As often as comic book publishers bring characters back from the dead, you would think comics themselves wouldn’t feature personifications of death as major players just a rule. It’s one thing to resurrect a person in order to make any particular series or story feel impactful, but when you bring in walking, talking embodiments of death, only to nullify their whole...thing soon after, it must sting.
And yet, comics creators have always loved telling stories featuring various versions of death who most often spend time musing about the nature of life while freeing the living of the mortal coil. Stories like these impart some degree of gravity for the characters actually meeting their ends, but for the personifications themselves, there are times where it’s easy to wonder about what Death’s motivation is, exactly, if it’s almost certain that all of their work can and will be undone at some point.
One of the ways to get around this would be to just let comics characters stay dead, but seeing as how that’s never likely going to become the trend, comics could just as easily ease up on making capital “D” Death an actual player on the stage. The more you see these characters, the more the less their presences end up meaning.
Marvel’s Doorman became Death-adjacent after he himself died, but was chosen by the abstract universal being Oblivion to become an Angel of Death because of his natural-born mutant power that gave him a connection to the Darkforce dimension. In life, Doorman’s power of turning his body into a portal allowing others to pass through solid objects made him an ideal candidate for the Great Lakes Avengers, a team of heroes whose abilities were all less than impressive. As the Angel of Death though, he was able to take on a new level of significance that reflected the kind of heroism and responsibility he’d always been capable of.
Unlike those who’ve taken his title in subsequent DC comics, the original Black Flash was a seemingly unthinking, unfeeling function of the Speedforce itself. Its sole purpose was to usher speedsters into the afterlife simply because it was their time.
Scary as this form of Death appeared to Wally West, it was truly a force of nature simply trying to follow the natural order of things. Ultimately, Wally was only able to “defeat” this foe by racing to the end of time where death was no longer a necessary concept, causing Black Flash to disappear, and the entire ordeal gave this embodiment of death a matter of fact impartiality that other personifications sometimes lack.
As embodiments of death go, Nekron’s rather unique in that he’s most often depicted as acting more out of his own personal self-interests and desires than performing a duty necessary to maintain the balance between life and death. This aspect of his character is much more akin to someone like Thanos, whose twisted desires lead to the endangerment of others, and this makes Nekron feel like a much more human—which is to say petty—sort of death.
Whenever Marvel’s anthropomorphization of Death steps onto the scene, chances are likely that she’s doing it for reasons that are actually somewhat more personal than she lets on. That comes as a side effect of her being featured most often in stories featuring Thanos, and her willingness to entertain his mad delusions of their being fated to love one another. As Marvel’s Death, she’s also got a rather iffy track record of making sure that those who she helps pass on actually stay dead, which truly might just be a reflection of her own lack of real concern for what the living get up to at the end of the day.
Death of the Endless is arguably one of the most idealized takes on death in pop culture. She’s a friendly young woman who spends her time being literally everywhere at once while interacting with the newly deceased—as if her pleasant but generic charms are enough to compel people not to reflect on what all it is that’s just been lost. Though Death is at times contemplative about the nature of her existence and the role she plays in the universe, there’s often a casualness in her depictions that makes her presence feel almost like it doesn’t have quite the import that it should.
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