Death is a part of comics, ever since the day Gwen Stacy met her tragic end in the pages of Spider-Man we have seen major characters get killed off in shocking moments which are often of triumph for them and in stories which affected our heroes for a long while after that. Today I want to talk about five character deaths which were very sudden, and in many ways changed everything for the characters who survivied.
These are character deaths which I was affected by. As always, I read comics in the 80’s so most of these are from that era. I know most of these have been retconned away by now, but that doesn’t make the initial impact any less. And of course, they are all DC.
Star Spangled Kid
This one was a total surprise, and has been kind of forgotten over the years. Star Spangled Kid was a hero in All Star Squadron who went off to for his one team called Infinity Inc. It was a decent book I read off an on. I like Skyman, as he later called himself. Then in one of the last issues, he was suddenly killed off. During a fight with Solomon Grundy, Grundy makes Mr.Bones touch Skyman. Now Mr.Bones had a cyanide body which killed you instantly if you touched him or if he touched you. And that’s what happened. The death basically tore the team apart, they disbanded soon after.
Robin (Jason Todd)
You all know this one, right? In the late 80’s after Dick Grayson has become Nightwing Batman took on a new Robin. His name was Jason Todd, and for whatever reason the fans did not like him. So the creators decided to do something unusual. After a series of issues where we saw Jason becoming more moody, he was caught in a conflict with The Joker. After he was beaten he ended up caught in an explosion! Phone numbers in the comic book instructed people to call and decide his fate. The votes counted caused Jason Todd’s to die, which is what happened. Batman found him and was affected very sharply, until Tim Drake came along who people really liked. Yes I know the character was eventually brought back, but that’s a whole other story. And if you’re wondering why this was a hero moment, Jason was trying to protect his mother from The Joker.
Who ever saw this coming? I mean, there have been dozens of stories where Superman is killed but it’s always a huge fake out. This time, DC meant it! Well, for a little while anyway. I think it worked because of how it was presented. It wasn’t Lex showing up with a lame “kryptonite laser” and blasting him. Superman puts it all on the line to stop a powerful monster named Doomsday. Doomsday trashed the JLA and tore through Ohio like a freight train. Superman fights to stop despite all the odds, and in the end he gives his own life in the name of stopping this monster. This event was huge, getting a ton of media coverage. So much so that it brought me back to the comic, which I had kind of dropped at that time. I was then drawn into the whole Reign of the Supermen storyline that followed. It was a very well done story and the creators deserved tons of credit. The best part is when Superman did return the death wasn’t washed away, it remained and was even explored in other stories. Until the idiotic reboot anyway.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to talk about Sue Dibny or Ted Kord in this spot. Sue Dibny’s death was tragic but it wasn’t a “hero” moment for her. Her death in Idenitty Crisis was almost an insult to an otherwise fine character. Ted Kord had a stronger death. For years Blue Beetle had become a joke, a silly comic relief character who just made gags and contributed nothing of value. In the pages of Countdown to Final Crisis, we saw what made Ted Kord a hero. He alone tracks down Maxwell Lord and confronts him. In a brave moment he tells Lord to rot to hell when Lord offers him a chance to join him. Lord then fires a gun and blows Ted’s brains out, but that was a great moment which defined the hero. I loved the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, I always wished they would collect his 80’s series, and when I heard of that I was pissed…even though I hadn’t read a new comic in ages. I also like that this wasn’t just forgotten, it became a major storyline in the new Booster Gold series.
I put these together because the deaths occurred in the same story, Crisis On Infinite Earths of course. The issue with Flash on the cover was one of the first comic books I remember seeing in some store, the cover immediately got my attention. I flipped through and saw the pages where Flash disintegrates, sacrificing himself to defeat the Anti-Montor. Of course I had no idea what the story was but I knew The Flash so that image was very powerful. But as powerful as that was, Supergirl wins the award for single awesomest death scene. Her death set a standard which has been duplicated many times. The standard is simply this, if you’re going to go then go out BIG! I was never much of a fan of Supergirl, but even I admire the way she goes out. She beats the crap out of the anti monitore, and after the fatal blow the scene between her and Superman before she dies is one of the most moving moment I have ever seen in any comic.
Limiting this leaves a lot off. Captain America died once. Jean Grey in the X-Men of course. I know Batman also died but I didn’t follow that story, plus we all knew Bruce Wayne would never stay dead. But what about Peter Parker? I was shocked to hear what is happening to him currently in the pages of Spider-Man, and I wonder how long that will last. The issue where he “dies” was very powerful. Not enough to make buy the magazine, but still powerful.
Now, which death do you think I overlooked and should have put here? Please comment and share.