Today is Memorial Day
, which -- in addition to being the unofficial start of summer, the last day of a three-day weekend and the point at which ladies can start wearing white for the season -- is the day we in the United States set aside to especially remember and honor the military heroes who lost their lives in the defense of our country throughout its history.
With our colleagues at The Huffington Post
having the dimension we call reality covered very well, it seems like an appropriate moment for we in the comics community to pause and remember some of the many fictional superheroes who sacrificed their fictional lives
to save their loved ones, their cities, their countries, their worlds and, in the some cases, their entire universes.
Captain America and Bucky
Steve "Captain America" Rogers and James "Bucky" Barnes fought the Axis menace throughout World War II with great success, but there was one battle they didn't walk away from: Near the end of the war, one of their archenemies, Baron Zemo, had loaded an experimental drone plane with explosives and launched it into the skies with Rogers and Barnes still on board and desperately trying to defuse it. The plane exploded in mid-air, but the only lives lost were those of Captain America and Bucky, the former being thrown into the freezing waters of the Arctic and the latter being torn to shreds in the explosion.
(Although later it turned out neither really died
-died; the super-soldier serum running through Cap's veins kept him alive and in a state of suspended animation within a block of ice for decades until the modern day Avengers found and defrosted him. Bucky was rebuilt with robot parts by Russian scientists, who brainwashed him into acting as their Cold War assassin, codenamed The Winter Soldier.)
The Man of Steel gave his life defending Metropolis from Doomsday, a seemingly unstoppable alien monster that tore a swathe of destruction through the United States and the entire Justice League. Superman was ultimately able to take Doomsday down, but only at the cost of his own life, as the two titans punched each other to death simultaneously.
(Although later it turned out that Superman hadn't really died. Rather, he completely exhausted all the energy in his body and entered a death-like state. The sentient Kryptonian super-weapon known as The Eradicator robbed Superman's tomb, placed his body in a special Kryptonian "regeneration matrix" and, after months of slowly recharging, Superman returned to life with the only side-effect being a rather embarrassing mullet
While investigating the shooting death of the god-like alien being Orion, Batman was captured by worshipers of the god of evil, Darkseid, who attempt to use the Dark Knight to build an invincible army of cloned Batmen as part of their plan to conquer the world using the legendary Anti-Life Equation. Batman managed to escape their clutches and, finding himself face-to-face with the half-manifested god of evil, he used the super-bullet recovered from Orion's body in a successful but suicidal attempt to destroy Darkseid. At the moment of his death, the grim tyrant blasted Batman with his crazy Omega eye-beams, which disintegrated the Dark Knight Detective.
(Although it turned out Darkseid hadn't actually killed Batman, but shunted him backwards in time as part of a Byzantine plan to make Batman fight his way forward through time into the present, allowing Darkseid to exploit Batman's sticktoitiveness and infect history with Omega radiation. With the help of his allies in the Justice League, Batman returned to the present and purged himself of Darkseid's infection.)
When Ragnarok (the apocalypse of Norse mythology( began unfolding, Thor refused to play his pre-scripted role in the cycle, which was apparently to be a source of energy to some crazy cosmic entities called Those Who Sit Above in Shadow, who are to gods as gods are to humans. Instead Thor wiped all of Asgard out of existence, breaking the cycle of Ragnarok and destroying himself in the process.
(Although later it turned out he wasn't really dead, only in a sort of divine hibernation in a limbo dimension, awaiting a time when the comics market would once again embrace a comic book starring Thor, at which point he was rescued from his sleep-state by his severed former secret identity Doctor Donald Blake. Long story short: Thor went to sleep for a few years, then woke up.)
Wonder Woman and several of her allies were captured by the demon king Neron, who zapped her into a deep coma from which no one could awaken her. The evil Dr. Zeul attempted a full brain transplant operation by which she would be able to take over the Amazing Amazon's body, but the procedure went about as well as you'd expect one to go when a surgeon attempts to transplant her own brain, causing both Zeul and Wonder Woman to die.
(Although -- thanks to Wondy's patrons, the gods and goddesses of Greek myth -- Diana ascended to godhood as the brand-new Olympian goddess of truth. When she refused to accept her fellow gods' rule against aiding her mortal friends with her new divine powers, they punished her by restoring her mortality.)
After a long and illustrious career as the Justice League's ace archer, Green Arrow Oliver Queen met his end during a dangerous mission in which he infiltrated an eco-terrorist group that had plans to blow-up Metropolis with bomb-laden airplane. Queen heroically set the bomb off early, saving the entire city, but he was atomized in the explosion.
(Although a few years later Queen's soulless body was returned to life by former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who at that time possessed nearly infinite powers. The partially amnesiac body attempted to continue fighting crime as Green Arrow, but when the Satanic grandfather of Stanely from cute 1960s kids comic Stanley and His Monster
attempted to transfer his own mind and soul into the Queen husk, Queen's soul descended from heaven to reoccupy his body, thus preventing it from falling into the wrong hands, so to speak.)
Long-time Avenger Clint Barton died along with several of his teammates when another of their number, The Scarlet Witch, went mad and used her reality-warping powers to summon a host of villains and enemies to attack Avengers mansion. In the ensuing battle, Barton's quiver full of trick arrows (including explosive arrows) was set ablaze, and, instead of taking off his quiver, Barton shouts his semi-famous last words, "Not like this... like this!", jumps on a flying motorcycle, and suicide bombs an attacking Kree warship, bringing it down at the cost of his own life.
(Although later the Scarlet Witch's same reality-warping powers would alter the entire universe on two further occasions, the first of which restored Barton to life.)
The Flash (Barry Allen)
The Silver Age Flash Barry Allen gave his life saving the entire multiverse -- that's the universe and all of its infinite parallel universes -- from The Anti-Monitor, who was attempting to destroy the Earth with an Anti-Matter cannon. The Flash did so by doing what he always did best: running really, really fast. In this case, faster than he had ever run before, which created a speed vortex that drew in the world-ending weapon's energy and killed him in the process. Allen acheived a sort of superhero sainthood in death, his soul ascending to heaven, his mantle passing to former sidekick Wally West, and his selfless example constantly being cited by his peers as one of the greatest acts in the history of super-heroism.
(Although many years later it was revealed that Barry never actually died-died, but merged with the extra-dimensional Speed Force from which super-speedsters draw their powers, and he reappeared outside of the Speed Force and in the present when chasing the Radium bullet that was shot backwards through time to slay the New God Orion [see "Batman" entry above].)
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
Hal Jordan, the first Earthling member of the cosmic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps, had a pretty rough decade in the 1990s. After his home city was obliterated by an evil cyborg from space, Jordan went insane, killed a bunch of his former teammates, took the name "Parallax," stole some time-travel powers, and ultimately destroyed all of time and space
(Don't worry: Superman and a few other allies managed to re-create the universe, with only a few continuity changes, by reinitiating a new Big Bang.)
Feeling guilty about the whole destroying-the-universe thing, Jordan attempted to redeem himself by re-igniting the sun after it was almost completely extinguished by a Sun-Eater, which was an alien monster that eats suns. He succeeded, but died in the process, his soul being sent to limbo.
(Although later Hal's homeless soul was joined to the Spectre Force, a primeval entity meant to be God's actual rage, which needs to be bonded to a human ghost in order to keep it from being connected to, say, the devil or a fallen angel. A few years after that, Jordan learned that "Parallax" wasn't just a silly name he called himself, but the name of a yellow, insect-like space god and soul parasite that had infected him and guided his actions. Jordan's soul, the Spectre Force and the Parallax entity all got in a fight, with Jordan's soul ultimately being re-bonded with his corpse, restoring him to perfect health somehow.)
Robin II (Jason Todd)
After Dick Grayson outgrew his role as Robin (and his costume), Batman accepted a second protegee who turned out to be much more impulsive and hot-headed than his original ward. After one of their many arguments, new Robin Jason Todd ran away form home to seek out his birth mother, and he ended up facing the Joker, who savagely beat him within an inch of his life with a crowbar, tied him and the woman Jason thought might have been his mom up, and left them in a building with a ticking time bomb. Todd managed to struggle out of his bonds and rescue his mother, but was killed in the ensuing explosion.
(Although a few years later an alternate Earth version of Superboy from Earth-Prime, who had been trapped in an artificial "Heaven dimension" with parallel dimension versions of Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor when the Multiverse was collapsed down to a single dimension decades earlier, sought escape by literally punching on the walls of reality. These blows caused waves that altered history/comic book continuity, and one such wave brought Jason Todd back to life.)
Gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle's self-appointment as judge, jury and executioner of any and all criminals he could get his hands on came to an end when President Obama appointed convicted serial killer and former Green Goblin Norman Osborn as Boss Of All Superheroes. Osborn directed all of the agents of his new organization H.A.M.M.E.R. (an acronym that doesn't stand for anything, just sounds tough) on Castle, including Daken, the son of Wolverine, who has the healing factor and knife-hand superpowers of his father. Daken killed Castle in a ferocious battle in which the mutant dismembered and decapitated The Punisher.
(Although later Castle was stitched together and brought back to life in the style of Frankenstein's monster, thanks to the efforts of Morbious The Living Vampire and The Legion of Monsters, who wanted to use Castle's skills to help them in a battle of their own. The magical Bloodstone eventually restored Castle to a normal, non-Frankenstein state. Then he grew a beard.)
The Human Torch (Johnny Storm)
The youngest member of the Fantastic Four, Human Torch Johnny Storm gave his life saving his teammates by battling a numberless horde of aliens in the extra-dimensional universe discovered by Reed Richards called The Negative Zone.
(Although later the villain Annihilus brought Johnny back to life using a special species of insects, in the hopes that Johnny would use his amazing powers to open a portal from the Negative Zone, allowing Annihilus and his armies access to Earth.)
The Red Bee
Superior City Assistant District Attorney Richard Raleigh continued to fight crime after hours as The Red Bee, combating corrupt politicians, mobsters and Nazi saboteurs with only his wits, his fists, and the trained bees he kept in his belt buckle. And he did so while wearing a costume that included sheer pink sleeves and horizontally-striped tights. The Golden Age great lost his life at the dawn of World War II, when he joined forces with several other heroes to stop the Nazi superman Baron Blitzkrieg's invasion of the U.S. mainland. Blitzkrieg smashed the Apian Avenger against a rock cropping, killing him instantly.
Unlike so many of his peers, Raleigh never, ever came back to life, making his sacrifice the truest of all. As such, the Red Bee is the greatest superhero of all time.