The notion of a heroic sacrifice is a staple of the superhero medium. Readers have seen heroes confront great odds time and time again, with some making the ultimate sacrifice to save the day or help others. In Marvel comics, Nightcrawler died protecting Hope, while Cypher was killed by a bullet meant for Wolfsbane. Such deaths, though, are something of a rarity for Marvel, particularly if the hero concerned is not an A-list name.
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Over the years, countless lesser-known Marvel heroes have not died a heroic death, but rather have been used as cannon fodder – mere plot devices to add substance to a big event or to establish the threat of a new villain. Now, CBR counts down 16 examples of Marvel heroes that really deserved a better ending. One thing is clear: if you’re a teen in the Marvel Universe, you best make sure that your affairs are in order.
16. SCOTT LANG (ANT-MAN)
Scott Lang has long been a character defined by his bad luck. He served time in prison for burglary and had to resort to thievery again when his daughter Cassie was kidnapped, stealing the Ant-Man suit from Hank Pym. Scott’s appearances as a hero were somewhat sporadic over the next few years. Appearing as a guest star in various titles, it wasn’t until the ’90s that he got his greatest exposure, joining the Fantastic Four when Reed Richards was presumed dead.
Scott finally became an official Avenger in #62, establishing a mutual dislike with Jack of Hearts. Their antagonism wasn’t resolved until #76, when Cassie was again kidnapped. Jack saved her and he and Scott made their peace before Jack seemingly died. With the return of his child and his position as an Avenger cemented, this seemed like a rare time of success for Scott. Unfortunately for him, Brian Bendis had other ideas. In “Avengers” #500, the first part of Bendis’ run, a zombie Jack of Hearts returned to Avengers mansion, before blowing up and atomizing a rather surprised Scott. There were no stirring last words from Scott or heroic deeds, just a skeletal hand left amidst the rubble.
Charcoal (Charlie Burlingame) had a convoluted background that would play a large part in his eventual demise. In the late ’90s, “Wizard” magazine launched a competition to create a Marvel villain. The winning entry was Charcoal, with the character selected to appear in Kurt Busiek’s “Thunderbolts.” The in-story background for Charlie had him as a boy whose father had become a member of the Imperial Forces of America. This had brought Charlie to the attention of Arnim Zola, whose experiments turned Charlie into Charcoal the Burning Man. However, appearances are sometimes deceiving and despite his monstrous form, Charlie wasn’t a bad guy. He later joined up with the Thunderbolts, establishing a firm friendship with Jolt.
Charcoal remained part of the team when the writing duties passed to Fabian Nicieza, although his personality grew notably harder over time as the team were faced with multiple challenges. When the team faced Graviton in #56, he dissipated Charcoal’s rock form to the winds. This was originally meant to be a temporary measure, but legal issues behind the scenes (with the competition winner attempting to claim character copyright) meant that bringing Charcoal back to life was deemed more trouble than it was worth.
14. WHITE TIGER (HECTOR AYALA)
Hector Ayala, the first hero to take on the mantle of the White Tiger, originally appeared in “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu” from the creative team of Bill Mantlo and George Perez — Marvel Bronze Age royalty. Through the use of his Jade Tiger amulets he could transform into the White Tiger, with his street-level crime fighting bringing him into conflict with numerous gangs and thugs, as well as heroes such as Daredevil and Spider-Man.
Aside from his brief solo run in “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu,” all Hector’s appearances came as a guest star, normally featuring him dealing with bad luck and great challenges. He eventually retired from the superhero business after nearly being killed, having overcome a physical addiction to the power of the amulets.Unfortunately, Hector — like Scott Lang before him — had reckoned without Brian Bendis. Bendis brought Hector into his run on “Daredevil,” portraying a desperate, beaten-down man who was eventually gunned down by Police officers.
It’s hard to view the death of Trey Rollins as anything other than a huge missed opportunity. The teen hero known as Aegis was killed before anything of note had been achieved with his character, despite his great potential. Created by Jay Faerber and Steve Scott for their relaunch of the “New Warriors” in 1999, Trey was a Brooklyn teenager who found a mythical breastplate that could absorb and redirect energy from attacks. He became a hero to local kids, a member of the New Warriors and the official champion of the Greek Goddess Athena — all story avenues with great possibilities.
Sadly, all this potential would come to nothing. Aside from a brief appearance in “X-Factor” during the “Civil War” crossover, Aegis was not seen anywhere else after the cancellation of “New Warriors.” When he did make his return, in the pages of “The Incredible Hercules,” it was short lived. Aegis jumped out of a twelfth-floor window, confident that his breastplate and his Goddess would protect him. Unfortunately, he was quickly proven wrong.
12. RUSTY COLLINS
Some mutants always seem to be destined for big things, having the x-factor from the moment they’re introduced. Sadly, with so many mutants in the Marvel universe, not every character can be a huge success. For every Wolverine or Gambit there’s a character like Rusty Collins. While most mutants have to contend with a difficult life, Rusty’s time in the spotlight was one continual series of unfortunate events and missed opportunities.
After his mutant power of fire generated, injuring a woman, he was taken in by X-Factor. He stayed with the team for a lengthy period of time, forming a romantic relationship with Skids. In many ways, the team became his surrogate family. If this sounds idyllic, it wasn’t to last. Rusty and Skids were forced to join the Mutant Liberation Front, where they were brainwashed by Stryfe. After Magneto cured their condition, they chose to join his followers on the floating space station of Avalon; it was this act of gratitude that led to Rusty’s death. When Holocaust, a survivor from the “Age of Apocalypse,” was found floating in space, he drained Rusty’s life-force to restore his energies, killing the unfortunate mutant.
Since “Generation X” ended its members have been treated terribly. Jubilee became a vampire, Husk went crazy, Chamber became a mini-Apocalypse and Penance vanished from sight. But these slights pale in comparison to the death of Angelo Espinosa (Skin). From the start, he was an oddity among a team of oddballs. He had to cope with six feet of extra graying skin and had a different temperament from his teammates, with a rough childhood in the gangs of Los Angeles at first making him put up a hard front. This soon changed and he struck up close bonds with his peers.
When “Generation X” ended with #75, Jubilee and Angelo intended to go travelling together. Some time later, their journey brought then back to the X-Mansion, but under tragic circumstances. The Church of Humanity crucified several mutants on the mansion’s front lawn, including Skin and Jubilee. While Jubilee and several others were saved, Skin died. To add insult to injury, Skin was not even visible in the depiction of this event, being referred to only by dialogue. Compounding the indignity, when Jubilee and Husk visited his grave in a later issue, the wrong name was used on his headstone.
10. JAY GUTHRIE
As every X-fan knows, the Guthrie family have a seemingly endless number of members and an ever-expanding number of mutants — there must be something in the water in Cumberland. Sam (Cannonball) and Paige (Husk) are the most well-known members, but their younger brother Jay also served with the X-Men for a while. The fact that Jay’s character never caught on like his siblings can perhaps be explained by his introductory story, “She lies with angels.” This was an “Uncanny X-Men” arc that riffed on Romeo and Juliet, casting the Guthries and the Cabots as the warring families and Jay and Julia Cabot as the star-crossed lovers. It’s fair to say this arc wasn’t enthusiastically received by fans. Let’s be honest though, even Shakespeare didn’t hit the mark every time.
Jay later joined the New Mutants, before having his wings cut off shortly after M-Day (where many mutants lost their powers). This led to him falling under the sway of William Strkyer, who manipulated him into sharing information that led to the death of multiple depowered students. Shortly after this, Jay was shot and killed by Stryker, not even getting the chance to make amends for his misplaced trust.
9. GOLIATH (BILL FOSTER)
Bill Foster’s Marvel roots extended beyond his time as a costumed hero. He first appeared in “Avengers” #32, acting as Hank Pym’s lab assistant. In 1976 he received his own series, “Black Goliath,” where he used Pym Particles to increase his height and became a costumed hero on the West Coast. Team-ups with the Thing and the Avengers followed before he effectively retired his costumed identity, preferring to concentrate on his role as a scientist.
Due to Bill’s low profile, it was strange to see him as such a prominent part of Captain America’s team during “Civil War.” Sadly, in the fourth issue of the crossover, the reason became all-too-clear. The creators needed a sacrificial lamb to move the story along, and if a big name hero couldn’t be spared, then one big in stature would do just as well. Bill’s death at the hands of the Thor clone was used to make some on the pro-registration side question their choice. As bad as his death was, his funeral was even worse. His body could not be shrunk down and his mother bitterly complained, “they wrapped my boy in a tarp… and then they lowered him with a crane.”
8. NOMAD (JACK MONROE)
Jack Monroe was the original hard-luck kid. He was removed from his home when his father was exposed as a communist sympathizer. Later, he became the Bucky to a new Captain America, finding fulfillment in emulating his hero with a new father figure. Sadly, the unstable formula that gave them their strength also affected their minds. It was many years and many false starts later before Jack would finally be his own man and in complete control of his actions. This led him to take up the mantle of Nomad as a partner to Steve Rogers, later receiving his own title.
Unfortunately, Jack could never quite escape the manipulation of others. He was brainwashed by the Commission on Super Human Activities into taking on the identity of Scourge, hunting down and killing members of the Thunderbolts. Jack’s reward for breaking this conditioning and becoming his own man again was a slow descent into mental illness as the decline of his super-soldier serum left him suffering hallucinations. Adrift from reality and finding solace in the bottom of a glass, the final reward for Jack’s heroism was a close-range shotgun blast before his lifeless body was thrown inside a trunk.
7. CAPTAIN MARVEL (GENIS-VELL)
It’s hard living up to a parent’s legacy. No Marvel hero knows that better than Genis-Vell, the hero variously known as Captain Marvel, Legacy and Photon. The father he never knew, the original Captain Marvel, was known throughout the universe as a great hero. When Genis started on his own hero’s journey, the battle with others’ expectations was as great as any physical conflict he thought. This struggle to fulfill his potential led him to fine-tune his cosmic awareness, a process that drove him insane and ended his relationship with his human partner, Rick Jones.
The journey towards redemption eventually brought Genis towards the reformed Thunderbolts, although he never seemed to quite fit in with the team. It wasn’t helped by the fact that he was experiencing memory lapses and, by calling himself Photon, had now stolen Monica Rambeau’s codename for a second time. Baron Zemo later declared that he had evidence that Genis would destroy the universe. To prevent this, he split Genis into pieces, scattering him throughout the dark dimension. Genis died pleading for mercy, a tragic end for a hero who tried his best.
6. JUSTON SEYFERT
Have you heard the one about the boy and his giant, destructive robot? No, not “The Iron Giant.’ Marvel’s version of this classic tale was in the form of Juston Seyfert and his Mark VI Sentinel. The relationship between a boy and a giant mutant-hunting killing machine doesn’t sound like a very feel-good story, but the genuine relationship between the two was most convincing. The Sentinel’s prime directive of “Destroy all mutants” couldn’t be erased from its A.I. but was secondary to other directives that prioritized protecting Juston and humanity.
After appearances in solo miniseries, Juston (with Sentinel in tow) enrolled as a student at Avengers Academy. They fitted in well, but were unfortunate enough to be among the students kidnapped by Arcade to take part in his death-match in “Avengers Arena.” There, Juston was crushed by his Sentinel, leaving him crippled. Undeterred, Juston adapted the Sentinel to form a battle armor, again proving his technological skills. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to save him from Murderworld. He was one of the teen characters who were unceremoniously killed off, having his neck snapped by the psychotic Apex.
5. NEW WARRIORS
The New Warriors have become a polarizing name within the Marvel universe. For some, they are the team of young, mostly untested heroes who proved that they could have the courage of their convictions. They fought the good fight, often against great odds, and held their own against their more experienced comrades. In the aftermath of “Civil War” a different view of the team developed. That they were children playing at being heroes, that they were irresponsible and sloppy, and that they were accessories to murder.
“Civil War” was grim reading for fans of Marvel’s ’90s super team. On one level, the inclusion of the New Warriors made perfect sense — they had recently appeared in a comedic miniseries where they were the stars of a reality TV show. It was less convincing in other ways, particularly their attitudes and the tone of their dialogue. The sad truth is that there is no reason why it had to be the New Warriors who kicked off the superhero Civil War. Despite all their achievements to that point, they were simply used as a plot device, faceless nobodies sacrificed as crossover fodder.
4. SPIDER-WOMAN (MATTIE FRANKLIN)
It’s every hero’s wish that when their time comes they can say that they made a difference and left the world a better place. Some might even hope that they are remembered fondly, their achievements outlasting them. Mattie Franklin represents the tragic case of a hero who inspired little devotion during her lifetime, and died almost unnoticed. Mattie’s problem was that in her first appearances in “Amazing Spider-Man,” she came across as a crazy fan. This culminated in her attempting to hit on a Peter Parker who was still grieving over the apparent death of Mary Jane. She would later assume the mantle of Spider-Woman in a series by John Byrne but, again, this was not enthusiastically received by fans.
In later years, Mattie would make appearances in “Alias” and “The Loners” miniseries, both of which saw her attempting to move on from her ill-fated superhero career. Sadly, this never happened. She was captured by the Kravinoff family and sacrificed as part of a ritual to raise Vladimir Kravinoff from the dead.
The Skrull Kill Krew abide by the motto that “the only good Skrull is a dead Skrull.” Unfortunately for the Skrull superhero known as Crusader, they weren’t willing to be flexible on this point. Crusader’s real name was Z’Reg. A Skrull operative, he was sent to spy on the Avengers but grew to like and admire Earth’s customs. He instead decided to become a superhero called Crusader and became the custodian of the reality-altering Freedom ring. This led him to join the Fifty State Initiative, where he struggled to keep his Skrull origins a secret from his comrades.
This was hampered by the tiny detail of the Skrull invasion of Earth in “Secret Invasion.” Crusader had no qualms about picking a side, choosing to fight for his adopted home world. He was responsible for defeating the Skrull posing as Hank Pym, but in the process revealed his own nature, causing 3D Man to shoot him. Crusader was last seen mortally wounded on the floor, wishing that things had gone differently, his friends believing him to be an alien traitor. For someone that gave his all to protect his new world, it was a sad ending.
During the Identity Crisis event in the “Spider-Man” titles, Norman Osborn placed a bounty on Spider-Man’s head. This led Spidey to abandon his traditional costume and pose as four new heroes: Prodigy, Dusk, Hornet and Richochet. After Spidey returned to his traditional attire, these suits were adopted by the teen members of the Slingers, a new superhero team. Eddie McDonough, a science whiz with a palsied right arm, took on the role of Hornet. Despite his inexperience, he was determined to be a superhero and make a difference. His good nature and strength of conviction were vital to the team’s success, but when “Slingers” was cancelled after its 12th issue, Eddie had to give up his armor.
While this suggests a short but sweet superhero career for Eddie, his story had a tragic ending. After years of inactivity, with only a brief appearance in “Loners,” he was randomly brought into Mark Millar’s Wolverine tale, “Enemy of the State.” In this story, a Hydra-controlled Wolverine killed Eddie, who was intentionally used by Millar due to his status as a lesser-known hero. In a final indignity, Eddie’s corpse was beheaded in order to prevent his resurrection by the Hand.
1. ALPHA FLIGHT
Triumphing over stiff competition, Canada’s finest take the top spot for the most ignominious Marvel death. There were no heroic speeches or last-minute rescues for this team; just blood in the snow in an attempt to build up the threat of a new character. Alpha Flight could never be described as one of Marvel’s top teams, but they had a long pedigree. Their two ongoing series to that point had lasted 150 issues, while an “All New, All Different” relaunch in 2004 written by Scott Lobdell had introduced new characters and taken a more comedic approach. When this series was cancelled with #12, these new team members were joined by older members such as Guardian, Vindicator, Puck and Shaman. Great things surely beckoned for the team.
Unfortunately, Brian Bendis (tying with Mark Millar and Fabian Nicieza for most deaths on this list), put a stop to this prospect. In the pages of “New Avengers” he introduced a new threat known as the Collective (Michael Pointer). Alpha Flight tried to stop the threat but were no match for Pointer’s power, their bodies left strewn across the Yukon territory.
There you have our picks for 15 Marvel 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!
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