The practice of human sacrifice is as ancient as human civilization and has been practiced variously by various cultures, but most often to pacify gods or nature in the same manner of animal sacrifices. For example, maidens being tossed into volcanoes to keep them from erupting, or victims being buried at the foundations of castles, temples or bridges to protect the constructions from ruin.
We're way past human sacrifice now, of course, but fictional character sacrifice? Today's super-comics creators seem rather devoted to that particular ritual, with many an "event" story arc beginning with the death of a character, as if they were being sacrificed to bless the ensuing narrative.
The latest example is DC Comics' three-book Trinity War crossover, which begins in earnest this week but has been slowly ramping up in several books, most notably Justice League of America, where one of the publisher's oldest and best-known characters was seemingly killed recently.
Be warned, for below there are spoilers for stories as old as 2004's Identity Crisis and as recent as 2011's Justice League of America #5.
DC has been promising an event called Trinity War since about as long as their line-wide "New 52" reboot has been in effect (about two years), and the company's retailer solicitations promised a death in May's JLoA #4 and June's #5. The solicitation for July's Justice League #22, the first official chapter of the "Trinity War" crossover, states, "The death of a hero ignites a violent war among the Justice Leagues!"
If the "death of a hero" mentioned in the solicit for #22 is the same death of a hero in JLoA #4, then as it turns out the death was more of a "death". While Catwoman was seemingly shot in the head at point blank range while bound to a chair in a detailed, multi-panel sequence, it was revealed in the very next issue that it wasn't Catwoman who was shot (thus explaining the fact that her solo comic book wasn't canceled and the media wasn't alerted). It was in fact the Martian Manhunter using his shape-shifting powers to assume Catwoman's form. Using a sort of super-squib, the hero simulated a gunshot wound to the head.
If there's another, realer death coming in this week's Justice League, we'll have to wait to find out. It would be a break with tradition for all of them to remain alive. Just ask these poor characters who all definitely died during the openings of their big crossover stories (even if most of them got better, this being superhero comics and all).
Identity Crisis: Sue Dibny
Created by: John Broome and Carmine Infantino in 1961.
Killed by: Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales in 2004.
Origin: A young, wealthy socialite who met Ralph "Elongated Man" Dibny while he was on a case, Sue quickly fell in love with the stretchy super-sleuth and the pair married (with Silver Age Flash Barry Allen serving as best man at their wedding). From that point on, Sue worked as Ralph's partner during most of his crime-fighting and mystery-solving adventures, eventually joining the Justice League during its legendary "international" phase, serving as an administrator.
Manner of Death: Sue technically died of a brain aneurysm when her murderer, the Atom's insane estranged ex-wife Jean Loring, used her one-time husband's super-shrinking equipment to enter Sue's brain In the controversial but very popular Identity Crisis. Loring then used a blowtorch to set Sue's body on fire so as to hide the evidence of her involvement.
To What End: Well, murder mysteries always have to start with a murder, and Identity Crisis was pitched as a murder mystery set in the DC Universe superhero community.
Resurrection: While Sue Dibny never really came back to physical life, her adventures didn't end in death. After Elongated Man's death in 52, the pair were reunited as supernatural "ghost detectives" in the final issue of the series. They also appeared briefly in Batman and The Outsiders (where they have the Deadman-like ability to possess the bodies of the living), Reign in Hell and Blackest Night.
Other Casualties: While Sue's death was at the center of Identity Crisis, she wasn't the only one to die during the story. The original Firestorm, Captain Boomerang, and Robin III's father Jack Drake also died before the story was over.
Avengers Disassembled/House of M: Hawkeye, The Vision and Ant-Man II
Created by: Stan Lee and Don Heck created Hawkeye in 1964; Roy Thomas and John Buscema created The Vision in 1968 (basing him on Jack Kirgy and Joe Simon's Golden Age version of the character); and David Michelinie and John Byrne created the second version of Ant-Man in 1979 (based on Lee and Kirby's 1962 original).
Killed by: Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch in 2004.
Manner of Deaths: "The Scarlet Witch having a mental breakdown and losing control of her reality-warping powers" covers all the bases, but to be more precise: Hawkeye died during a kamikaze attack on a Kree warship; The Vision was ripped in half by She-Hulk; and Ant-Man was caught in an explosion when the previously presumed "dead" Jack of Hearts detonated himself.
To What End: In addition to clearing the deck of the then-old Avengers to make room for the more JLA-inspired New Avengers team of Marvel heavyweights like Wolverine, the deaths and the other less-permanent tragedies of Disassembled revealed just how powerful and dangerous the Scarlet Witch really was, thus setting up the conflict for House of M, wherein the X-Men and Avengers meet and argue over how to deal with her. All of reality was re-shaped, and years-long conflicts involving the Witch, her children and her status in the world wouldn't be fully resolved until Avengers: The Children's Crusade and Avengers Vs. X-Men.
Resurrections: Hawkeye was brought back to life in the same manner he was killed (via Scarlet Witch's reality-warping). The Vision's operating system was briefly fused with Iron Lad's armor to create a new "teenage" version of The Vision who serves with The Young Avengers for a while, but the original, grown-up Vision is eventually brought back to life during the Hercules-centric Chaos War mini-event (with Tony Stark's engineering skills helping out). Ant-Man II was rescued from this death by a time-traveling Iron Lad and Scarlet Witch and returned to the present.
Infinite Crisis: Blue Beetle
Created by: Steve Ditko in 1966 (based on the Golden Age character created by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski in 1939).
Killed by: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick and Phil Jimenez in 2005.
Origin: An ingenious inventor and skilled fighter, Ted Kord was a student of Dan Garrett, the original Golden Age Blue Beetle, who passed the heroic identity on to Kord when he died. Lacking Garrett's magical super-powers, Kord devised a wide variety of weapons, gadgets and a spectacular vehicle with which to fight crime, eventually becoming one of the longest-serving members of the Justice League.
Manner of Death: Failing to raise real concern within the superhero community about a resurgent Checkmate and a sinister conspiracy against them, Kord was forced to investigate solo and was consequently murdered in cold blood by his former friend and ally Max Lord, who shot Blue Beetle in the head.
To What End: The resulting investigation of Kord's death revealed the existence of Checkmate and Lord's plans to eliminate or control all of the superhumans on Earth using a stolen satellite of Batman's and an army of OMAC soldiers. Kord's death proved the first domino in a bizarre chain of events—a worldwide alliance of supervillains, a war in space, an invasion of the few extra-dimensional survivors of the original Crisis On Infinite Earths— that would ultimately threaten the nature of reality in the DC Universe, widening into a conflict that involved virtually every superhero and every supervillain in the line.
Resurrection: Kord belongs to the ever-shrinking fraternity of dead heroes who haven't been brought back to life (yet), and his only post-death appearances have been in flashbacks or in a few time-traveling stories involving his best friend Booster Gold, when Booster was serving as a sort of time cop alongside DC's classic time master, Rip Hunter.
Other Casualties: While DC used Kord's death to kick-off the event, plenty of other characters died during the proceedings, including Freedom Fighters Black Condor II, Phantom Lady II and The Human Bomb; former Titans Pantha, Wildebeest and Bushido; The Golden Age Lois Lane and Superman (of Earth-2); Alexander Luthor (of Earth-3); and Gotham City Police Detective Crispus Allen (later to return as The Spectre II).
Civil War: The New Warriors
Created by: Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz in 1989.
Killed by: Mark Millar and Steve McNiven in 2006.
Origin: There were several incarnations of the team, but they were originally formed when the young hero Night Thrasher researched and recruited a group of young adult superheroes including Firestar, Marvel Boy, Nova, Speedball and Namorita. The version that appeared in Civil War consisted of Night Thrasher, Namorita, Speedball and Microbe. In that story, they were taking part in a reality show.
Manner of Deaths: When this version of the New Warriors confronted a group of supervillains for their TV show, the explosion-powered Nitro detonated himself, killing over 600 people in Stamford, Connecticut and all the New Warriors except Speedball.
To What End: The number of civilian casualties and the fact that the heroes who provoked Nitro were seen as young, inexperienced and irresponsible prompted President Bush to advocate for The Superhuman Registration Act, which regulated superheroes by serving as a form of super-draft. Heroes Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic supported the legislation, while Captain America and others resisted, leading to the conflict between the heroes.
Resurrections: Night Thrasher, Namorita and Microbe all remain dead, although a second legacy version of Night Thrasher has since appeared and Namorita has had several post-death appearances via time-displacement.
Other Casualties: Goliath.
Created by: Jack Kirby in 1971.
Killed by: Grant Morrison and JG Jones in 2008.
Origin: Darkseid, the god of evil and the tyrant ruler of the planet Apokolips, traded his infant son Orion to Highfather, ruler of the serene planet New Genesis, as part of a peace pact between the two warring factions (Highfather's son, Scott Free, would in turn end up on Apokolips). Raised by the good gods, Orion was able to overcome the anger and violence of his heritage and become one of the universe's greatest heroes. In addition to fighting against his father, Orion would also do two short tours of duty with the Justice League.
Manner of Death: Orion was killed by a bullet containing the toxic substance Radion, which was shot backwards through time by Darkseid.
To What End: In addition to warning the heroes that something big and cosmic was going on, the bullet retrieved from Orion's body helped the good guys narrow the suspect list down significantly. Later, Batman uses that very bullet to almost kill Darkseid.
Resurrection: Orion never came back to life before the end of the "old" DC Universe, but after the Flashpoint-driven rebirth of the DC Universe as The New 52-iverse, Orion has appeared alive and well in the pages of Wonder Woman and, more recently, Superman.
Other Casualties: Batman and Martian Manhunter.
Blackest Night: Hawkman & Hawkgirl
Created by: Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville in 1940, while Hawkgirl was created by Fox, Neville and Sheldon Moldoff later the same year. The secret identity of this particular version of Hawkgirl, Kendra Saunders, was created by James Robinson, David Goyer, Geoff Johns and Steve Sadowski 1999.
Killed by: Geoff Johns and Ivan Reiss in 2009.
Origin: Oh man, DC has published hundreds of pages of comics to straighten this out. Let's keep it as simple as possible: Archaeologist Carter Hall discovered a mysterious Nth Metal that allows him to fly—and gives him some other powers. Also, he is a reincarnated Egyptian warrior prince. Same goes for Kendra Saunders, only she's a reincarnated Egyptian warrior princess. They've died and gotten reincarnated and had their continuity repeatedly messed with since their World War II-era first appearances.
Manner of Death: Hawkman and Hawkgirl are murdered by what appear to be zombiefied versions of the dead Elongated Man and Sue Dibny, but they're actually Black Lantern rings wearing the corpses of the Dibnys.
To What End: Almost as soon as they died, the Hawks are turned into Black Lanterns themselves, revealing the zombiepocalypse threat of the series: Every hero that fell joined the ranks of the bad guys.
Resurrection: During the climactic battle of the series in which the villain Nekron was destroyed, a dozen "White Lantern" rings were released, each of which landed on the finger of a Black Lantern who was then brought back to life to fulfill a mysterious task. The Hawks are among those brought back in this manner.
Other Casualties: Tempest, Damage, Gehenna.
Flashpoint: Nora Thompson Allen (The Old Switcheroo Edition)
Created by: Jon Broome and Carmine Infantino in 1962.
Killed by: Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver in 2009.
Origin: She was The Flash's mom.
Manner of Death: Nora was murdered by time-traveling speedster villain Professor Zoom in The Flash: Rebirth, as part of a plan to mess with her son Barry, aka The Flash.
To What End: Nora's husband Henry was falsely convicted of her murder, which inspired the young Barry to become a policeman.
Resurrection: Breaking with the tradition of event comics as outlined above, it was Nora's apparent resurrection that set off 2011's Flashpoint event by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert. That Nora was alive meant something was very wrong with the timeline -- indeed, Barry had at some point traveled back to save her and in doing so broke the universe severely. To repair things, The Flash traveled back in time again to stop himself from saving his mom, thereby enabling his mother to die all over again and reconfiguring the timeline to yet another new and different form.
Other Casualties: The entire DC Universe (except Batman and Green Lantern). It would return in the form of the New 52.
Trinity War: Catwoman (Sort Of)
Created by: Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1940.
(Not really) killed by: Matt Kindt and Andres Guinaldo in 2013.
As explained above, it was Catwoman's apparent death that set off the conflict between the three Justice Leagues (America, Dark and Original Recipe). But fortunately for her, it was all a Martian ruse.
Who if anyone will really die at the start or during the course of DC's latest event, Trinity War? We'll have to wait until this Wednesday to find out, when Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1 goes on sale this week in your local comics shop or digitally from DC Entertainment.