JLA: Justice League Afterlife
by David R. Black
Death. It's an event that nobody looks forward to, but it inevitably happens. Death in comics is typically over-hyped and often misused in order to shock the reader. The cover blurbs scream, "The Death of Superman," "In this issue, Batman dies," "XYZ Character makes the ultimate sacrifice!" I'm sure you can think of other examples where death (or apparent death) is used in an attempt to boost sales.
Don't misunderstand, I think change in comics is a good thing. I favor seeing characters grow older, maturing, marrying, etc. It makes characters seem more realistic and allows readers to relate to them more easily. It's also part of the reason why, in the pre-Crisis multiverse, Earth-2 was such a fun concept.
Death is the ultimate form of change, and when used appropriately as a story telling device, it can be very powerful. Who can forget a disintegrating Barry Allen pushing himself to run faster while stopping the Anti Monitor's cannon weapon? Or the image of a tearful Superman holding the fallen Supergirl in his arms? Despite being a ploy to boost sales, even the oft maligned Superman #75 (the final chapter in the "Death of Superman" saga) was a well written story. Long time readers somehow have to manage to look past the crass commercialism and media publicity the saga generated simply because it culminated in the "death" of an icon.
When used poorly, death in comics seems like the ultimate cop-out in storytelling. Want to make some lame-o villain look mean and nasty? Have 'em kill off a bunch of heroes languishing in limbo. Cheap deaths, such as Eclipso #13's bloodbath and Starman #38's pointless slaughter of the JLE, really irritate me. Death can be a cheap way for writers to get the reader emotionally involved in the story - for either good or bad.
With that in mind, I read through some back issues of JLA (in all its various incarnations) looking for the best and worse deaths. The following lists are the result. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion, and if you disagree, feel free to write firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me why. One other note: In order to be eligible for inclusion on my list, a character's death had to occur in a Justice League book. Barry Allen's death, for example, wouldn't be eligible because he perished in the Crisis on Infinite Earths series.
The Top Five Deaths in the JLA
1) Metamorpho (JLA #1, 3rd series)
Turning himself into an escape pod, Metamorpho helps Nuklon, Obsidian, and Icemaiden flee the rampaging Hyperclan, who are destroying the Justice League Refuge Satellite. Rex does everything in his power to help his three teammates survive re-entry into earth's atmosphere, and he even manages to turn part of his elemental body into shock absorbing fluid! Although badly injured, all of Rex's teammates survive thanks to his sacrifice.
Yeah, I know that Rex is technically "inert," but the JLA held a funeral for him, so in my book, he's dead. No doubt he'll be back sometime, having died twice before (Batman and the Outsiders #16-17, The Outsiders #27). You just can't keep a good element man down.
2) Silver Sorceress (Justice League Europe #35)
Bleeding to death from an arrow wound to the stomach, the Sorceress uses her last amount of energy to defeat the villain Dreamslayer in a psychic battle. Dreamslayer, the leader of a group called the Extremists, was in the process of using mentally controlled Justice Leaguers to destroy the other Leaguers not yet under his control. The battle between heroine and villain, long time arch-enemies, concludes the Giffen era's "Breakdown" saga on a resounding note. The Silver Sorceress, originally a throw away character based on Marvel's Scarlet Witch, was never written better than in this story. Her last words? Appropriately enough, they are: "And so...it ends."
3) Ice (Justice League Task Force #14)
If any death deserves a mulligan to negate it, Ice's death would be my choice. Nonetheless, it is well done. Having erred in allying herself with the Overmaster, Ice comes to her senses and rejoins her teammates. In choosing to sacrifice her life, she faces her fate confidently and bravely, a true heroine to the end. Her final words: "When an evil like this threatens to destroy the lives of people everywhere, there comes a time for action!"
4) Aztek (JLA, 3rd series, "World War III")
I don't fully understand who Aztek was, having not read his series, but I do know that his sacrifice turns the tide in favor of the JLA in their battle against Mageddon. Aztek dies when he releases the energy contained within his helmet, an artifact dating back to the time of Quetzalcoatl.
5) General Glory (Justice League Quarterly #16)
For such a goofy and thinly veiled parody of a character, the General dies in a dignified and quiet way. Author Paul Kupperburg really penned an inspiring tale. General Glory, dying of old age, bequeaths his powers to a paralyzed policeman named Donovan Wallace. Wallace regains the use of his body and continues his quest against urban crime. The original General Glory suffers a heart attack, but dies with a smile on his face knowing that Donovan will "bring honor to the name of glory."
Honorable Mention: Larry Lance (Justice League of America #74, 1st series)
The husband of Black Canary, Larry dies saving his wife from the "living star" named Aquarius. What's more noble than giving up your own life to save someone you love?
The Worst Five Deaths in the JLA
1) Mystek (Justice League Task Force #32)
This one is so weird its almost funny. A mysterious meta-human from Earth, Mystek joins the JLTF when they venture into space in issue #30. When the League shuttle's hull breaches during an attack, Mystek is sucked out into the vacuum of space and dies. Alas, we hardly knew her, having appeared in these three issues (#30-32) and in The Ray #12. Supposedly, writer Christopher Priest had a proposal into DC about doing a creator owned series starring Mystek. When DC nixed the idea, Priest offed the character.
2) Zauriel (JLA, 3rd series)
Zauriel was an angel who gives up his immortality to live on Earth. However, when an evil angel named Asmodel starts a war in Heaven, Zauriel dies in order to confront him. The two duke it out, and with a little help, Zauriel wins. Having been an angel, though, doesn't Zauriel know of an easier or alternative way to Heaven asides from purposely dying? Sheesh......
3) Little Mermaid (Justice League Europe #30)
Alas, the things that potential copyright troubles cause. While held in an inanimate state by the Queen Bee's mental powers, Ulla is killed when an energy blast from the imposter Jack O'Lantern strikes her in the back of the head. Ewwww, what a messy way to go.
4) Crimson Fox / Vivian d'Aramis (Justice League America #104, 2nd series)
The Fox was a heroine played by two identical twins - sisters Vivian and Constance d'Aramis. Vivian apparently dies in JLE #53, but as it turns out, she faked her death to be with her former husband Rene, a supervillain named LeFantome. Metamorpho and Constance eventually find Vivian, but not before a half human, half worm creature named Puanteur kills her. Confused yet? Do yourself a favor and skip this convoluted story. Maybe we can pretend it never happened....
5) Steel I (JLA #260, 1st series; JLA #38, 2nd series)
Exactly when does Hank Heywood die? In JLA #260, Steel is seriously wounded and placed on life support by his grandfather, the golden age hero known as Commander Steel. For all intents and purposes though, he was dead. But wait, there's more! In JLA #38 (2nd series), a vengeful Despero seeks to destroy all remaining members of the Detroit-era League. Finding Steel's body still on life support, Despero shreds him lime from limb. Yuck.
Other Miscellaneous Awards
Most Realistic Death - Vibe (Justice League of America #258, 1st series)
Street savvy, jive talkin' Paco Ramone is the first member of the JLA to die - ever. (Yes, the robotic Red Tornado was always managing to get destroyed, but somebody always put him back together). Strangled to death by Professor Ivo's goons, Vibe's demise hasn't stopped him from appearing in Justice League stories. Whenever a vengeful ghost role needs filling, Vibe's always there (see JLA Annual #2, 3rd series, and Martian Manhunter #12).
Most Chilling Death - Gypsy's parents (Justice League of America #38 , 2nd series)
Killed by Despero, June and Edward's deaths show the hatred Despero feels for the League. He'll stop at nothing to achieve his revenge. Gypsy's reaction when she finds her parents' bodies coupled with Desperos' comment, "Daddy is dead, child", will send a chill up and down your spine. The scene is amazingly creepy.
The Hello/Goodbye Death - Tomorrow Woman (JLA #5, 3rd series)
A robotic creation of T.O. Morrow and Professor Ivo sent to destroy the League from within, Tomorrow Woman betrays her programming and remains a heroine to the end. In the same issue in which she debuts, she dies after stopping the destructive "IF" bubble thingee. Despite seemingly being a one shot character, she has more appearances in death than in life (see Girl Frenzy and the Hourman series). Weird, huh?
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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