Death is a “revolving door” in comics — it is a long-standing criticism that has only become more common as superhero deaths (and resurrections) have increased.
Of course, at the same time superhero deaths have become more common, so have things like reboots, relaunches, and deep-dive mining of character histories so that characters who had long been thought gone forever are making their way back into regular monthly circulation (we’re looking at you, Bucky Barnes and Gwen Stacy).
While death is often derided as a cheap stunt to drive sales, or something that “won’t last,” though, there are certainly times when it’s valuable as a storytelling tool, for a variety of reasons, or that it’s just so well-done that you forgive the crassness of the idea because of the elegance of the execution.
Err, no “execution” pun intended, there.
Here, we’ve collected our favorite deaths in comics, and will try and give you a reason for why we think they resonate so well.
Also: for the sake of argument, we excepted “group deaths” from this list altogether. So whether it’s Coast City, the Justice Society in Zero Hour, or Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force, you won’t see those on here.
Serialized comics storytelling, after all, rests heavily on the long-term emotional investment readers have with the characters, and so the most effective deaths in comics tend to be the ones that can give each character their due.
We’ve also made this a superhero-specific list. There are certainly cases to be made for characters like Glenn Rhee in The Walking Dead or David Qin in Strangers in Paradise, but it’s easier to speak with authority on mainstream superhero books, and including books like those would open the door to arguments that we overlooked someting from Love and Rockets or Stray Bullets or Fables.
There are a lot to choose from, and we omitted some really good ones, so feel free to let us know your favorites in the comments below. This list is basically a combination of emotional impact plus long term impact plus quality of execution, so obviously a lot of that is very subjective.