In reality, death has no meaning whatsoever to comic book characters. However, in the hearts and minds of comic book readers, the demise of a popular character can be a matter of life and…Well, you get the idea.
Classic comic book deaths like that of Jean Grey in 1980’s Dark Phoenix saga or Barry Allen in 1985 – 86’s Crisis on Infinite Earths provided fans with new talking points and writers with new storylines to explore. How would Cyclops, Jean’s long-time lover, handle the death of his partner? How would former Kid Flash Wally West step up to the plate and become The Flash for a whole new generation?
However, since the sellout success of 1992’s classic Death of Superman series, comic book deaths can also be used as a cynical marketing tool, or worse, as the culmination points of shallow, editorially mandated crossover events, placed at, or near to the story’s climax in order to give these baseless tales some sort of lasting impact, or meaning. In any instance, the one thing to remember is NOT TO PANIC, comic book characters always return in the end (and more often than not, with improved powers and a shiny new costume).
So ubiquitous (and so rarely lasting) are comic book deaths, that Wikipedia even has a page about them. The first lines of which read, “In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic-book death. While death is a serious subject, a comic-book death is generally not taken seriously and is rarely permanent or meaningful.”
Well, all that can be said to that is that there are obviously some comic book fans out there that didn’t get the memo! Here’s 10 (although there are obviously LOADS more) comic book deaths that drove fans into a frenzy and totally infuriated the funny-book reading world…
10. Jason Todd (AKA Robin MK II)
The writer/artist team of Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo plunged Batman into one of his darkest adventures ever with 1988 -89’s A Death in the Family. Whilst the tale itself was a fairly enjoyable globetrotting romp, the kernel of the story was that young Jason Todd, the second Robin and successor to Dick Grayson (who had grown up and was plying his super-trade as Nightwing at the time) was searching for his long-lost mother and, in the process, some stability in his troubled life.
To make Robin’s life worse, the readers pretty much hated him. Jason Todd, ginger-haired circus acrobat turned orphan, was introduced to readers in 1983. He was annoying, he was a Dick Grayson clone, and he was ginger. It could be argued that his fate was sealed from the word go…
Despite super-writer Doug Moench doing some very good work with the character, the fans still weren’t buying him. Following the massive DC event Crisis on Infinite Earths, Todd’s backstory was retconned by Dick Tracey/Road To Perdition writer Max Allan Collins, who re-created Robin MK II as a street-smart orphan, who survived by his quick wits and faster fists. Despite being a compelling and fresh take on the character, the readership still queued up around the block to crap on the new Robin. So, in 1989, DC killed him off. In death, Jason Todd, the second Robin, proved to be a far greater sales boost than he ever had been in life.
DC put the death of Robin to a reader vote and readers voted to kill him. Oddly enough, as the fans celebrated Jason’s demise (only to warmly embrace the arrival of Todd’s successor, the more mature, considered and brainy Tim Drake, in 1989’s A Lonely Place of Dying), the media were understandably upset that the comic book publishers had killed Robin off. The story garnered an enormous amount of column inches and anger-fuelled debates considering that it was, in fact, a comic book.
The major problem with the arguments of the moral majority, however, was not that DC was putting out comic books that depicted a teenage boy getting his skull smashed in by a grinning homicidal lunatic with a crowbar, it was that they were apparently outraged by the killing off of Batman’s youthful ward, Dick Grayson. Yes, amidst all the chaos, almost none of the outraged media watchdogs had read a comic book in their lives – and even less of them had actually even heard of Jason Todd, the very character who’se death they were so violently protesting.