The Deaths that Mattered1 of 13
Alas, poor Bel-Dann and Raksor, we hardly knew ye - literally.
These two extremely obscure (but admittedly vintage) Marvel Universe characters may seem like anything but qualifiers for a list of the most important comic book deaths of all time - and we're not saying they are.
But given that the deaths of the Kree and Skrull agents in the recent Incoming! one-shot sparked the beginning of Marvel's upcoming "Empyre" event that unites their respective empires, the deaths themselves may one day prove to be monumental.
For history's sake, here's our list of the most impactful comic book deaths ever.
TIE: CAPTAIN AMERICA & BATMAN - CIVIL WAR & FINAL CRISIS2 of 13
One of the flagship characters of a Big Two company was killed at the end of a major crossover. The battle was big, but in the end it came down to one shot that killed our hero, part of his universe's trinity of big three heroes.
In the aftermath, it was revealed the hero wasn't dead, but merely lost in time. While his greatest ally and former sidekick took up his mantle in the present, our hero made his way back through time to return as a better hero than ever, in a very literal version of the classic "Hero's Journey" by Joseph Campbell. After working alongside their ally in a two-for-one set under the same mantle, the younger end of the legacy assumed his own identity once more, still as a friend and soldier in the never-ending battle against evil, but allowing his mentor to once again be the only hero named...
And yes, we can literally end that story with both "Captain America" and "Batman."
In the aftermath of Civil War, Captain America, on the steps of a courthouse where he'd be brought to trial as a traitor against his government, was shot and killed, and that led to the story above. In the penultimate moments of Final Crisis, Batman was hit by Darkseid's Omega Sanction angular eye blast, killed, and that led to the story above.
Now, some of the details are different, and this was a case of zeitgeist, as both stories had clearly been planned nigh-simultaneously, but the timing (and result) of the two "deaths" is really the more notable thing than the deaths themselves. After all, in the case of Batman, his was shown to be a ruse immediately, in the final pages of the event. Still, it makes for an amusing story of how ideas can do what people can't - be in two places at once.
Unless of course there are two Batmans or Captains America running around (again)...
BLUE BEETLE - INFINITE CRISIS (Prelude)3 of 13
The list of deaths leading into and during Infinite Crisis could fill its own entire Wikipedia page (and in fact, it does). But while the deaths of characters like Superboy and the original Earth 2 Superman were significant, none was felt as strongly as Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle, when he died in prelude book Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
Max Lord, formerly the trusted advisor and financial backer of the Justice League, got a nutty idea into his head: reform the clandestine organization Checkmate, steal a super-satellite from Batman, and attempt to gain control of every superhuman in the world.
Unfortunately, Ted Kord figured out Lord's plan, and went to confront him... alone. When Ted remained noble and refused to join Checkmate and Max, Max shot the Blue Beetle in the head – a violent end for a character who often represented the lighthearted side of the DC Universe.
Ted's death kicked off the entire storyline and its graphic, abrupt nature was controversial at the time. Geoff Johns later had him rescued by the time traveling Booster Gold and other Blue Beetles. In the rebooted "New 52," a younger Ted Kord appeared briefly during Forever Evil but with no apparent superhero connections.
He returned in a more active role as Jaime Reyes in the "Rebirth" era Blue Beetle series.
NIGHTCRAWLER - SECOND COMING4 of 13
For decades, Nightcrawler represented a spirit of swashbuckling adventure for the X-Men, a beacon of light for a team that has encountered some truly dark days (just look at the somber names of some of the most famous X-Men stories: "Mutant Massacre," "X-Tinction Agenda," "Decimation," "God Loves, Man Kills").
That all went away when he died during the 2010 "Second Coming" storyline, nobly sacrificing himself to save Hope – the first mutant born since Scarlet Witch declared "no more mutants" at the end of House of M, and very possibly the literal last hope for the dying mutant race. As seen in the image here, it was a rather grisly death at the hands of future super-Sentinel Bastion, and it stuck for years (though the Age of Apocalypse version of Nightcrawler, a character of far less sunny disposition, became part of the main Uncanny X-Force cast).
Nightcrawler was revived a few years ago (those pesky X-Men have a way of doing that) and remains a core member of the team.
NEW WARRIORS - CIVIL WAR5 of 13
Characters dying in the midst of a major comic book event is fairly typical – you're reading a whole list devoted to the subject, so you've probably figured that out.
But killing a whole team of characters? Right at the start of the story? That's a little different.
Civil War is one of the most successful comic book "events" in history, and it started with the New Warriors – at the time stars of their own Marvel Universe reality series – bungling the capture of supervillain and "human bomb" Nitro, leading to a high toll of civilian deaths and the demise of Night Thrasher, Speedball (who actually ended up surviving and becoming tortured Thunderbolt Penance), Namorita and Microbe. This sparked the entire Civil War conflict, with Iron Man (and the heroes who sided with him) pushing for regulation of superpowered beings, and Captain America (and his allies) seeing that as a restriction of freedom.
Since Civil War lasted for months and the aftermath, "The Initiative" era, lasted even longer, the death of the New Warriors definitely had resonance (and not just with angry fans of the team unhappy with what happened to the characters).
STEPHANIE BROWN - WAR CRIMES6 of 13
All Stephanie Brown wanted to do was spoil the evil deeds of those who would harm the innocent, like her father did. And for a time, she was successful. As Spoiler, she unofficially joined the ranks of those in the Bat-family who patrolled Gotham City, doing what most regular humans could not, would not, and even should not to help those other regular joes out.
There was a time when Tim Drake stepped away from the role of Robin, and Stephanie took over, much to Batman's initial dismay. Stephanie decided she would prove herself to Bruce Wayne once and for all by enacting one of his big master plans, one to take down all the gangs in Gotham City in one fell swoop. The result of these "War Crimes" however, was utter chaos, loss of life to gang members and civilians alike, and oh yeah, Stephanie being tortured to death by Black Mask.
Now Stephanie's death, like several others on this list, was undone later, revealed to be a hoax to allow her to go live a normal life (until she came back into crime fighting as Batgirl). Her return was short-lived, however, as she was undone with the dawn of the "New 52." With the reboot, Stephanie was no longer Batgirl, but eventually re-surfaced as Spoiler, a role she's continue to serve in the current DC Universe.
SUE DIBNY - IDENTITY CRISIS7 of 13
Sue Dibny worked with her husband, Ralph (The Elongated Man), as a detective duo. She often went with him when he was a member of the Justice League, and was beloved by the entire team.
Then, in Identity Crisis, the whole story kicked off with her rather brutal murder.
The story, by Brad Meltzer, launched a lot of controversy, with Sue seeming to some as the ultimate new example of the "Women in Refrigerators" concept; her death being used as a vehicle for her husband, and the Justice League as a whole, to have an adventure and drama. Of course the real controversy came when it was revealed that years before her death, Sue was raped by Doctor Light, on the JLA satellite no less. Oh and she was pregnant at the time of her murder.
The series was not kind to Sue.
Identity Crisis also saw the notable death of Tim Drake's only surviving parent, his father, who was killed at the hands of Captain Boomerang. The elder Drake did get his simultaneous revenge, at least. Sue, meanwhile, eventually became a ghost detective with her then-also-dead husband.
She mostly recently reunited with Ralph very much alive in the "New 52" title Secret Six. And since DC Universe: Rebirth #1 clues around the DC Universe have indirectly indicated that Identity Crisis did not occur in current DC continuity.
MUCH OF THE ULTIMATE UNIVERSE - SECRET WARS8 of 13
Though many of the Ultimate Universe’s biggest names were already dead thanks to Ultimatum and Cataclysm a few years prior, Secret Wars finished the job, destroying the entire Ultimate Universe – and almost all of Marvel’s other alternate realities.
Of course, several heroes of the Ultimate Universe, including Miles Morales, made it into the mainstream Marvel Universe, so the legacy of the imprint lives on. Meanwhile, Reed Richards and his family were trapped in an extra-dimensional space rebuilding the multiverse – not killing them, but taking them off the board for some time.
HALF OF EXISTENCE - INFINITY GAUNTLET9 of 13
OK, this one was temporary, but it's very difficult to beat. How do you top removing half of all living things out of existence?
In The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos – you know, the over-arching villain of much of Marvel Studios' movies – uses the ultra-powerful titular device to wipe out half of all sentient life in the universe, naturally including many of Marvel's beloved roster of characters. Why? To impress his crush, Death.
Of course, this didn't last long, and his considerably brash actions were undone by the end of the story. But, still. Half of every living thing in the universe – dogs, cats, superheroes and billions of other beings – is a high bar to clear.
Then, Thanos did it again on the big screen, this time wiping out half the life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including numerous heroes) in Avengers: Infinity War. (Although that too was later rectified).
HAWKEYE - AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED10 of 13
"Not like this!"
Brian Michael Bendis started off his eight-year run on the Avengers with a very literal bang - he blew up Avengers Mansion and killed Ant-Man Scott Lang in the process.
That was just the beginning of the deaths seen in his opening story arc, "Avengers Disassembled," which spilled over to several related books at the time. The most notable victim was fan-favorite character Hawkeye, who died in issue #502 while fending off a Kree invasion caused by the Scarlet Witch's chaos powers.
It was a very controversial move at the time, but also helped to galvanize affection for the already beloved character, who subsequently returned to life following 2005's House of M.
Hawkeye has since returned to life - and played a major role in both Marvel Comics and the Avengers film franchise.
PROFESSOR X - AVENGERS vs. X-MEN11 of 13
The long-time founder and leader of the X-Men died heroically at the hand of perhaps his greatest pupil (who wasn’t quite himself at the moment) ushering in a new era for mutantdom. His death didn’t unite the X-Men, however. It codified the split between Cyclops and Wolverine as they separated into different factions of X-Men.
Ironically, both Cyclops and Wolverine have both since died (with Wolverine recently returning himself), while Xavier’s brain was stolen by the Red Skull, who used Xavier’s telepathic powers as one of Marvel’s fiercest and most vile villains for several years.
Xavier later returned, then died again, and then was resurrected again - an increasingly common process for mutants in the "Dawn of X" era.
SUPERGIRL & THE FLASH - CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS12 of 13
It's one of the most iconic images in comic books: the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, with Superman in tears, holding the body of his cousin, Kara Zor-El, Supergirl, dead in his arms.
It's one of those deaths that actually had meaning: Barry Allen, the Flash, runs faster than he ever has before, faster than anyone thought possible, running himself into oblivion to stop the Anti-Monitor's antimatter cannon.
These two deaths, taking place in what would become the template for most modern crossover event comics, were big. They were emotional. And they lasted. Kara didn't make it back into comics for nearly 20 years, returning in 2004 (and again in the "New 52"). Barry was gone even longer, staying dead for 23 years (minus a couple little 'flashes' of the character, naturally).
These two deaths were proof that dead could mean dead, at least for multiple decades. They were also proof that sometimes a character could become more important in death than they'd ever be alive. Barry's Flash series was struggling just prior to Crisis, but his legacy, through Wally West and grandson Bart Allen, lived on and increased the character's popularity.
Barry remains the main Flash, though Wally West recently returned to continuity as well. Likewise, Supergirl remains a DC staple - with both characters anchoring their own live action TV shows.
It remains to be seen if either will die in CW's TV version of the crossover, wrapping up later this month.
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