Once upon a time, death truly was the end in comics. Today, it’s like the afterlife has a revolving door. It’s even been noted how scores of characters most thought were forever gone have made returns. Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes were considered “sure-thing” deaths but both came back to life within months of each other. Recently, Jean Grey and Ben Reilly made returns as well. It’s gotten to the point that if a character is bumped off, fans are taking bets on how soon they come back.
Yet, amazingly, some characters in comics are still gone. Some are big names, others supporting characters, but they still remain buried. It’s possible some might be brought back in the near future but others appear to be off limits out of respect for how their arcs ended. Here are 20 comic book characters who have actually stayed dead to show not everyone can make this huge comeback from the grave.
20 Jean DeWolff
Peter David made his mark in comics with a bold storyline bumping off a popular supporting Spider-Man character. Jean DeWolff was a tough and sardonic cop who was one of Spidey’s few friends on the force. Which was why readers were so shocked to open up a comic and see Jean lying on her bed from a shotgun wound. She was the first victim of the “Sin-Eater” and Spidey was driven by her loss to go after the guy. A cloned version briefly popped up, but was so much like the real Jean that she sacrificed herself stopping some villains.
19 Karen Page
When Matt Murdock began his career as Daredevil, he grew close to secretary Karen Page. She discovered the truth of his identity and left town. This led her down a dark path that took her years to get out of. In the “Guardian Devil” storyline, Karen is trying to aid Matt defending an infant from Bullseye. When Bullseye threw a billy club at DD, Karen intercepted it and died in Matt’s arms. Her passing still weighs on him and that she hasn’t been brought back somehow shows how big a deal this was.
18 Crimson Fox
Identical twins Vivian and Constance D'Aramis were inspired to become costumed heroes by Batman. The duo came up with the clever idea of Constance faking her passing so each could pose as the Fox while the other ran their cosmetics company. They worked with the Justice League and enjoyed the ruse. Vivian died in a battle with a super-villain to leave Constance the true Fox. Constance herself then met her end at the hands of the second Mist. Another Fox would pop up, but both twins have remained gone.
17 Sgt. Rock
For years, Frank Rock was the star of DC’s World War II comics. A hard-as-nails soldier, Rock fought the Axis in just about every situation imaginable. For a long time, it looked as if Rock had lived after the war and even become Secretary of Defense. However, it was revealed it was an impostor the Army created for public morale. The real Rock had been taken out by a sniper on the morning of V-E Day. It somehow oddly fits that Rock would end up being the final casualty of WWII.
Usually, you can count on the X-Men finding a way to return. However, Skin is an exception. The young man was born with about six feet of extra skin on his body which he used as part of Generation X. He was mostly on the sidelines until an infamous Chuck Austen storyline where he was brutally murdered by anti-mutant forces. Worse, Austen couldn’t get his name right in a memorial issue. He was briefly resurrected by Selene but soon returned to the grave.
15 The Confessor
Astro City is hailed for its mix of “realism” and old-school comic book storytelling. The Confessor is a mysterious hero no one truly knows about. His new sidekick, Altar Boy, learns the Confessor is actually a vampire who’s trying to atone for his past by being a hero. The Confessor realizes a secret alien invasion is about to go down and allows himself to be destroyed in public to expose it. Altar Boy trains to take up his mantle, cleverly making people think he’s the real Confessor returned from the grave to play on the super-hero cliche.
Alan Moore had no idea this guy was going to be the breakout character of Watchmen. With his brutal mannerisms, unique shifting mask, and narration, Roarscarh won over readers and made the book a huge success. The series ends with him refusing to allow Viedt’s plan to “save” the world by wiping out New York stand and being subsequently destroyed by Dr. Manhattan. Doomsday Clock had Rorschach seemingly back, but it was just someone else under the mask. It makes sense a realistic tale like Watchmen doesn’t do resurrections.
An original hero of the Golden Age, Ted Knight used a special “star rod” to fly and fire energy blasts. He remained that way for decades before finally retiring. His son, Jack, would take up the mantle as a hero in his own unique way. In one of the final stories for the acclaimed series, Ted (already dying of cancer) sacrificed himself to save Opal City from old enemy the Mist. While so many characters of that era have returned, Ted remains gone to show the end comes even to older heroes.
In the 1990s, Thor was forced to join his essence with mortal Eric Masterson to save the latter’s life. When Thor was briefly exiled, Eric took up the hammer and costume himself. After Thor returned, Eric gained his own mace to become Thunderstrike. He had a tough attitude but did his best as a hero. When his book was canceled in 1995, the writers surprisingly had Eric perish heroically in battle. His son has taken up the name, but the original Thunderstrike remains gone.
When the “new” X-Men were formed in the 1970s, Thunderbird was an angry man given super-strength as his mutant power. He had a proud ego and clashed often with Cyclops. In a move meant to rock readers, Thunderbird ended up being killed on an exploding plane. Unlike so many other X-Men, he’s really stayed gone since with his brother, Warpath, later joining X-Force. Thunderbird was briefly resurrected in a cosmic war but returned to the afterlife and seems content to stay there.
10 Arthur Curry Jr.
It’s often forgotten that Aquaman was a father. He and wife Mera raised young Arthur Jr who Aquaman hoped could have a normal life even if he could breathe underwater. It wasn’t to be as Arthur Jr. was taken by archenemy Black Manta who put him into a watertight bubble. While Aquaman did his best, he wasn’t in time to save his son’s life. While the current DC history doesn’t contain Jr., his loss was a turning point in Aquaman’s life.
9 Rick Grimes
The Walking Dead always relied on shocking twists but they saved the best for last. For years, Rick Grimes had been the leader of this pack of survivors, undergoing countless tragedies as he helped them build a civilization. In the climactic issue of the series, Rick was shot in his bed by a jealous rival. His son, Carl, then has to finish the job when Rick turns into a zombie. The final issue took place years later to show Rick’s passing had just made him a legend to others. Bumping off the hero was a bold move to end the series.
A product of her era, Pantha was the product of an experiment by a sinister organization. It was never made clear if she was a human turned part cat or the other way around and that gave her a nasty attitude. She worked with the Titans for a long time, including an adoptive mother to the Wildebeest. In “Infinite Crisis,” Pantha was among the heroes taking on the insane Superboy Prime. Lashing out, Prime took her head off with a single punch, a shocking end for the character.
1993’s “Bloodlines” was meant to introduce scores of new characters but only one worked out. Tommy Monaghan was a gun for hire who was given telepathy and x-ray vision for his job. While tough, he had a code of honor and his wild adventures soon won readers over. Tommy’s world was dark and brutal so it should be no surprise that his end was too. In the final issue of the series, Tommy went out in a blazing final gun battle and has remained gone since. It was nasty but expected for his life.
In the 1950s, Jack Monroe became the “Bucky” to a new Captain America. The duo did well but soon became unstable and were put in suspended animation. Revived decades later, they fought the real Cap with Monroe realizing he was on the wrong side. He took on the identity of Nomad, at first a costumed hero but later changing to a trenchcoat-wearing anti-hero. He bounced around for a few years before being shot by a figure that turned out to be the Winter Soldier. He’s remained that way since. It's a sad end to a tough life.
5 Black Goliath
Bill Foster had been an aide to Hank Pym who helped him out with his career as Giant-Man. Bill ended up using the same Pym Particles to grow in size and took on the name Goliath himself (later “Black Goliath’). He was mostly out of the limelight until “Civil War” when he joined Captain America’s side. When a robot clone of Thor was unleashed, he blasted Bill with lightning. The man was buried in a twelve foot grave and has stayed that way as few want to remember this storyline.
4 Ben Parker
It’s his passing that created a hero. Ben Parker wasn’t just Peter’s uncle but a second father to him. He raised Peter up and gave him the values he would use in life. When he was shot by a burglar, an outraged Peter hunted the crook down... and found it was a thief he’d arrogantly let run by him earlier. It was the lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” that would transform Peter’s life. While we’ve seen an occasional Ben from another reality, the true one remains gone to continue to inspire Peter on.
3 Captain Mar-Vell
The original Captain Marvel was a Kree soldier who became a fantastic hero on Earth. He was well regarded by his peers and stood tall in cosmic battles. Thus, his passing was a big event in a huge graphic novel. More notable was that rather in some grand battle with Thanos, Mar-Vell died of cancer, a very human end. He’s been teased with returns like a time traveling version that turned out to be a Skrull and his legacy lived on through his son. But the original Marvel has remained gone to showcase the power of the storyline.
2 Gwen Stacy
She’s still the woman who holds Peter Parker’s heart in so many ways. The lovely Gwen was a great gal who Peter loved deeply. That’s what made it so shocking when a battle with the Green Goblin sent Gwen off a bridge. It broke Peter’s heart and it took him a long time to get over it. There has been a clone of her around and of course, the “Spider-Gwen” from another reality, but the real Gwen Stacy is still gone and that continues to haunt Peter today.
Mike Mignola’s demonic hero has been a huge success for decades. He’s even had three big-screen movies to prove he’s a top notch character. One would think he would still be around and pushing himself but Mignola instead decided to end the character on his own terms. In a grand battle with an evil witch, Hellboy sacrificed his life to stop her. A graphic novel revealed he was sent to Hell and rather then escape, he oversaw Ragnarok basically wiping out the world. He then joined with Hecate in creating a new Earth that he could oversee from the afterlife. It’s amazing how Mignola had his character end like this.