In my previous post about death in comics, we discussed the role of civilian deaths and how writers use it to propel their stories forward. In this post, I wanted to touch on a few superhero deaths that rocked the comic world. There were many to choose from and as iconic as Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday, but after doing research, I noticed an intriguing pattern; that dead superheroes don’t stay dead for long! For this discussion, I wanted to focus on those superhero deaths that made an impact to their respective stories but also spent some time in the grave (so to speak).
We begin with a bold move by Brian Michael Bendis in the pages of Ultimate Spider-man with the “Death of Spider-man”. In the Ultimate universe, Bendis kills off Peter Parker! Crazy right? But that’s not where the story ends. Oh no! Bendis introduces us to Miles Morales, a half black, half hispanic teen who was bitten by a genetically-altered spider that gives him superhero powers. Sounds familiar, right? Miles actually witnesses Peter’s death and feels so guilty that he didn’t use his powers to save Peter, that he takes up the mantle of Spider-man.
In this case, Peter Parker actually died in the Ultimate universe and stayed dead. But his death inspired young Miles to continue the good work Peter had done as Spider-man. I like this move by Marvel to introduce a younger, ethnic character that the modern reader can relate to more. Peter Parker will always be my Spider-man, but Miles has done a great job in the Ultimate universe of keeping the Spider-man legacy alive.
The next superhero death was a brutal one and is described as Batman’s greatest failure. When Jason Todd first put on the Robin mask, he was only the second to do so. And when he went up against the Joker in search of his mother, the end result was bad. Joker severely beat him with a crowbar and before Batman could intervene, the house blew up! Since then, the Robin suit was displayed in the Bat cave as a reminder to Batman and his loss.
Remember when I mentioned that superheroes don’t stay dead for long. For Jason’s case, he returned to life when Super-boy prime alters reality. Simple, huh? Jason is revived by Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, and the healing powers of the Lazarus Pit which accounts for Jason’s mental instability. Jason would don a “cape” again as the Red Hood in later stories, but the way he ended his tenure as Robin is one that reminds us that sidekicks are expendable.
The last superhero we’re going to discuss is another DC character who, like many superheroes before her, did anything she could to protect others. And in this case, is stricken down while saving her cousin, Superman! After Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, Kara Zor-El doesn’t return to the comic pages for over 20 years until The New 52 efforts. The reason for Supergirl’s death was DC’s way to simplify the Superman family and allowed them to create spin-off comics for Superman. Yes, not the best reason to kill off a superhero, but it did it’s job and continued Superman’s stories.
I know we only touched on three superhero deaths amongst swarms of superhero deaths. I wanted to focus on those deaths that weren’t retconned so quickly. I want to return to this series later on to discuss more death in comics but for now, I welcome any comments and feedback on both parts. As you can see from both parts, death is important in comics. I suppose as a comic reader, whenever writers tease that a superhero will die, it will only be a matter of time they’ll return to the living. Because let’s be real, why would these publishers kill off characters that make them so much money?
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