This list is about those big ones, those with enormous impact, those that are still felt in the pages of their respective books to this day. Deaths so important that they effect the very fabric of the hero's identity and have made their way into popular culture in general as well.
Vote up the most important deaths in comic book history below. The deaths that forever changed the world of comics and beyond.
Thomas and Martha Wayne
Few origins are as instantly recognizable as Batman's. Walking out of a movie theatre late at night, Dr. Thomas Wayne, his wife Martha, and son Bruce are suddenly stopped by a mugger. When Thomas makes a move for his wallet the mugger panics and shoots. Thomas gets gunned down and then Martha right in front of an 8 year old Bruce.
It's in this moment that Bruce vows to right the wrongs in Gotham, and strike fear into the hearts of its criminals... he just didn't know it yet. Had Thomas and Martha never been charitable socialites, had they never been gunned down in front of him, had they not left Bruce the fortune required to build an empire and a one man army, then we'd never have The Batman.
It's a very simple origin but one that inspires and emboldens the reader. You instantly root for this character, even with some of his more questionable attributes. The death of the Waynes and the exact course in which it happened completely, and 100% shaped one of the most iconic and lasting characters in the history of comics.
Maybe no death has ever affected the title character quite like Gwen Stacy's. Gwen Stacy made her first appearance way back in 1965 in Amazing Spider-Man #31, as a fellow undergrad student at Empire State University. A fellow science major, she becomes smitten with Pete due to his sense of humor and scientific mind. He ignores her advances at first, and she retaliates by dating both Harry Osborn and Flash Thompson, then eventually they date. It gets off to a rocky start but it's clearly true love. Marriage is discussed often, and only delayed when her father, Captain George Stacy, is killed by Doc Ock during a fight with Spider-Man.
They eventually get through this rough patch and for a time all is well. Until the Green Goblin kidnaps her, knowing that she's Peter/Spider-Man's girlfriend, and holds her hostage on the George Washington Bridge. A battle rages, eventually culminating in the Goblin throwing Gwen off the side of the bridge and Spider-Man instinctively shooting a web line catching her by the foot... breaking her neck.
Peter is never truly sure if the Green Goblin had killed her first or if it was his own doing and it haunts him forever. It also ushers in Mary Jane becoming a more mature and compassionate person eventually allowing their own relationship to take place. It's still to this day argued whether or not Peter Parker would even be with Mary Jane if not for Gwen's death.
She died 40 years ago and it still influences the book on a weekly basis. It's like Lois and Clark without Lois. It's like not only did Lois die, but Clark accidentally killed her. It's the biggest death in comics, one so large it ended the Silver Age of comic books.
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Another extremely influential DC Comics death is without question Jason Todd. Not only did his death hugely effect Batman fans, it was CAUSED by Batman fans.
DC let the fans decide the fate of the boy wonder via a 1-900 telephone poll where he was killed by a decision of 5343 to 5271.
In the Death in the Family storyline in 1988 Jason Todd is killed at the hands of Joker by being beaten nearly to death with a crow bar... and then blown up. The cover of Batman #428 with Batman carrying a lifeless Jason Todd out of the wreckage is one of the most iconic comic book images in history. The death of Robin left a huge mark on all of DC for years to come and it wasn't until 2005 that the character was brought back, as an anti-hero much in the same vein as Batman, but without Batman's no kill rule.
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In comics, death equals resurrection, and no one knows that better than Jean Grey.
The Dark Phoenix Saga from 1980 is a tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely. A few years prior, X-Scribe Chris Claremont decided to turn one of the X-Men's weakest members into its most powerful. Jean was piloting the damaged X-Jet back to earth and after being exposed to fatal levels of radiation, she is forced to use her full psychic and telekinetic potential, killing her, and birthing the Phoenix.
After a few failed attempts by the Hellfire Club to brainwash her, she starts to lose her grasp on reality. Now referring to herself only as the Phoenix she begins terrorizing space, eventually destroying an entire inhabited galaxy by consuming a star. Realizing the terrible things she's done and that she can't control this immeasurable power, she kills herself to protect her X-Men and the rest of the universe.
Now, she's come back from this "death" countless times since (always in varied and different forms, as technically the original Marvel Girl died as soon as The Phoenix was born), but this was such a huge event, that it arguably re-shaped how death is handled in comics. It was genre redefining.
It was also a brilliant commentary on power, innocence, and love, in a setting with infinite scope, which is what comics are all about.
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