With comic book superheroes risking their lives and livelihood on a weekly basis, it’s only a matter of time until one of them is forced to sacrifice it all in the service of a greater good. Or, on the other hand, a hero or villain may be mauled, brawled, or zapped to death for the amusement of the readers! A calendar year explores just about each way for a hero to bid farewell, so it’s only right that we take some time to pay extra attention to the death that most stuck out to us as the memorable scenes of 2016.
Of course, these being famous comic book superheroes and mainstays… death isn’t always permanent. So to keep readers informed on which were mainly used to sell issues, and which ones are still seeing their deaths impact the larger world, we’re also taking note of how many months – or weeks, or pages – it took for the publishers to return the deceased to the land of the living.
See if your most memorable final scene found its way onto our list of The 15 Best Superhero Comic Deaths of 2016.
15. Superman/Clark Kent
When It Happened: Superman #52 (May 25, 2016)
Unlike previous versions, the death of the New 52 Superman didn’t come as a surprise at all. After taking some serious hits – a dip into the fire pits of Apokolips as part of the “Darkseid War” story, chief among them – Superman found himself decaying bit by bit. Exposing himself to kryptonite in an effort to recharge, or slow the loss of his powers ultimately failed, leading him to accept the inevitable: his days were coming to an end.
What followed was Peter Tomasi’s “Final Days of Superman,” as the Man of Steel filled the Justice League in on his coming death. Batman maintaining resolve, then smashing a monitor in silence once Supes had departed said everything about their friendship (and his inability to cure his friend). Wonder Woman sharing one last kiss before Superman said goodbye was a poignant ending… even if it was somewhat softened by the arrival of a new (old) Superman to take his place.
When He Returned: Still Dead
The fact that the New 52 Superman remains deceased would be a tougher pill to swallow if the classic Superman hadn’t returned to fill the Kryptonian quota. That being said, the real mystery behind the death of Superman – and Superwoman – continues to be told, with the looming ‘watcher’ of DC’s Rebirth teasing a major reveal at some point. But considering that Supes turned completely to ash before he died… well, it would take more than a Regeneration Matrix to bring him back this time.
14. War Machine/James Rhodes
When It Happened: Free Comic Book Day 2016: Civil War II #1 (May 11, 2016)
Although most casual Marvel fans didn’t get to see the fate that had befallen James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine until the first issue of Civil War II proper, the events and attack that ended up killing him transpired weeks earlier. In Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day 2016 issue, Rhodey agreed to help his fellow superhero (and lover) Captain Marvel with a strange challenge. It all began when an Inhuman named Ulysses had a vision of Thanos, coming to Earth, ready for battle. The team sprang into action, and hatched an ambush calling on several major heroes.
Things went smoothly to start, but a single stray shot left War Machine vulnerable… an opening Thanos didn’t miss, slamming a cosmic fist into Rhodey’s midsection that ended his life even as it started a war.
When He Returned: Still Dead
The Marvel Cinametic Universe made sure to only frighten fans and heroes with the idea of Rhodey’s death, but Civil War II had no choice but to stick to their guns, since the hero’s death kicked off the entire conflict. With Tony Stark enraged that his friend could die as part of a strategy he disagreed with, and Captain Marvel feeling the world was better safe than sorry, the two waged a war that ended in the latter’s favor. The fallout left Tony in a comatose, not-quite-dead state, but Rhodey’s final status was far more explicit.
13.Green Lantern (and Sinestro)
When It Happened: Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #7 (October 26, 2016)
Hal Jordan is no stranger to death, having been driven mad enough to murder the entire Green Lantern Corps, before saving the world and coming back to life in Green Lantern: Rebirth. So it’s only fitting that with DC’s larger “Rebirth” relaunch, Hal should win a comic series of his very own… and repeat the ultimate sacrifice to, once again, save the innocents of entire galaxy. Stepping into the ring with no backup, and facing a victorious Sinestro who had conquered the galaxy with his sprawling Corps, Hal finally took the gloves off.
But against what most fans might actually think, it wasn’t a case of Hal fighting to the death. Instead, he had the wisdom to see that this battle was perfect: no innocents at risk, no tomorrow to fear, and no army to lead. With no reason to hold anything back, Hal opened himself up to the purest source of the Emotional Spectrum and let the green energy fly. The blast vaporized his arch-nemesis, and shifted Hal on to the next stage of his galactic journey.
When He Returned: Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #10 (December 16, 2016)
Just because a death doesn’t last it isn’t necessarily reduced or tarnished. The death of Hal Jordan in Issue #7 was one for the ages, but just two issues later Hal Jordan returned to the spotlight, having arrived in the afterlife reserved for all Green Lanterns who fall in the line of duty. Peace could have awaited, but he was told that his time had not yet come. That’s not exactly good news, but Kyle Rayner pulling him back from beyond the veil ensured he’s be on hand to fight the galaxy’s next threat.
12. Cyclops (Twice)
When It Happened: Death of X #4 (November 23, 2016)… but actually #1 (October 5, 2016)
Marvel fans knew to expect a beloved character to bite the big one based on the title of Death of X alone. But when the time came, it had more than one surprise wrapped inside of it. The entire event began when the X-Men learned that the Terrigen Mists – the ones that trigger an Inhuman’s ‘rebirth’ – were deadly to mutans, infecting them with a fatal disease soon titled M-Pox. The conflict soon escalated to the brink of an all-out war, and when Cyclops made it clear he was willing to attack the Inhumans Royal family directly, Medusa gave the order to Black Bolt to kill Cyclops with a single scream. Only… that wasn’t the real Cyclops.
Following the event that turned Scott Summers into a martyr for the Mutant cause (killed at the hands of the Inhumans), the readers were shown the truth. Apparently, when Scott collapsed in the series’ first issue he actually died, but insisted Emma Frost needed to keep up the fight. Emma’s solution was to create a psychic projection of Scott bound for a far more meaningful death, deceiving all around her until the very end.
When He Returned: Still Dead
Since this Scott Summers isn’t the only one currently kicking around the Marvel Universe, we’re willing to bet that he’ll remain deceased – at least until Marvel’s larger Inhumans-focused narratives and events are played out.
When It Happened: Justice League #44 (February 17, 2016)
Is he a hero? Not technically, but c’mon… it’s Darkseid. It isn’t too often that the Lord of Apokolips finds himself outmaneuvered, but in the “Darkseid War” storyline that brought the Justice League comic to its pre-Rebirth close, Darkseid got himself played like a fiddle. The plan was hatched by his daughter, Grail, and her mother, an Amazon named Myrina who was banished from Themyscira upon giving birth. Naturally, Grail grew up with a serious chip on her shoulder that eventually led her to the one being strong enough to kill her father: the Anti-Monitor.
The villain responsible for the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” didn’t disappoint, fighting a savage battle with Darkseid before the Lord of Apokolips called forth the Black Racer – an embodiment of death Darkseid claimed he had captured and mastered when he conquered Apokolips. Since evil is kind of the Anti-Monitor‘s thing, he wasted no time in merging the Racer with The Flash, allowing him to command it… straight through Darkseid’s heart. And even a New God can’t take a blow like that and live.
When He Returned: Justice League #50 (May 25, 2016)
Darkseid returned in the same arc – sort of – after Grail revealed her actual plan wasn’t to kill the Lord of Apokolips, but control him. Using an ancient Amazon ritual to reincarnate a vanquished foe in a new body, Grail transmitted Darkseid’s essence into the newborn son of Superwoman (the evil, alternate universe version of the Crime Syndicate). The supercharged Darkseid on her leash is defeated soon after, reverting the child back to its natural form… with the villain’s essence still inside of it. Which means somewhere in the DC Universe, Grails is raising the baby Darkseid in secret.
When It Happened: He-Man/ThunderCats #2 (November 17, 2016)
To be honest, not a whole lot of shocking development were needed to make He-Man/ThunderCats a crossover worth reading – the ‘dream come true’ nature of its premise was more than enough. Even so, the crossover opened with He-Man getting fooled by the ThunderCats’ infamous nemesis, Mumm-Ra, who snatched the Power Sword from Prince Adam’s hands… and plunged it straight through his chest. Thankfully, Adam had the presence of mind to recite his iconic mantra, and transformed into the invincible He-Man before he could perish.
It wasn’t until the follow-up issue that Skeletor (with help from Mumm-Ra) claimed “The Power of Grayskull,” removing Prince Adam’s superpowered state, and returning the fatal chest wound. He died shortly after, leaving the population of Eternia to mourn him in a massive state funeral.
When He Returned: He-Man/ThunderCats #4 (January 18, 2016)
While he ended the year in a coffin, He-Man was resurrected (despite some serious hiccups) in the most recent issue of the crossover series. Considering that few would really expect the hero in the actual title of the comic to be killed for good, we’ll offer this one a bit of leniency.
9. Robin/Tim Drake
When It Happened: Detective Comics #940 (September 14, 2016)
If you believe that there are no truly happy people in Gotham City, let alone the Batman Family, then the writing was on the wall for Tim Drake from moment one of “Rebirth.” As Tim took pride in the complex system he had built to help monitor crime in Gotham, and mused about a life beyond ‘Robin’ in which he could help the world, fans got a sinking feeling that the worst was on its way. And it was, as an army of military drones descended on Gotham with no care for civilian casualties. Ever the hero, Tim made the instant decision to target each and every one of them on himself.
Tim did his best to keep the first wave of drones at bay, but when the second came, he knew the only outcome. True to form as the hero greater even than Batman, Tim accepted the end with a level of dignity only reserved for the best of DC’s heroes.
When He Returned: Same Issue
An added twist where this one is concerned, since Tim Drake’s “death” was revealed to be an illusion in the same issue’s final pages. As his teammates mourned his loss, Tim awoke in a black, formless prison. The mysterious ‘Mr. Oz’ monitoring the DC Universe since before the “Rebirth” had plucked Tim from the world at the moment every other hero would think him dead. The reason? Tim was simply too loved… which means the real fate of Robin, and Mr. Oz, is a mystery still unfolding.
8. The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner
When It Happened: Civil War II #3 (July 13, 2016)
It was the death of James Rhodes that kicked off Marvel’s Civil War II on somewhat questionable footing (Tony’s implied ‘you should have let Thanos attack’ argument). But things spun to a new level when the same vision-seeing Inhuman saw a future in which Hulk went on a costly massacre. The pair sought out Dr. Bruce Banner without the next step actually sorted. But before they could decide to arrest him for a cirme he had yet to commit, Bruce’s anger began to boil, silenced only when an arrow fired from Hawkeye’s bow hits his temple – followed with another to the heart.
Clint Barton would surrender that second, explaining that Banner had come to him in the past with that exact arrow, demanding that the fatal shot be taken if there was ever a sign of Hulk emerging. According to Clint, a flicker of green in Bruce’s eye was all he needed – and the courts agreed, finding him not guilty.
When He Returned: Uncanny Avengers #15 (October 12, 2016)
While it’s true that Bruce Banner/Hulk returned from the dead just three months later, it’s a bit more complicated than your standard resurrection. It was actually a case of the villainous ninja organization The Hand acquiring Banner’s corpse, and imbuing it with enough mystical energy to reanimate it and release Hulk. Brother Voodoo eventually broke through to the man inside of the monster, and after bargaining with the spirits controlling him, was able to give Bruce the peace he deserved. For good this time, we assume.
7. Krypto the Superdog
When It Happened: Superman #3 (July 20, 2016)
It wasn’t easy for pets of the Superman family in the early days of “Rebirth,” what with Jonathan Kent – Superman’s son – accidentally disintegrating the family cat when his Heat Vision started to emerge. But that tragedy passed to the family dog as well, when the old stars of the “Death and Return of Superman” event began to appear anew. And, as is usually the case, the challenge of The Eradicator took the title of weirdest showdown.
In this version of the story, The Eradicator was just one of several sentient servants of General Zod, programmed to seek out Kryptonians and absorb/inhale their spirits. When he encountered Jonathan, he decided preserving the boy’s Kryptonian heritage meant cleansing the human half. His move to inhale Jonathan caught Superman by surprise, but it was Krypto the Superdog who leaped in to save him, taking the death himself. To honor his dog’s sacrifice, Jonathan Heat Vision-ed the pooch’s cape to his own jacket, and the Superboy was born.
When He Returned: Superman #6 (September 7, 2016)
Since it’s a dog we’re talking about – and Krypto, specifically – we doubt anyone would be disappointed to learn that the souls Eradicator swallowed were still preserved. After Superman was absorbed, and harnessed the spirits of the Kryptonians still contained inside the villain, he burst out of the Eradicator, sapping his strength. But one soul remained. Calling to Krypto, Superman plunged his arm into the canine jaws trying to tear their way out of the enemy’s chest, and yanked him free – with a bit of dog/master Heat Vision teamwork, no less. Consider it “The Death and Return of Krypto” condensed into a single arc.
When It Happened: Batman #5 (August 17, 2016)
The Dark Knight was given a blessing in disguise when his own Rebirth began, with the arrival of two new superheroes in Gotham City, keen on protecting it as well as Batman had – only with the added powers of the Man of Steel. The pair – Gotham and Gotham Girl – barely got a chance to become the heroes they could have before they fell victim to a larger plot concocted by Hugo Strange. Gotham took it the worst, with Strange sending soldiers to murder the pair’s Gothamite parents, and using the villainous Psycho-Pirate to drive Gotham mad with anger and hate.
The final showdown between he and Batman had plenty of firsts – Alfred donning the Batsuit, and Batman calling the League for backup in his own backyard – but it was ultimately Gotham Girl who brought an end to her brother’s tragic rampage. Not by killing him, but forcing him to use up all the powers that the brother and sister had traded their lives for – spending his life for a final battle worthy of a god.
When He Returned: Still Dead
5. Multiple Man
When It Happened: Death of X #1 (October 5, 2016)
Cyclops may have been the most well known mutant to fall as a result of the Terrigen Mists in Death of X, but he wasn’t the first. The comic actually began with the team investigating a radio message sent by Jamie Madrox, sounding terrifed and begging for help. The message was sent from the Mutant Research Facility on Muir Island, occupied by a small number of scientists and researchers – with Jamie’s ability to multiply himself put to use fleshing out the rest of the operating staff. And when the X-Men, led by Cyclops, arrived on the scene, not a soul was left alive to tell the tale… well, actually, only one soul survived.
The X-Men eventually find a landscape filled with Jamie’s duplicates, each and every one of them twisted and boiled from the effects of the M-Pox ravaging them, courtesy of the Mist. The original Jamie lived long enough to tell Cyclops what caused it, but the real horror here is realizing that the pain or death of a duplicate has been shown to cripple, and almost kill Jamie. In other words… an even more tragic death than it seems.
When He Returned: Still Dead
4. Superwoman Lois Lane
When It Happened: Superwoman #1 (August 10, 2016)
If there’s an award to be given for Most Shocking Death, On An Editorial Not Storytelling Level, the winner would have to be Lois Lane’s Superwoman. Hailed in the marketing as the former second-fiddle getting her time in the spotlight following the death of the New 52 Superman, the debut of Lois as the world’s new Superwoman was… short-lived. Not long after the first issue revealed that both Lois Lane and Lana Lang had received superpowers, the two joined forces to dig into Lex Luthor’s secret research on “bizarro” Superwomen. And it’s that mission that sees Lois’ time as a member of the Superman family come to an end.
Yet even two twists weren’t enough, as Lois claims to see the deceased Clark Kent, and finally “understand” before turning to ash as he had prior to “Rebirth.”
When She Returned: Still Dead
After the reveal that Lana Lang was the true Superwoman of the series, she’s had more than enough problems to deal with on her own. There’s obviously a mystery behind the fate of her and Clark, so it’s possible she’s being held in the same location as Tim Drake. But until we have evidence of that… a Lois-shaped statue of ash and dust seems fairly conclusive.
3. The Anti-Monitor/Mobius
When It Happened: Justice League #49 (April 27, 2016)
We previously described the Anti-Monitor’s success in killing Darkseid in the “Darkseid War” showdown, but the cosmic villain’s victory didn’t last long. Thankfully, fans got a ton of new information concerning his nature and origin before the end. As it turns out, the Anti-Monitor was actually Mobius (creator of Metron’s Mobius Chair), an ancient being of the Anti-Matter Universe who longed to discover the secret of the universe’s creation. He found it, but had no idea that it was the Anti-Life Equation – the opposite of the energy and free will that created the main DC Universe (and most others) – and became its embodiment.
By killing Darkseid, the death of a god weakened the boundaries between man and deity, allowing him to be separated from his torment – and Mobius returned. Then Grail killed him, because she’s evil.
When He Returned: Still Dead
While Darkseid survived his run-in with Mobius, no such resurrection or reincarnation awaited the former Anti-Monitor. Grail actually took the Anti-Life Equation that turned Mobius into the Anti-Monitor and injected it into Steve Trevor. Trevor was put on a leash by Grail, and wielded like a weapon in disintegrating the infamous DC villain. So return is possible (he’s the Anti-Monitor, after all), but unlikely.
2. Owlman & Metron
When It Happened: Justice League #50 (May 25, 2016)
As the heroes of the Justice League battled the likes of Darkseid, Mobius, Grail, and the enraged remnants of the Crime Syndicate in the final chapter of “Darkseid War,” their most tactical thinker, Owlman, had other plans. After Batman took the role of Metron to unlock every answer in the known universe, it was only fair for his evil alternate universe doppelganger to act as his successor. But before Owlman could actually learn all that knowledge and more, his meeting with Metron on Earth’s moon was… interrupted. It’s particularly bad news for Metron, who had finally succeeded in handing off his cursed throne, having spent eons tapped into that wisdom and experiencing the damage it inevitably causes.
With only time enough to utter “he’s here,” both of them (and the sentient computer virus Grid) were reduced to bloody splatters. The flash of blue light that preceded them was the only clue fans needed to see it as yet another connection to the big bads of Watchmen manipulating the events of the New 52 (in this case, Doctor Manhattan getting a bit more hands-on).
How Long It Lasted: Still Dead
1. Captain Boomerang
When It Happened: Suicide Squad #2 (September 14, 2016)
It just wouldn’t be a year in the comic book world without a member of DC’s Suicide Squad being killed in unceremonious fashion. That might actually have changed in 2016, with Captain Boomerang getting a more shocking death than usual. No exploding brain bombs here – just a killer blast of Heat Vision courtesy of General Zod, blasting his way out of the Phantom Zone. It’s hard to know if the murder was even intentional, but before anyone could blink, Boomer had been boomed, leaving only the stumps sticking out of his boots.
When He Returned: Suicide Squad #8 (December 16, 2016)
Marketing for the upcoming Justice League vs. Suicide Squad may have spilled the beans early on his return, but it wasn’t a simple retcon or fake-out. In Issue #7 of the series, Belle Reve prison found itself with a particularly troublemaking computer virus shutting down its vital systems. Some digging revealed the virus to be Boomerang – or, a version of himself that was “uploaded” as part of a metahuman’s ability to digitize the Squad and reconstitute them elsewhere. In Issue #8, Boomerang got his skin back… just in time for General Zod’s unconscous body to nearly crush him.
Are there any comic book deaths that you think deserve to be given some extra credit? Let us know in the comments!