Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Top 10 Tuesdays - 10 Shocking Comic Book Deaths

Death - it's something that touches us all. In comic books, though, it seems to be a running joke.

However, it isn't always like this. There are those rare occasions when a comic book death is so shocking in it's depiction, whether the chilling brutality, the stunning humanity of it or the sheer disbelief it leaves you with.

It is these kinds of deaths I've chosen to spotlight in these 10 Shocking Comic Book Deaths. I'm sure there are dozens of other equally deserving items and this list caters a bit to my longtime love of Spider-Man (to be fair, I could, and probably will eventually, do an entire list on deaths in Spider-Man comics alone), but I think every death is justified in its place on this list and I leave it up to you guys to let everyone know of any other shocking deaths you think deserve to be spotlighted in the comments below.

TOP 10 TUESDAYS - 10 Shocking Comic Book Deaths

GAYLE NORDHEIM (and the entire planet)
As seen in Solar: Man of the Atom #10 "Alpha & Omega"

Gayle who? Solar: Man of the what now? Whachu talkin' bout, Kirk?

Well, for those that have never read Solar: Man of the Atom's, Alpha & Omega, storyline, or any Solar comics for that matter, Solar has the ability to manipulate energy and to absorb radiation, say, like absorbing all the energy of a nearby star to powerup and fight back against a government using his loved ones against him.

Well, what happens when someone absorbs that much energy can be seen to the left. Our hero comes back and can't control his godlike powers and, basically, kills the woman he loves, Gayle Nordheim, in a shocking and not so pretty manner.

Not quite finished, Solar's power eventually sucks the entire solar system into a black hole, killing everyone and depositing Solar in the "real world", where we started in with issue one (note: Alpha & Omega ran as a series of backups running parallel to the main story, which I am referring to as the "real world").

As seen in Amazing Spider-Man #121

Ah, Gwen Stacy, the whore. Er, I mean, Gwen Stacy, the loving and faithful girlfriend of Peter Parker. They were the perfect couple - young, happy and in love. Nothing could go wrong. Except getting thrown off a bridge and having your neck snapped.

While having your girlfriend die doesn't seem like a big deal in comics anymore, this was revolutionary at the time. People didn't die in comics, especially not the hero's loved ones (unless it was origin related), and it was never because the badguy learned the hero's secret identity either.

This death changed the landscape of Spider-Man stories and comics, in general, and many consider this death to signal the end of the Silver Age of comics.

KID MARVELMAN (also known as Kid Miracleman)
As seen in Miracleman #15

Another comic many people will probably never have read. However, unlike Solar: Man of the Atom, I'm sure many people have at least heard of this comic.

Marvelman (more commonly known as Miracleman) is a Captain Marvel archtype, right down to requiring a secret word to transform and having a family of heroes, namely Kid Marvelman, Marvelwoman and Young Marvelman.

Everything was peachy keen until Alan Moore came along and made all of the old Marvelman comics into a fake virtual reality program designed to train super soldiers.

Kid Marvelman's 13 year old human identity, Johnny Bates, is unable to cope with the stress of this program and decides to never return to his human form, leaving the insane Kid Marvelman identity to take over.

Kid Marvelman goes on to slaughter thousands, wiping out most of the population of London, before Warpsmith manages to warp a piece of shrapnel into his head and a steel girder into his chest. Unable to deal with the pain, Kid Marvelman reverts to his human form, where the young 13 year old boy, aware of everything his evil alter ego was doing, is wrought with guilt.

After witnessing the death and devestation caused by Kid Marvelman, Marvelman quickly craddles the young boy in his arms, promises him everything will be alright and promptly crushes his skull, ending the threat forever.

Do I even have to mention this story was written in the early 1980's, at a time when you simply did not see comics written like this? Powerful stuff that many writers still crib from even today.

As seen in Watchmen #12

Why is Rorschach's death so shocking? Well, because evil won. No, this isn't Final Crisis, it's Watchmen I'm talking about.

Basically, Rorschach wants to expose Adrian Veidt and his twisted machinations for world peace, which he has just succeeded in carrying out.

In typical super-hero fashion, you'd expect his former buddies, Owl-Man, Silk Spectre and Dr Manhatten, to back him up and take the villain to task.

The problem arises when they can't see any possible way to expose Adrian without undoing the peace he has created, which would lead to all out world war.

What follows can be seen to the left, as Dr Manhatten kills Rorschach, the only super-hero willing to stand up to the villain, effectively ensuring the villain succeeds.

What's even worse than being killed for standing up to the villain is that his friend and ally kills him and none of the other "heroes" even care! They just go along with it, leaving the reader with more morale quandries than just about any other comic alive.

Should he have been killed? Should heroes compromise? Do people deserve to know the truth? Is the price of peace worth it? These and so many more from one single death.

Interested in this story? Purchase Watchmen and help support the Weekly Crisis!

As seen in Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

You can kill a super-hero, you can kill his girlfriend and you can even kill his family and loved ones, but you just don't kill a man's dog! That's just not right!

As seen in Amazing Spider-Man #294 "Kraven's Last Hunt"

Suicide is rarely ever tackled in mainstream comics. Yet here, in a Spider-Man comic no less, is a graphic, on panel death and 'aftermath' scene of Kraven killing himself after accomplishing his life's goals with the defeat of Spider-Man.

Shocking in the brutal depiction and powerful in the effects of Kraven's actions and denial of retribution from Spider-Man make this one of the most shocking deaths in comicdom.

Interested in this story? Purchase Kraven's Last Hunt and help support the Weekly Crisis!

As seen in The Death of Captain Marvel

While far from the first super hero to die in a comic book, the death of Captain Mar-Vell is noteworthy not for the why, but how he died.

Where other heroes died fighting their greatest foes or after having sacrificing themselves for the greater good, Mar-Vell died from, of all things, cancer.

At the time, cancer was far from as prominent as it currently is and the shocking and all too human death of Captain Mar-Vell is as powerful today as it was then.

As seen in Green Lantern #54

While nowhere near as huge or popular or well known as the other items on this list, the death of Alex DeWitt is shocking in how graphic and horrific the death of Kyle Rayner's girlfriend was.

After arriving home from some super-heroing, Kyle starts looking for his girlfriend, Alex. All he finds is a 'love letter' telling him to look in the fridge.

As you can see to the left, all Kyle finds is his girlfriend's dismembered body stuffed into a refridgerator, making Alex DeWitt to the posterwoman of the Women in Refridgerators movement and marking one of the most gruesome depictions of violence against a female character I have ever seen.

As seen in The Infinity Gauntlet #1

Okay, okay, having a villain "kill" huge numbers of people only to have them brought back to life by the end of the story may seem a tad cliched now, but, back in the 80's, before all the interwebs and solicits and general fan knowledge, this was revolutionary stuff.

To think, in the first issue, we have Mephisto manipulating Thanos, who controls the Infinity Gauntlet - an object making him the master of the universe (no, not He-Man) - into fulfilling his promise to Death to wipe out half of all life in the universe.

Not only does Thanos agree to do this, even Mephisto is shocked to see Thanos actually do it, as he casually snaps his fingers, killing not only random creatures, but, as seen throughout the rest of the issue, dozens of named heroes and villains in the process.

By the end of the story, Thanos had 'killed' everyone that opposed him, save a few stragglers, and it was hard for fans to come to terms with what was happening to the Marvel Universe or if there was even going to be a Marvel Universe by the end of this.

Interested in this story? Purchase The Infinity Gauntlet and help support the Weekly Crisis!

As seen in Amazing Spider-Man #400

Few times have I been touched by a character's passing in a comic book, but Aunt May's death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 is one of them.

After waking from her long running coma, Aunt May and Peter spend most of the issue talking and she reveals how she has always known he was Spider-Man, approved of what he was doing and didn't blame him for what happened to Uncle Ben.

It was touching and heartfelt and made sense and was probably the first time in years that Aunt May's character had seen any kind of character development.

This all made the end of the issue that much sadder, as, in one of the more human moments in a super hero comic to date, Aunt May passes away in her home, surrounded by her loved ones as Peter cries, quoting a passage from Peter Pan, his favourite childhood story May used to read to him.

Meanwhile, sitting on the rooftop is the clone, Ben Reilly, who we all knew to be the clone at the time. As he, himself, knew he was the clone, he knew he could not be with May and knew this was not his life, but could not let go of the memories of the person that raised him - the only person he loved enough to return to this life in New York - and he was forced to sit on the rooftop, unable to be with his aunt during her final moments, left to cry, alone, in his sorrow.

Say what you will about the clone saga, but that is some heart wrenching stuff and something easily relatable to and only served to heighten the emotional involvement of the readers. For allowing Aunt May to die with dignity and respect, instead of some cliched super-villain plot, this is easily one of the most shocking deaths in comics.

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Ethereal said...

There's alot more 'deaths', but this is a great list, and having the panels is great. I still have Infinity Gauntlet, and it was one of my favorite series.

I think Jade's death in Green Lantern was huge, as was Jason Todd's. I'm not sure if you can count Jean Grey as a death, but that was another important one (as were many in the X-universe, which all end up coming back, especially the bad guys like Sinister and Apocalypse).

I really like how you've tied in one Top 10 Tuesday into the last, it makes the column more interesting. Keep it up.

Randallw said...

"Johnny Bates, is unable to cope with the stress of this program and decides to never return to his human form, leaving the insane Kid Marvelman identity to take over."

I have a copy of the comic (or at least the pages) and I can tell you it is not a case of "handling the stress". He is being pack raped by a gang of school bullys. He know's just what is going to happen if Kid Miracleman comes abck and he's sorry for what he is about to do but he can't bear it any longer.

Personally the bit where he massacres London has never really ahd much affect on me. Maybe it's the art or knwoing it's just a comic but...meh. Favourite line though is when Miracleman is explaining what happened when he threw a car at Kid Miracleman.

"I'd like to be able to say the occupants had escaped before hand, but I can't"

Randallw said...

I suspect I'm dyslexic or something.

Wicked Juan said...

I'm a bit disappointed there was no mention of Mr. Ted Kord AKA the Blue Beetle. In my humble opinion, it was one of the best ever.

Andrenn said...

Incredibly great list, Kirk. While her death may have been tainted, Gwen Stacy's was my top death.

Agreed on Aunt May (who should have STAYED DEAD!), Rorschach and Kraven, the rest of them, not so much. Especially Rayner's girlfriend, creepy as it was.

For me, one of the most shocking deaths was always Angela the Angel, in Spawn #100, not only was it saddening, but it infuriated Spawn so much to behead her killer. Which would lead to Spawn having the devil's powers and...well, a lot of other things, all sparked by her death.

Kirk Warren said...

@randallw - He eventually gets raped, but early on in Moore's run, after it is revealed it's a virtual reality program, Bates can't handle it and decides to stay in his Kid Marvelman persona.

Later, after he reverts to Bates midfight, he is taken into custody and he is then raped in prison and calls on the Kid Marvelman powers again, leading to the massacre and his death.

But I was referring to very early on in the series, not near the end when he is freed again.

@wicked juan - The thing is, I didnt want to call this the 'best deaths' or even most influential or best stories.

I was trying to find deaths that changed the way we viewed death in comics or that were so shocking, they spurred emotions other than just the typical nerd rage over a favourite character dying.

With Ted Kord, it was a foregone conclusion he would die based on the cover and how the story was going and it felt more like 'we need someone to die here, who should it be' and Ted was the one that got drawn out of a hat.

To me, it just felt like he had to die because DC wanted a death to make their story "important". Regardless of how good the story ended up (I actually really liked it. Didn't agree with it, but it was handled well, at least.), it didn't fall under the category of what I was trying to represent with these deaths, but I was a bit vague with my criteria and couldnt find a good title to represent what I was going for either.

Similarly, the death of Superman, for all its hype and millions of sales, in hind sight, seems like a simple marketing gimmick and there was very little actual emotion behidn the death other than fan attachment to the character. I can go back and re-read any of the deaths above and feel something when I read it. With Superman's, it's just a flatline with little significance to me anymore.

Dracula Jones said...

The death of the entire team in Generation Next #4 (Age of Apocalypse), with Colossus watching helplessly as the door shuts them in, and Illyana's narration was pretty shocking, and is still one of my favorite moments in any comic book ever.

Ampersand said...

No mention of Cap? I demand a recount!

Dave said...

I like that each one on the list -even though a bit gratuitous - are story driven, rather than gimmick driven. I think The Death of Superman was a gimmick, along with Barry Allen's, Supergirl's, Ted Kord's and Captain America's - just about anyone that has died in an event story seems to me a gimmick.

mrpeepants said...

nice list. i haven't backlogged older superhero stuff enough so some of these are nice surprises.

death pronounced this morning - James Jean on Fables covers as of 81!!!

noo!! They should include up to 81 coverage on the covers book.

Max said...

Nice list. I would add:
-Odin in Simonson's Thor
-Agent 355 in Y the last man
-Buddy's family in Animal Man
-Edsel in Mage
-Warlock back when Jim Starlin killed 'em all (before he brought them back for inferior stories)
-The Chief and Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol (love that box at the end: "Next issue: ?")

Kirk Warren said...

@dracula jones - Age of Apocalypse had a lot of stuff like that, but a major facot rin not including any was that they were pretty expendable as alternate reality versions tend to be.

@ampersand - I was considering Cap, but it's just too 'new' to judge. With the amount of media coverage and fact it was preannounced, thus spoiling the issue, I can't help but see it as a marketing gimmick that will be reveresed by around issue #50 or so. Give it 5 years and I might change my mind if it's not the case, but a movie in the works doesnt work with Steve Rogers dead...

@mrpeepants - I just read that and I'm a bit sad. I really disliked that he basically said he didn't have time to draw one single cover a month. It sounds like it's either he doesnt get paid enough for his trouble or the rumours over his displeasure with the upcoming cover hardcover are true and I wish he came out and said plainly why he was leaving (dont give me the bullshit its too hard to draw one cover a month).

@max - Agent 355 was just narrowly edged out by Aunt May's death, which was a personal favourite of mine. I was tempted to leave May off for the whole actor debacle and being the crux behind OMD, but ASM 400 was just so great in my eyes that I couldnt justify bumping it for Y:TLM 59.

Parallax207 said...

I'm biased because he's my favorite comic book character, but the death that hit me the most was Alex Wilder in the Runaways... sure he turned on his friends out of love for his parents... but the Gibborium could have done something else besides immolate the kid genius.

Salieri said...

You want shocking death, you should see this week's Kick-Ass. If your eyes pop out, wouldn't you fall unconscious from pain before you could say your final salty curses?

Randallw said...

oh ok.

I guess it shows how assumptions can be wrong when you don't know the background. I always assumed he was at a boarding school. Juvenile detention makes sense.

Dr. Zoltar said...

I would have had the death of Superman on the list as well. What other Superhero's death besides Captain America made the news when it happened?

mysteryGuy said...

Yeah, Aunt May and Kryto both brought tears to my eyes. I was livid when they brought Aunt May back.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one charactor who got killed off was the character in the first Mage series, Edsel. She ended like like JFK & The 4 Birmingham School Girls & however her demise was similar to Birmingham Sunday in a way. America lost it's credibility on September 15, 1963 when a church got bombed in Birmingham, Alabama & killed 4 school girls. In the final chapter of Mage, The Lizard Dragon claimed that Kevin's innocense died with Edsel & that reminded me of the events of 1963. Edsel was a great character & I was lucky to meet real life counterparts of her and they drove vintage cars & muscle cars and dressed similar to Edsel. Mr. Wagner has met me once & that was in Dearborn, MI on 3/28/1992 & that was the first & last time we encounter each other. Back in April, 1963; one like Edsel who drove a 1955 Packard Clipper saved me from an unjust beating by an angry school bus driver & she confronted him and beat him up "Joe Jistu Style" and took me home in her car & the results, the school bus driver was givin a three week suspension without pay because he fought a black girl & lost & this happened long before Mr. Wagner did Mage. Signed, Mark Titan 658

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