Death is the foundations for most comicbook stories. Some are permanent, most are not. Death is the motivation and inspiration for most of the classic heroes. For Batman it was his parents, for Spider-Man it was his uncle, for Spawn it was the hero himself, the list goes on. The majority of these big deaths are in the characters’ origins and have occurred before the story starts. When a death happens in the pages of a story you are reading it can take you by surprise, shock you, move you. Even though you know it may not stick, if it is handled well it can still be effective. Here are our top five most shocking deaths in the pages of DC Comics.
5. Arthur Curry, Jr/Aquababy – Adventure Comics #452 (August 1977)
To the non-comic reader Aquaman has always been somewhat of a joke, mainly due to his animated appearances, until Jason Momoa played the role in live-action. In the comics Aquaman has been through some shit, even ‘dieing’ a couple of times himself, but the death of his son was the darkest moment.
Back in 1977 Black Manta, Aquaman’s nemesis, kidnapped Arthur Jr and forced Aquaman and Aqualad to fight to the death for his freedom. Manta placed Aquababy in a glass sphere that was filling with air. Being Atlantian, Aquababy could only breathe underwater and as the water emptied out he started to suffocate. His father failed to free him in time and the infant died. Not only did Aquaman lose his son but Aqualad walked away from him as well because he realised that Aquaman was fully prepared to kill him to rescue his son. On top of that, Aquaman’s failure lead to his marriage breaking down and ending in divorce.
DC like to make their films dark but I can’t see them borrowing this storyline.
4. Alexandra DeWitt – Green Lantern #54 (August 1994)
This is a death that coined a phrase. Alexandra DeWitt was the girlfriend of Kyle Rayner at the time he became Green Lantern. When Rayner was off fighting crime Alexandra was attacked and murdered by Major Force and her body was stuffed into Kyle’s refrigerator. With this moment the term ‘women in refrigerators’ or ‘fridging’ was born.
Future DC star writer Gail Simone took exception to this and started a blog named ‘Women in Refrigerators’ to call out the trope in fiction, especially in comics, of killing, maiming, or depower female characters as a plot device to motivate male characters. Simone would go on to be one of the leading writers at DC in the 2000s and focused on developing female characters.
3. Ted Kord/Blue Beetle – Countdown To Infinite Crisis #1 (May 2005)
Ted Kord, a Steve Ditko character who had been around since the 60s, had become a joke. He had been one of the headliners of the 80s to early 90s Justice League run and had become progressively more inept and out of shape.
In 2005 Ted starred in the ‘Countdown to Infinite Crisis’ one-shot written by Geoff Johns. He uncovers a plot against the superheroes but his credibility is so low that no-one believes him. Ted decides to go it alone and his investigation leads to the headquarters of the spy organisation Checkmate. His friend Maxwell Lord is running the operation and reveals that he is going to use it to keep all superheroes under surveillance and controlled by him. When Ted refuses Maxwell’s offer to join him Maxwell just shoots him in the face. There’s no villainous monologue giving Ted time to escape, Maxwell just skips straight to murder. Ted gets a ‘To Live And Die In L.A.’ moment which is something you rarely see.
2. Jason Todd/Robin – Batman #427 (December 1988)
Probably one of the two most famous DC deaths, alongside Superman’s, is that of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Jason was literally the redheaded stepchild of the Batman family. Originally he had an origin that was a carbon copy of Dick Grayson, the original Robin, apart from his ginger hair which he dyed black so he would look the part.
Jason wasn’t a popular character with the readers so DC used the opportunity of ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ to shake things up a bit. Their goal was to make Jason edgier but the ended up making him a bit of a dick (not Grayson). DC gave Jason one last chance and a story was set up that would give readers a chance to decide his fate.
Jason went on a quest to find his birth mother and it turns out that, like her son, she is also a dick. She sets him up and he is captured by the Joker. What follows next was absolutely brutal considering the age group the story was aimed at. The Joker goes to town on Jason with a crowbar and beats him senseless. He is then tied up alongside his mother and left in a room with a bomb. Jason manages to frees himself and his mother and they crawl to the door to escape but after all that the Joker has locked it. The bomb goes off and the readers where given two phone numbers, one for Robin to live and one for him to die.
Of course, the vote was quickly rigged by some students and that was the bloody end to Jason Todd.
1. Adrian Chase/Vigilante – Vigilante #50 (February 1988)
‘The Vigilante’ was a dark, adult book that span out of DC’s biggest selling book of the early 80s ‘The New Teen Titans’. Adrian Chase, the Vigilante, was essentially DC’s version of The Punisher but with out the military training. A New York D.A. by profession, Chase’s family were murder by the mob sending him on a path of vengeance.
Spiralling into a world of violence, Chase became conflicted between who he was and what he had become. He repeatedly tried to walk away from his new life but kept getting pulled back in. With his mental health shattered the violence increased. After killing some innocent cops who got in his way Chase realised that he had become the problem he was trying to remove. He dealt with it the way he dealt with other criminals. If the fiftieth and final issue of the series Chase put a gun to his head and ended his own life.
What are the deaths that shocked you? Comment below.