10 Comic Book Deaths That Angered The World –
In reality, death has no meaning whatsoever to comic book characters. However, in the hearts and minds of comic book readers, the demise of a popular character can be a matter of life and…Well, you get the idea.
Classic comic book deaths like that of Jean Grey in 1980s Dark Phoenix saga or Barry Allen in 1985 – 86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths provided fans with new talking points and writers with new storylines to explore. How would Cyclops, Jeans long-time lover, handle the death of his partner? How would former Kid Flash Wally West step up to the plate and become The Flash for a whole new generation?
However, since the sellout success of 1992’s classic Death of Superman series, comic book deaths can also be used as a cynical marketing tool, or worse, as the culmination points of shallow, editorially mandated crossover events, placed at, or near to the storys climax in order to give these baseless tales some sort of lasting impact, or meaning. In any instance, the one thing to remember is NOT TO PANIC, comic book characters always return in the end (and more often than not, with improved powers and a shiny new costume).
So ubiquitous (and so rarely lasting) are comic book deaths, that Wikipedia even has a page about them. The first lines of which read, “In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic-book death. While death is a serious subject, a comic-book death is generally not taken seriously and is rarely permanent or meaningful.”
10. Jason Todd (AKA Robin MK II)
The writer/artist team of Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo plunged Batman into one of his darkest adventures ever with 1988 -89’s A Death in the Family. Whilst the tale itself was a fairly enjoyable globetrotting romp, the kernel of the story was that young Jason Todd, the second Robin and successor to Dick Grayson (who had grown up and was plying his super-trade as Nightwing at the time) was searching for his long-lost mother and, in the process, some stability in his troubled life.
To make Robin’s life worse, the readers pretty much hated him. Jason Todd, ginger-haired circus acrobat turned orphan, was introduced to readers in 1983. He was annoying, he was a Dick Grayson clone, and he was ginger. It could be argued that his fate was sealed from the word go…
Despite super-writer Doug Moench doing some very good work with the character, the fans still weren’t buying him. Following the massive DC event Crisis on Infinite Earths, Todd’s backstory was retconned by Dick Tracey/Road To Perdition writer Max Allan Collins, who re-created Robin MK II as a street-smart orphan, who survived by his quick wits and faster fists. Despite being a compelling and fresh take on the character, the readership still queued up around the block to crap on the new Robin. So, in 1989, DC killed him off. In death, Jason Todd, the second Robin, proved to be a far greater sales boost than he ever had been in life.
DC put the death of Robin to a reader vote and readers voted to kill him. Oddly enough, as the fans celebrated Jason’s demise (only to warmly embrace the arrival of Todd’s successor, the more mature, considered and brainy Tim Drake, in 1989’s A Lonely Place of Dying), the media were understandably upset that the comic book publishers had killed Robin off. The story garnered an enormous amount of column inches and anger-fuelled debates considering that it was, in fact, a comic book.
The major problem with the arguments of the moral majority, however, was not that DC was putting out comic books that depicted a teenage boy getting his skull smashed in by a grinning homicidal lunatic with a crowbar, it was that they were apparently outraged by the killing off of Batman’s youthful ward, Dick Grayson. Yes, amidst all the chaos, almost none of the outraged media watchdogs had read a comic book in their lives – and even less of them had actually even heard of Jason Todd, the very character whose death they were so violently protesting.
9. Aunt May
Aunt May, the dizzy, frail and perpetually worried foster mother of young Peter Parker, had to pop her geriatric clogs sooner or later. The woman who had cared for Spider Man since his earliest appearance in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy Issue 15, cooking him wheatcakes for breakfast and bringing him crackers and milk because he looked a little tired, had been teetering on the verge of death for decades. Peter had obsessively worried about her medical bills, about leaving her to live alone, about her bizarre romantic tryst with Doctor Octopus (no, really) and far more besides, for years.
In fact, by the time old Aunt May actually died, the characters’ roles had pretty much been reversed and poor old Peter spent more time worrying about May than she did about him. In the events leading up to 1995’s Amazing Spider Man issue 400, May slipped into a coma, fracturing the lives of Spidey’s entire supporting cast. Writer J.M DeMatteis and penciller Mark Bagley crafted a genuinely harrowing scene where Peter recalled May reading him Peter Pan as a child – and before he could finish the immortal line second star to the right and straight on until morning she was gone. A grieving Peter, whose life had already been shattered by May’s sickness, simply collapsed over her body, weeping uncontrollably.
It was an intensely Human moment for a comic book about a guy that swings around New York City on a web and catches thieves, just like flies – and it was wholly relatable to anybody that has lost an elderly relative after worrying about them for years. Still, the fans intensely disliked Aunt May’s death. Maybe it was just too much reality for a fantasy medium. Comic book creators are still trying to get that balance right, even today… Unsurprisingly, May was brought back to life a few years later. In one of the hokiest (and by far the most tasteless) retcons in comics history, the long-dead Norman Osborn (AKA Green Goblin MK I) revealed that the last few years of Spidey’s life had been one long, insanely overcomplicated scheme and that the Aunt May that died was actually an actress, genetically altered to look like the real Aunt May. Or something. Sorry, what? I wasn’t listening…
8. Wally West (AKA The Flash MK III)
Not all superheroes are killed by cosmic events; some are simply erased from existence altogether… Wally West first appeared in 1959, in a classic silver age story by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. The nephew of Barry Allen (Flash MK II), Wally assumed the identity of Kid Flash and accompanied his Uncle Barry on his various adventures in much the same way that Aqualad, Speedy, Etta Candy and Robin accompanied Aquaman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman and Batman, respectively.
Then came Barry’s death during the culmination of the Crisis on Infinite Earths event. The death of The Flash was treated by fans as a genuine tragedy and few spoke out against it. In fact, to modern comics fans, the first Crisis and the death of The Flash is seen as the definite ending of the Silver Age and thus, the dawning of the Modern Age of comics… Wallys ascent to becoming The Flash MK III was long-form comic book storytelling at its finest. Wally was a very different character to Barry and the fans found him irritating at first. Where his predecessor was dependable, confident and poised – the epitome of the Silver Age superhero – Wally was reckless, brash and, at times, totally stupid.
Still, the fans eventually warmed up to Wally as he slowly filled out his uncle’s costume. An utterly superb run by writer Mark Waid completely fleshed out the character and he became, essentially, the Barry Allen of the 1990s and 2000s, thoroughly beloved by comics fans. Then, it all went pear shaped. For some reason, Wally buggered off to an alternate universe, leaving Bart Allen, the kid speedster known as Impulse (who, despite being named after a deodorant, had headlined a really fun solo series in the 1990s, as drawn by an upcoming Humberto Ramos), to become the Flash MK IV. This time around, Bart had been aged somehow into adulthood, which meant that the fans had been cheated out of a long-promised bildungsroman. This new Flash was a complete unknown to DC readers, many of whom had come of age reading Wally West stories and had no interest in the publishers attempt to re-create the third Flash’s origin story.
Bart Allen’s tenure as the Flash MK IV proved intensely unpopular with fans and ended up getting cancelled. After just over a year of publication, Bart was dead and Wally was being welcomed back into the fold. This new Wally, however, was weighed down by two bratty kids and a fairly crappy life which was, once again, much too close to reality for a lot of the 80s and 90s kids that had grown up with Wally. Finally, following on from the runaway success of Green Lantern: Rebirth (which saw the return of Silver Age Green lantern Hal Jordan), creative team Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver published The Flash: Rebirth, which re-positioned a newly resurrected Barry Allen once again as the primary Flash. Wally West took his final, somewhat sad bow in 2011, when DC re-launched and re-booted its entire line under the banner of The New 52 initiative.
In this new universe, Barry Allen was the one and only Flash and Wally West had apparently never existed in the first place. Although his presence has been cruelly teased a few times since then, Wally West, as we knew him, apparently died the worst possible death a comic book hero can endure. With no fanfare, no variant covers, no commemorative merchandise and no follow-up issues depicting spandex-clad funeral processions, Wally was simply retconned out of existence. …And boy, the fans were mad about that one. If a character dies on the page, he/she may well return, but if they simply cease to exist, erased from continuity because of DCs fears that their supposedly hip new audience wouldn’t be able to handle the presence of more than one character per story, then all bets are off.
7. J’onn J’onzz (AKA Martian Manhunter)
The general consensus among comic book fans was that the death of Martian Manhunter in 2008 was a fairly pointless one, tacked on at the beginning of DC’s Final Crisis event in an attempt to boost sales. Murdered by the villain Libra in the very first instalment of Final Crisis, many fans were outraged by how easily the Martian bit the dust.
In addition to having survived the extermination of his entire species and the death of at least one superhero team, J’onn has also emerged unscathed from numerous cancellations, re-designs and retcons throughout his 50+ year publishing history. Besides, J’onn J’onzz was (at least) as powerful as Superman. Surely he could have overwhelmed his murderers? It just didn’t make sense.
Of course, DC had a plan. During the blockbuster 2009 event Blackest Night, dead characters from throughout the universe began to rise again as evil zombies, controlled by the monstrous Nekron. Martian Manhunter was among them. This evil version of J’onn J’onzz gave The Flash and Green Lantern quite the run around in the earlier parts of the story, which not only reminded us just how powerful J’onn is, but also how much wed all missed him in the, um, few months hed been away. At the culmination of the story, as the white light of life returns several deceased characters from the grave, Superman exclaims ‘J’onn! You’re alive!’ to which our favourite Martian smiles to himself and simply replies It appears so. And with that, an entire fanbase smiled with him.
In 1992, the world’s media reported that Superman, the first and greatest of the superheroes, was about to die. People went, to put it mildly, absolutely apesh!t. Now, it seems odd to remember just how insane people were about all this, but they really did go utterly crazy. Outraged journalists and magazine columnists (the vast majority of whom hadn’t read a Superman comic since childhood) poured their anger into ill-researched editorial columns, whilst gullible consumers queued up around the world to buy multiple copies of the collectible commemorative issues, with visions of luxury cruises and penthouse suites dancing in their heads.
Fans, for their part, were mostly just very excited. Everybody wants to be present at a moment in history and this was to be the biggest thing that could possibly have happened, or ever would happen, in their time reading comics. Or so they thought. In reality, The Death of Superman was a neatly told event that encompassed 7 issues, culminating in the slobberknocker that was Superman Issue 75, where Supes and Doomsday both apparently died from their respective wounds.
The real story was told in the World Without A Superman story arc, which was both poignant and moving, while the third act of the story, the aptly entitled Return of Superman, was used as a springboard for more stories in the DCU than could be adequately listed here. The sad legacy of Superman’s death and subsequent return, however, is not the amount of money it generated, or how many lives it touched, or even how many enduring stories, scenarios and characters emerged from it.
No, the true tragedy of Supermans demise was that it taught the bean counters at the parent companies of comic book publishers that death is good for business. The Death of Superman story cycle ignited our imaginations and drove sales into the stratosphere, it was a key foundation stone for the aforementioned comics boom of the 1990s. It also inexorably shaped today’s comics, for better or for worse…
5. Hal Jordan (AKA Green Lantern)
During the events of The Return of Superman story arc, Coast City, home of the legendary Green Lantern Hal Jordan, was completely and utterly destroyed. Accordingly, an irate Jordan, the city’s protector, helped a newly resurrected Superman take out the villains responsible (Mongul and The Cyborg Superman). The comics-reading world celebrated, but Green Lantern’s trouble was just beginning…
In an effort to boost sales, DC editorial decided to kill another major hero, but this time, as a unique twist, they thought they’d turn him evil first. Unable to deal with the destruction of Coast City, Hal embarked on a quest to re-make the city he loved. When The Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corps tried to stop him, Hal simply killed them all, before adopting the name and identity of the evil Parallax. In DC’s 1994 Zero Hour event, Hal went a step further even than that and attempted to re-write reality entirely. As the entire universe was nearly wiped out, Oliver Queen, Hal’s best friend, shot him through the heart with an arrow. Finally, evil Hal achieved a measure of redemption by sacrificing his own life to save earths sun at the end of 1996’s Final Night event.
Fans of Hal Jordan were, to put it bluntly, less than impressed. That the greatest of the Green Lanterns had died was bad enough, that he had died less than two years after trying to un-make reality was perceived as a massive step too far. For a decade, new GL Kyle Rayner served the universe as the last of the Green Lanterns, proving to be a compelling and likeable character in his own right, but, in 2004, the one-man event machine that is Geoff Johns reintroduced Hal Jordan, creating arguably the greatest retcon of all time when he suggested that Parallax was, in fact, a separate entity from Jordan and that it had taken over the Green Lantern’s soul by exploiting his guilt and grief over the destruction of Coast City. Fans were much happier and on that day, we spelled redemption H A L.
4. Ralph & Sue Dibny (AKA The Elongated Man & Sue Dibny)
Generally lauded as a modern day masterpiece, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis is nevertheless an extremely depressing story. One of the major talking points of the story was the death of Sue Dibny, detective partner and wife of The Elongated Man, AKA Ralph Dibny. At one point in this tragic tale, readers discovered that poor old Sue had also been raped by Silver Age villain (and retroactive sex offender) Dr. Light. As if that wasn’t grim enough, she was also pregnant with Ralph’s kid at the time of her death. Yeesh. It seems pretty obvious that Brad Meltzer was badly bullied in his childhood by somebody with the surname Dibny.
Ralph and Sue Dibny were, in many ways, the last vestiges of Silver Age innocence still extant in the DCU. They were happily married, they travelled the world solving mysteries and, due to being a backup feature for most of their publication history, had largely escaped being reinvented by would be Moore and Miller copycats as gritty or conflicted anti heroes in the 80s and 90s. Of course, it made perfect sense for Sue Dibny to be raped. Then murdered and then burned. Did we mentioned she got burned? Because yeah, she also got burned. Most comics fans didn’t mind this, but Sue’s fictitious death became a major discussion point about misogyny in comics and contemporary fiction.
Many women were upset about a sweet, innocent, non-powered character like Sue Dibny being raped, then murdered and then burned. Understandably so. Ralph, her grieving husband, lived through a hellstorm of personal torment throughout the following weekly 52 event, before finally dying in what was, essentially, a glorified suicide. Lovely. Of course, the pair returned as murderous zombies during the Blackest Night event. And we comics fans wonder why our stuff isn’t taken seriously by the rest of the world…
The X-Men’s arch nemesis ever since the team’s first appearance in Issue 1, Magneto, master of magnetism, had a fully formed manifesto right from the outset. ‘The Human race no longer deserves dominion over the planet earth!’ he cried, ‘the day of the mutants is upon us!’ Magneto was always the violent separatist to Charles Xaviers peaceful integrationist.
In 1963, when the first issue of X-Men hit the stands, the civil rights movement in America was just starting to hot up. Just a few months earlier, Martin Luther King had written his famous letter from Birmingham Jail and just one year before that, the enrolment of a black student at the university of Mississippi had caused so many riots that President Kennedy had to call in over 5,000 troops. All of these incidents, along with the rise of the hippy antiestablishment counter-culture, influenced X-Men creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and, like the best sci-fi/fantasy/superfiction, the X-Men strip reflected the tumultuous times in which it was written.
Eventually, writer Chris Claremont had softened the character, imbuing him with the soul of a poet, a deep sense of honour and an artful, hard-edged masculinity that broke the character down along jagged new lines. Claremont did a wonderful job re-positioning Magneto as a tortured, layered and endearingly Human character who had a great deal of reasoning and bitter justification behind his fanatically anti-Human stance. In Claremont’s hands, Magneto was shown to have grown up during the Holocaust, surviving the horror of Nazi death camps and seeing Human bigotry at its absolute ugliest. So, when Magneto founded The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, you can be assured that he wanted the word evil used in inverted commas. He was obviously being facetious. Maybe. However, writer Grant Morrison’s controversial (yet still very good) New X-Men series returned Magneto to first principles, as a genocidal mutant death machine intent on world domination. The character’s apparent death occurred in the first issue of the series, but his legacy was alluded to throughout Morrison’s run, especially in the ubiquitous presence of Che Guevara-esque Magneto Was Right t-shirts that populated Xavier’s school.
When Magneto revealed that he wasn’t actually dead and had, in fact, been masquerading as the X-Man Xorn, the fans were baffled. When that same character, high on super-drugs, tore through New York City and rendered it asunder, they were furious. The tragic events of 9/11 were still fresh in the mind of America and the image of Magneto, mutant terrorist extraordinaire, ripping the Statue of Liberty in two and marching Humans towards death camps was a little too on the nose for many readers. At the end of the Planet X story arc, the younger mutant generation rejected Magneto and Charles Xavier once again had the last word. This led an embittered Magneto to murder Jean Grey in cold blood, which prompted Wolverine, in turn, to behead the behelmeted bastard. The fans were outraged. Marvel editors eagerly began dismantling any/all lingering effects of the story and retconning everything about it the minute Grant had handed in his notice and returned, once more, to the welcoming bosom of DC Comics.
2. Damian Wayne (AKA Robin MK IV)
Not content with the massacre of millions of mutants on the island of Genosha, the death of Magneto and the (apparent) death of Batman during Final Crisis, Grant Morrison is also responsible for the death of Damian Wayne, the fourth (unless you count the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tenure of Stephanie Brown) incarnation of Robin. The character of Damian Wayne first appeared in 1987’s Batman: Son of the Demon graphic novel.
The story was considered non-canonical, but that didn’t stop the son of Batman showing up in numerous other stories. He appeared as Ibn al Xuffasch in the epic adventure Kingdom Come, amongst a fair few other appearances, but hed never been considered official until Morrison introduced him during his 2006 story Batman & Son. Fans initially hated the bratty, over-privileged Damian, not least because he entered Batmans life by beating up Alfred, critically wounding Robin (Tim Drake) and outright murdering Silver Age villain The Spook. Apparently, Morrison’s original concept was to kill the character at the culmination of Batman & Son, but instead he decided to really make the character popular…And then kill him. Comics, they are a grisly business indeed.
So it came to pass that, upon the disappearance of Batman, Damian Wayne inherited the mantle of Robin from Tim Drake (who became Red Robin) and paired up with new Batman Dick Grayson against an army of brightly coloured sadists in Morrison’s gleeful Batman: Reborn storyline. During this period, fans grew to genuinely love Damian for his bravery and tactless honesty, as well as for his pomposity and arrogance. The character revealed a fondness for animals and a genuine desire to help the less fortunate. In addition, the big brother/little brother pairing of Dick and Damian was, arguably, the best odd couple pairing DC had published since the famous O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Arrow run in the 1970s. For a little while there, Damian was everywhere in the Batman books and the fans (for the most part) loved him. Then, all of a sudden, he was gone. Getting murdered by your own clone is a pretty nasty way to go in anybody’s book (even Wally West winced from beyond the fringes of existence. Probably), but it’s especially bad when it’s your own mother that tells him to kill you.
So, as Batman, Incorporated came to a close, 10-year-old Damian was repeatedly shot with arrows and badly beaten before being skewered on his foes massive broadsword. Morrison, himself a child of divorce, stated that he had intended the character’s death to be a rumination on divorce and what it does to children. However, that could probably have been better achieved by showing Damian crying in his room for a page before he zipped up his Robin suit and went out bashing the bad guys… The truth is that Grant Morrison was simply too good at making the fans love Damian and they took to the Internet in their droves in order to complain about it. One poster even wrote (without a trace of irony) that Morrison should be beheaded for his crimes and that his head should be paraded through the streets. Ouch.
1. Peter Parker (AKA Spider Man)
THIS COMIC F*CKED ME IN THE ASS WITH A THREE FOOT DILDO AND NO LUBE! shouted one irate YouTuber in his review of Amazing Spider Man Issue 700, the issue in which Peter Parker, the superhero formerly known as Spider Man, finally passed away. Fans had been upset when the Ultimate universes version of Peter had been killed off and replaced by new Spidey Miles Morales, but that was a different universe. It didn’t really count.
Now, however, Marvel were celebrating Spidey’s landmark 700th issue by killing the poor fella stone dead. If nothing else, you have to admire that move for its sheer audaciousness and balls. Usually, a comic book anniversary special contains one, or all, of the following: the (rushed) conclusion to the current storyline, a couple of short standalone stories, several pages of artwork by former artists that worked on the book and a few self congratulatory quotes from the series major architects. Oh, and sometimes a poster. So, readers were primed to expect very little from this edition, save for the conclusion to a ‘Doctor Octopus has stolen my body!’ storyline that had been running in the book up until that point.
Instead, Peter Parker never actually got his body back and, in a stunning twist, he died in the arms of his greatest foe, who then promised to become a SUPERIOR Spider Man in his stead. Wow. Seriously, who the heck saw that one coming? Dan Slott, the writer of this controversial tale, ended up on the receiving end of one of the worst fan backlashes of all time, even receiving borderline-angry Tweets from none other than Stan Lee about it!
Fans took to the Internet to protest the death of their hero by the thousands and the video reviews (many of which were/are utterly hilarious) circulated the net for months afterwards. Inevitably, Peter Parker resurfaced (in this case literally) and The Amazing Spider Man series was relaunched.
In today’s world, the death of a comic book character is bigger than ever. It means mainstream media visibility, increased sales and a lot of angry blogs, Tweets and articles. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity and both major superhero publishers regularly use death and rebirth as a bankable sales tool. Marvel, for its part, is reputedly obligated to kill off four characters a year, which makes the fan anger all the more bewildering, really.