As with any genre, the death of a popular comic book character is a great way to get people’s attention. Killing off a beloved character boosts interest in a comic book, increases sales, raises the stakes and sets up future storylines. And like soap operas, most characters that are killed in a comic book eventually return with some strange or outlandish reason for how they survived and were never really dead in the first place. However, in some rare cases, a popular character has stayed dead once killed off and that has lent credibility and weight to the comic book title and helped to form the other characters future directions. So with that in mind, here are the six most shocking comic book character deaths of all time.
6. The Death of Superman
This was a stunt—plain and simple. Yet when D.C. Comics’ killed Superman in 1992, it caused a pop culture firestorm, the likes of which has not been seen in comic books before or since. Many comic book purists thought it was sacrilege to kill the Man of Steel and a superhero who was previously viewed as virtually indestructible (not including Kryptonite, of course). For pure shock factor, this death makes the list. The Death of Superman was a multi-issue comic book event, culminating in Superman’s actual death in issue No. 75 of the series at the hands of the deadly villain Doomsday, who also dies from the injuries he receives in a fight with Superman. Of course, Superman didn’t really die. D.C. Comics milked the storyline for all it was worth, but eventually had Superman return in the issue Reign of the Supermen, which sold almost as many copies as The Death of Superman issues that preceded it.
5. Elektra – Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
Comic genius Frank Miller made his reputation with the work he did in the early 1980s on the Marvel comic book Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Not only did Miller introduce ninjas to the world of Daredevil, he also created the assassin characters of Bullseye (Daredevil’s nemesis) and Elektra (Daredevil’s, aka Matt Murdoch’s, greatest love). Under the writing of Frank Miller, the Daredevil series took on a dark and sinister quality—making it a fan favorite in the process. And this was never more evident than in issue #181 of the series where Frank Miller kills off Elektra at the hands of Bullseye. After a brutal fight, Bullseye kills Elektra and leaves Daredevil forever changed by the tragic event. Released in 1982, the comic book was considered both controversial and ahead of its time. And unlike most comic book characters, Elektra was never officially resurrected from the dead. Although the character has popped up in her own limited series and other comics such as Wolverine, she is still considered deceased in the world of Daredevil and by Frank Miller.
4. Robin – Batman: A Death In The Family
There have been several Robins in the Batman comic book series over the years. The original Robin (Dick Grayson) grew up and joined The Teen Titans as the superhero Nightwing. In the futuristic series The Dark Knight Returns, Robin is a 13-year-old girl named Carrie Kelley. However, it was the death of the second character to suit up as Robin (Jason Todd) that gets a spot on this list. In the now classic series A Death In The Family, Jason Todd as Robin is killed by the Joker following a story arc that ran through Batman issues #426-429 during 1988 and 1989. In a bit of a marketing stunt, readers could vote on the fate of Robin through a 1-900 telephone number, and fans overwhelming voted to kill off the character in dramatic fashion. And dramatic it was. Jason Todd is killed when he throws himself on a bomb planted by the Joker. The full page graphic where Batman carries Robin’s lifeless body from the rubble of the explosion is one of the most epic in all of comics. Kudos to D.C. Comics for not bringing the character back to life, and for making a guilt ridden Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, vow to carry on alone following Jason Todd’s death.
3. Gwen Stacy – The Amazing Spider-Man
The only civilian on this list, the death of Peter Parker/Spider-Man love interest Gwen Stacy is one of the more dramatic in the history of comic books. It’s a death that haunts, and helped to form the character of Peter Parker in the ensuing years. Occurring in the 1973 issues of Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122, The Night Gwen Stacy Died sees Peter Parker’s then girlfriend killed by arch-nemesis The Green Goblin. The death was controversial at the time, as the comic implied that Spider-Man may have inadvertently contributed to Gwen Stacy’s death. While falling to the ground, Spider-Man snags Gwen Stacy with some webbing only to see her head snap back and her neck break. That a superhero of Spider-Man’s caliber could have unwittingly killed his own girlfriend was too much for fans to handle, and it was later explained that Gwen Stacy died of shock while falling to her death before the webbing grabbed her—placing the blame squarely on The Green Goblin. Gwen Stacy remains dead and Peter Parker has never been the same since.
2. Archie Andrews – Life With Archie
Shocking, weird and cheesy, the death of beloved good guy comic book character Archie Andrews drew plenty of media attention when it occurred in July 2014. That Archie, who had been in comics for 73 years up until that point, died from jumping in front of a bullet intended for his friend, an openly gay senator named Kevin Keller, who is pushing for increased gun control in the fictional city of Riverdale, only adds to the weirdness and drama. People just didn’t expect a character known for his sweetness and innocence to die in such a violent way. Archie Comics publisher Jon Goldwater called the death “inspirational,” because Archie “…takes the bullet for his friend, and he would do that for anybody.” The series Life With Archie had one final issue after Archie’s death, which showed friends and family a year after Archie’s death paying tribute to the character. Of course, Life With Archie was only one of several comic book series’ featuring Archie Andrews and fans can still follow Archie and his friends in other comic books.
1. Captain Marvel – The Death of Captain Marvel
The first Marvel graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel, published in 1982, was shocking and interesting due to the cause of the powerful Captain Marvel’s death—cancer. That a powerful superhero such as Captain Marvel could succumb to a disease that regularly kills mortal humans was novel and unique in its simplicity and relatability. After a battle in the mystical “Dark Dimension,” an encounter with the Hulk and an adventure on an alien world, Captain Marvel discovers that his past exposure to “Compound 13” nerve gas gave him incurable cancer. As Captain Marvel accepts that he is dying, friends and allies travel to the planet Titan to pay their respects. Even mortal enemies the Skrulls send an envoy to bestow a medal on Captain Marvel. In his final moments, Captain Marvel has a vision in which he meets Skrull leader Thanos again. Thanos has come not as a foe, but as a guide to show Captain Marvel the path to the afterlife. As he, Thanos and Mistress Death pass into a blinding white light, Captain Marvel dies. The cover of the graphic novel features Captain Marvel being cradled in the arms of the Grim Reaper. Captain Marvel has since reappeared in different forms—his spirit was summoned by the Grandmaster as a part of the Legion of the Unliving to battle the Avengers. However, the character has, by and large, remained dead.