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Death is a big deal—but not always as big as it should be. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down the top 10 pointless superhero deaths.
For this list, we’re looking at deaths of major heroes that contributed nothing to the story or were done mostly for shock value. These are comic book deaths, so if it only happened in a movie or TV show, it doesn’t count here.
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Company-wide crossovers were conceived as big events but have become increasingly commonplace over the years as Marvel and DC have done them to death. But in order to keep the heat on them, creators have to offer important “can’t-miss” moments. That was the only real reasoning behind the death of Hawkeye in 2004-05’s “Avengers Disassembled.” Sure, it was technically heroic: The Kree are attacking, and suddenly his arrows are hit. Since he can’t stop them exploding, he hijacks a Kree soldier and quickly flies to the attacking warship. His death brings down the ship, but it’s all empty—a calculated effort to create a “big moment” without any genuine emotion behind it.
Stature was Cassie Lang, the beloved daughter of Scott Lang, who succeeded Hank Pym as Ant-Man. Scott was devoted to Cassie, going to extreme lengths to cure a heart condition she was born with. Unbeknownst to him, Cassie had been stolen some of Hank Pym’s chemicals and had gained the power to grow to tremendous size. As Stature, she became part of the Young Avengers. During an epic battle with a hyper-powered Doctor Doom, Scott Lang seemed to perish. Cassie responded by launching an all-out attack on Doom—and paying for it with her life. But it turned out Scott wasn’t really dead, so her death was in vain. P.S. She didn’t stay dead either.
Another death which occurred just because a major event demanded some blood. After “Crisis on Infinite Earths” wiped away the multiple worlds concept, DC kept trying to fudge their way back into it. In this instance, Superboy Prime returns from a pocket universe he’d been exiled to and sets about causing mayhem. Pantha, a member of the Teen Titans, had wildebeest DNA which gave her the powers of a were-cat. She was no match for Superboy, but her gruesome decapitation seemed to be in the story just for shock value.
#7: The Flash (Bart Allen)
When Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash died, it was a crushing moment that saw him give his life for the good of the universe. When his grandson Bart Allen died some years later, it was… stupid. He had spent many years as Impulse and as Kid Flash but had only recently taken on the mantle of the Flash himself. For various reasons, DC decided Bart had to give up the suit. But did he have to die for that to happen? Worse, his death happened at the hands of the Rogues, the traditional Flash villains—but these guys had a code that would have kept them from killing Bart in these circumstances. Flash fandom was not happy with any of this.
#6: The Atom (Ryan Choi)
It was laudable for DC to try to add some diversity to its line by recasting some of its traditional heroes with people of more varied backgrounds. When Ray Palmer decided to pack things in as the Atom after the events of “Identity Crisis,” it was a perfect opportunity to add some diversity. The Asian-American Ryan Choi fit the bill, and for several years was an intriguing and entertaining replacement for Palmer. But DC decided it was time to bring back Ray Palmer, and rather than let Ryan take on a new identity, he was killed off by Deathstroke. To make matters worse, his body was put away in a matchbox, which felt more like a punchline than a fitting end for a hero.
#5: Martian Manhunter
As a founding member of the Justice League of America, the Martian Manhunter is one of the icons of the Silver Age of comics. While he may not have been quite as respected as Flash or Green Lantern, he had a dedicated following. He deserved a better death than being killed by someone as minor as the Human Flame. Sure, they tried to dress it up as a major moment, but it still played as just an opening volley in the “Final Crisis” series. And when Superman eulogized him, claiming that they would pray for his resurrection, it was like winking at the camera to say, “Don’t worry. He’ll be back.”
#4: War Machine
War Machine was inevitably going to be somewhat in Iron Man’s shadow, but the character had a decent following. Moreover, he had proved himself time and again. He deserved a better send-off than the one he got, which was basically just to provide fodder for Tony Stark’s anger. He died battling Thanos, which takes guts, but it was all done in a fairly casual way. No big build-up. No memorable fight scene. Just a couple of punches from Thanos and he was gone. Sure, it helped motivate Tony Stark to act, but all in all, it was pretty perfunctory.
#3: Too Many Teens in “Avengers Arena”
“Avengers Arena” felt like a rip-off of DC’s Warworld concept crossed with a very liberal dose of The Hunger Games. Basically, a whole bunch of young Marvel superheroes were taken to a place called Murderworld and forced to fight each other to the death. With a setup like that, death was bound to lose a lot of its meaning. Sure enough, with half of the cast dying off by the end of the series, there were diminishing returns for most of the losses of life. The series really gave new meaning to the term “overkill.”
#2: Robin (Stephanie Brown)
Although she started out with the costumed identity of Spoiler, Stephanie Brown eventually took on the identity of Robin. Her stint as the first official Girl Wonder lasted only a handful of issues. DC needed a reason for Batman to (once again) push away everyone close to him, so Stephanie was chosen as the sacrificial lamb. To make matters worse, Dr. Leslie Thompkins chose to let her die to teach Batman a lesson. Worse, her manner of death was grotesque and verged on death porn. It was so oversexualized that in energized a discussion of the treatment of females in comics—which is valuable but didn’t make her actual death any more meaningful in the story.
#1: All of “Ultimatum”
The body count got totally out of control in “Ultimatum,” a series which was created basically to wipe out the entire Marvel Universe. Since this was an alternate universe with versions of all the main Marvel characters, it meant that they could destroy bigwigs like Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Cyclops, Professor X, and Wolverine without killing the real things. Kind of the ultimate in pointless, yes? To make matters worse, some of the deaths were particularly grisly. From the Blob chowing down on the Wasp or seeing Dr. Strange’s head blow up, all of this senseless carnage made for a lot of senseless deaths.