It is well known that comic book characters do not stay dead for long and sometimes their demise is just a plot device that serves the purpose of either shocking the reader or just to give an overdue farewell to a character that has run its course so it can be rebooted / resurrected later on. For instance, in the event Final Crisis, Batman is struck by Darkseid's Omega Sanction and gets "killed" in the process.
It was an important moment, yes, but we all knew Batman / Bruce Wayne couldn't stay dead for good since there wasn't a legitimate reason to kill him off. Later on we learned that Bruce Wayne was sent back in time and it was nice to see how the Bat-Family managed without him but ultimately, Bruce Wayne had to come back.
But there are some deaths that truly impacted the comic book lore to its very core. These deaths weren't needed but thanks to great writing and build up, these events in which heroes met their fate brought a positive change not only for future stories but in the way we know comic books today.
5. The Death of Nightcrawler (X-Force #26, 2010)
Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) debuted in 1975 and since then, he became a fan favorite thanks to his sense of humor and positive outlook on life. He was a beacon of optimism and he believed that religion was the only thing in common that could bring humans and mutants together. For years, Nightcrawler was a very welcoming presence in the X-Men books until the X-Men: Second Coming storyline when he made the ultimate sacrifice. Hope Summers, the first mutant born after the Scarlet Witch wiped most of the mutants off the planet, was being pursued by Bastion who was ready to kill Hope when Nightcrawler decides to teleport in between Hope and Bastion's arm. Kurt manages to save Hope but in the process gets impaled by Bastion.
Why was his death important?
Because he was the moral compass of the X-Men. Not only did he die, but the soul and conscience of the team died with him. In a world where there are numerous personalities and characters, Kurt stood out above every single one of them. He wasn't as popular as someone like Wolverine but that was the point of the character: he was low key and his impact on the team was subtle and not outspoken. When he died, the fans noticed drastic changes in the direction of the X-Men, for instance, their stories became darker and more violent. The team, as a group and as individuals, were looking for a lost identity they never realized they had in the first place. That sense of purpose gave a fresh point of view to their stories and made them grow as characters.
4. The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man #160, 2011)
The Ultimate universe was a nice experiment introduced in 2000 and was spearheaded by Ultimate Spider-Man. These titles served as a re-imagination of popular characters like the Fantastic Four and The Avengers, but it was Spider-Man who was the most popular. For 160 issues, writer Brian Michael Bendis gave us a version of Spider-Man that sometimes surpassed the original version. His stories were so engaging and full of emotion that when he died protecting Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson, it hurt.
Why was his death important?
Because the outcome gave us Miles Morales. This modern version of Spider-Man was Peter Parker's legacy and resonated with fans so, that he made the jump from the Ultimate universe to the current continuity. The death of Ultimate Spider-Man also allowed the exploration of the secondary characters like Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson in a world without Spider-Man and gave us a version of a beloved character as a symbol of pure heroism and sacrifice. He eventually came back for a while afterwards during Miles Morales' run, but his death in issue #160 gave a real sense of finality to the character that even though he came back, it was still Miles' story and provided a smooth transition between the characters without diminishing the impact of Peter Parker's conclusion.
3. The Death of Hal Jordan (Final Night #4, 1996)
Green Lantern is one of the most popular characters in comic book lore and Hal Jordan is one of the most beloved iterations, but when his home (Coast City) was destroyed during the events of Reign of the Supermen, we witnessed a grief-stricken Hal Jordan that decided to use his ring's power to recreate Coast City. This didn't sit well with the Guardians of Oa and when they tried to stop Hal, he went insane and killed everyone single-handedly destroying the Green Lantern Corps. He renames himself Parallax and here's where he starts his path to redemption by sacrificing himself to reignite the Earth's sun.
Why is his death important?
Because it gave us one of the best resurrection stories of a comic book character. Hal Jordan became the Spectre for a while and then came back years later as Green Lantern. His death gave a different dynamic to the process of bringing back a character, giving him a legitimate reason to be resurrected. It also gave a well needed breath of fresh air to the Green Lantern books, introducing stories like Blackest Night. Green Lantern became relevant once more and it gave the comic book community a nice blueprint on how to bring back a character from the dead. Comic book characters don't stay dead for long but when writers decide to bring them back, they should look to Hal's rebirth for guidance.
2. The Death of Jean Grey (X-Men #137, 1980)
The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most beloved story arcs in comic book history and the story was one of many great ones during an epic 17 year run by writer Chris Claremont at the helm of the X-Men books. This story was so emotionally complex that it was like reading something out of a drama and not a comic book. Her sacrifice redeems her at the end, giving the reader a bittersweet feeling by watching a major character going out as a hero but losing her forever in the process.
Why is her death important?
Because her death shaped the X-Men for years to come. There wasn't a story were Jean's influence wasn't felt. A character that is not physically present but still manages to weigh heavily on the stories is a powerful statement of how well her death was written all those years ago. 30 years later, Jean's death is still remembered and felt across the X-Men books giving us a prime example of how a character's death must be properly handled.
1. The Death of Barry Allen (Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, 1985)
One of the greatest acts of heroism and self-sacrifice to ever grace a comic book; Barry's death not only saved the world, he saved all of existence! and it was such a beautiful way to go by letting him do what he does best: running.
Why is his death important?
Because it symbolized the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Barry's sacrifice shaped DC comics into the future and impacted the comic book industry by killing a beloved character and giving an unprecedented sense of danger to comic book characters afterwards. For 20 years, The Flash's death shaped numerous stories for newer generations of comic book fans.
Well, there you have it. These are the deaths that I believe had a positive impact in comic book lore. Do you have a favorite one that you wish to share? Let us know in the comments!