The 10 People Who Have Stayed Dead in Superhero Comics

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.

As they say, the light that burns briefest burns brightest.
(Final Crisis: Revelations #1, August 2008)

9) Sabretooth

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)

8) Skyman

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?

Fucking classic, is what that is. (Wonder Woman #219, July 2005)


5) Amazing-Man

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)

3) Cypher

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.

Cypher actually expires while? look, just read it.

Looks like math couldn’t save you here, eh, Cypher? (New Mutants #60, February 1988)

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)