The upside of comic book storytelling is that if a whole group of people straight up forget you died, it’s more likely because you eventually got better than it is from large-scale insulting indifference. Sure there are those iconic, parade-worthy events like DC’s “Death of Superman”, but for many comic book characters biting the big one was only a small part of their overall story. The revolving doors of the comic book afterlife ensure that death is only a part of the larger narrative, often times spanning decades in the making. Of course, even within this context, some comic book character’s final days are particularly forgettable.
The ’90s were a particularly ripe time for exploiting the “last” days of many iconic superheroes and villains, with few names avoiding at least a short dance at death’s door. Looking back during the sales boom of the ’90s, no character was truly safe and all kinds of gruesome exits were on the table, even if they only lasted a few issues. Whether lost to history, or simply lost to weaker storylines, the below character deaths are some of the most oft-overlooked in comics communities today, even though it feels like these notable names should have left more of an impact.
15. WONDER WOMAN
If you needed any more confirmation that DC didn’t know what to do with Wonder Woman in the ’90s, look no further than her “death.” While the “Death of Superman” is a backlist staple and influence on the DCEU, and even Bane “breaking the Bat” is referenced ad naseum, the death of Diana Prince is a bizarre footnote in DC Comics history. In fact, the most memorable part of Wonder Woman’s death is that she’s mysteriously absent from the pages of JLA for a period.
Much of this can be attributed to the circumstances of Diana’s death, suffering tremendous damage at the hands of Neron which left her in a coma. If your primary questions are “who?” and “wait, what?” you’re not alone. Instead of going out in a blaze of righteous fury, the princess of the Amazons slowly withered away in a coma before failing to make a recovery.
14. AUNT MAY
In fairness, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee essentially created Aunt May on the brink of raging into the dying of the light, so it should come as no surprise that she’s seemingly bitten the dust a bunch. Indeed, the threat of Aunt May dying from illness, old age, or goblin bombs has lingered for so long that it’s become one of the least suspenseful Spider-Man plot points possible.
The “Clone Saga” sought to give May the send off she deserved in Amazing Spider-Man #400. May died in bed, with Peter and Mary Jane next to her, and it’s a genuinely touching transition in the face of one of Peter’s more tumultuous trials. The effectiveness of this moment sticking with readers was undone in 1998, when it was revealed that Norman Osborn had replaced the real May with an actress altered to look like May. That’s sick even for Norman.
13. LEX LUTHOR (TWICE)
Not that Lex Luthor needs additional reasons to hate Superman, but if you let him know about the reception Superman’s ’90s death got compared to his own, his eyes might pop out of his skull. Amazingly, Lex actually died twice in the ’90s, albeit with a few caveats and asterisks. In Action Comics #660, Lex was killed in plane crash. This likely would have been more memorable, except a mere 12 issues later, we learned that Lex faked his death and cloned himself to survive and escape his cancer-ridden original body.
Even the clone didn’t make it out of the ’90s alive, though, with “The Fall of Metropolis” storyline infecting all clones with an incurable virus. The brains of S.T.A.R. Labs and the Cadmus Project combined couldn’t save Lex. Naturally, these endings couldn’t keep Lex down, as the villain was seen shortly after leading an Injustice League against the JLA.
12. BARON MORDO
In Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #87, originally published in 1996, Baron Mordo finally meets his dark end. The issue, written by J.M. DeMatteis with pencils by Mark Buckingham, concludes a storyline that found Mordo’s body ravaged by cancer due to his overuse of dark magical forces.
As so often happens in one’s daily existence, Baron Mordo’s illegitimate daughter turns up and offers to magically transfer Mordo’s cancer to Dr. Strange. Despite the seemingly perfect plan to destroy his enemy, Baron suddenly has a change of heart, stabbing his daughter with a mystical dagger and taking the cancer back onto himself. It’s a bizarre change of heart for the longtime number one earth-bound nemesis of Stephen Strange. Naturally — or in this case, unnaturally — Mordo would return in the early ’00s, villainous as ever.
11. GREEN ARROW
There’s a better chance longtime DC readers are at least familiar with Green Arrow’s ’90s death, considering Kevin Smith’s high profile “Quiver” brought Oliver Queen back to the land of the living in the early ’00s.
In Green Arrow #99 to #101, by Chuck Dixon and Jim Aparo, Oliver Queen dies stopping eco-terrorists from detonating a bomb over Metropolis. There are some goofy moments with Green Arrow’s death while trapped in an airplane (how does he get shot only to fall forward and get his hands stuck in a bomb?), but mostly it’s a strong exit for the Emerald Archer. Superman flies in to ostensibly save the day, but when Ollie tells Supes he’d rather die than have Superman cut off his hands… Superman is left helpless to stop it from happening.
The ’90s death toll was so relentless it even got poor innocent Ice, aka Tora Olafsdotter, in a story both DC Comics and writer Mark Waid would like you to forget. In Justice League America, Ice had her mind possessed by the alien Overmaster, who uses Ice for his own nefarious purposes. Ice overcomes Overmaster’s manipulation (with the help of the Martian Manhunter) but is promptly incinerated by the alien for her efforts.
In the short time the series had left before the Extreme Justice reboot, the team dealt with Ice’s death. After all, when you have a pairing of Fire and Ice, and the character dating Guy Gardner (gross) dies, there’s a clear hole in the team. Unfortunately, the most memorable thing to come out of coping with the loss of Ice was the time Guy and Fire had a one night stand after commiserating.
Turns out birds of peace don’t necessarily fare that well in the ultraviolent world of superhero comics. The first Dove, Don Hall, was killed in the massive 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #12. Not to be outdone, Dove’s replacement, Dawn Gregor, was killed by the future tyrant Monarch in a climactic moment of DC’s 1991 event Armageddon 2001. Monarch makes Hawk watch as Dove is murdered right in front of him.
Given the eventual reveal — unplanned as it was — that Monarch was a future version of Hawk, Dove’s forgotten early ’90s death is particularly savage. Over a decade later, JSA #46 performed a post-mortem suggesting that Dove’s death at the hands of Monarch was merely some sleight of hand by the sorcerer Mordru, which certainly doesn’t help anyone remember this otherwise memorable death.
8. ANIMAL MAN
When the vast majority of comics fans talk about Animal Man nowadays, they refer to the Grant Morrison Vertigo run from 1988 to 1990, or the New 52 relaunch by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman. As a result, the bizarre period on Animal Man when writer Jamie Delano — most notably of Hellblazer fame — decided to kill off Buddy Baker and reanimate him as an alien/horror-animal/god goes largely forgotten.
Delano’s death and rebirth of Animal Man extends to nearly 30 issues, from Animal Man #51 to #79 with art by Steve Pugh. Most astonishingly, this period of Animal Man even concludes with Buddy Baker dying repeatedly, to the point that it’s possible dying too many times can actually make the process entirely without any meaning whatsoever.
7. DOCTOR STRANGE
Death came for plenty of Marvel staples in the ’90s within the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy, with the likes of Wolverine and Doctor Doom all biting the dust in the future timeline of 3000 A.D. One of the most memorable deaths from Jim Valentino’s frenetically imaginative Guardians of the Galaxy is Doctor Strange showing up as the Marvel Universe’s future Ancient One and battling Dormammu to the death!
It’s an epic cosmic battle, and well worth a read. It also results in the death of Doctor Strange, in a surprise case of the good guys losing out. Sure, this is an alternate future that may not come to pass, but nonetheless it’s a showdown between two of Marvel’s longest running foes with the villain actually winning the day.
John Byrne’s Genesis did an impressive amount of damage across its four issues, both to the characters of the Fourth World, and to Byrne’s reputation as a true comics legend. Even the seemingly omnipotent Darkseid can’t escape the disappointment-vortex, leading an incomprehensible assault on Earth, failing to capture the “Godwave” energy for himself and winding up seemingly dead in the wake of his unbelievable failure.
A story that could be subtitled “The Death of Darkseid” should be epic in scope and an instant classic for fans of the DC Universe, but instead Genesis is simply one of the worst DC comic book events of the ’90s. It wasn’t long before Darkseid would return, with DC trying to help us all live well and forget this strange instance of his “death.”
This one really shouldn’t be so oddly surprising. There’s some debate as to whether Sandman plans to kill himself or is instead backed into an unwinnable scenario, but either way it’s unexpected just how forgettable Sandman’s death actually seems when it occurs. This is especially strange when you consider Morpheus gets along best with Death of the Endless, and there was quite literally a wake to conclude the 75-issue run of Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman series.
Perhaps then it’s the immediate rebirth that leaves Sandman’s “death” feeling so overlooked, or perhaps it’s the character’s sudden reemergence in the larger landscape of DC Rebirth. Either way, for one of the most well-regarded achievements in comics during the ’90s, the death of Morpheus feels like some half-remembered dream.
DC’s Starman, primarily by James Robinson and Tony Harris, isn’t just one of the best DC Comics of the ’90s, it’s one of the most essential long runs of the decade for any publisher. The book’s length and excellence transcend an early death in the series, though, with the very first Starman we meet, David Knight, finding his end in Starman #1.
Since Starman is a story about Jack Knight and his father, David becomes a catalyst but never the main focus. His presence in the form of paranormal visitations ensures his impact on the story, but also makes it easy to forget that he’s really gone. This excellent comic book delivers many worthwhile ideas, but it’s focus on legacy in the DC Universe is particularly riveting, and David Knight’s forgotten assassination helps kick things off without much glory for the one time Starman.
Hal Jordan’s descent into Parallax infused madness into the Green Lantern, which resulted in a great number of casualties across the DC Universe. Indeed, “Emerald Twilight” finds Hal completely enraged over the destruction of Coast City, and over seven million deceased inhabitants, at the hands of Mongul and Cyborg Superman.
In this violent state of revenge, Hal lashses out at the Guardians of Oa for ordering him not to use his ring’s power to restore Coast City, and wipes out vast swaths of the Green Lantern Corps, including Kilowog. Somewhat lost in the deluge of Lantern vs Lantern, is the attempted heroism of Sinestro, and his neck-snapping murder by Hal Jordan. It’s a challenge to view Sinestro as a victim, but the ’90s certainly give you reason to think about it.
If you’ve assumed that Highfather has perpetually lorded over the New Gods of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, we can’t blame you, as he’s both one of the most useless New Gods around, and died in one of DC’s absolute worst ’90s events. Admittedly, as the likes of Orion, Mister Miracle and Darkseid engage in all sorts of compelling stories, it’s hard not to imagine Highfather hanging out in the background stroking his beard. Even worse for ol’ god-analog, he didn’t even get to die in any of the core four event issues of John Byrne’s Genesis.
Nope, the actual, completely overlooked death of Highfather occurs in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World #8, in what should have been an epic fight to the death with Ares, God of War. Amazingly, Highfather lingered as an inanimate fixture in the source until the final issue of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’ Final Crisis.
1. DOCTOR DOOM
Doctor Doom’s cheated death more times than Keith Richards, although in 1993’s Fantastic Four #381 he appeared to go out in gloriously evil style. In the story by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan (no, not that Paul Ryan) The Fantastic Four storm the gates of Castle Doom in an effort to rescue the ever-lovin’ blueeyed Thing, only to find an immensely powerful alien threatening Latveria.
Naturally, Doom concocts a plan to steal the alien’s power for himself, while simultaneously obliterating the cursed Reed Richards. Everything goes to heck, and Doom is baked within an inch of his life. With his final breath, Doom reaches out to Reed, and tells him he needs one last act of kindness from him…and then destroys them both! Were it the end, it would be a perfectly vengeful way for the all-time great villain to end things, but we certainly know better. He’ll be back — they always are.
Which of these ’90s deaths do you actually remember? Let us know in the comments!
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