15 Comic Book Characters Who Should’ve Stayed Dead –
If you’ve been reading comic books for longer than, say, five minutes, then you’re familiar with the concept of heroes dying and coming back to life.
The list of people who have bitten the big one and then revealed that it was, in fact, a smaller one than previously believed, is so long that it would actually be faster to list the people who have died and not come back.
Uncle Ben. Gwen Stacy. Jonathan Kent. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Mar-Vell (aka Captain Marvel). Abin Sur. Thunderbird. Thunderstrike.
Notice that there are very few heroes or villains on that list. It’s mostly civilians, often ones from superhero origin stories.
It’s become such a trope that even people in those fictional universes have noticed. The Daily Bugle‘s obituary writer, Dilbert Trilby, has complained on more than one occasion about all the retractions he’s written over the years!
Although some deaths are heartrending moments that lead to big emotional arcs for the characters, that’s increasingly rare. Instead, we expect deaths as part of the yearly big crossover stories, and we expect them to be reversed or retconned within a year. They simply don’t hold the same punch that they used to.
Sometimes, it would’ve been better if they’d just stayed dead. Fifteen times, to be specific.
It’s true that Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday in the famous “Death of Superman” storyline is one of those death-and-resurrection storylines that virtually everyone knew would happen, so that’s not the subject matter here.
No, we’re referring to Superman’s miraculous recovery from the deadly Kryptonian ailment known as Virus X.
A living virus that, much like Superman, grew more powerful under Earth’s living conditions, Virus X is fatal to all Kryptonians within 30 days (and in some storylines, highly contagious and fatal to Earth creatures as well). When Superman contracted the virus in a 1968 storyline, he was launched into space on a funeral spaceship after the appropriate pomp and circumstance.
It really hampers a heroic storyline when the hero survives due to dumb luck instead of their own cleverness and guile, and this storyline is no exception. Superman survived the always-fatal Virus X after accidentally being exposed to incredibly rare White Kryptonite (that was thrown at his funeral ship by several Bizarro supermen as the ship passed).
With goofy storylines and resolutions like this, Superman deserved to stay dead.
Where do we start?
There are the numerous times he should have died, like when Magneto tore the adamantium from his body, or Horde tore his heart from his chest, or Nitro reducing him to a skeleton, or that time he crashed into the sun aboard Asteroid M.
Oh, and of course, according to Doctor Strange, every time he died, his soul went to Purgatory and he dueled the angel of death Lazaer for the right to return to life.
Right. (And this is all without mentioning that time he was sent directly to Hell.)
But, for this list, we’re talking about his most recent demise, the poignant moment that he suffocated to death inside an adamantium shell after ending the life of Dr. Cornelius, the man who started it all. And in doing so, he left behind a unique monument to his life and its many struggles: a statue of himself.
So, naturally, despite the fact that two heroes stepped in to take his place — X-23 and Old Man Logan — Wolverine is making yet another comeback, and it’s hard to argue that this time, he really should’ve stayed dead.
13. At Least SOME Of Onslaught’s Victims
Onslaught was a being made of pure thought, a combination of the worst impulses of Magneto and Charles Xavier, and quickly became one of the most dangerous entities the X-Men ever battled. After seizing the powers of Franklin Richards (son of Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman) and Nate Gray (X-Man) for his own, he isolated the island of Manhattan with reprogrammed Sentinels.
It took the combined might of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers to defeat Onslaught, but at a terrible cost, as Thor and every non-mutant member of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (as well as Scarlet Witch) perished to put an end to the seemingly unstoppable foe.
But then it turned out they were all fine and living an alternate life inside Franklin Richard’s magic Pokeball that retconned a lot of them to make them hipper, and it all felt really stupid after a while.
Stephanie Brown first donned the mantle of the Spoiler in order to thwart the criminal endeavors of her father, Cluemaster, but eventually worked her way into Batman’s circle of trusted associates, even replacing Tim Drake as Batman’s Robin for a time.
But when her inexperience and disobedience led to Batman firing her, she tried to prove herself by stealing and activating one of Batman’s master plans for taming the criminal underworld. In doing so, she triggered a citywide gang war that Black Mask won after torturing Stephanie for information on the plan.
Supposedly dying from her injuries — thanks to Dr. Leslie Thompson refusing to treat her, hoping her death will serve as a warning to any other young people enamored with Batman’s work — it is later revealed that Thompson lied about Spoiler’s death, and she soon returned to the Batfold.
But doesn’t that undermine the whole point of Thompson’s ruse? Stephanie returns to public and vigilante life, so neither Stephanie nor Spoiler’s “death” would serve as a deterrent anymore. And Batman certainly doesn’t learn his lesson about recruiting innocents, so what was the point of it all?
11. Doctor Octopus
The relationship between Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man has grown pretty convoluted over the years — especially since the Superior Spider-Man story arc — but before all that, Doc Ock was given a wonderfully unexpected and meaningful demise.
When Spidey was poisoned by the Vulture and facing certain death, Octopus actually cured Spider-Man, first claiming that he wanted to be the one to kill the hero, but also confessing that he didn’t know who he would be in a world without Spider-Man as his foil.
It was a deeply moving character revelation, one made more impactful when Doc Ock was murdered shortly thereafter by Kaine, one of Peter’s many MANY clones. So, in one fell swoop, he saved Spider-Man and was killed by him. It was peculiar and perfect and allowed for the insanely entertaining Carolyn Trainer to step into his boots as Lady Octopus.
It was a fitting end, but one that was quickly scuttled to restore the status quo.
10. Damian Wayne
One of the few truly surprising moments in the canon of Batman is the appearance of his son, Damian Wayne. Damian is intelligent, dangerous, capable, and impetuous, and over the course of years, transforms from an agent of chaos into a very capable Robin serving under Dick Grayson’s Batman during the original’s absence.
When Damian dies at the hands of an older clone of himself known as the Heretic, it was unexpected, as the character had amassed quite a fanbase, and writing the character out of the series seemed premature. (Apparently, creator Grant Morrison always planned to kill off Damian, which bothered DC management, who considered the character’s death to be a waste of potential.)
In fairness, seeing Batman unravel in the aftermath of his son’s death led to some deeply emotional moments for the normally stoic and unfeeling character. That, in itself, makes Damian’s death a worthwhile one to honor.
So, naturally, Damian has returned after a hilariously long sequence of events involving his body being stolen by multiple villains, including Ra’s al Ghul and Glorious Godfrey. And once again, a poignant death in the Batfamily is undone for weird, labyrinthine reasons.
9. Kraven The Hunter
Imagine that you consider yourself the greatest big game hunter in the world, but one particular animal, your white whale, has eluded you over and over. Finally, you capture it, prove yourself superior to it, and then end your own life, satisfied and content with your actions.
This is the story of Kraven the Hunter, and it’s a strange one, since you find yourself sympathizing with one of Spider-Man’s most dogged tormentors. When he chooses to end his life, you may not approve, but you understand. His story is complete. And, in true Spider-Man story fashion, Peter is left with hard questions to grapple with in the aftermath.
And then, Kraven’s moronic family mucks everything up by resurrecting him. Subsequently, we get sasquatch hunts, a dressing down from Squirrel Girl (after the famed big game hunter torments SQUIRRELS!?), and a Howard the Duck crossover.
There is no denying that this is a cold one nobody should’ve cracked open again.
8. Amanda Waller
When dealing with a double-dealer like Checkmate’s White Queen and Suicide Squad’s chief handler, you can’t trust anything. You can’t trust what she says, or what she does.
So when she gets shot in the heart by Deadshot and killed, you should know better. You really should.
Yes, Amanda Waller fakes her own death in the most insane manner possible: taking a bullet to the heart and having Enchantress just move the bullet to “the most reparable part of the heart” so Waller survives.
Now, your friendly neighborhood article writer isn’t a doctor, but “the most reparable part of the heart” sounds about as clinical and reliable as “the most sword-resistant part of the neck” which would be, you know, none of it. It’s all pretty sword-friendly.
In a universe where Superman survives a virus with a 100% kill rate because weirdo versions of himself threw rocks at his funeral ship, Waller’s resolution still seems less plausible.
What is it with comic books and retconning meaningful deaths and noble sacrifices?
Colossus, the man with the metal skin who sounded constipated in the X-Men arcade game when unleashing his energy blast, never felt like a top-tier X-Man. Sure, he was good for deflecting bullets or taking a beating, but he was never the star. This was particularly true when his sister died of the Legacy Virus and a despairing Colossus joined Magneto’s Acolytes.
But that all changed when he volunteered to give up his life to activate a cure for the Legacy Virus, ensuring that no one, human or mutant, would suffer the same fate as his sister. The cure quickly goes airborne, wiping the plague out and saving humanity.
That is one of those moments that makes the X-Men comics great, a moment where a mutant — so maligned by “regular” humans — proves himself the most human.
And then it’s undone years later because blah blah aliens blah blah experiments.
Sure, Joss Whedon might’ve an award for this run, but he still ruined one of the great heroic sacrifices in all of comics.
6. Hal Jordan
This article is supposedly to be about characters who should’ve stayed dead. But Hal Jordan is a special case, because he not only should’ve stayed dead, but he should’ve died sooner.
After the destruction of Coast City, Hal Jordan went green bananas, wrecking fellow Lanterns left and right, and becoming the villain Parallax. And he should’ve died there, having become the thing he most hated… a villain with no regard for the lives of innocents.
But instead, he survived, and earned a noble death by sacrificing himself to reignite the sun. It was one of the highlights of Final Night, and a strong conclusion for a character who’d already suffered from unnecessary retconning.
But wait… there’s more. Because Hal Jordan’s story wasn’t over yet, and he became the new Spectre. Which is annoying for several reasons.
Did he actually die to restore the sun, or did he cheat death by becoming the Spectre? Also, is his mission vengeance or redemption? Because that seems to waver depending on who is writing the character.
5. Jean Grey And Magneto
Take your pick on this one.
The only person to die and come back more frequently than Wolverine, you simply cannot make a list about comic book deaths without namedropping Jean Grey. (He has killed her a few times in the comics himself.)
But unlike most lists, I’m not talking about her resurrection via ocean-floor pod after serving as a vessel for the Phoenix.
No, in this case, it’s that time Magneto infiltrated the Mansion masquerading as the mutant Xorn, then went full-on South American drug lord. He ordered mass executions of his enemies (humans), relied on the drug Kick to augment his powers, and losing the support of his followers. When he was defeated by the X-Men, he killed Jean Grey. In response, Wolverine CUT HIS HEAD OFF.
It was an immensely shocking moment, a one-two punch that felt like a clean slate, a launching pad for a fresh start for the X-Men. Jean was gone, having already ended her marriage to Cyclops and resolved her long-running attraction to Wolverine.
So, of course, it was retconned into baffling irrelevance by Marvel when both Magneto and Jean Grey returned (alongside Xorn, his twin brother, and all manner of BS trying to explain away Morrison’s work).
It would have been far easier and more meaningful to just let the bodies hit the floor.
4. Norman Osborn
Norman Osborn’s resurrection was so terrible that it didn’t just ruin him, it also ruined Gwen Stacy.
Originally, he knocked Gwen off a bridge, resulting in the death of the woman Spidey loved. In the ensuing battle, Osborn was killed after colliding with his own goblin glider. It was a dark moment for the Webslinger, but one that had major stakes, one that felt visceral and real.
Years later, it would turn out that Osborn survived, and took his revenge on Spider-Man by enacting stupid plot after stupid plot. He replaced Aunt May with an actress, gave Flash Thompson brain damage, kicked off the Clone Saga, and forced readers to forever remember his O face during a tryst with Gwen Stacy that resulted in murderous twin children with accelerated lifespans.
In one fell swoop, he went from Spider-Man’s greatest rival to the least believable and most convoluted. The Spider-Verse would’ve been much better off if he’d just stayed dead.
3. Barry Allen
Barry Allen saved the entire multiverse by choosing to race to his demise in order to stop the Anti-Monitor. He did what no one else could, and in doing so, became the undeniable high point of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”
It was simple. It was brilliant. It was poignant and beautiful. DC could’ve just left it there. One lone hero, who (depending on the comic) either became the lightning bolt that first game him his powers or became one with the Speed Force itself.
And yet, they cheapened the greatest death in comic book history and brought him back. Why? It’s not like there aren’t other fast people around. What could Barry do that they couldn’t?
Ignoring the nostalgia pop, it quickly goes from a neat moment to an indictment of the current Flashes. They’re not good enough, better bring in the old guy to get the job done. It truly tarnished all sides.
2. Aunt May
Aunt May died once, but as alluded to in the Norman Osborn entry in this list, it was actually an actress so dedicated to her craft that she was willing to die just to play the role well. Amazing!
But the story that earns Aunt May a spot on this list is the time she should’ve died. Yes, it’s time once again to pan “One More Day,” the storyline where Spider-Man made a deal with the devil to rewrite history, giving up his wife and the child they’d never have in order to save the life of an old woman who had been old for so long, she was probably gonna die soon anyway.
Forgive the vitriol, but this is stupid on every level. Aunt May got shot because Spidey revealed his identity publicly during the Civil War arc. Why is it okay to leave Uncle Ben dead as a valuable teachable lesson, but not Aunt May? Life has consequences, it’s literally one of the cornerstones of Spidey’s origin story.
But no. Let’s have a magic wish save her and wipe out Peter’s maturity in one go, because Marvel brass didn’t want him to be married anymore.
It’s been over a decade, and this is still widely regarded as a sh*tshow.
1. Jason Todd
Come on, who else could it be?
He was beaten to a pulp with a crowbar by the Joker, then blown to bits in an explosion. And all because of a phone poll where fans could decide if the new Robin would live or die.
Death? Mildly stupid. Check.
Then Superboy-Prime punches reality and one of the ripples brings Jason back from the dead. A dip in a Lazarus pit later, and he’s restored.
Resurrection? Equally stupid, whilst simultaneously disrespecting the fans’ decision. Check and check.
Then he takes up the mantle of the Red Hood, has chances to kill both Batman and the Joker, and doesn’t take either of them. He’s a villain and also a hero, sorta, and after the initial reveal, simply becomes another weird vigilante who thinks he’s a better Batman than Batman.
You can argue that he deserved better from the fans, or better from the writers. But you can’t argue that he should’ve stayed dead.