The more things change, the more they stay the same.
No words have ever proven to be more true especially when applied to the world of super-heroes.
For them, death has always been at best uncertain.
But what there was in the world of super-heroes was virtually non-existent until the silver age when it was learned that Captain America’s youthful partner Bucky was killed at the end of World War II.
After that, death for super-heroes remained a rare event but when it happened, it was usually done for dramatic purposes. In more recent years, death often comes for no other reason than to replace unfashionable white males with more politically acceptable ethnic or gender specific substitutes.
But whatever the reason editors or writers might have for killing off heroes, readers themselves have always taken their demise seriously, hoping for the most part that those who have made the supreme sacrifice are not robbed of their halos.
Unfortunately, the desires of fans for the permanency of death in their favorite comic book universes have too often turned out not to be final. And so, whether it’s clones, robot duplicates, returning spirits, impersonators, stand-ins, or alternate universe versions, most super-hero deaths never seem to last.
Caveat Emptor: although the following list includes characters who have been thoroughly killed (and numbered in the order of least likely to be revived), their deaths have mostly taken place in the traditional continuity stemming from comics’ silver age of the 1960s. It does not take into account any 21st century developments in the Marvel or DC universes wherein most if not all past continuities have been scuttled or confused beyond the average reader’s ability to understand.
10) Blue Beetle
The Blue Beetle has a long history going all the way back to comics’ golden age but the Blue Beetle, whose rights were eventually acquired by DC, was the Ted Kord version first introduced by artist Steve Ditko in 1966. After DC bought the rights to the Beetle, the character was played mostly for laughs until he was executed in Countdown to Infinite Crisis (2005). Kord’s death made way for an ethnic re-do with a young Hispanic boy taking on the mantle of the Blue Beetle.
Another Steve Ditko creation, ownership of the Question was also transferred to DC whose more liberal writers revamped the character beyond recognition. Overall, however, the Question was likely still considered an anachronism if not an outright embarrassment and so became a prime target for elimination in DC’s “new 52” reboot. He was replaced by a more acceptable Renee Montoya who had the triple benefit of having a different sexual orientation, gender, and ethnic background!
8) Doc Samson
Given strength and green hair by gamma radiation, Doc Samson never amounted to much in the Marvel Universe and so was likely deemed a safe bet for destruction in the new World War Hulk continuity. He sacrificed his life when his body failed to absorb radiation from a cathexis ray generator and his body reduced to ashes.
7) Chemical King
Perhaps spared the indignity of being brought back from the dead by his low profile, Chemical King died a hero’s death in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #228 (1977). Although a “dark skinned” version of the character was created in later continuities, the original King seems to have remained stubbornly dead.
6) Enemy Ace
Although prone to revivals in period stories of the deadly skies of World War I, Hans von Hammer or “Enemy Ace” apparently died peacefully in his bed some time after the war.
John Janus, the original Menthor, sacrificed his life for his fellows in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (1966). Subsequent appearances of Menthor for different publishers and universes have been other people wearing the hero’s Menthor helmet.
4) Ferro Lad
Ferro Lad, who sacrificed himself to save the galaxy in Adventure Comics #353 (1967) has managed to stay dead if you don’t count his being cloned, or coming back as a “time paradox duplicate,” or reintroduced as a completely different character with the same name and identity but from the 20th century instead of the 30th century!
3) B’wana Beast
An embarrassment to the growing liberal elements in DC’s New York offices, B’wana Beast was put out of his misery (and the minds of editorial) in Animal Man #47 (1992). Before that though, he managed to pass on his helmet and powers to a “South African activist” named Dominic Mndawe. Whew! However, subsequent appearances on TV and in other realities, B’wana Beast has apparently reverted back to his original white skin color.
First introduced in Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) and killed off in the same issue, Thunderbird’s powers were deemed covered by those of his various teammates and so became expendable. Key to the drama of that fateful first appearance of the new X-Men, it’s unlikely that John Proudstar will ever return from the dead… except in the form of a spirit or a younger brother with the same powers!
1) Captain Marvel
Mar-vell, that is. Not the big red cheese of the 1950s but the alien Kree secret agent turned defender of Earth created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1967. The good captain had a long, but checkered career before writer/artist Jim Starlin found a way to make him exciting in the 1970s. By then, Starlin had become so closely identified with the character that when he returned to Marvel from DC in 1980 he was welcomed with open arms and apparently given carte blanche. He used that opportunity to have Captain Marvel die from cancer induced after being exposed to radiation years before. So powerful has that story been, no one has dared to bring back the good captain from the dead… if you don’t count a son and a female impersonator both of whom eventually donned his red and blue tights.