Superheroes die all the time. We saw this when Superman died fighting Doomsday and when Captain Marvel died of cancer. They also come back from the dead fairly often. Want some more examples? Okay! How about when Green Lantern was resurrected or when Peter Parker returned from oblivion to take back the name Spider-Man? Sometimes what looks like a brutal and devastating demise, is not actually the truth. What looks like the end is only the beginning of the next great adventure.
Characters thought to be dead are actually revealed to have faked their own death for one reason or another. More outlandish reasons exist, like when we discover the hero has actually become stuck in time or has magically healed. Sometimes the grizzliest of deaths are actually illusions, and when the hero actually does die, the story relies on something as simplistic, yet complex as time travel to undo what happened. Just because a superhero turns out not to be dead, it doesn’t mean their death scene doesn’t have a profound effect on us. We know everything is going to work out, but it can be surprising when we see some of the most beloved characters come to an unsavory end. Here are the 15 most brutal deaths in comic books… that never actually happened.
15. CAPTAIN AMERICA
At the end of Civil War, Captain America surrenders to Iron Man and the authorities. In the Death of Captain America storyline, Steve Rogers is shot by a sniper while in custody. When Agent Sharon Carter comes to help him, she is mentally programmed to shoot him to death. After Cap’s death, the title of Captain America is passed down to Bucky Barnes.
During the 2009 storyline Captain America: Reborn, it is determined that Steve never actually died. Instead, the gun that was used to “kill” him had actually caused him to become stuck in time. The Red Skull had planned to bring Rogers back and transplant his mind (which was still stuck in Aleksander Lukin’s body) into Cap’s body. Things don’t work out like they plan for him, and Captain America returned to action.
14. THE SECRET AVENGERS
In Secret Avengers #20, by Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev, the team is killed by highly advanced weaponry. Steve Rogers is shot dead. As War Machine lay dying, he hands Black Widow a time travel device, which she uses to travel back 44 years into the past. Instead of going back a few minutes and killing their assailants, Natasha must figure out a way to save her team without altering the timeline.
She spends the time having technology built that can override the weapons that killed the team, so she can stop the massacre before it happens. When she returns to the present, she saves the team without anyone knowing what had happened. It is probably one of the smarter time travel stories out there.
13. BOOSTER GOLD
Booster Gold, the time traveling corporate hero, tries to impress the public in the series 52; however, things don’t go as planned. With no Superman to watch over Metropolis, he attempts to take over the role as the city’s protected. It’s too bad the mysterious new hero Supernova outshines him at every turn. In a last ditch effort to prove he deserves respect, Booster saves the city from an explosion but seemingly dies as a result. There’s a funeral and everything.
Later on, we learn that Supernova was actually Booster Gold in disguise the whole time! Booster Gold faked his death in order to get away from his robot sidekick Skeets, who had actually been corrupted by the evil Mr. Mind. In a surprising twist, Booster Gold is actually far more competent than anyone ever realized.
Mogo, the giant sentient Green Lantern planet, has played an important role for the Corps. He is responsible for guiding Green Lantern rings to their new recipients. In the War of the Green Lanterns storyline from 2011, the Corps is possessed by Parallax. In order to stop the fear parasite from controlling more Lanterns, the remaining free Green Lanterns need to do something about their buddy.
In Green Lantern Corps #60, John Stewart is forced to blow up Mogo, effectively rendering all Green Lanterns and their rings inert. The planet is left in pieces and his friends have a funeral for him. However, a year later in Green Lantern Corps #13, it is discovered that the pieces of Mogo are reforming. It turns out Mogo wasn’t dead after all; he just needed time to get himself back together.
11. JESSICA CRUZ
This is a weird one. Bryan Hitch’s Justice League #20 opens up with the Flash stuck in a time loop. Apparently a gigantic explosion killed a man’s family and he attacks the Justice League in order to get revenge. He uses his energy device to brutally kill Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, and then the loop repeats over and over again.
In the following issue, the Flash is able to enlist the help of Batman to figure out how to stop the time loop. They discover that the explosion is not actually Barry’s fault, like he initially believed, and they are able to prevent Jessica from getting killed again. A giant alien comes to take the device away, stopping the explosion and allowing everyone to get on with their lives.
10. BUCKY BARNES
In the 2011 event series Fear Itself by Matt Fraction, Bucky Barnes as Captain America takes on Sin as the Norse goddess Skadi. Things don’t go well for him when the superpowered villainess is able to tear off his cybernetic arm. She ends the fight when she stabs him through the chest with her new hammer. Bucky dies in Black Widow’s arms warning the heroes that the true Serpent of Ragnarok is coming.
Bucky’s life is apparently saved behind the scenes when he is injected with a dose of the Infinity Formula. They have a public funeral for him, but he returns to active duty as the Winter Soldier, operating under the leadership of Nick Fury. Only a select few members of the superhero community know that he is still alive.
9. THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
During the events of Brightest Day, the Martian Manhunter must stop a psychotic Green Martian by the name of D’Kay. After using the White Light of Life to resurrect the people of Mars, J’onn J’onzz lives in peace with his family. He is a member of the Justice League and the Green Lantern Corps as well.
Though everything seems perfect, something is wrong. The members of the Justice League die in mysterious circumstances — Batman is murdered, Wonder Woman is hanged, Green Lantern is exposed to the cold of space, Aquaman is trapped in a desert, and the Flash continues to run even without a head. In the end, the Martian Manhunter brutally murders Superman with Kryptonite, and before then realizing that this was all an illusion cast by D’Kay.
8. ARISIA RRAB
Introduced in the ‘80s, Green Lantern Arisia Rrab became a longtime member of the Green Lantern Corps and even a (weird) love interest for Hal Jordan. Arisia stuck around even after the Corps was destroyed and was a supporting character to Guy Gardner until her death in 1996’s Guy Gardner: Warrior #43. Major Force returns and decides to suffocates her in order to hurt Guy.
Arisia’s death proves to be so painful to those around her that even the now Parallax-infected Hal Jordan returns to pay his respects at her funeral. It isn’t until a decade later, when the Green Lanterns return, that Hal finds her on the Manhunter homeworld of Biot. Apparently, thanks to her alien healing abilities, she had returned to life and was kept in stasis for years.
In 1993, Mockingbird sacrifices her life to save her estranged husband Hawkeye. The two were having marital problems for several years before things began to work themselves out. When the Avengers fought Mephisto in Avengers West Coast #100, Mockingbird takes an energy blast that was meant for her husband, and she dies in his arms.
Fast forward 17 years to New Avengers: The Reunion #2 in 2009, where it is revealed that just prior to her death, Bobbie Morse was replaced by a Skrull imposter in preparation for the invasion seen in Brian Bendis’ Secret Invasion. It turns out that the Mockingbird that had died all those years ago had been an alien imposter and the genuine article was alive and well. Talk about long-term goals.
In the 2004-2005 crossover Batman: War Games, Stephanie Brown (AKA Spoiler) accidentally starts a gang war when she steals one of Batman’s contingency plans. The results are disastrous as rival gangs go to war and innocent lives are caught in the crossfire. Black Mask rises to power as the undisputed boss of the Gotham Underground and captures Spoiler.
She endures unspeakable torture but finally manages to get away. Everything seems ok until the end of the story when she succumbs to her injuries and dies. It turns out that she would have been fine if Dr. Leslie Tompkins hadn’t withheld vital medical care from her in order to teach Batman a lesson. In truth, we find out years later that Leslie had helped Stephanie fake her death.
When the mysterious villain known as Monarch travels from the future to the present in 1991, it is made clear that a current hero is destined to become the bad guy. In Armageddon 2001 #2, he brutally murders Dove in front of Hawk in order to set the hero on a course to become Monarch in the future. Stricken with grief, Hawk murders Monarch in retribution and dons the armor in the present time.
It isn’t until 2003, during Geoff Johns’ run on JSA, that we learn Dove was never actually killed. Her death was a ruse orchestrated by the villainous Mordru, who was also responsible for making Hank Hall go crazy. His plan was to possess the child of Hawk and Dove, but Hector Hall (the son of Hawkman) is reincarnated into the baby first. Yeah, it’s weird.
4. CYCLOPS, MAGIK, AND EMMA FROST
The X-Men discover that Charles Xavier had hidden from the world an omega-level mutant by the name of Matthew Malloy. Cyclops attempts to recruit him in order to harness his vast abilities and keep him out of the clutches of S.H.I.E.L.D. In Uncanny X-Men #29, Cyclops and Magik are incinerated by a Helicarrier’s missile barrage while meeting with the mutant.
When Matthew turns up on the school’s campus, he accidentally kills Emma Frost in self-defense. He goes on to kill several other mutants as well before Tempus goes back in time to get help from Professor Xavier himself. The two are able to prevent Matthew’s parents from ever meeting, thus ensuring that everyone’s life is spared. Tempus returns to the present and tells Scott to get himself together.
3. WONDER GIRL
During the events of Blackest Night, Nekron uses Wonder Woman’s connection to death to transform her into a Black Lantern. In the Blackest Night: Wonder Woman tie-in book, she ruthlessly kills her loved ones. When Wonder Girl tries to stop her reign of terror, Diana is consumed by her need to feed off the emotional energy of those around her. She rips her sidekick’s heart right out of her body, killing her.
She goes on to kill a Black Lantern Donna Troy and her mother, Hippolyta, before the goddess Aphrodite comes to her and explains that this had all been an illusion that she cast in order to protect Wonder Woman and those she loved. Diana is then gifted with a Violet Lantern Ring of love.
In Final Crisis, Batman is kidnapped by the New Gods in their attempt to clone him and create an army of Batmen. The plan proves unsuccessful and Batman escapes to go after Darkseid himself. When they meet face-to-face, the Dark Knight produces a gun with a poisonous bullet that will kill the Dark God. He shoots Darkseid, but the Omega Sanction obliterates his body.
Sensing that something horrible has happened, Superman tears off for Bludhaven, where he destroys Command D and recovers the corpse of Batman. It is only later that we learn Batman has been sent back into the past and the body that was recovered is actually the body of one of the clones. This proves problematic when Dick Grayson tries to bring the body back to life.
1. THE UNCANNY AVENGERS AND ALL OF EARTH
The first volume of Uncanny Avengers comes with a laundry list of deaths that never end up happening. The Apocalypse Twins come to Earth and convince Scarlet Witch to rapture all mutants to their own planet in order to protect them from mankind. Rogue, fearing the worst from Wanda, uses Wolverine’s powers to kill her. The Grim Reaper then murders Rogue and later Captain America. Exiter the Executioner of the Celestials descends onto Earth and destroys it.
With the help of Kang the Conquerer, the remaining Avengers on Planet X project their minds into their past selves in order to stop the Apocalypse Twins before their plan can come to fruition. Thor is able to kill Exiter with an enchanted axe and prevent the Earth from being destroyed. It’s all pretty nuts.
Are there more superhero non-deaths that you know of? Tell us in the comments!
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