By Alicia Ashby
For some reason, when you put “superhero” and “comics” and “monthly” together, death becomes a hilariously temporary condition. That’s because longevity in superhero comics—in every form of ongoing serial fiction, really—comes down to winning popularity contests. A popular character that dies, or a character involved in a particularly famous death scene, is coming back eventually. People will keep requesting it until some editor breaks down and dreams up a stunt, or some writer gets inspired. Admittedly, some fans of superhero comics really like this aspect of the genre, claiming it always gives later writers a way to undo “unjust” or stupid deaths written by earlier writers.
These fans are, well, idiots. The only death scenes that get retroactively messed with in comics are generally those that were good enough for people to pay attention to in the first place. Anything truly terrible gets an “it was actually a robot clone” sort of retcon that results in the offending story never happening at all. This logic is why Bucky of all people got his death reversed, while Marvel can’t be bothered to keep track of whether Northstar is alive or dead at any given point in time. Does “In this issue: NORTHSTAR DIES” make you want to read a comic? No, me either.
The result of this editorial skew toward the flamboyant is one simple fact: all of the most truly awful, terrible, and damningly stupid comic book deaths are those least likely to be undone by resurrections. It is far more likely that the character is going to be replaced with another character, or the whole thing quietly ignored. So, this list ranks ten superhero comic book characters that died those stupid, needless, or simply ill-advised deaths.
10) Doctor Light
Doctor Light was never really a good character: a disposable gimmick villain that got punched by the Justice League, a sad joke who failed to fight the Titans, the briefly interesting milquetoast of the Suicide Squad, an incoherent '90s period where he lived in Green Lanter’s power battery or some shit… and then Identity Crisis. Do you know what Identity Crisis did to make sense out of this guy’s wildly inconsistent characterizations?
It made him a serial rapist.
In a single story, Brad Meltzer managed to turn Dr. Light into one of Cartman’s creations from the Woodland Critter Christmas episode. As you recall, those guys are funny for exactly thirty minutes, and then you’re bored and want to watch something else. So, not surprisingly, Dr. Light’s number has already come up. In Final Crisis Revelations #1, the Specter needs to shank some dudes so we’re all shocked when he can’t shank the big bad guy, Libra. Dr. Light happens to be an available shank-target. When the Specter tracks him down, he’s paying hookers to… uh…
… yeah. Perhaps moved by pity for how fucking ridiculous Dr. Light’s appearances are getting, the Specter executes him with more dignity than he deserves. He turns him into a human-candle hybrid and sets him on fire.
I can see you guys getting ready to call foul over this one, but look at it this way. Wolverine has become so ridiculously overexposed in the Marvel Universe that his supposed “greatest foe” can be unceremoniously dead for a year following a disastrously stupid Jeph Loeb storyline, and no one has really noticed. Much like Crystal Pepsi and car phones, Sabretooth is something a post-'90s word no longer needs.
That said, Sabretooth manages to die in a fantastically idiotic fashion for a character that was once so important. You see, Wolverine has a magic katana made out of his own soul that nullifies mutant healing factor. Wait—I'm not sure you caught that. Wolverine has a fucking magic katana made out of his own soul that nullifies mutant healing factor. Ahem.
Anyway, that jackass new villain they’ve been pushing over in Wolverine Origins, Romulus, is kidnapping and mind-controlling and doing generic shadowy X-Men villain bullshit to a bunch of different “feral” mutant characters. Sabretooth has completely lost his mind and become a shambling beast. This is played for pathos, but also features fucking hilarious shit like this:
Wolverine goes all Frank Miller noble samurai on us and has bunch of internal monologue about honor that, well, reads like Jeph Loeb wrote it. Then he goes out, finds Sabretooth in the forest, and lops Sabretooth’s head off. No, I don’t know what’s up with how the camera is mostly focused on Sabretooth’s ass.
Sabretooth is okay with this, probably realizing how fucking ridiculous he looks and how long he’ll need to be off-camera before anyone’s going to take him seriously again. Of all the guys on this list, Sabretooth is probably the most likely to come back, but don’t expect it to happen for at least five or ten years. Wolverine’s got so much shit going on these days he doesn’t really need an arch-nemesis. (Wolverine Vol. 3 #55, July 2007)
No one’s going to bother bringing back this sad fucker. He was a non-character to begin with, a redshirt there to make the villain look like more of a badass. I read all of 52, and re-read some of it before I wrote this, and I seriously couldn’t tell you what this guy’s powers were or how he acted. I do remember that his given name was Jake, and that he dated Natasha Irons when she was part of Luthor’s Infinity Inc. Remember, the plot they had to get rid of so the rest of the book could be more awesome?
Anyway, Skyman’s role in the story is, essentially, to be a victim of murder and cannibalism. He’s not even the only character in 52 who, from day one, was pretty clearly intended to be noshed on by a more important baddie. That said, while the scene where Sobek eats Osiris is pretty fucking awesome, Skyman is so lame that he gets taken out by nasty shape-shifting bad guy Everyman off-panel. Everyman copies someone’s appearance by ingesting a little bit of their body, but his name is also Hannibal—seriously, fucking Hannibal!—so he also just eats people for the hell of it.
I know I’m supposed to find shit like this horrifying, but it’s really just bad writing on par with the absurdity of Dr. Light, insatiable humpmaster. I’m supposed to take this seriously? Really? I mean, your big reveal for Everyman being a monstrous cannibalizing shape-shifter is a scene where he ups and decides to show Natasha Jake’s corpse? What’s great about this scene is that Everyman’s apparently been gnawing on Jake for quite awhile, but the wounds are still fresh and bloody, and there aren’t any signs of rigor mortis setting in. Maybe Everyman was storing him in some really big Tupperware between meals. (52 #39, January 2007)
7) Goliath (Bill Foster)
Bill Foster initially debuted in Avengers #32, penned in 1966 by Stan the Man himself. He is presented, without any comment or qualification, as the only scientist in America brilliant enough to act as Henry Pym’s lab assistant. He also appears during one of the better early Avengers storylines, where the team is fighting a group of coded white supremacists called the Sons of the Serpent.
Seriously, sit there and think about this shit for a second. In 1966, when most black people in the U.S. couldn’t even be assured of their voting rights because the Civil Rights war was still being fought, a New York Jew was writing about a brilliant black biochemist hanging out with the Avengers. Whatever else I have ever written, or will write, about Stan Lee’s writing prowess, I’ll say this: the man has balls of steel and a heart of gold.
So let’s jump ahead forty goddamn years. What do the heirs and stewards of Stan’s many creations decide to do with a groundbreaking character like Bill Foster, in their story about the ever-present tension between freedom and security?
Why, a lily-white evil Norse uebermenschen blows his heart out with a bolt of lightning! By the way, did I mention that Henry Pym is one of the assholes who helped make the evil Thor clone that did the deed? (Civil War #4, September 2006)
6) Maxwell Lord
Poor DC. So many of the scenes of death and dismemberment they’ve written into their books recently have just been exercises in black comedy. For instance, take the death of Maxwell Lord, an event that was supposed to be a super big deal for Wonder Woman’s future characterization and a bunch of events planned out for then-brewing Infinite Crisis. The scene as written is just fucking hilarious.
The big theme of this issue is that Max Lord has mind-controlled Superman. Batman has spontaneously become an asshole, so all of the counter-measures Superman trusted him with just in case of this event aren’t going to get fucking used. Instead, evil mind-controlled Superman and Maxwell Lord are Wonder Woman’s problem.
Of course, if Wonder Woman had been allowed to give Superman the prompt ass-beating she realistically could? Then Max would’ve required a light backhand and maybe some tranquilizers to handle. No, instead she has to take out Superman by throwing her tiara through his neck all Sailor Moon style, and tie up Max Lord with her magic lasso.
Max mwa-ha-has about how she can’t keep him tied up forever (which… actually she could, or long enough to find another way to deal with him, but whatever), and then boasts that the only way she can ever free Superman would be to kill him. In a scene with comic timing so goddamn perfect it had to be intentional, Wonder Woman thinks this over, and then…