greatest heroes.
Finally having enough of Max and his villainous ways, Wonder Woman actually snaps the neck of Lord.
This in itself was a huge moment, but it was only amplified by the fact that the Brother Eye system beamed this horrific act out across the globe, in turn tarnishing the name of Wonder Woman, the Justice League as a whole, and the very concept of superheroes and their place in the world.
The repercussions of this would be felt deep and far in the DC comic book world, and it was a moment that caused superheroes everywhere to have to prove their worth and trustworthiness to the regular everyday folks who inhabit the DC world.
Marvel’s 2009 Ultimatum story is one that often gets slammed by longtime comic book readers, and it was so awful that it completely turned some readers off of Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe altogether.
Despite its place as one of the most hated arcs in comics history, it did offer up one of the most memorable images of recent years. That being The Blob actually eating The Wasp!
Whilst Wasp may have already been dead, seeing the villainous Blob devouring her lifeless torso was a chilling, sinister moment that has stuck with fans to this day.
And what better way to top one memorable, shocking death? Why, you thrown in another one straight after. Upon Wasp’s other half, Hank Pym, turning up at the scene in his Giant Man guise, the grieving, mortified Pym responded by biting Blob’s head clean off.
13 Max Lord Squashes The Blue Beetle
Talk about one way to deal with a big problem…
After being rumbled by Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, during 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Max Lord deals with this problem by clinically executing Kord where he stands.
Criminal genius Lord had by this point in time amassed a whole host of knowledge on the Justice League and its various members. With a plan in place to neutralize the League due to his view that these heroes were a threat to Earth, Max is startled by the arrival of the Blue Beetle on the scene.
Deciding to offer this fan favourite hero and former JL member the chance to join him in putting his plan into action, Lord swiftly shoots Blue Beetle in the head when Kord refuses to join the crazed rogue. This was made even more ironic and chilling by the fact that the usually light-hearted Beetle had previously warned the Justice League not to trust Max Lord.
12 The Pupil Kills The Master
In the realm of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier is a beloved figure of many a comic book character and reader. And despite the X-tales of yesteryear having seen Chuck killed off at several points, his more recent death is one that shocked many of us.
The fact that Professor X was killed wasn’t the big shocker, but rather it was who carried out the murder that was the big twist here. Possessed by the Phoenix, it was Cyclops, aka Xavier’s whiter-than-white star pupil for so long, who killed off the Professor.
Not content with killing off Charles, Marvel then proceeded to have the X-Men’s creator’s body stolen by the Red Skull, who in turn planted Xavier’s genius mind into his own…. because… well, because crazed Nazi scientist, that’s why.
11 Kicked To Death
It comes as no surprise these days to see a Flash die; after all, pretty much any and all speedsters have died at least once, and Wally West must be nearing double figures by this point in time!
What was most chilling (and disappointing) about the death of Bart Allen in 2007’s The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 was the way in which Bart was killed. No saving existence itself, no being absorbed into the Speed Force, no being pushed out of the timestream, and not even being shot in the chest out in the middle of the desert. No, for Bart he was simply kicked to death by The Rogues.
After his powers leave him due to a battle with Inertia – which some actually blame on Wally West’s reemergence – Bart is left surrounded by the likes of Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Heatwave, and they decide to make the most of the powerless Flash and literally kick him to death.
A cold and brutal way to go out, the former Kid Flash and Impulse had the most anticlimactic Flash death ever.
10 The Commander’s Payback
Mark Millar has never been one to avoid controversy, and his run on The Authority saw him again pushing the boundaries of what many would consider good taste.
At this point in the game, the leader of the bad guys, The Commander, has been established to be a total bastard of the highest order, especially when it comes to being a serial rapist. Not only that, but he actually raped one of the title’s heroes, Apollo.
Despite this heinous act, Apollo’s mission for revenge sees him leaving the bloody and battered Commander alive. When Apollo’s partner Midnighter turns up, though, payback is the order of the day.
In an act that shocked many, Midnighter gets some semblance of revenge by apparently raping Commander with a jackhammer. As the old saying goes, payback is certainly a b*tch.
9 Sue Dibny’s Disturbing Demise
In the DC comic book realm, Sue Dibny and husband Ralph, aka Elongated Man, were often depicted as the idyllic couple who took part in lighthearted mysteries for the most part. Then came 2004’s Identity Crisis.
It was in this arc that Sue was to meet her shocking and twisted end.
When The Atom’s separated wife Jean Loring tried to win back her former beau, she decided that a logical way of doing so would be to threaten those close to his fellow Justice League pals – such as poor Sue Dibny.
When a threatening phone call to Sue triggered an aneurysm to pop in her brain and kill her, that was just the tip of the iceberg. To cover her tracks, Jean set fire to Sue’s house and corpse! After that, it was revealed that not only was Sue pregnant at the time, but she’d also been raped years prior by Doctor Light.
In terms of a creepy checkbox, the death of Sue Dibny has it all.
8 Doctor Octopus Becomes Spider-Man
What was most chilling about the 2012 demise of Peter Parker was that not only did Doctor Octopus essentially kill Peter, he actually became Peter and thus became Spider-Man. In terms of one-upping your longtime foes, taking over their actual being is a pretty impressive move.
In the Dying Wish arc, Otto Octavius managed to actually switch bodies with Peter. At this point in time, though, Doc Ock’s body was on its last legs and dying. By placing his own consciousness inside Parker’s body, Otto forced Peter’s conscious into the decaying near-corpse of Octavius.
From there, the Superior Spider-Man book was launched in which Doc Ock paraded around as Spidey, doing his best to outdo his longtime rival and prove he can be better than Parker ever was. Of course, Peter would still have a part to play when it was revealed that his subconscious still existed as a ghost of sorts within Spider-Ock’s body.
After a year or so of this, Peter would indeed return to his own body as Spider-Man, but it had been a far more interesting ride than many had expected.
7 The Joker Pushes Superman’s Buttons
Ah, Superman: the brightest shining light of the superhero world, the beacon of hope, the boy scout.
As such, you know things are getting mightily messed up when said Big Blue Boy Scout starts ripping people’s hearts out of their chests. Well, that’s exactly what happened in the Injustice comic book that served as a precursor for the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game.
With it revealed that Joker had tricked the Man of Steel into destroying Metropolis – including a pregnant Lois Lane – Superman snaps and punches a hole through the Clown Prince of Crime’s chest while a shocked Batman watches on.
In terms of heroes carrying out horrendous acts, this chilling incident is right up there.
6 Green Lantern’s Girl Gets Chilled
Not long after he became a Green Lantern in 1994, Kyle Rayner was faced with a horrifying sight.
Returning home to his apartment one night, Kyle found his longtime girlfriend Alexandra DeWitt dead and stuffed into a refrigerator courtesy of the nefarious Major Force.
This was meant to serve as the driving force behind Rayner’s career as a hero – much like Uncle Ben’s death motivated Peter Parker – but instead it led to the coining of the phrase ‘Women in Refrigerators’ which was used to label the needless use of women in comics as mere plot points rather than treating females as equals in the comic book realm.
Inadvertently, the death of Alexandra DeWitt led to a drive for gender equality within the comics industry.
5 The Joker Skins Monty
Poor, poor Monty.
In the 2008 graphic novel known simply as Joker, comic book fans were treated to a depiction of the Jester of Genocide that’s as brutal, sick and twisted as we’ve ever seen.
Here, we had a Joker who raped the ex-wife of henchman Jonny Frost, made a bank manager beat the meat over a picture of his own daughter, and then there was the unfortunate figure of Monty.
In an incarnation of Mr. J that resembled a cross between Heath Ledger’s take on the character and Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, Monty found himself skinned from head to toe and left to die a slow and painful death.
The Joker has carried out many heinous acts over the decades, but none rank as disturbing as what played out in Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s graphic novel.
4 Spider-Man Kills His Marriage
The One More Day comic book arc is one that caused outrage amongst longtime fans of the Wall-crawler, and rightly so for how it depicted Peter Parker as nothing more than a selfish jerk.
In the aftermath of Peter publicly revealing himself as Spider-Man on live TV during Civil War, that leads to Aunt May being targeted and killed. Distraught, Spidey seeks to strike up a deal with the Devil himself, Mephisto.
That deal? Why, Mephisto said he could make Spider-Man’s identity a secret once more, in turn bringing Aunt May back from the dead. The cost? Well, Peter would see his marriage to the then-pregnant Mary Jane erased.
Despite visits from the spirits of Aunt May and his unborn daughter berating him for his selfishness, Peter went through with the deal and killed his marriage. And with that, the collective comic book world groaned in disgust.
3 They Killed The Batman?!
Like so many comic book deaths, the Caped Crusader would eventually return, but for once it really did seem like Batman was dead after biting off more than his mere mortal being could chew.
With Darkseid and his New Gods causing carnage during 2008’s Final Crisis, it effectively came down to the World’s Greatest Detective to stand up for the planet.
After Martian Manhunter had been killed, Hal Jordan framed for murder, Lois Lane injured to distract Superman, and Wonder Woman infected with a disease, it came down to Gotham’s famed protector to save the planet in a one-on-one battle with the uber-powerful Darkseid; a foe who has been known to best the entire Justice League at times.
Getting off a radion bullet shot that would mortally wound Darkseid, Batman would be killed in the process thanks to the supervillain’s Omega Beams. And with that, we were given the iconic, chilling image of Superman cradling the charred remains of the Dark Knight.
2 The Death Of Ultimate Spider-Man
When it comes to a comic book tale that will leave you bawling like a baby, look no further than what unfolded in Ultimate Spider-Man #160. As had been announced months prior, this was to be the issue in which the Ultimate universe’s Peter Parker took his final breath. And man, was it emotional.
After the Green Goblin and his cronies target Spider-Man with the plan to finally kill off ol’ Web-head, for once this plan comes to fruition. Managing to save Aunt Many and Gwen Stacy, this standoff in Queens saw Peter die in the arms of a sobbing Mary Jane Watson.
What was so impactful about this whole situation was how it really hit home that this was merely a teenage boy; a young man just trying to do what was best by the world and by those close to him.
1 A Death In The Family
In the infamous 1988 tale A Death in the Family, comic book readers got to see The Joker at his worst.
After years of being seen as a – no pun intended – joke figure, the Clown Prince of Crime upped his game in 1988, paralyzing Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke and going one step further by killing poor Jason Todd in A Death in the Family.
Luring Todd out to Ethiopia to find his birth mother, The Joker put in place a scheme that ended with him brutally and bloodily beating Batman’s second Robin to near-death with a crowbar before an explosion takes out the building entirely… leaving Batman to turn up just in time to pull the dead body of the Boy Wonder from the rubble.
It was hard-hitting, it was shocking, it was sinister, and it proved to be one of the most famous moments in comic book history.
Sources: Marvel.com, DCComics.com, Wikipedia.com