Any superhero worth their salt has at least one greatest enemy, and some are even special enough to have an entire rogues’ gallery full of them - but the list of superheroes who have actually killed their arch-nemesis is a pretty short one. And it’s not hard to see why - sure, putting a baddie in the ground might be the only way to permanently end the threat they represent, but it also makes it difficult to tell more stories featuring that villain, and so the lethal option is almost always avoided. Almost always, but not always.
Sometimes, the most vile and violent comic book archenemies take their acts of evil too far, and an extreme response is warranted. Even when the victim is someone as despicable as the Joker or the Red Skull, handing out fatalities is still always a difficult prospect for most caped crusaders - and that’s part of what sets them apart as heroic individuals. Superheroes don’t slay because they want to, they do it because they have to.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
Wolverine and Sabretooth have a rivalry that goes back decades, and one that has always seemed like it would never end - mostly because each of them possesses a healing factor that makes them functionally immortal. At some point in his journeys through Japan, however, Logan’s soul and blood are used in the creation of the Muramasa Blade, a magic sword that can cancel out healing factors and end pretty much anyone permanently.
When Victor Creed breaks even badder in Wolverine #55, reverting to a feral state and going on yet another lethal rampage, Logan reacquires the Muramasa Blade - which he’d left with Cyclops for safekeeping - and hunts down his old foe. Finding him deep in the woods, Wolverine chops Sabretooth's head off rather unceremoniously.
The decapitated Sabretooth, however, is later revealed to be an imperfect clone of the original article, who has since returned to haunt Wolverine all over again.
- Photo: DC Comics
The Death of Superman is one of the most notable and highest-grossing comic book events in history, primarily because it delivered exactly what it promised in its title. The big moment of truth comes in Superman #75 when Kal-El finally bites the dust - but not before taking one of his greatest foes with him.
The monstrous Doomsday is a being who is essentially genetically engineered to slay Superman, and that’s exactly what he goes about doing at the outset of the event. It all culminates in a brutal brawl in the middle of Metropolis, one that ends with a vicious double knockout that ends Doomsday and leaves Superman near his end.
Of course, it would only be a matter of months before both combatants were back on their feet.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
There have been many Red Skulls throughout the annals of Marvel Comics, but the real deal has always been the most despicable. An unrepentant Nazi, this version of Johann Schmidt wore a mask over his otherwise normal face and also went into suspended animation when Captain America was in the ice - but when both awaken in the modern era, Red Skull finds himself rapidly deteriorating to match his chronological age.
With not much time left, Red Skull instigates one last battle with Steve Rogers in Captain America #300, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s not looking for anything but a glorious demise in battle. Feeling pity for his now elderly foe, Cap refuses the request - but then Red Skull fights with him until he suffers a fatal heart attack, anyway.
Unfortunately, there’s a legion of clones out there ready to carry on Schmidt’s hateful legacy.
- Photo: DC Comics
Wonder Woman has often skirted the edges of godhood, but has rarely been considered an outright god herself - though that doesn’t mean she can’t throw down with them. Few deities have given Diana of Themyscira more grief than Ares, god of war, and he’s also one of the few enemies to have pushed her to enact lethal justice.
The events of Wonder Woman #33 find the Amazons in a bloody battle with the forces of Ares on the beaches of Themyscira. Seeking to end the violence as quickly as possible, Diana tracks down the god of war and then, without warning, buries a mystical battle ax in his head - cleaving his iconic helmet in two and stopping the conflict in one fell swoop.
Like all creatures of divinity, Ares eventually finds his way to resurrection - but now he knows that Wonder Woman can put him down semi-permanently whenever she wants.