Alternate Cover: 5 comic book deaths that’ll stick

Death doesn't seem to mean much if you're a comic book character; there's always a chance to come back better, stronger and faster than before. Or is there...?

In the comics industry, it’s well-established that death is little more than a temporary ailment, slightly worse than, say, a bad case of pneumonia. Characters’ lives are subject to the whims of writers, editors and fans, all of whom generally prefer to see their favourites up and breathing. It’s long past the point of criticism by now, and is instead an accepted, if not celebrated, part of the medium.

With Jason “Robin II” Todd back from the dead despite being initially killed off in the 80s by a phone-vote, Captain America’s sidekick Bucky alive and kicking after a good 50 years of being the sidekick cautionary tale, and now Barry “The Flash” Allen (a man who a year or two ago would’ve made it onto this list) now expected to make an unlikely-but-inevitable return to the land of the living in the pages of Final Crisis #1 this week, I wonder – who, in comics, can you bank on staying dead?

Alternate universes, potential futures and “what ifs” aside, here’s a list of 5 characters you can put money on never seeing again.

5. Ben “Scarlet Spider” Reilly

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The best thing to come out of the infamous “Clone Saga”, Spider-Man’s clone who was supposed to be the original (for a bit) was actually a fairly decent character – a Peter Parker who had spent years away from New York, building a life for himself and becoming slightly wiser than the original as a result. The massive, enduring unpopularity of the Clone Saga storyline as well as the way it drove Spider-Man’s sales into the toilet mean that these days an editor would have to be courting career suicide to go near the idea of bringing Ben Reilly back. An undeniable shame, but there is hope for Scarlet Spider fans – in another 10 years or so, the people who read the Clone Saga growing up are going to be editing Marvel’s books. Ben Reilly might actually have a slim chance of coming back after all…

4. Gwen Stacy

It was a close one recently, as a bunch of Marvel staffers had to stage an intervention on Joe Quesada’s designs to bring Gwen back from the dead as part of Marvel’s Spider-Man reboot, “Brand New Day”, but thankfully their concerns were heeded and she’s still chewing dirt. Gwen Stacy represents the part of Spider-Man that can never catch a break. Uncle Ben died because he didn’t intervene as Spider-Man. Gwen Stacy died because he did. It’s a part of the character that works so well you can hardly believe it wasn’t planned from the start.

The reasons go beyond that, of course – she wasn’t actually that interesting a character, and she contributes far more to the mythos as a corpse than she ever did alive. Harsh, but true. Gwen is the ideal girlfriend who can never be lived up to – 30 years after her death, we’re still talking about it, and Peter (as seen in 2004’s House of M story) still wishes they could’ve made a go of a life together.

3. Charcoal, the Burning Man

“Who’s this joker?” you might be asking yourself, “and why’s he so high up this list?” Well, read on. Charcoal was a character written into Marvel’s supervillains-turned-superheroes series, Thunderbolts. He was the winning entry in a “create-a-villain” character as held in the comics magazine, Wizard. While it was unannounced, the idea from the start was to consider having this villain reform and join the Thunderbolts, and that’s exactly what happened. For almost 40 issues, he was a member of the team.

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Unfortunately, things weren’t as smooth as they looked. Allegedly, Wizard failed to properly secure the rights to the character for Marvel, and additionally failed to notify the winner of the contest, who didn’t actually realise they had won. The story goes that the winner also never received any of the additional prizes that came from winning the Create-A-Villain contest, and feeling screwed over, attempted to legally claim the character from Marvel. Rather than mess about, Marvel immediately killed off Charcoal and, since Marvel might not actually own him, it’s a safe bet he’s permanently blacklisted. That’s why he’s on this list, and that’s why he’s number 3.

2. Batman’s Parents

The high concept for Batman utterly relies on Bruce Wayne’s parents being dead. After all, part of the psychology of Batman’s war on crime was that he’s really attempting to bring down the faceless criminal that killed his parents. Of course, the criminal did get a face roughly 10 years in, and Batman has repeatedly brought him down in various continuities, but the fact remains that Batman’s motivation is trying to prevent the sort of thing that happened to him. If Batman’s parents come back to life, then he’s lost that reason and he just becomes the psychopath in a suit that Frank Miller likes to write him as.

1. Uncle Ben

Spider-Man, as you may have noticed, is a media juggernaut. The murder of Uncle Ben – something that happened as a result of Peter’s inaction – is integral to the character in the most fundamental way imaginable. If Ben were to come back to life, then the sense of responsibility that motivates Spider-Man is gone and the character is irreparably harmed. There’s no way Marvel, Sony or anyone else is going to let that happen. Uncle Ben staying dead is the safest bet in comics, and I have absolutely no problems in saying that he’s gone forever.


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James will be back with a new Alternate Cover next week; read his last column here.