by Aaron Lightfoot, Comic Columnist
Although sometimes looked down upon, comics give the reader the same things people get from watching movies, TV shows and even playing video games. Comics tell a story that can envelop the reader and transport them to the world of their choosing. Comics seem to be looked down on as a primitive form of medium, but the stories that are told can sometimes be more powerful and emotional than people realize.
A key to some of the emotional stories is the shocking nature of how devastating the combination of words and art can be. Getting the most out of both of those can create a shocking event that forces the reader to become intimately close to the scenario, impacting them in such a way that many other mediums cannot do.
Join Central MO News as we countdown the 10 most shocking moments in comics.
10. The Fate of Alexandra DeWitt
One of the biggest struggles a superhero must face is that their identity can be discovered, putting their loved ones in jeopardy. Some heroes choose not to develop emotional attachments for this reason, but that isn’t the case for most of them. The end result usually puts the hero at a disadvantage when their loved ones are captured by their villain counterparts. This was a lesson Kyle Rayner learned in a very abrupt and brutal way.
Rayner was chosen to be a Green Lantern at a strange time. Hal Jordan, in a distraught mindset, killed many other Green Lanterns and even most of the guardians. Ganthet, the last of the guardians, sought out someone to give the last working power ring. Coming across Rayner, Ganthet noticed that even though Rayner didn’t possess the fearless mindset they usually look for, he instead had the ability to face and overcome fear. This made him less susceptible to the yellow lantern entity Parallax.
After being given the power ring, Rayner seeks out his girlfriend Alexandra, or Alex DeWitt. DeWitt wasn’t sure what to make of the new power Rayner had acquired, but eventually helped Rayner control and understand the potential power he had command over.
All seemed to be going well until one day when Rayner saw a news report about weird happenings in Los Angeles. DeWitt instructs Rayner to investigate the incident and when he comes back she would have a surprise waiting for him. Rayner saves Los Angeles during an earthquake and comes back ready to see what the surprise is. He comes back and DeWitt is missing, with a note left on the table stating his “present is in the fridge.” He goes to open the fridge and sees his lover stuffed inside. While he was away in Los Angeles, Major Force, who is after Rayner’s power ring, attacked and killed DeWitt.
Rayner lashed out, almost killing Major Force before his ring runs out of power. Major Force then takes over the fight until his “green rock” that powers the power rings turns into a lantern battery and charges Rayner’s ring.
Rayner finally subdues Major Force, but when he begins to interrogate Major Force over why he was there and why he killed DeWitt, the police arrive and try to take Rayner away. Rayner flees and runs into Alan Scott, who tries to console him over his loss.
The aftermath of this event weighs heavily on Rayner. He changes to become a much more mature character and even gets the opportunity to revive DeWitt twice, both of which he turns away.
9. The Death of Jason Todd
When you have something people feel passionate about, you can find people have a desire to feel included in the process. Whether it’s trying to make a sports team play well through chanting, making statements on social media or even something like entering a sweepstakes to get a role as an extra in a film, people want to be involved. DC Comics writer Denny O’Neil saw this, so in 1988 he pitched the idea of making the readers vote via 1-900 numbers on how a story would end. O’Neil knew the vote couldn’t be on something small, so he decided the vote would be over the fate of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Knowing that Todd was relatively unpopular, it would help settle what needed to be done with the character.
Setting up the voting period to be within a 36-hour period, readers got one of two numbers to call from the back of “Batman #427.” The ending of that issue had Joker beat Todd with a crowbar, leaving him in a warehouse due to explode. Issue #428 came out, and with the final vote count of 5,343 for killing Todd and 5,271 against, Todd’s fate was sealed. Jason Todd was dead and the iconic image of Batman carrying Todd’s dead body that followed was one that is recognizable to most comic fans today.
Years after the event, O’Neil said there was someone who programmed his phone to call every 90 seconds for eight hours. The person chose the same option every time: for the death of Jason Todd. Totaling around 320 votes, O’Neil has gone on record saying the man was the reason why Jason died. Although many people were upset with the end result, including comic legend Frank Miller, it is hard to see what would be if Jason didn’t die. O’Neil has also gone on record saying that, “It would be a really sleazy stunt to bring him back,” a comment he may regret due to how popular Red Hood has become.
8. Wolverine VS Magneto
The X-Men have been popular for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is due to the variety of powers portrayed. This keeps fights fresh, with few confrontations where the ending is predetermined. There are those that are evenly matched like Iceman and Pyro, usually ending with disputes as to who would actually win in a fair fight between the two. There are, however, those fights that are hard to see go any other way except through the most obvious path.
The battle between Wolverine and Magneto was one of the latter examples. The reason why this was so shocking though was due to how the fight ended. Wolverine has been a fan favorite member of the X-Men for a long time. There seemed to be nothing that could stop him. His rapid healing ability helped him when adamantium was put into his body. This adamantium, however, would be his greatest weakness when it comes to fighting a mutant that can control metal.
Magneto had been targeted in the United Nations Security Council’s “Magneto Protocol.” The protocol uses satellites that would skew Earth’s magnetic fields in order to stop Magento. After he destroyed the satellites, a small team of X-Men were sent to stop Magneto and the team called Acolytes. In the confrontation, Magneto gets pushed past his breaking point and tells Wolverine he is done fighting and launches Wolverine away from him.
Wolverine lands and begins to feel a tug in his body. After the tug, his skin began tearing. Adamantium was being pulled out from Wolverine’s body, leaving him in a near-death position. Xavier immediately wipes Magneto’s mind and puts him in a coma. Wolverine ended up surviving, but is forced to use his bones as claws, instead of the adamantium, the idea of which was actually inspired by a joke writer Peter David had talked about.
7. Captain America Shot
Marvel’s original “Civil War” series tossed the readers through a whirlwind of emotions. With almost everyone in the Marvel Universe taking part in the feud, “Civil War” was responsible for tearing apart alliances. The end result of the conflict included the creation of The Avengers Initiative, Iron Man being named director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the most shocking moment, the death of Captain America.
With the tone of the conflict winding down, it seemed as if everything was ready to start making its way back to normal, or as normal as it could be in regards to what happened. Captain America was arrested and taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, where Crossbones and Sharon Carter work together, albeit through brainwashing via Red Skull, to assassinate Captain America. Iron Man and Black Widow joined forces to attempt to hunt down the murderers, while Bucky Barnes, who blamed Iron Man for the death of Steve Rogers, sets off to exact his revenge.
The moment was so monumental that “Captain America #25,” the issue that showed the death of Steve Rogers, was actually covered in national news by ABC reporter Bryan Robinson, who compared the events to a post-9/11 world. It also was the highest-selling comic in March 2007, doubling that of “Mighty Avengers #1.”
6. The Death of Gwen Stacy
Much like Kyle Rayner, Peter Parker learned the hard lesson that the villains of superheroes will do anything, including targeting their loved ones. While not as graphic as the death of Alexandra DeWitt, the death of Gwen Stacy is just as, if not more, devastating. Where Kyle had been away and came back to find his girlfriend dead, Peter Parker was directly involved with the death. The death is so iconic it is hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of what happened.
Considered by writer Gerry Conway as “the perfect couple,” Gwen Stacy had been Peter Parker’s girlfriend for a long time as far as comics are concerned. Parker has had many suitors, but none ended in the tragic way that his relationship with Stacy ended. Green Goblin abducts Stacy and lures Parker out to a bridge where Green Goblin throws Stacy off the bridge. Knowing he must save her, Parker leaps out to stop her fall. He shoots a web and catches her mere moments from her hitting the ground. The comic depicts a small “SNAP!” by the neck of Gwen Stacy. Parker pulls her up to realize he had not saved her – in fact he was the cause of death. Vowing to get revenge on the Green Goblin, Parker goes into shock over the body of his girlfriend.
The significance of the death showed readers that not every attempt a hero makes ends in success, and that not only can a hero fail, but they can lose those who are close to them. This lead to the Comic’s Buyer Guide coining the term “The Gwen Stacy Syndrome,” which describes the tendency for wives and girlfriends of male superheroes to meet their end.
5. The Killing Joke
Alan Moore is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers in all of comic book history with his iconic work for Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and the beloved Batman story “The Killing Joke.” A relatively short series, Moore is able to jam-pack the story with excruciating detail that forces the reader to become enveloped into it.
Partially about the origins of Joker, the story also tells what happens when Joker gets his shot at getting Jim Gordon to become insane. Joker starts off by shooting Jim’s daughter Barbara, permanently paralyzing her from the waist down. The next part of Joker’s masterplan is to force Jim to go through an amusement park ride, making him bear witness to the photos that were taken of Barbara, who was lying on the ground with blood all around her. Joker then makes Jim one of the amusement park’s attractions, calling him “the average man.”
Batman shows up and tries to take down the Joker, but as Joker flees, Jim tells Batman he wants it done by the book, showing he had not lost his sanity, regardless of what was done to him. Batman tries to bring Joker back from the brink, saying he believes that in the end one of them will kill the other if they don’t stop on the path they’re on.
The significance of the story is that it is a highly regarded story full of shocking moments that keeps the reader on the edge of their seats. It is funny, however, that Alan Moore has stated his displeasure with the story calling saying that, “It’s not saying anything interesting.” He also went on to say, “It isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived… Yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way.”
It helps bring another dimension to the story because so many people try to see the deeper meaning, even with Moore saying there isn’t one. With an ending like the one it has, it’s hard not to be drawn to a deeper meaning.
4. Speedy’s Drug Use
When a writer or artist tackles an issue that is relevant to them, it shows in the final product. It can be hard to do that when working for a company like comic giants DC or Marvel, but when you know a character is on the verge of cancellation, it helps let you know you can have some degree of creative freedom for that character.
That was the position Denny O’Neil was in when he was told Green Lantern was to be cancelled. O’Neil had worked in social activist groups, which led him to believe a series could be written with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, in which both tackle problems prominent in society. Artist Gil Kane was to join O’Neil, but after having to drop out of the project Neal Adams took the position.
The duo was met with great success at first, but after a while the story seemed to delve into problems people didn’t care about. In an previous interview with Central MO News, Adams said, “when we (Adams and O’Neil) took on the issue of overpopulation, I knew that we were done with.”
When given the news the series was to be ended, Adams took the initiative stating what he thought the next part of the story should be about. Adams was the chairman of a drug facility in the Bronx, and was used to seeing the impact drugs have on an individual’s life. His answer to the drug problem was to turn Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick, into a heroin addict. He presented the idea to editor Julius Schwartz, who immediately rejected the comic due to the Comics Code of Authority, which suppressed the depiction of drugs and violence in comics. Not long after, Marvel released “Amazing Spider-Man #96-98,” which did not have the logo of the Comics Code of Authority on the cover, and in the story depicted Harry Osborn as struggling with drug addiction.
The push from Adams was rampant after the release and, after much convincing, the comic was released with the front cover being one that depicted Speedy with heroin, and the Comics Code of Authority logo right under the right end of the title. The story that followed in the series was one that showed the struggle drug addicts have and what could be done to help. Adams told CMN the last two pages of the story was completely done by him, due to O’Neil believing they were done, and promising that it “will put a little lump in your throat.”
3. Archie Dies
Archie has been around since his first appearance in “Pep Comics #22” released Dec. 22, 1941. Always a family-friendly comic, it’s hard to see his self-titled series take on something as serious as the titular character dying. Of course, this doesn’t mean crossover series like “Archie vs Predator” and “Archie meets The Punisher” don’t exist. Those are always considered to be in a different type of comic, allowing for those unusual antics to go without harming the actual series, but having Archie die in his own series is something many people did not see coming.
A new character in the series, Kevin Keller, is the eventual reason for the death of Archie. First introduced in September 2010, Keller was the first gay character to appear in Archie Comics history. Met with fairly high approval, Keller became a recurring character in the series. Through the telling of the two stories, one where Archie loves Betty and one where he loves Veronica, involved in the series “Life with Archie,” all of the characters have grown up.
Keller has become a United States senator, and while at a fundraising event an assassination attempt is made on Keller’s life. His bodyguards were preoccupied with a different suspect and Archie was the only person who saw the gunman. He dives out to push Keller away from the oncoming bullet, and is shot in the process. The final panel of the issue shows the aftermath: Archie, shot in the stomach, bleeding out on the floor while everyone else weeps over his body.
Archie’s death helped address issues of discrimination toward homosexuals. Firmly taking a stance on the issue, Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater said even though there were differences between the two stories, the end result would be the same. Goldwater went on to say, “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us.”
2. The Breaking of the Bat
The “World’s Greatest Detective” meets his match in the series “Batman: Knightfall.” It isn’t often that someone gets the better of Batman, with Batman having beaten many villains single-handedly and even some allies, like Superman, but the first appearance of Bane changed everything.
The story starts with Bane releasing all of those who were held in Arkham Asylum’s maximum-security prison. Bane was very aware of Batman’s fighting prowess and decided releasing all the inmates would slowly weaken Batman, and allow time for Bane to determine Batman’s secret identity. Bane finally deduces Bruce Wayne is the alter ego and appears at Wayne Manor to take on the weakened foe. Bruce, who was exhausted from putting the criminals back into Arkham, barely even defends himself. Bane beats him until he grabs Wayne and slams Wayne’s back into his knee, breaking it in the process.
Bane ends up taking the broken Batman to downtown Gotham where he proclaims his dominance and throws Batman’s body off a roof. Bane would then take over Gotham to do with as he pleases. Batman does make a recovery, but it’s not done for a while. In the meantime, Bane has to take on the new Batman, who is actually Jean-Paul Valley, otherwise known as Azrael. This confrontation earns a spot on the list due to Bane’s legacy as “the man who broke the Bat,” a feat that hasn’t been repeated.
1. The Ending of Watchmen
If you believe the good guys should triumph over the bad guys, then “Watchmen” is probably not for you. One of the reasons for this is the ambiguity of the so-called heroes. It’s hard to find a hero without a major flaw, like Rorschach’s black-and-white moral code, and Dr. Manhattan’s inhuman nature. The other reason is the story ends with the triumph of “evil.”
Putting quotations around evil is about as accurate of a representation as can be given to the scenario at the end of “Watchmen.” At the end, it is revealed that the murder of The Comedian was perpetrated by Ozymandias, a former member of The Watchmen. The purpose of the quotations is due to the nature of the plan as explained by Ozymandias. It boils down to a plan – in the comic an alien invasion and in the movie a series of bombs that can be traced to Dr. Manhattan – that would kill millions of people, but in the end uniting them together, halting all progress of the so-called “Doomsday Clock,” or the countdown to a nuclear holocaust.
A plan to kill those for the greater good causes The Watchmen to reevaluate their stances. The chilling part is that when Ozymandias was talking about the plan, Rorschach and Nite Owl vow to stop him, to which Ozymandias replies, “Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting the outcome? I did it 35 minutes ago.”
The heroes have to face the results, with everyone, except Rorschach, agreeing to remain silent about the plan in order to maintain peace. Dr. Manhattan is forced to kill Rorschach so he wouldn’t tell anyone.
The ending of the story is full of dialogue that makes the reader see things from the point of view of a villain. The moral ambiguity of the heroes helps make the story a believable and impactful one, which helps cement Watchmen as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time.
Honorable Mentions: Spider-Man Faces 9/11, Jubilee Gets Crucified, Cyclops Kills Xavier, Batman Beats Superman, Superman vs. Doomsday.