The comic book death is a fascinating thing. We never really know what to make of it when one of our favorite characters dies. This happens in large part, because nobody in comic books really dies, at least not forever. This is particularly true if the character who “dies” is popular. What usually ends up happening is that said character returns to life rather quickly. There have been instances where characters die and resurrect in mere months!
Inevitably the impact of death is lessened. Who’s really going to care if Wonder Woman dies if we know she’ll return in 2 to 3 months. But sometimes there are exceptions. Over the years there have been a select few who have actually died and not returned for years. Sometimes, albeit far less common, they’ve even managed to stay dead.
Then as a fan you start to wonder if you’ll ever see said character again. You might even begin to miss that character. The more time passes, the more you lament for their return. At this point, it’s fairly safe to assume that their death has had an impact. Other times the impact is felt if enough people care. If it’s important enough to make headlines, then odds are that the death of this character mattered.
We’ll be sticking to superheroes for the purpose of this list. Here are 15 Comic Book Deaths That Actually Made An Impact.
15. Crispus Allen (DC Comics)
Length of death: Indefinite (2006)
One of the fan favorites of the acclaimed Gotham Central comic series was Detective Crispus “Cris” Allen. He was a member of the Gotham police department and Renee Montoya’s partner. Together they busted many criminals and corrupt cops. Allen’s character was engaging and had a great sense of right and wrong. Coming from Metropolis made him more idealistic than most other cops.
It was Allen’s steadfast determination in exposing a dirty cop that ultimately gets him killed. It was such a gut punch to readers because fans really cared about him and he really didn’t deserve it. Renne Montoya ends up quitting the force because Allen’s murderer gets away with it.
Crispus Allen would return, but only as the human host for the Spectre (the embodiment of the wrath of God). Allen/the Spectre’s sole purpose is to dole out punishment to murderers, but he never gets a chance to punish his own murderer. Allen’s own son takes revenge and kills his father’s murderer, forcing Allen/the Spectre to have to punish him.
14. Wolverine (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 2.5 years and counting (2014-present)
Marvel’s May 2017 solicitations have led to wide speculation of Wolverine’s return in the Generations story line but, time will tell. Wolverine’s was one of the more recent deaths in the past few years, and it came as somewhat of a surprise, due to his near immortality.
Marvel decided to infect Wolverine with a virus that took away his healing factor, thus making him killable. It then becomes open season on him, as many of his past enemies get in line to try to kill him. The comics would build up the story for months until the four-issue miniseries, Death Of Wolverine finally ended Logan’s long and tortured life.
In a cruel twist of fate, it was the adamantium and the man who created it (Dr. Cornelius) that ended up being responsible for Wolverine’s demise. Nearly the entire Marvel universe was grief stricken, but no one felt it more than the X-Men. In 2015, X-23 decides to take her father’s mantle and become the new Wolverine.
13. Green Arrow/ Oliver Queen (DC Comics)
Length of death: 5 years (1996-2001)
The Emerald Archer met his end in the ’90s, leaving his son (Connor Hawke) to take over the mantle while he was gone. In issue # 101, Green Arrow sacrifices himself in the effort to stop a bomb from detonating in the heart of Metropolis. The bomb is being carried aboard a plane and Green Arrow becomes trapped with it, forcing him to make a difficult decision. Superman is there but is unable to save him.
Green Arrow’s longtime love interest, Black Canary, and Connor Hawke were hit the hardest by his death and his superhero counterparts honored his heroic sacrifice. Green Arrow would not be seen again until writer/film director Kevin Smith resurrected him in the Quiver story line.
DC surely felt the pressure to bring back Oliver Queen as Green Arrow because fans never really took to Connor in quite the same way. Still, at least DC waited a good amount of time before caving to the pressure.
12. Nova / Richard Rider (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 6 years (2010-2016)
Nova is one of Marvel’s cosmic based superheroes. He’s shared adventures with Silver Surfer, Star-Lord, and several others. Nova is a member of the Nova Corps, which is basically just like DC’s Green Lantern Corps. The character really came to prominence in the 2000’s thanks largely in part to writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
In 2010’s The Thanos Imperative, Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy face off against a bizarre and evil version of Captain Marvel and Thanos, while dealing with the impending doom of the “Cancerverse” (an alternate reality where death does not exist).
At the climax of the story, Nova and Star-Lord perish in an attempt to collapse the Cancerverse and destroy Thanos. Both heroes have a touching monument made in their memory. Star-Lord ends up returning to life much sooner than Nova.
11. Legion / David Haller (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 14 years (1996-2010)
Legion has received a lot more exposure thanks to his current TV show, but if you didn’t already know, he’s an extremely powerful mutant who happens to be the son of Charles Xavier. The problem with Legion is that he suffers from multiple personality disorder and that can lead him to be on he side of good or bad.
In Age Of Apocalypse, Legion is unknowingly one of the causes of the alternate dystopic timeline that leads to Apocalypse to become the ruler of the world. The time traveler known as Bishop decides to go back in the past before any of this happens and kill Legion– which sounds a lot like Terminator actually.
Unfortunately, Legion comes to see the damage he’s responsible for when the knife is literally already in his chest. Legion’s sacrifice ended up being paramount in the success of preventing the Age of Apocalypse.
10. The Question / Vic Sage (DC Comics)
Length of death: 9 years (2006 – 2015)
The Question really gained popularity in the ’80s when Denny O’Neil started writing the character. Current superstar writer Greg Rucka was a big fan of his run and revitalized the Question in stories like Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood and 52.
It was in 52 where Vic Sage/the Question met his demise, but not before taking Renee Montoya under his wing. As mentioned on the list, Montoya leaves the police force after the murder of her partner, Crispus Allen. Disillusioned, lost, and angry she encounters the Question, who is determined to train and teach her everything he knows. The Question is dying of lung cancer and is setting her up to be his replacement.
9. Captain Marvel / Mar-Vell (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 28 years (1982-2010)
The original Captain Marvel was actually a humanoid member of the Kree. He would go on to be a champion of the Kree, thanks to his victorious battles against the Skrulls. Mar-Vell would eventually come to protect Earth as well.
In 1982, writer Jim Starlin wrote the first Marvel graphic novel titled: The Death of Captain Marvel. Just like the Question, Mar-Vell dies from cancer, but his disease came from exposure to a nerve gas on an alien planet. A large part of the story deals with his inevitable end. Starlin chose to focus on a heartfelt goodbye rather than an all-guns-blazing death. This led to a story that dealt with death in a way that hadn’t been seen before in comics.
8. Captain America / Steve Rogers (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 2.5 years (2007-2009)
Captain America’s death was big news when it happened. Although Captain America didn’t stay dead for long, the impact of his death was felt. After all, Captain America was one of Marvel’s oldest characters and an embodiment of America, in a sense.
Issue #25 was one of the best selling issues of Captain America of all time. Cap is fatally shot by what everyone initially thought was a sniper but ended up being a mind-controlled Sharon Carter. It was a story as dramatic as was promised by all the hype. Cap left a letter for Bucky, asking him to take over as Captain America. The whole Marvel universe was shocked and there was even a miniseries titled Fallen Son, which focused on how different characters deal with the grieving process.
7. Blue Beetle / Ted Kord (DC Comics)
Length of death: 11 years (2005 – 2016)
Blue Beetle’s return has been confusing. There was a version of Ted Kord who appeared in the pages of 2011’s Forever Evil, but that wasn’t exactly the version who died. In Blue Beetle:Rebirth, an older version of Ted Kord appears that looks and feels like the original, so it appears he’s back, somehow.
Blue Beetle’s death happened in an 80 page special titled Countdown to Infinite Crisis. It was both his swan song, and for many fans, his best story. Blue Beetle uncovers a secret plot by Maxwell Lord to control and keep watch of all meta-humans. No one believes Blue Beetle’s claims except his old pal, Booster Gold. Blue Beetle ends up finding Maxwell Lord and confronting him. Lord asks him to join or die, to which Blue Beetle responds “Rot in hell, Max.”
6. Gwen Stacey (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: Indefinite (1973)
Gwen Stacy was one of Spider-Man’s greatest loves and greatest losses. Some might even argue that her death was on par with the death of his uncle Ben. Either way, the impact of her death was huge.
The Green Goblin kidnaps Gwen Stacy and throws her off a bridge. Spider-Man tries to save her by shooting his webbing, but Gwen ends up dying anyway. It’s never totally known whether Spidey’s actions contributed to her death. This remains a source of guilt for Spider-Man to this day.
The aftermath of Gwen’s death jaded him and nearly led to him killing Green Goblin. Mary Jane Watson became closer with Peter Parker, eventually leading to their romance later on. It was certainly the most shocking death in mainstream comics at that time. Gwen Stacy has appeared in comics again, but only in flashbacks or as alternate versions of herself.
5. Green Lantern / Hal Jordan (DC Comics)
Length of death: 9 years (1996 – 2005)
There was a time when the greatest Green Lantern went bad. Really bad. Hal Jordan lost his mind in the ’90s and became the power-hungry Parallax. He would be responsible for some pretty terrible things, like murdering nearly all of the member of the Guardians.
In the Final Night story line, Jordan comes back to Earth seeking redemption. During this time, the Earth’s sun is starting to burn out and options are few and far between. Hal Jordan uses the last of his considerable power to reignite the sun, but dies in the process. He died doing the right thing despite losing his way. Some heroes mourned his loss while others never truly forgave him.
Hal Jordan would become the host of the Spectre for a few years but didn’t come back to the land of the living until Green Lantern: Rebirth. It was established in that story that Hal’s actions as Parallax were the result of a possession that corrupted him.
4. The Flash / Barry Allen (DC Comics)
Length of death: 23 years (1985 – 2008)
Flash’s ultimate sacrifice came in the pages of Crisis On Infinite Earths #8. The original Scarlet Speedster’s death was huge when it happened in 1985. This was the first time a character as big as Flash had died in the DC universe. The evil Anti-Monitor had planned to destroy Earth by firing his anti-matter cannon. Flash runs so fast that he creates a vortex that sucks in the cannon’s power but he dies in the process. Flash wasn’t the only casualty during the story. Supergirl also perished at the hands of the Anti-Monitor.
His nephew Wally West becomes the Flash and carries on Allen’s legacy for many years. It had been so long that fans really believed that they would never see Barry Allen again. Leave it to writer Grant Morrison to come up with a zany way for the Flash to return during the major event Final Crisis.
3. Superman / Clark Kent (DC Comics)
Length of death: 9 months (1993)
The impact from the death of Superman was huge. Firstly, the media coverage was insane. It was on TV and in the newspapers. Fans and non-fans were lining up to get their own copies of his “final” issue. The Death of Superman was the story that opened the floodgates of superheroes dying and coming back.
The story itself was one long slug fest. The last issue was literally just a huge final battle– not very story driven but epic as hell. To see the Man of Steel fight until the bitter end was exciting and emotional. Fans really thought it was the end, but to their surprise, Superman came back from the dead in a mere 9 months. After that the damage was done and nobody ever really stayed dead again. So in a sense his entire list is Superman’s fault.
2. Robin / Jason Todd (DC Comics)
Length of death: 16 years (1988 – 2004)
Jason Todd was the second person to don the Robin costume but fans didn’t like him. In fact. they hated him so much that they voted for his death in the story Death In The Family. The Joker traps Jason and beats him within an inch of his life. Joker lets a bomb finish the job. Batman arrives to the scene only to find Jason’s battered body in the wreckage.
Batman would go on to treat the death of Jason Todd as his greatest failure. He refused to take on a new Robin for several years because of what happened to Jason.
In the story Under The Hood, fans discover that Jason Todd is alive and has taken the new moniker of the Red Hood. He’s now a merciless vigilante who kills when he must. This leads to a dramatic confrontation with Batman and the Joker. It’s a terrific story and something that fans did not see coming at all.
1. Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier (Marvel Comics)
Length of death: 41 years (1964-2005)
Bucky Barnes was Captain America’s friend and sidekick during the war. Much like Batman with Jason, Cap felt that he failed Bucky. The Marvel movies have done a great job in establishing the strong relationship that Cap and Bucky had, which leads to a much better emotional payoff later.
Writer Ed Brubaker came up with the bold idea of bringing back the character after such a long time. Under Brubaker’s hand it was discovered that Bucky never died and was instead found by Soviet forces and brainwashed to do their bidding for the next 50 years. Bucky would have little recollection of who he was during that time, as he became nothing more than the perfect killing machine. The plot thickens when Captain America discovers that Bucky is still alive and confronts him to find out the truth. Bucky’s death paved the way for the popularity of the Winter Solider.
Which comic book death affected you the most? Let us know in the comments!