It is generally accepted that a superhero does not kill unless absolutely necessary. However, this isn’t a rule set in stone. Many heroes struggle to uphold this unwritten rule and most are successful, but there have been many times when our favorite heroes have crossed the line.
The circumstances can range from necessity-- to forced action, to a temporary lapse in their own principles-- but it is always at least a little shocking when we see a hero take a life. Likewise, the kills that have lasting effects on readers aren’t just because of the means, but often due to the mental state of the characters and context of the stories that the kills fit into.
Antiheroes like The Punisher and Deadpool are somewhat expected to kill and, in fact, this is part of their appeal. However, most others have a strong sense of right and wrong, and it is when this principle is bent or broken that the truly chilling kills take place.
Here are the 15 Most Chilling Ways Comic Book Heroes Have Killed.
15 Iron Man kills Titanium Man (Iron Man #229)
During the famous Armor Wars storyline in the late '80s, Tony Stark’s technology is stolen by The Spymaster and used by H.A.M.M.E.R. to create Iron Man-inspired suits of various designs.
Unable to pursue the theft of his work by legal means, Stark, who has a somewhat combative personality normally, feels that the only answer is to go after each character suspected of having Stark technology in their armor.
In the fifth comic of the series, Iron Man, having just faced and defeated the formidable Crimson Dynamo, is attacked by Titanium Man. In the series’ most memorable moment, Iron Man flies into orbit with his enemy holding onto him. Unable to sustain the heat from the atmosphere, Titanium Man’s armor catches fire, as the pilot facing a most horrible death inside and explodes.
This was an unusually brutal and-- perhaps more importantly-- unnecessary kill, and Iron Man is stripped of his Avengers membership because of it.
14 Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord (Wonder Woman #219)
Such was the case in Superman’s 2005 Sacrifice story arc, in which the Man of Steel falls into the hands of the devious Maxwell Lord. Using one of Supes very few weaknesses against him, Lord takes control of Superman's mind, forcing him to attack other heroes, including Wonder Woman.
Required to fight her long time ally, Wonder Woman does not fight to kill, and instead manages to corner Lord and apply the Lasso of Truth. Lord reveals that the only way to break the mind control is to kill him, and Diana then-- quite deliberately-- snaps his neck like a twig.
It was a shockingly cold, if necessary, kill for the beloved Amazon, and remains as a monumental moment in her history.
13 Wolverine kills all of the X-Men (Old Man Logan Storyline)
It’s common knowledge that Wolverine is not adverse to killing. With a brutal personality by nature, he has one of the highest kill counts among all superheroes. Ferocity aside, Wolvie is also known for another trait: loyalty.
As one of the cornerstones of the X-Men, Wolverine is one of the top members for the team to count on when push comes to shove. During the grim, alternative timeline in Old Man Logan, where heroes have been almost completely wiped out, a group of dozens of supervillains attack the X-Mansion.
Flying into one of his berserker rages to protect the children at the mansion, Wolvie rips through every one of them and, when the last of the enemies fall, it is revealed that it was an elaborate illusion created by the villain Mysterio. The supervillains were, in reality, his own teammates.
The revelation breaks Wolverine mentally, and leaves even readers completely stunned. Old Man Logan is a modern classic, and this brutal slaughter is the most memorable scene of the story.
12 Superman Kills Doomsday (Death of Superman)
The man, the legend, the icon: Superman is without question the biggest and most popular superhero of all time, as well as a pop culture phenomenon. With near limitless strength and power, it is a very rare occasion for him to truly put everything he has into a fight, because, usually, it is was hardly necessary.
However, this changed in 1992 with the Death of Superman comic. A terrifyingly powerful foe named Doomsday made his debut, and for the first time, many readers saw Superman pushed to his absolute limit by an enemy who could match him in strength and endurance.
In the end, the two are forced kill each other, but what makes this fight truly great is the art. Each panel shows, with overwhelming clarity, the pain and effort that Superman is putting into every hit. Seeing the strain on his face and the determination put into the finale, the fight remains one of the most brutal and emotional moments in comic history.
11 The Flash Kills Zoom (Flash 324)
Barry Allen is a likeable guy. Funny, mischievous, and even playful, he’s one of the Justice League’s most charismatic members both in and out of costume. He also possesses one of the strongest powers in all of comics: speed beyond comprehension.
Able to move much faster than the speed of light-- so fast, in fact, that he even became pure energy at one point-- The Flash is a beloved character. In what is probably his most iconic fight, he takes on his arch nemesis, Professor Zoom (also known as Reverse Flash), who murdered his wife.
The two rivals fight at blinding speed all across the world, from the highest mountains to beaches. The end comes as a shock when Flash, in a desperate push to save Kid Flash from Zoom, barrels into Zoom with all the speed he can muster. The incredible impact kills Zoom instantly and will always be remembered by readers as a moment when one of the true heroes is forced to break the hero code.
10 Hawkeye kills The Hulk (Civil War II)
During the second arc of the Civil War storyline-- which is rife with moral conundrums and tests of will-- one of the standout moments is the death of the iconic Hulk. A vision, from the Inhuman known as Ulysses, predicts a possible timeline where the Hulk destroyes everyone around him, causing Dr Banner to take an all-or-nothing measure against himself.
In one of the most shocking moments in recent memory, Dr Banner is shot between the eyes in front of Captain Marvel. Hawkeye surrenders and, at the trial, reveals that Banner himself had given Hawkeye a special arrow with orders for the marksman to use it without hesitation if there was a risk of him losing control to the Hulk again.
The morality of the situation is still debated, but one thing is for certain: the cold and calculated action taken by Hawkeye, even if it was for the right reasons, shows the kind of brutal detachment that is sometimes required by even the most noble heroes.
9 Batman shoots Darkseid (Final Crisis)
Batman’s strict no firearms policy is rooted in his famous origin, when his parents were shot and killed in front of him when he was a boy. One time where we’ve seen this broken was in the chaotic Final Crisis storyline, which saw the supervillain and New God, the extremely powerful Darkseid, attempt to take over reality itself.
Filled with time warping and parallel worlds, the climax of Final Crisis has Batman outsmarting the New God. Secretly carrying a bullet filled with radion (Darkseid’s weakness), Batman shoots him, knowing that Darkseid will retaliate, which will result in his own death.
This entry is a technicality, because this Batman turned out to be a clone and Superman is the one who ultimately lands the killing blow on Darkseid, but that would not have been possible without the mortal wound he received from Batman.
It was an emotional moment to have Batman sacrifice himself using the very thing he vowed to never use-- the same thing that caused him to become the Caped Crusader all those years ago.
8 Nightwing kills The Joker (Last Laugh)
Of all villains, The Joker, more than any other, makes readers consider if it is right to break the no killing rule. With seemingly no psychological profile or particular pattern to his villainy, he embodies pure, unadulterated evil.
As the cause of more death and grief to Gotham City and the Bat Family than any other character by a longshot, Joker will always act with the utmost lethality, making him the hardest test for Gotham’s heroes to stick to their principles.
During the Last Laugh storyline, The Joker is diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor, causing him to plot one final villainous act to end them all. The climax is when he is finally cornered by Nightwing, and the latter flies into a rage and beats the Clown Prince of crime to death with his fists. The Joker’s heart is restarted and he is again imprisoned, but the sheer brutality of the beating is a moment that readers won’t soon forget.
7 Cyclops kills Professor X (Avengers vs X-Men 11)
Cyclops has had one of the most interesting and tragic journeys in the Marvel universe. As the first X-Men and Charles Xavier’s number one student, Cyclops was a born leader and saw his team through many a battle.
However, he always struggled with reader acceptance. Not as edgy as Wolverine nor as cunning as Gambit, he was the leader but was never anyone's favorite X-Men. It is perhaps due to this reason that his character was written to slowly descend into madness and become irredeemable.
Spanning several books and arcs, like Astonishing X-Men and X-Men: Schism, Cyclops eventually merges with the dreaded Phoenix Force. In Avengers vs X-Men, Captain America and Wolverine make the mistake of trying to force their way with the head X-Men, leading the already unstable hero to really lose it and nearly kill them both.
He is successful, however, in killing the master himself: Professor X. In a moment that sends shockwaves throughout the Marvel universe, the scene firmly establishes Cyclops as what some fans always saw him as: one of the most hated characters in all of Marvel.
6 Daredevil Kills Bullseye (Shadowland #1)
What would happen if a superhero willingly eschews the hero code and decides to act with complete impunity-- with no moral compass above them, and only their flawed human sense of right and wrong to guide them.
This was explored in the excellent Shadowlands series, which saw Daredevil leading The Hand, a shadow warrior group that is his nemesis, and using them as a force of justice. Daredevil’s lethality is on full display here, and the sight of someone with his capabilities completely off the leash is truly alarming.
In the first issue of the series, Daredevil faces off with one of his chief rivals: the deadly Bullseye. In a throwback moment, from when Bullseye killed Daredevil’s love Elektra years ago, Daredevil mercilessly impales the villain with a sai-- the same manner in which Bullseye dispatched Elektra.
The iconic scene mirrors the one that came before it, but the deliberation of it coming from a hero is what makes it truly harrowing.
5 Moon Knight Kills Bushman (Moon Knight Vol.4, #2)
Moon Knight is probably the least known superhero on the list. As a certifiably insane character with multiple personality disorder, he is a difficult character to write. Gaining his powers from the ancient Egyptian God Khonshu, Moon Knight acts as his living avatar on Earth.
His main rival is a villain named Bushman, who is a vicious mercenary with a penchant for ripping his enemies' flesh off with metal teeth. In his 2006 self-titled series, Moony once again faces off with his arch nemesis. The battle reaches its end on a rooftop, with Moon Knight who looks like he's done after falling and breaking his legs on a fire escape.
However, one last gesture gives him the upper hand, and-- in a move taken out of the Ed Gein playbook-- he flays the skin off of Bushman’s face and offers it as a trophy to Khonshu. Though it's not the most well known entry, it is certainly the most brutal.
This act forever establishes Moon Knight as a character that has no limits.
4 Captain America kills Baron Blood (Captain America #254)
Captain America is above all else a soldier, and his job inherently requires him to occasionally kill others. These dare usually faceless Nazi soldiers who, even if they had any sympathy from readers, would likely be counted as necessary casualties.
However, sometimes, things get a little more up close and personal. Way back in early 1981, the classic vampire villain Baron Blood was a sworn enemy of the Captain. The plot plays out like a murder mystery, as Baron Blood has the ability to camouflage himself and appear human.
After a couple of red herrings, Baron Blood is finally outed as the local doctor, who had been misdirecting the investigation from the shadows. The Captain, knowing full well that there is only one way to truly kill a vampire, brutally decapitates the villain with his shield.
The moment has become somewhat forgotten by fans over time, but it still stands as one of the most brutal kills ever performed by the Captain.
3 Green Arrow kills Prometheus (Cry for Justice story)
Cry for Justice received mixed reviews from readers overall, but all agree on one thing: it had an unusually violent story arc. The Justice League is at a point where some members, particularly Green Lantern and Green Arrow, feel that more needs to be done to bring villains to justice.
The big bad in this arc is Prometheus, who has a widespread plan to destroy the home cities of the League members through space and time. When Prometheus is captured, he barters the location of his powerful devices for his release.
Green Arrow refuses, and Prometheus reveals that the first location, Star City, which is Arrow’s home, will be destroyed. Racing against time, the heroes are too late, as Star City is partly demolished with many casualties, including Red Arrow’s daughter.
The League is forced to release Prometheus, but when the devices are disabled, Arrow takes revenge and shoots Prometheus in the head, pinning him against a wall like a bug in a display case
2 Green Lantern’s killing spree to become Parallax (Emerald Twilight story)
One of Green Lantern’s most famous storylines is the 1994 Emerald Twilight arc. Taking place in the years after the death of Superman, where four Superman-esque characters had temporarily replaced the Man of Steel, Green Lantern finds himself at odds with one of them, Cyborg Superman, and the alien villain Mongul.
After the villains bomb Hal Jordan’s home of Coast City to rubble, and in a moment in clear violation of his powers, Hal uses the power ring to recreate Coast City. Even when he is branded a traitor by the Guardian of the Universe, Hal isn’t about to just surrender.
Enraged, he defeats Mongul in battle and travels to Oa, fighting and defeating several other Lanterns and leaving them for dead. In the end, Hal kills the supervillain Sinestro and fellow Lantern Kilowog. He absorbs all the power of the now destroyed Lantern Corps and becomes Parallax, a figure of terrible power, with the combined might of all the Lanterns at his disposal.
1 Namor kills Master Khan (Namor The Sub-Mariner #33)
Namor is a character who is often overlooked in terms of how dangerous he is. Fiercely proud and extremely strong, he has a brusque personality that doesn’t always vibe well with his fellow heroes.
In one of his most Savage moments, Namor is involved in a storyline with the ruthless and powerful sorcerer Master Khan. Khan places a spell on Namor, causing him to forget who he is, and thus devolves the hero into what is known as Savage Sub-Mariner-- a brute version of Namor possessing little intelligence and a lot of wanton rage.
Worse, the curse causes Namor to flee whenever someone who might know who he is comes near him. At the end of a rather long story that involved heroes like Iron Fist and the villain Doctor Doom, Namor finally gets his hands on Khan, and, in a moment straight out of a horror film, grabs the sorcerer by the head and rips it clean off his shoulders. This is a deserving, yet shockingly brutal, kill for heroic Atlantean.
Can you think of any other chilling kills done by fan-favorite superheroes? Let us know in the comments!