Over the years, so many heroes and villains have returned to life that, at times, it seems like the concept of death within superhero comics has lost all meaning. Despite this, it’s easy to see why DC, Marvel and other publishers continue to invent tragic demises for their characters. A well-publicized death can lead to significant sales, while the death of lesser-known characters can help establish the credentials of a new bad guy.
This latter approach has become more prevalent in recent years, with superhero comics in a never-ending cycle of line-wide events and life-changing moments. Unfortunately, for B and C-list heroes, they’re often the ones who find themselves used as collateral damage in such situations. We’ve looked through DC’s line to find 15 B-list characters that deserved a better death than the one they received, and there was no shortage of choices.
15. GREEN ARROW (OLIVER QUEEN)
The inclusion of Oliver Queen on a list of B-list heroes might initially seem jarring. After all, he’s a respected member of the Justice League and the star of his own CW show. However it’s fair to say that he was always a second stringer in the JLA popularity stakes, and by the early ’90s, the sales of his solo title were showing signs of decline. In an attempt to revitalize the book, Ollie became the victim of a drive to replace older, “boring” heroes with younger counterparts (as also happened to Hal Jordan and Tony Stark).
Of course, DC gave one of their oldest superheroes (Green Arrow having debuted in 1941) a respectful sendoff. Actually, that’s a lie: he was blown to smithereens in a midair explosion, the incident occurring in “Green Arrow” #101 by the creative team of Chuck Dixon and Rodolfo Damaggio. Oliver had infiltrated a group of eco-terrorists who were attempting to detonate a bomb that would destroy Metropolis. Through a convoluted series of events, Oliver got his hand stuck inside the dead man’s switch that controlled the bomb, finally choosing to blow himself up rather than have Superman save him by severing his arm.
14. AQUA-GIRL (TULA)
Tula, introduced in “Aquaman” #33, was the third DC character to take on the mantle of Aqua-Girl. Tula had been raised by one of the Royal families of Atlantis after the death of her parents. She was still resident within the Royal palace when she first met Garth (Aqualad) who would go on to become the love of her life (Tula’s introductory story was actually entitled “Aqualad’s deep-six chick”). Tula and Garth would remain a couple for years, with Tula becoming an honorary member of the Teen Titans. Although she never received the spotlight that Aquaman and Aqualad enjoyed, she was a brave, capable character. When Narkran seized control of Atlantis during Aquaman’s absence, it was Tula that led the rebellion against his dictatorship.
Tula’s death, in 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” #9 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, stemmed from her once again attempting to help Garth. The two fought Shark and Black Manta, but Tula was poisoned by toxic waste dumped by Chemo. It was a low-key demise for a goodhearted character.
A new generation of fans have been exposed to Steel through his appearances in the CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow.” While the comic equivalent of the TV Steel is Nathan Heywood, a.k.a. Citizen Steel, the Steel who met a tragic end was his cousin, Henry Heywood III. Gerry Conway introduced Henry as a member of the much maligned “Detroit” era of the Justice League, with Henry’s body being transformed by his grandfather, who incorporated mechanized steel devices that gave him enhanced strength and durability.
Unfortunately for Henry, fan reaction to the Detroit-era league, with its mix of established and newer heroes, was underwhelming. Sales were poor and many of the newer characters (including Vibe, another character whose popularity on TV’s “The Flash” eclipses that of his comics counterpart) were poorly received by readers. In 1986, with J.M. DeMatteis having since replaced Conway as writer, Steel and Vibe were both killed, with the team disbanding shortly thereafter. Steel was killed by one of Professor Ivo’s androids, using the last of his strength to shield Policemen from the android’s attacks. In a final indignity, his inert body was later ripped apart by Despero in “Justice League America” #38.
Although Pantha was a member of the New Titans, created by Marv Wolfman and Tom Grummett, she never quite achieved the popularity of many of her teammates. Part of the reason may have been her attitude — Pantha’s cat-like appearance gave her enhanced agility and strength, but also a bad attitude. Fulfilling the obligatory team role of grumpy animal-like character (as would Wolverine and Feral), Pantha was often sarcastic or downright hostile towards her teammates. Despite this, she proved a valuable member of the team, even forming a family unit with Baby Wildebeest and Red Star.
All of which makes the manner of Pantha’s death more frustrating, and almost comical in its callous brutality. During the events of “Infinite Crisis,” Superboy-Prime alternated between whiny brat and manic supervillain; one of the key turning points for his characters was when he fought Conner Kent, intent on proving that he was the one true Superboy. Pantha and her “family” were among the superheroes to come to Connor’s aid. Pantha heroically leaped into the fray… only to be decapitated by a backhand from Superboy-Prime.
11. CRIMSON FOX
Zut alors! Mes amis, now we come to discuss Crimson Fox, ze legendary superhero from Gay Paree. Crimson Fox was first introduced in “Justice League Europe” #6, by the creative team of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Bart Sears. An effervescent character, for some time readers were kept in the dark about Fox’s true origins. It eventually transpired that the heroine was actually two people — identical twins called Vivian and Constance D’Aramis who took turns wearing the suit. As Crimson Fox, they had superhuman speed and agility, as well as pheromone powers that could arouse men. The JLE had many moments of comedy and the D’Aramis sisters were a perfect fit, displaying a lust for life and a love of being a superhero — especially in the case of Vivian.
Unfortunately, Crimson Fox also has the dubious distinction of being linked with two wasted deaths. In “Justice League International” #104, Vivian was killed by the supervillain Puanteur. Less than three years later, in the pages of “Starman,” Constance was one of several heroes killed by The Mist, who had infiltrated the team in disguise.
10. AQUALAD/TEMPEST (GARTH)
Debuting in February 1960 as a kid sidekick for Aquaman, Garth accompanied his mentor on many adventures, although their relationship grew more distant as Garth aged. However, by this point, he had found friends his own age through his membership with the Teen Titans and found love with Tula, although this was to be cut short by her death. As well as Tula’s tragic death, Garth faced many other great challenges over the years, including the near loss of his arm, the loss of his ability to control marine life and his own near-death during the “Titans Hunt” storyline, where he sustained multiple injuries.
A case could be made that Garth has always been a rather unlucky character. This after all, is a character who lived in Atlantis yet had a terrible fear of fish. Garth’s luck — or lack thereof — continued to his tragic death. In the “Blackest Night” miniseries, Tula and Dolphin were reanimated as Black Lanterns, with his two ex-lovers succeeding in killing Garth.
9. MAJOR DISASTER
Paul Booker (better known as Major Disaster) was a terrible villain and achieved scarcely more success as a hero. First appearing in “Green Lantern” #43 in 1966, he spent several years trying — and failing — to defeat Flash and Green Lantern, despite his impressive ability to generate natural disasters. His attempt to lead a group of criminals didn’t go much better. As leader of the Injustice League, with a team including Big Sir, Cluemaster, Multi-Man and Clock King, Booker came into contact with the American and European branches of the Justice League, sowing the seeds for a drastic change in his life.
Booker went legit, with the Injustice League reborn as Justice League Antarctica. If it wasn’t for the minor complication of thousands of killer penguins, this powerhouse team would surely have become the greatest Justice League of all time (maybe…). Booker spent the next few years trying to stay on the side of the angels, including a stint appearing in “Justice League Elite.” His struggle to turn his life around and his battle with alcoholism had a great deal of potential, but he ended up as a casualty of Superboy-Prime’s attack on Metropolis in “Infinite Crisis” #7.
Viewers of CW’s “The Flash” will be familiar with Cisco Ramon’s ongoing exploration of his metahuman powers and his journey towards becoming a superhero with the name of Vibe. What some casual viewers may not realize is that while Vibe (Paco Ramone) was a character that appeared in DC comics, he was not regarded with universal affection by fans. To be blunt, in the years since his death, Paco has become a symbol of an era of Justice League history (Justice League Detroit) that is often swept under the carpet.
This isn’t entirely fair. Created by Gerry Conway and Chuck Patton in “Justice League of America” annual #2, Vibe was a Detroit native with the power to emit vibratory shockwaves. He was a break dancer, had ties to street gangs and had a very distinctive accent… I kid chu not. In short, he often rubbed both readers and his teammates the wrong way, but even Vibe deserved better than the death he received. In “Justice League of America” #258, by J.M. DeMatteis and Luke McDonnell, Vibe believed he had defeated one of Professor Ivo’s androids, only for the android’s hands to detach and strangle poor Vibe to death.
7. JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The JSA first appeared in “All Star Comics” #3 in 1940, establishing them as DC’s first superhero team. The revitalization of DC’s superhero line in the Silver Age, including the appearance of a brand new Flash, meant that the JSA were subsequently said to exist on Earth Two, leading to several meetings between JLA and JSA in the following years. After “Crisis on Infinite Earths” concluded, the JSA were brought into the main DC universe, establishing the group as WWII era predecessors to the JLA.
The passage of time since the end of WWII meant that these characters could only be kept viable by artificial means of slowing their aging. This was a fact that was exploited in “Zero Hour,” the crossover event that was meant to streamline DC continuity. In the series, by Dan Jurgens, Extant removed the energies that kept the JSA young, resulting in the deaths of Hourman, Atom and Dr Mid-Nite. Those that survived, including Jay Garrick, were greatly aged. On one level, this made perfect sense — the passage of time catching up with heroes who had long cheated its effects. On a human level, though, seeing these lives snuffed out en masse seemed callous.
6. CONNER KENT
From the moment he debuted in “Adventures of Superman” #500 the hero that would become known as Superboy fought a constant battle between self-perception and what others saw. This wasn’t helped by recurring uncertainty about his true origins. At first believing himself to be a metahuman clone of Superman, he was later revealed to be a Kryptonian/human hybrid of Superman and Lex Luthor. What didn’t change throughout this time was the character’s innate heroism. Whether calling himself Kon-El or Conner Kent, part of Young Justice or the Teen Titans, what remained constant was his desire to help his friends and those in need.
With Superboy-Prime as the villain of “Infinite Crisis,” Conner was a marked man. Perceived as inferior by the other Superboy, he was almost killed before several speedsters pulled Superboy-Prime into the Speed Force. Sadly, this was just a temporary respite. The two clashed again, resulting in Conner’s death in “Infinite Crisis” #6 (by Geoff Johns and Phil Jiminez), although he did manage to destroy Alexander Luthor’s multiverse tower. It’s fitting that Conner’s last act was to do good, but tragic that he was killed just as he’d finally found some stability in his often chaotic life.
5. STEPHANIE BROWN
Stephanie Brown was the daughter of the criminal Cluemaster; in Chuck Dixon’s “Robin” series she fought crime as “Spoiler” and dated Tim Drake. Stephanie also had stints working with Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, before becoming the new Robin during a period when Tim Drake had hung up his cape. Stephanie’s stint as Robin lasted only a short time before Batman fired her, believing that she was not sufficiently skilled for the role. She was later captured by Black Mask, who brutally tortured her to get information about Batman and his associates. Stephanie later died of her injuries and, in a final insult, it was later revealed that Doctor Leslie Thompkins withheld treatment that would have saved Stephanie in order to show the dangers of such activity.
Understandably, fans were furious about this treatment of Stephanie, and the apparent glossing over of her time as Robin. Batman writers at the time would later admit that Stephanie was always intended to die during the “War Games” crossover and that she was temporarily made Robin purely as a means to mislead readers. In 2008, Stephanie’s death would be retconned, but this did nothing to erase the previous shameful treatment of her.
As a member of a Justice League team that was comprised of multiple larger-than-life personalities, Tora Olafsdotter stood out by virtue of her quiet and unassuming demeanor. She was the shy counterpart to her best friend, the exhibitionist Fire, and struck up an unlikely romance with the loudmouthed Guy Gardner. First appearing in “Justice League International” #12, Tora would stay with the group through several line-up changes before she was killed in “Justice League Task Force” #14. An energy blast from the alien, Overmaster, killed Ice, shortly after she had broken free of his mental control.
What made Ice’s death particularly galling is not only the unfairness of a good person meeting a tragic demise. It’s the fact that the story’s writer, Mark Waid, later admitted that the main reason behind the story had been to generate a reaction from the readers. Admitting that he considered the death his worst mistake in comics, Waid confessed that he had asked his editor: “who’s the JLAer whose death would evoke the most fierce gut reaction from readers?”
3. SUE DIBNY
Poor, poor Sue. It’s often seen as inevitable that superhero relationships are doomed to failure, but Sue and her husband — Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man — appeared to have bucked the trend. First appearing in 1961, she and Ralph formed a partnership of equals. She supported his love for mysteries and heroics, yet was always ready to bring him down to Earth when he got too carried away. Sue acted as the administrator for the Super Buddies and her verbal sparring with Max Lord, as well as her capacity to take all the madness in her stride, made her an integral part of the team’s stories.
This made Sue’s demise even more horrific. In the 2004 miniseries, “Identity Crisis,” by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales, Sue was killed by Jean Loring. Jean had traveled down the phone line to jump into Sue’s brain, causing an aneurysm that killed her. Her body was then burnt in a house fire and, in a retcon that added another layer of cruelty to her demise, she was revealed to have been raped by Doctor Light in the past.
2. BART ALLEN (THE FLASH)
Bart Allen was one of the most entertaining DC characters of the ’90s. As Impulse, the speedster from the future with the microscopic attention span, he frequently ran into trouble without any consideration of the consequences. He matured over the years as he gained more experience — both of being a superhero and of life — and took on the identity of Kid Flash, a role that he held at the time of the “Infinite Crisis” event. This saw Bart absorbed into the Speed Force and artificially aged, resulting in him taking on the identity of the Flash.
Bart’s run as Flash wasn’t a great sales success, leading to his death in “The Flash” #13 by Mark Guggenheim. In this story, the Flash’s Rogues teamed up with Inertia, who had built a machine that drained the Speed Force from its victims. Bart fought valiantly but, in the end, was beaten to death. Bart’s death was taken by some fans as proof of DC’s rejection of “fun” in favor of “grim and gritty,” and it’s true that the character had progressively seen his youthful innocence stripped away. What can’t be argued is that the violent death was a poor reward for Bart’s years of heroism.
1. TED KORD (BLUE BEETLE)
In the years after DC used “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to integrate the ex-Charlton heroes into their universe, Ted Kord would cement his place in the DC universe. While he starred in an enjoyable 24-issue solo series, the greatest factor in his popularity was his prominent role as a member of the Justice League International, where he struck up a double act with Booster Gold. Ted wasn’t the strongest, bravest or fittest of heroes, but he was one of the most human and easy to relate to.
Ted was often underestimated by his fellow heroes, but his death took this to new heights. Investigating the theft of funds from his company, the plot of “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” saw numerous DC heroes dismiss Ted’s concerns, treating him like a nobody. Fittingly, only Booster was willing to believe him and help with his search. This would end with Ted’s death at the hands of Maxwell Lord, gunned down by a man that he had considered a friend. It was a terrible, unjustified end for Ted, made all the more frustrating by the fact that his character had to be belittled by others in order to achieve this.
There you have our picks for 15 DC heroes who deserved a better send-off, but there are many more examples. Let us know what you think of our picks on Facebook or in the comments thread, and we’d love to hear your own suggestions for characters that should be included!