Death as a storytelling device can be a very effective tool. It’s one of the few things that everyone will have to deal with at some point, and as such, writers have been tapping into the universal nature of death as a means to tell more effective and emotional stories.
However, when it comes to comic books, death isn’t always treated with the respect it deserves. For every meaningful loss in comics, there are four or five deaths that are designed purely to generate sales. Maybe it’s an overly gruesome death, maybe it’s a half-baked plot twist, maybe the whole thing is rendered moot by immortality or resurrections. In any case, comic books have become infamous for poorly thought-out deaths over the past few decades.
With this list, we’re taking a look at the worst of the worst. These are the comic book deaths that came out of nowhere, shocked readers with unnecessary gore or ultimately fell flat. In other words, these are 15 Comic Book Characters Who Were Killed Off Just To Be Edgy.
Died in: Superman #75 (1993)
Back in 1993, the idea of Superman actually dying was unheard of. This was a hero that, even more-so than a character named after his country, embodied the very essence of what it meant to be American. Superman was the good guy, and, up until that point, the good guy had always come out on top.
Until he didn't. In the appropriately titled The Death of Superman storyline, the Man of Steel finally met his match. A funeral was held, heroes grieved, and anyone who had ever read a comic book shed a tear. Of course, as the storyline came to its conclusion, many believed that DC would eventually bring Superman back, though these same fans believed it would take some time. This was a huge event, and it simply wouldn’t make sense if Superman just came back to life, right?
Clark Kent died in January...and returned less than nine months later.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how Superman’s death was clearly part of a publicity stunt. Doomsday was a grossly underdeveloped character, the various Supermen felt like something straight out of a toy deal, and none of the characters really changed following the Man of Steel’s death (including Superman himself). The Death of Superman was a huge deal back in the day, and it managed to sell quite a few comic books. But nowadays, it’s mostly remembered now for kickstarting the trend of cheap publicity stunts and ‘temporary deaths’ in comic books.
Died in: Final Crisis #6 (2009)
Speaking of temporary deaths, let’s talk about Batman.
While the almost-immediate turnaround of Batman: Endgame almost took this spot, it’s the build-up of Bruce Wayne’s ultimate demise in Final Crisis that really takes the cake. Much like The Death of Superman, the Dark Knight’s death at the hands of Darkseid made sense at the time, but the story hasn’t really held up since then.
For those who haven’t read the story, Final Crisis sees Batman finally breaking his ‘no guns’ rule in order to destroy the DC Universe’s big baddie, Darkseid. Again, much like The Death of Superman, DC touted Bruce Wayne’s fate was a game-changer for the industry, though it quickly became clear that the Dark Knight’s demise was hardly permanent.
As it turns out, the Batman-like corpse that Superman stumbled across was actually a clone created by Darkseid (for some unexplained reason). After being resurrected on two separate occasions, the Bat-clone ultimately fell apart, and served as proof that the real Batman was still out there. Somewhere.
What’s strange is that readers had already known about Batman’s survival for months before the reveal. The real Bruce Wayne had actually been sent back in time, and was busy going on wacky adventures with pirates and cavemen while jumping towards the present. It’s just as silly as it sounds, and it ultimately meant nothing, just like...
13 Ultimate Peter Parker
Died in: Ultimate Spider-Man #160 (2011)
Don’t worry, DC isn’t the only source of 'edgy' deaths in comic books. Back in 2011, Marvel decided to reboot its popular Ultimate Spider-Man series by killing off Peter Parker and introducing then-newcomer Miles Morales.
For a while, it seemed as if Marvel had done Peter Parker justice: the original Spider-Man went out battling his greatest villain and sacrificing himself to save his loved ones. It felt appropriate for the character, and the stories that followed managed to simultaneously pay tribute to the original Spider-Man while introducing a distinctly new wall-crawler into the mix.
Then again, in the world of comics, no one stays dead for long. Roughly three years after the Death of Spider-Man storyline, Marvel decided to revive Peter Parker...for all of six months.
The idea of death and resurrection in comics is nothing new, but for Peter Parker, it all felt so pointless. It was revealed that Peter’s spider-powers also came with the handy side-effect of actual immortality, essentially negating the entirety of the Death of Spider-Man story arc and any sense of danger from previous stories. In one fell swoop, Marvel revived and ruined a character, all while giving him one of the most generic send-offs in comic book history. On top of all that, Marvel ended up blowing the entire Ultimate Universe to smithereens, meaning that Peter's resurrection didn't even matter in the first place.
12 Archie Andrews
Died in: Life with Archie #36 (2014)
There are few comic books in history as quintessentially sappy as Archie. That’s not meant to be an insult, either; the Archie comics have been running for nearly a century, largely because of their wholesomeness. Simply put, Archie is one of the few examples in the comic book industry of a series that absolutely anyone can read.
Life with Archie, on the other hand, was not. When the series was rebooted in 2010, the idea was to tackle more mature storylines featuring adult versions of the classic characters. The series wasn’t necessarily bad, but it strayed from what made Archie and his friends so lovable in the first place.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the series’ final storyline: Archie helps his friend, a gay Senatorial candidate named Kevin, win his campaign on a pro-gun control platform. Shortly after their victory, Archie is shot and killed by Kevin’s stalker, and the town is devastated.
Again, it’s not as if the story was handled poorly, but everything about Life with Archie‘s final issues goes against what the characters were created to do. Even when ignoring the multiple heavy-handed political messages, the story feels forced, simply because of how much it clashes with everything that Archie has always stood for. For most, Archie simply doesn’t work as a dramatic storytelling device -- especially when it’s so obviously being used as someone’s soapbox.
Died in: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
It’s no secret that Avengers: Age of Ultron was somewhat of a letdown for fans. While it’s far from the worst film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced, it simply couldn’t maintain the momentum laid down by the first Avengers movie. The lackluster villain and confusing overall tone were bad enough, but too many subplots and extraneous characters dragged the movie down throughout its final act.
Quicksilver is a perfect example of this. Marvel’s decision to add the speedster into the movie not only bogged down the plot, but added in yet another underdeveloped character and storyline with a weak conclusion. Whereas Agent Coulson’s death in the first Avengers film felt like a crucial part of the plot, Quicksilver’s demise felt like it was crammed in for a last-minute emotional punch.
To be fair, Marvel was already fighting an uphill battle. Fox’s take on Quicksilver had already won audiences over, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson just wasn’t as instantly lovable as Evan Peters. What’s worse is that, with the right script, Quicksilver could have been a fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, thanks to Age of Ultron and its need for a dramatic death in the third act, that’ll never happen. Probably.
10 Jimmy Olsen
Died in: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Jimmy Olsen is, to put it simply, the product of a different time. At the dawn of the comic book industry, a hero without a teenage sidekick was simply unheard of, regardless of how unrealistic the concept was. Superman’s trusty pal Jimmy Olsen was one of the first (and arguably best) examples of this trope, and it’s no surprise that the character lives on in the comics to this day.
So, when it came time to modernize classic comic book characters for DC’s Cinematic Universe, many wondered how the films would handle someone like Jimmy Olsen. Would he be relegated to the sidelines? Could DC actually bring such a dated concept into a modern setting? Would they completely re-write his role and then unceremoniously kill him off for no good reason?
That third option may seem out of place, but for whatever reason, that’s what Zack Snyder and DC went with. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jimmy Olsen appears on-screen for a matter of minutes before being killed. Yes, it’s a reference to the amazing Superman: Red Son graphic novel, but it’s completely out-of-place within the context of the film, and does absolutely nothing to move the plot forward.
Basically, DC introduced Jimmy Olsen into their Cinematic Universe just so he could die in the first act. Because fans really needed another reason to hate Batman v. Superman, right?
Died in: Detective Comics #819 (2006)
The worst kind of character death is one that feels out of place. A properly-executed death can elevate a story, whereas a death for the sake of an increased body count can pull a cleverly-written narrative down. What’s even worse is when, on top of everything else, the death feels pointless: the writers thought they needed a body to keep the story interesting, so they kill off a random character in the hopes that it’ll keep readers invested.
That’s exactly what happened with Orca. Grace Balin was never one of Batman’s most popular villains, and there was nothing about her character arc that stood out, but her unceremonious death in the pages of Detective Comics felt like the worst kind of cop out. Instead of crafting an interesting reason for Orca to die, the writers simply dumped her body in a sewer and expected readers to be intrigued.
What’s worse is that said writers believed that shock value would somehow make the story better, which is why Orca was found with giant chunks of her flesh missing. As it turns out, Orca was killed, dumped in the sewers, and partially eaten by Killer Croc, which, unsurprisingly, had no real impact on the plot. It's not just a needless death, it's a needless death with a dash of unnecessary gore tossed in for good measure.
Died in: Amazing Spider-Man #4 (2016)
Both Marvel and DC have been introducing newer versions of classic characters for years now. Bruce Wayne has gone through no less than five Boy Wonders, and Marvel has been revealing new incarnations of dead villains for years now. Usually, it’s not much of an issue -- unless the older version of the character is still alive when the new model makes their debut.
Take Electro, for instance. Max Dillon has been causing Spider-Man trouble for decades now. He’s been a staple of the Sinister Six since the team’s first incarnation, and despite the fact that his motives haven’t changed all that much since the ‘60s, few would have ever thought that Electro needed a replacement.
Enter Francine Frye, one of Max Dillon’s old love interests. The character originally died trying to kiss Electro, which resulted in her electrocution. However, a clone of Francine was produced, and, during a procedure to return Dillon’s electrical powers, the clone kissed him, resulting in Dillion dying via electrocution while Francine absorbed his powers.
Not only is the story completely ridiculous, but the whole thing felt unnecessary. It was another case of using a death to generate ‘drama’ while trying to play it safe with a B-Grade villain. Electro’s death won’t change anything, save for the fact that Electro’s dead. That’s not good writing, that's just a waste.
7 The Hulk
Died in: Civil War II #3 (2016)
Let’s get straight to the point: Bruce Banner is a shining example of what not to do when writing a character's death.
After Amadeus Cho drained the gamma energy from the Hulk’s body, Bruce Banner went back to being a regular human being. However, after Ms. Marvel learned that Bruce was researching ways to re-Hulk himself, Hawkeye shot him dead with an arrow to the brain. It was a brutal way to kill off one of Marvel’s longest-standing heroes -- and it could have been an effective way to show just how vicious and unflinching Ms. Marvel’s side of the Civil War conflict could be.
That storyline unfolded in July 2016. Bruce Banner was resurrected and re-Hulked three months later.
It’s one of the best examples of how Marvel doesn’t always take their pivotal emotional plot points seriously. Bruce Banner was killed by one of his closest friends after being manipulated by none other than Captain America, only to return as the Hulk in full samurai armor. This after only three months of being dead! There’s a reason major comic book deaths aren’t taken seriously these days, and Bruce Banner’s incredibly quick turnaround is one of them.
6 Jason Todd
Died in: Batman #427 (1988)
Most of the deaths on this list, at the very least, started out with the best of intentions. It’s easy to assume that writers were genuinely excited about the idea of a shifting status quo, even if that vision didn’t quite translate to the page. Sure, it’s easy to assume that some started out as publicity stunts, but it’s at least possible to see what the artists behind the stories were going for.
Jason Todd was not so lucky. The second Robin was almost universally hated by fans, and it wasn’t long before the higher-ups at DC had run out of ideas. As a result, it was decided that the fans themselves would determine the young Robin’s fate via a dedicated phone line (this was the ‘80s, after all).
It was a perfect example of a publicity stunt, and poor Jason suffered for it: Batman #427 depicted the Joker beating Robin to death with a crowbar before blowing up the building he was hidden in. The image of Batman emerging from the rubble with a broken and bloodied Jason Todd in his arms is one that’s stuck with many DC fans for years, and the story itself is definitely worth reading...though it’s still somewhat disturbing that so many readers voted to kill off a teenaged superhero.
Oh, and Robin eventually came back to life, making an already desperate attempt at causing drama all the more pointless. We'll say this though: the resurrected Todd's Red Hood persona is infinitely cooler than his best days as the Boy Wonder could ever hope to be.
5 Professor X
Appeared in: Uncanny Avengers #1 (2014)
Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X, is no stranger to death. The leader of the X-Men has died and returned a number of different times, though many were explained away as an illusion or resolved via time travel. His most recent bout with the afterlife, however, seems like it might be a bit more permanent...if not infinitely more unpleasant.
During the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event, Cyclops (who had been possessed by the Phoenix Force) challenged Professor X to one last fight. As one might expect, Cyclops emerged victorious, standing over the broken body of his former mentor. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, given how obvious the outcome became as the story went on, but the writers and artists still handled it well.
Unfortunately, the writers over at Marvel didn’t stop with Professor X's death. Once the dust had settled, a clone of the Red Skull stole Charles’ remains, pulled his brain out, and somehow gained psychic powers. The image of the Red Skull holding the bloody brain of Charles Xavier in his hands sullies the tragic nature of the Professor’s death, and like many of the entries on this list, comes off as a cheap shock tactic. At the very least, the Red Skull’s new abilities led to some interesting stories, but desecrating the corpse of such a beloved character feels like the wrong way to make an old villain interesting again.
Died in: Uncanny X-Force #4 (2011)
For most fans, Apocalypse is a towering, blue-skinned mutant with abilities unlike anyone else in the Marvel Universe. Few can rival Apocalypse’s powers or popularity, and he’s an absolute beast of a villain...or, at least, he used to be.
When Clan Akkaba resurrected Apocalypse back in the pages of Uncanny X-Force, the god-like villain took on the form of a child. Granted, this was a particularly menacing child with blue-tinged skin and red eyes, but a child nonetheless. As if that wasn't enough, readers were never given a reason to believe that this new form of Apocalypse was as evil as prior iterations. Fans would never get to know one way or the other, as the ‘heroic’ Fantomex brutally executed the young Apocalypse with a gunshot to the head.
Violence against children is something that a lot of people don’t want to see, regardless of the context. Yes, this child was the reincarnation of a legendary villain, but said child never did anything to hurt anyone, either. His execution at Fantomex’s hands wasn’t just brutal, it was seemingly uncalled for. Marvel could have used this new take on Apocalyspe to give readers a great twist on an old villain. Instead, they literally killed off a great idea.
3 Judith Grimes
Died in: The Walking Dead #48 (2008)
Once The Walking Dead established its ‘anyone can die at any time’ style, fans knew it was only a matter of time before Lori Grimes would meet her end. As protagonist Rick Grimes’ wife, it quickly became clear that Lori wouldn’t live to see the story’s conclusion.
What fans didn’t expect to see what the violent death of Lori’s infant daughter, Judith.
In issue #48, as the survivors attempt to flee from the Governor’s forces, Lori is shot in the back. That on its own would have been enough, but Lori wasn’t the only one who was shot. The bullet passes through her midsection, killing the baby that Lori was holding in her arms.
The death of younger survivors is something that The Walking Dead has always addressed head-on: if a zombie apocalypse ever happened, children would be more vulnerable than just about anyone else. The Walking Dead was always intended to be a more grounded approach to the zombie story, and as such, it never shies away from violence...even if it means that children get caught in the middle.
That being said, killing a baby in such a violent fashion feels more like exploitation than emotionally-charged storytelling. One could argue that much of the gore in The Walking Dead is pure shock value, but portraying Judith’s death in such a way came across more like a cry for attention than anything else. It’s not that Judith shouldn’t have died, it’s that such an emotional moment could have been depicted in a much more tasteful fashion.
2 Alexandra DeWitt
Died in: Green Lantern #54 (1994)
If a storyline’s greatest contribution to the industry is coining the term ‘Women in Refrigerator Syndrome’, something has gone terribly wrong.
Back when Kyle Raynor was the Green Lantern, Alexandra DeWitt was both his girlfriend and teacher. When Raynor revealed that he had received one of the green Power Rings, she offered to help him train and learn to control his new abilities. They had broken up once before, sure, but it genuinely seemed as if their relationship could have been something special.
At least, it could have been, had the writers not decided to kill Alexandra off less than eight months after her debut. Not only that, but she was strangled and unceremoniously stuffed into a refrigerator.
It was blatant shock value, designed to quickly kill off a character and generate controversy. Alexandra had only ever existed to die, and was quickly tossed aside in favor of Green Lantern’s next love interest. What’s (arguably) worse is that Alexandra is one of the few comic book characters who has actually stayed dead. DC has had more than a few opportunities to bring her back, and yet, it looks like Alexandra will be stuck in that fridge for the foreseeable future.
1 Most of the Ultimate Universe
Died in: Ultimatum (2009)
In order for a character's death to work, it has to mean something. Superman’s death didn’t work because he came back from it so quickly, while Jimmy Olsen’s failed to push the story forward. Granted, there are ways to do a heroes’ death justice -- just look at Barry Allen’s demise during Crisis of Infinite Earths. Not only did his sacrifice serve as the linchpin for the heroes’ ultimate victory, but it had long-lasting effects on the DC Universe as a whole. It meant something, that’s why it’s still so memorable all these years later.
Marvel’s Ultimatum is the exact opposite.The story was originally supposed to serve as something of a soft reboot for Marvel’s ‘Ultimate’ universe, but the finished product was nothing but bad writing and unadulterated shock value.
For starters, the entirety of the story centers around people dying. Magneto creates a massive tidal wave by reversing the Earth’s magnetic poles, killing thousands of innocent people and heroes alike. From there, the story devolves into a number of different threads, almost all of which end with a beloved hero and/or villain meeting a grisly end.
The Wasp is eaten alive. Doctor Strange is strangled and decapitated with his own cape. Wolverine is disintegrated. Magneto has his head blown off. Cyclops is shot in the head. Professor X has his neck broken. It’s not just violent, it’s downright gruesome. What’s worse is that, in many cases, these deaths did little to further the plot or leave any impact on the greater Ultimate universe.
Long story short: there’s a reason why Marvel wants its fans to forget that the series ever happened.
Which other comic book deaths do you think were designed to boost sales rather than storylines? Let us know in the comments!