In comics, death is cheap. The serialized nature of the format and the sheer volume of material means that publishers have frequently had major characters die to ratchet up the drama. Until they come back again, different or not, so that they can face death in the next major event.
But some stories and comics handle death with a bit more depth. Death often takes the form of an embodied character, taunting and pursuing the heroes, confronting them with that mortal fear of the cessation of life. Even more harrowing is when characters we’ve gotten to know are transformed into an incarnation of death or take up the mantle of an avatar of death.
For this list we’re looking at the comics characters who became representations of that great equalizer. Sometimes their ominous transformations were urgent crises in their universes. Other times they assumed subtle responsibilities appropriate to the banal ubiquity of death. Here are 15 Comic Book Characters Who Became Death.
Barry Allen himself has become an incarnation of death in a few different ways and occasions. In Flash: Rebirth, Lady Flash suffers the dire consequences of performing a ritual to contact Savitar. The full consequences aren’t revealed until both Barry Allen and Wally West arrive in Fallville to investigate and are attacked by Lady Flash. They defeat her, but she immediately disintegrates when Barry touches her and he’s transformed into the new Black Flash.
Also, during the Darkseid war, Barry Allen was bound with a being called the Black Racer. Black Racer is an aspect of Death that Darkseid bound to a sentient host, but he was ripped from Darkseid’s control by Mobius and bound to the Flash. Mobius intended to use the Flash as the host of the Black Racer to become a death god and kill Darkseid. Black Racer represented not only the prospect of death for the despot of Apokolips, but the inevitability of death for all beings.
15 BLACK FLASH
For those characters in the DC comics and TV Arrowverse imbued with the power of the Speed Force, there’s a terrible price to pay. A ghastly, powerful being known as the Black Flash stalks them whenever they are close to death. The Black Flash has appeared before the deaths of Wally West, Barry Allen, and Johnny Quick among others to take them back to the Speed Force, the source of their power. Like other ominous figures in comics with grim duties, his mantle has been assumed by other various characters empowered by the Speed Force in the comics.
But of course these days, everyone is excited for his appearance on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. In the Season 2 Finale of The Flash, the police of the Speed Force called Time Wraiths finally caught up to Hunter Zolomon, with a little direction from the Flash. They dragged him back to the source of the Speed Force but along the way his body and costume transformed into the red and black necrotic visage that comics fans recognized as Black Flash. Eobard Thawne better beware.
When the proto-mutant Apocalypse was introduced, awakening after hundreds of years in the present day, he began abducting or recruiting mutants to join his team of Horsemen. These anointed agents, each themed after War, Famine, Pestilence and Death, would do battle to serve the will of Apocalypse.
With his wings crippled, Warren Worthington III had boarded his personal jet, unaware that it had been sabotaged to explode. Apocalypse teleported Warren to safety only to brainwash him into becoming his fourth and final Horseman, Death. As Death, Archangel’s wings were transformed into deadly weapons along with his enhanced mutations for efficiency and resilience. His techno-organic wings would produce razor sharp metallic feather tips that could be launched like projectile weapons in a deadly volley. The wing tips also carried a paralyzing neurotoxin. The persona of Apocalypse’s angel of Death stayed in Warren long after the first confrontation with Apocalypse ended and he struggled to keep his violent urges in check.
12 THE ARCANE FAMILY
In DC comics, one of the arcane forces of destruction that has existed since the beginning of life is The Rot or The Black. It presides over the decay of livings things and has been in perpetual conflict with the forces of life. It is physically located in the “Bone Kingdom” and has worked through sentient agents throughout history, mostly belonging to the Arcane Family.
In 1875, Anton Arcane stumbled upon a decaying rabbit a hunter’s trap and decided to eat it, without cooking it. He was visited by the keepers of The Rot, the Parliament of Decay and they made him the Avatar of Death to spread disease and destruction. Members of the Arcane family have been acting as agents of Death ever since, each of them granted deadly powers of necromancy, magic and regeneration. Anton also tried to force his niece Abigail into continuing their family’s service to the Rot as empowered avatars of decay.
11 GRIM REAPER
Eric Williams was the less loved brother of Simon Williams, neglected by his mother and abused by his father. In adulthood, their business Williams Innovations lost out due to competition with Stark Industries. After Simon died as Wonder Man, Eric sought revenge on the Avengers, and Tony Stark in particular. He contacted the Tinkerer and had him fashion a signature scythe weapon for his villainous alter ego.
The Grim Reaper’s scythe replaces his amputated right hand. At first it was a merely technological blade that could spin at high speeds, letting him inflict devastating lacerations, deflect projectiles and act as a makeshift helicopter. He gained more mystical powers as his schemes and confrontations continued. The Grim Reaper was granted the ability to revive the souls and bodies of the dead, alternatively by training with the Black Talon or bestowed by Lloigoroth. His scythe also became magically sharp and capable of projecting energy blasts
Apocalypse has anointed several mutants to be his horsemen throughout his existence, including the Horseman of Death. After Apocalypse awoke following the events of M-Day, he made Gambit into his next Horseman of Death. Gambit actually sought Apocalypse out himself, believing that Apocalypse’s goals may have changed and that he could be the savior mutants needed at the time. He didn’t trust Apocalypse enough to accept being sedated for his transformation, thinking he could prevent his mind from being tampered. But Apocalypse still made him into his unwavering servant.
As a Horseman of Death, Gambit’s powers of molecular acceleration became even more deadly. He was able to convert the air around him into a deadly toxic gas and his signature cards were able to disintegrate living targets upon contact. He could also guide his cards to their targets with some kind of telekinesis and bind his targets to the cards once they struck.
9 BLACK HAND
William Hand was the black sheep of the well-to-do Hand family in Coast City. To get back at them and challenge Green Lantern, he invented a device that would let him absorb and harness the Power Ring against Hal Jordan.
Throughout the DC Comics retcons, Black Hand has always had a morbid fascination with death, to the degree that he costume and powers were increasingly focused on death. His costume after Infinite Crisis was fashioned out of body bags from his family’s morgue business.
But in the Blackest Night arc, Black Hand was granted a cosmic level opportunity to fulfill his obsession with Death. He was approached by the Guardian of Death and the fashioner of the Black Lantern after being mutilated and left for dead by Hal Jordan Again. He traveled to Gotham City, dug up the skull of Batman and summoned Black rings from the Black Lantern central battery to establish the Black Lantern Corps.
8 HAL JORDAN
Comics love to pull the rug out from under their heroes. Hal Jordan is one particular hero that has been saddled with a lot of angst over the years by transformations into supervillains. During Emerald Twilight, he was driven so man with grief and vengeance over the destruction of Coast City that he killed the entire Green Lantern Corps. and absorbed all their rings’ power for himself. This transformed him into the supervillain Parallax.
After he was defeated as Parallax, Hal became the new host of the Spectre. The Spectre is meant to embody the divine vengeance of the One Above All and bring death and judgement upon those deserving. It is always meant to have a host and the Spectre choose Hal Jordan with an ulterior motive of purging Parallax from Hal’s mind and delivering judgement upon him. But for a time, Hal and the Spectre struggled to assert their competing visions of redemption and destruction.
The Wolverine himself was once made into Apocalypse’s Horseman of Death. Sometime after Magneto forcefully and brutally removed the adamantium from Wolverine’s skeleton, Logan was captured by Tyler Dayspring aka Genesis. Genesis had collected a lot of new adamantium from the mercenary Cyber and planned to rebind the powerful metal to Wolverine and prepare him to become a Horseman for Apocalypse.
Wolverine’s body rejected the adamantium this time and he escaped, until Apocalypse kidnapped Wolverine himself. He forced Wolverine and Sabertooth to do battle for the prize of becoming the Horseman of Death. Wolverine believed that he might be able to overcome Apocalypse’s influence and that Sabertooth would be a willing villain anyway, so this motivated Wolverine to prevail in the battle. Apocalypse’s prodigious powers and enhancements granted to Wolverine allowed him to successfully rebind adamantium to Wolverine’s skeleton as well. He was a fearsome opponent to his former teammates the X-men while fighting as Death.
6 THE SAINT OF KILLERS
In Preacher, there’s a dual wielding gunman who can’t be killed and who passes between this world and the next as mere mortals pass through doors. He is the Saint of Killers, God’s embodied angel of death. His real name is unknown, but once he was a mortal man who fought in the Civil War. Even then he was notorious as the most blood thirsty man on the battlefield. After the war he returned home to Texas, took a wife and had a child. They both died of fever while he was on route by horse to bring back medicine. He returned too late and set out again for revenge on the man who had delayed him. He was killed in the quest by having the blade of a shovel lodged in his chest.
When he arrived at the gates of hell, his lingering hate even got the Devil’s attention. The current Angel of Death offered the man his job, along with pistols that would never misfire and never run out and would always kill their target. Thus the Saint of Killers was anointed and his first victim was the Devil himself.
5 JUDE THE ENTROPIC MAN
For many years, there existed a mysterious cabal of nihilists, devotees to the natural decay of the world. They were known as the Cult of Entropy. Their leader was a man named Yagzan. At some point he discovered the remains of the Glob but determined that the brain was still intact. He rejuvenated the brain and bound a piece of his mind to the Glob to gain control over him. Unfortunately for him, the Glob encased Yagzan in clay from a swamp, suffocating him and reducing him to a skeleton.
Years later, the surviving cultists of entropy were gifted the use of the Cosmic Cube by Victorious and used it to revive Yagzan. He took on a new identity: Jude the Entropic Man. Now he had to power to control the forces of entropy around him, accelerating the atomic decay of living and non-living things immediate area. The Supreme Scientist later recruited Jude to serve as A.I.M.’s Minister of Health, of all things.
Betsy Braddock didn’t precisely become Apocalypse’s Horseman of Death. In Uncanny X-Force, the Death of Apocalypse triggered the Death Seed implanted in Warren Worthington to transform him back into Archangel. As a new Apocalypse, Archangel tricked X-Force into travelling back in time to the Age of Apocalypse and procuring a Life Seed for him, which he intended to use to remake the world.
When this deception was revealed, Betsy Braddock surrendered herself, hoping she would be able to appeal to whatever might be left of Warren. Archangel began to reveal his plans to her, involving using the son of Apocalypse, Genocide, and the Doom Fountain to purge all existing life from Earth and grow a whole new ecology from the Life Seed. Betsy could not reach him personally and Archangel took another Death Seed and made Psylocke into his own Horseman of Death. She was eventually freed from her terrible role by Jean Grey’s psychic powers.
Nekron is the ruler of the Land of the Unliving, a purgatory realm where the souls of the dead go before their final judgement. He is meant to be the literal embodiment of Death and was supposedly cursed to confinement within his realm after being defeated in a battle with primeval cosmic forces in eons past.
Hal Jordan has led the Green Lantern Corps in a battle against Nekron during the Krona War, but Nekron greatest campaign didn’t come until Blackest Night. Nekron was finally able to energize his own Central Power Battery and reach out to kill and corrupt Green Lanterns and other heroes on Earth. He was the one who influenced William Hand to kill his own family, including himself, and become his herald.
When he arrives on Earth, he resurrects thousands of people in Black Lanterns, including reanimated versions of Batman, Superman, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman. His ultimate goal was to draw out the Entity that was the source of all life in the universe and kill it.
The pitiful junkie Robert Reynolds had the misfortune to absorb the thousand-times-amplified Super Soldier Serum when he stumbled into the Project Sentry lab. Initially he made a pretty upstanding example of himself with his spectacular powers as Sentry. But eventually, the dark repressed aspect of his powers and his personality began to emerge as a calamitous force known as the Void.
All throughout his adventures with the Avengers, Sentry tried to cover up his connection to the Void, going so far as to collaborate with Reed Richards and Doctor Strange to make the world, and Robert himself, forget about the Sentry and the Void. But his efforts would not succeed forever. The Void overtook Sentry’s personality during a battle in Asgard in which Iron Man had to use an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier like a bullet to subdue him. Thor dealt the merciful deathblow to Robert and dropped his remains into the Sun to ensure his permanent neutralization.
Later, the Apocalypse Twins resurrected Sentry in order to use him as a Horseman of Death; he turned on them when Thor, returning from the future, convinced him that the Twins meant to bring about, well, the apocalypse.
1 DEATH OF THE ENDLESS
At least as far as Vertigo and DC comics are concerned, when the first living beings came into existence, so too did the Death of the Endless. She is one of the seven Endless, personified aspects of reality imagined in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Though she can manifest or present herself in any form she chooses, she most commonly appears as a pale teenage goth girl dressed in casual black. Unlike most of the incarnations or agents of Death on this list, she is perky and down to earth and not bent on directly causing the gratuitous deaths of every living thing in the universe.
She is also present at the birth of every living thing, though usually unobserved or forgotten, and appears to every living thing at the end of their lives to guide them onward. She takes her duty very seriously. Once every century, she makes herself inhabit the body of a mortal on the day that they are fated to die. This helps her understand her power and responsibility, which she will carry out until the last living thing in the universe has died.
Are there any other comics characters you know of who became death? Let us know in the comments!