James Robinson’s Starman is a great, amazing, fantastic comic that is as close to being a must-read as anything that gets published in ongoing continuity… mostly. You see, there is exactly one lousy issue of Starman. You shouldn’t be surprised to know that the one really fucking lousy Starman issue involved killing off a bunch of third-string superheroes to make new villainess the Mist look better.
Starman #38 is mostly a bunch of “Justice League” characters—basically guys leftover from the devastatingly '90s Extreme Justice series—fighting the series’s recurring villainess the Mist. Now, the Mist is mostly a good character who goes on to be in some really fantastic stories later in the series. In this issue, she’s like the sort of shit Geoff Johns comes up with when he needs to pad out a crossover.
Basically, the Mist goes to Europe to kill her some superheroes, and mows down the Crimson Fox (but they had a spare), Blue Devil (he got better), and Amazing-Man, who was just fucked. You see, Amazing-Man is a dude who has the power to absorb the properties of any material he touches. The Mist plans around his powers by… well, I mean, she… look, Jesus Christ, just read this shit.
Much like Goliath, the Amazing-Man who gets ganked in this blithering stupid fashion stands pretty much no chance of coming back. Instead they passed his powers on somehow or other to a functionally identical relative named Markus Clay, who gets to hang around with the JSA. Until some asshole editor decides to kill him off again, anyway. (Starman Vol. 2 #38, January 1998)
4) Alexandra DeWitt
Hot off the heels of the Emerald Twilight storyline that pissed off Hal Jordan fans everywhere by having him do something kind of interesting, the Green Lantern team had to quickly establish new boy Kyle Rayner as a worthy and interesting successor. They had some good ideas, at first, anyway. Where Hal usually had a crap supporting cast when he wasn’t hanging out exclusively with the Corps, Kyle immediately had an interesting character to confide in: his successful, level-headed photographer girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt.
Kyle and Alex had genuine chemistry, and early on the book seemed to be setting up a status quo where Alex helped out by supplying her artist boyfriend with the common sense that God hadn’t seen fit to give him. Instead, while Kyle is off having some pointless skirmishes with villains I can’t be bothered to remember, a lame-ass Captain Atom villain called Major Force breaks into his apartment, throttles Alex, and… well…
… yeah, this is where that got started. All that really came of Alex’s death were some generic angst that transformed Kyle into the Peter Parker knockoff he otherwise might not have been, and a set of really unfortunate revenge plotlines that involved crossing over with Guy Gardner’s book back when he was a Tattooed Middle-Aged Alien Fighter. With the return of Hal Jordan, Kyle is no longer more than a supporting cast member himself, so it’s highly doubtful anyone’s going to bother to bring Alex back.
Consider this Elseworld for a moment, though: how different would the '90s Kyle Rayner Green Lantern book have been if Kyle had been written as a guy trying to hold down a freelance career, a superhero gig, and a serious relationship with a lovely lady? It certainly wouldn’t have degenerated into the sad farce it became, where Kyle had nobody to talk to except the Middle Eastern coffee guy and whatever lame third-string super-heroine he was banging that month. When Kyle Rayner’s creators stuffed Alex in that fridge, they might as well have put a bullet in Kyle, too. If Hal Jordan wasn’t such a godawful boring character, Kyle’s tenure probably wouldn’t have lasted half so long.
(Green Lantern Vol. 3 #54, July 1994)
The death of Cypher, a.k.a. Doug Ramsey, a.k.a. Really Good at Math Man, is one of the most all-time fucking stupid death scenes you’ll ever read in comics. It may actually be the stupidest thing on this list; the next two entries only trump it in terms of long-term bullshit. There have been flirtations at bringing a Doug-like thing back in various Phalanx stories, but they’re always so careful to say it’s not really Doug that, for my purposes, I’m gonna say he’s been taking a twenty-year dirt nap.
This scenario is a miserable train wreck that involves a douchebag villain called the Ani-Mator and a bunch of sentient mutant animals that, to the artist’s credit, look sort of neat. The New Mutants spend the issue being captured and whining about it interminably before they break out, another villain shows up, and there’s the requisite big stupid fight scene.
So during the Big Stupid Fight, Wolfsbane is tearing up this guy in power armor, while the Ani-Mator shows up to menace her with a… handgun. Now, while Wolfsbane isn’t a badass of highest tier, one of her powers is super-agility, and it’s made very clear that she knows the guy is there and probably intends to shoot her. For whatever stupid fucking reason, though, Doug Ramsey gets it into his once-expansive brain that Ani-Mator is getting the drop on her.
I don’t know what’s stupider, that Doug jumps when Rahne clearly has a handle on the situation, or that his plan somehow actually works. He apparently had to jump six feet to the side in a split-second to take his noble bulleting, and I kind of wonder why the bullet didn’t just pass through him and then hit Rahne at that sort of distance.
So, Cypher’s shot in the chest, bleeding, and dying. You know what’s awesome? Wolfsbane is too caught up in… I don’t know, being useful, to notice any of this shit. In fact, she bitches Doug out for trying to do anything and having the temerity to take a bullet for her.
2) Dove (Don Hall)
I’m pretty fond of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I also first read it when I was fifteen. That’s pretty much the perfect age for enjoying a story about the entire DC Universe (as it stood in 1985) getting together to punch anti-matter Satan in the balls.
That said, there was always one page in the final issue that really bugged me. Out of pretty much nowhere, the action stops to focus on Hawk and Dove trying to rescue civilians as encroaching anti-matter starts making the world a’splode. Evil assholes called Shadow Demons are flying around wreaking havoc, but bear in mind that these guys have been flying around for the whole series and, basically, aren’t a threat to any character who knows what the hell he’s doing. So, anyway, Hawk and Dove are there, and…
We never see Hawk or Dove’s death mentioned again for the entire issue. In retrospect, this page is somewhat obviously there to set up the Hawk and Dove relaunch that happened a few years later, where Dove was a sexy girl instead of a lame-o pacifist, and the world got introduced to the artistic stylings of a young Rob Liefeld. (Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, March 1986)
1) Gwen Stacy
Women in refrigerators? Fuck that. Let’s talk about women chucked off bridges, shall we? Because dying is the only remotely interesting thing Gwen Stacy ever did. I’ll up the ante and ensure lots of furious flaming from long-term Spider-Fans: the death of Gwen Stacy is why the 35 years of superhero comics that followed were so terribly eager to toss protagonist’s girlfriends off of metaphorical bridges. Hey, the death of Gwen Stacy was a classic, right? If I kill off Jackass-Man’s boring girlfriend by hurling her into a corn thresher, it’ll be a classic, too!
Seriously, have you ever read this issue of the book? Gwen’s death is this avalanche of miserable sadness and bad writing. She has roughly two lines of dialogue in the entire issue, and both are fretting over Harry Osborn, who’s still fucked up from the Very Special Issues about drug use. Her sole contribution to the action of the issue is going to Peter Parker’s apartment, so the Green Goblin can kidnap her.
The next time we see her, she’s already slumped unconscious on the bridge. She spends the entire battle unconscious, roughly as important to the action as a particularly large and well-dressed sandbag. Have you seen that famous panel of Spider-Man trying to save her after she’s chucked off the bridge? He might as well be rescuing a mannequin.
The whole lame affair reaches its crescendo of stupidity when the Green Goblin has to stop and explain how Gwen is dead. Instead of something sensible like “I killed her BEFORE you showed up, Spider-Man, hurr hurr hurr!”, or maybe “Your caught her wrong and snapped her neck, Spider-Jackass!”, Green Goblin has to resort to an explanation that is never going to be why anyone in any superhero book dies ever again.
Yes, even though Superman can catch people all the time without his webbing causing them any impact damage, even though Spider-Man will catch people who fall from similar heights or farther for the next goddamn thirty-five years without causing harm, realistic physics decided to apply the one time Gwen Stacy fell off a goddamned bridge. Why not just have the Green Goblin tell the truth with his response, eh? “Don’t you see, Spider-Man? From the very beginning—your girlfriend was TOO BORING to survive!” (Amazing Spider-Man #121, June 1973)