Since it's Academy Awards Nominations Announcement Day, I thought we should continue on our run of discussing the various "best/greatest ever" aspects of super hero comics. Today our subject is death!
So loosen up those spittle-flecking muscles and let's rumble!
Before I start, in the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I haven't read all of the stories below. So my commentary will be colored by that. What can I say, I suck. Also, I am old so some of these stories had a greater impact on me personally due to when I was reading them than they might perhaps warrant based on either the actual story or its place in comics history.
Finally, each of us will have our own definition for what makes a story "great", which is a major part of the fun. I look forward to vigorous debate in the comments about why you choose the one you do, what you think "great" means, and why I personally am a moron. Let the indignant spittle fly!
- Superman, "The Death of Superman": This certainly garnered a lot of media attention at the time, partly due to the fact that arguably the greatest character in history was meeting his end and partly due to the frenzied activity of comic book speculators snapping up hordes of copies. For me, the impact of the story was diminished because, come on, we all knew Superman wasn't going to stay dead. Although had he realized he'd be resurrected with a mullet, he might have reconsidered. But the story itself was a bit weak for me; I wanted Superman's death to have more going on than just a massive slugfest in downtown Metropolis. I mean, freaking Ferro Lad got to die saving the whole galaxy, but Superman gives it up for some prime real estate? Come on.
- The current Fantastic Four arc: I'm not reading this, and I don't want to spoil who the character is that gets it, but I thought some of you might be into it. And/or it might be awesome.
- Jean Grey, "Dark Phoenix Saga": Even though she doesn't stay dead (who does besides Ben Parker these days?!), the story had a major impact when it happened and still is talked about in hushed tones.
- Batman, "Batman: RIP": I admit, I haven't been reading this. But like the "modern" crop of dead characters, you knew all along it was just a gimmick to goose sales and Bruce would be back.
- Gwen Stacy, "The Night Gwen Stacy Died": Gwen's one of those rare characters that both had a major impact on the main book and stayed dead, at least in the main continuity. The issue was controversial at its time, and I think its impact was only magnified because she was an innocent bystander without even any powers of her own. Say what you want about Marvel and Spider-Man, when people die in his life, the repercussions echo for a long, long time and affect him deeply. For Spider-Man, at least back in the day, death was not a marketing gimmick, it really mattered.
- Jason Todd (Robin), "Batman: A Death in the Family": I was checked out of comics during this entire episode, therefore it doesn't matter to me personally. But I know it does to people who were active in the genre then, so I look forward to hearing you make your case in the comments.
- Barry Allen (The Flash), "Crisis on Infinite Earths": On the one hand, Flash was one of my four favorite characters while I was growing up. On the other hand, Crisis was a colossal waste of time and I hated it. Perhaps the fact that Barry died during the series is part of my dislike for it, which in a weird way is an argument in favor of its importance. But as a general rule, I heavily discount deaths that occur in the course of a "Major Event", because they tend to (for me) get lost in the noise.
- Jor-El, "Action Comics #1": This is a bit of a stretch, but I think Jor-El appeared enough throughout the Silver Age to merit inclusion here. And without the heroic, sacrificing father sending his powerful sun off to redeem humanity, the Superman mythos wouldn't be what it is. But honestly, Jor-El would be more in the "Supporting Actor in Death" role here.
- Ben Parker, "Amazing Fantasy #15": Ben Parker, on the other hand, is even MORE influential on his super-progeny than Jor-El. And even better, he stayed dead, in multiple incarnations! That's really saying something. Even in the Ultimates continuity, Ben stays among the dearly departed. Without Ben, Spider-Man would probably not exist, and certainly would not be the character he came to be. I can't think of another character whose death affected the main protagonist as profoundly, and for as long, as much as Ben Parker.
- Ferro Lad, Legion of Super-Heroes, "Adventure Comics #353": I admit, I included him mostly because I love me some Legion. And I thought it was cool that in this group of super teens, one would sacrifice himself and be honored for it for so long. I remember there was even a "Hall of Fallen Heroes" or something. That whole aspect of a big group with multiple moving parts and death lurking in every adventure was a big part of their appeal.
- Steve Rogers/Captain America, "The Death of Captain America": I admit, I didn't read this one either. Mostly because I knew it was just another gimmick, and I get tired of being jerked around.
So that's the list I came up with, and now I turn it over to you all for debate and discussion. For me personally, I'd have to go with Jean Grey. I think the story was the best written, coolest, and most powerful of the lot.
How about you?
(Image ©2007, Marvel Comics, Cover of Captain America vol. 5, 25 (Apr 2007). Art by Steve Epting.)