Death in comics is an emotive area, with the adage that, almost without exception, a dead character will eventually become living once again. Unless you’re reading The Walking Dead, then they ain't coming back. This litany of death is almost always against human (or alien) characters, filling up endless blogs and message boards with discussion. What doesn't always get the same coverage is the endless abuse and killing of our animal friends.
Invariably caught in the crossfire of humanity’s endeavour to kill one another, comics have not treated animals particularly well. We’re going to have a look at some of the craziest scenes committed to comics over the past few decades. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, so don’t get all upset if your favourite stoat-murder or worm-genocide isn't included. I've stayed away from the insane antics of the 40s and 50s, including the Legion of Super-Pets, and haven’t touched Elephantmen.
And please don’t get the impression I hate animals. Some of them are particularly tasty.
12. Punisher (Vol.3, #4, Marvel Comics, 2000)
Rather than get straight into the unmitigated slaughter of cuddly creatures, we begin our journey of animal abuse with Frank Castle, The Punisher. After being made an angel or some other weird shit no-one talks about anymore, Garth Ennis brought Frank back to what he does best – killing mobsters. Ably assisted by Steve Dillon, Welcome Back, Frank was heroin in the arm of a character who kills drug dealers.
Frank is taking down the Gnucci family and his unceasing war ends up in a zoo in the Bronx where our protagonist takes advantage of the occupants to thin out the bad guys. Piranhas account for one and death by snake constriction the next. Then The Punisher finds himself in a polar bear enclosure. However, the occupants are a little too friendly for Frank’s liking.
Making a sharp exit after delivering that bear-faced cheek punch, Frank’s antagonism has the desired effect, with Crime Boss Ma Gnucci rather swiftly finding herself missing most of her limbs. She gets off lightly compared to her henchman, however.
Oh, Frank – you so crazy!
11. Batman (Vol.2 #16, DC Comics, 2013. Batman and the Mad Monk #4, 2007)
Batman has punched a lot of people over the years. He’s also had his moments with quadrupeds. Here’s Bruce, PUNCHING A HORSE IN THE FACE.
Apparently the horse didn't seem to mind too much, or had its horse-sense literally smacked out of its skull, as it lets Batman hop on for a canter by the next page! Let’s hope Bats never decides to enter the Grand National.
Bruce doesn't stop at equine abuse, he also likes a bit of wolf-based beatings. In Batman and the Mad Monk by Matt Wagner, we get a updating of some of the original outings for the Caped Crusader but with a bit more detail. Such as Batman slamming a wolf against a wall until its spine snaps. Seriously, if you read the issue it has four pages of Bat vs. Wolf action. Who knew the spine thing would come back to haunt him…
Okay, I don't really mean Spider-Man dying, that would be stretching it a little. No, I mean the poor, large-fanged, genetically modified spider that chomps down on Parker's flesh. And then carks it. And because this is comics, that spider has died many times over, in parallel and alternate universes.
The original died after it nipped Peter due to the large amounts of radioactivity in its little eight-legged body (Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics, 1962).
Later crazy variations have the poor, already dead, spider EATEN by someone who hopes to get the same powers as Peter (Tangled Web of Spider-Man #1-3, Marvel Comics, 2003). It doesn't work out well. Let that be a lesson to you all.
9. Aquaman (Vol.3 #26, DC Comics, 1996)
Do you ever think that Aquaman has, y’know, eaten some of his subjects? Can he resist the urge for fish and soggy chips? I bet he sushis the living daylights out of some of those fish when he thinks no-one is looking.
Anyway, Arthur Curry was abandoned on reef to drown as a baby, he was rescued by a dolphin called Porm who effectively became his mother. Porm taught Arthur how to swim and catch fish, and basically imparted blow-hole related wisdom to the Atlantean King. He understandably got a bit upset when someone offed his aquatic Mum in a brutal and bloody manner.
The murderer turned out to be a cyborg-dolphin-hunting-Japanese sea captain known as Demon Gate. Apparently, Aquaman fought him before he went all Robocop, leaving him to be munched on some sharks. Rebuilt by his brother who was handily head of a cybernetics company, Demon Gate appears to hate dolphins more than a net-caught tin of tuna.
One dead mammal later, Aquaman really doesn't take it well and declares war – on the whole of Japan! Greenpeace must love this guy.
8. Fables (Vertigo, 2003)
Fables is a series that imagines fairy-tale characters are real and living amongst us. The second arc in the series was entitled Animal Farm, showcasing the animal-based fairy-tale characters, such as The Three Bears and Billy Goats Gruff, that would be unable to wander around the real world because, well, they talk and some wear clothes. Even in New York that might seem unusual.
The reason for inclusion in our list is the fate of one pig, called Colin. Colin is one of The Three Little Pigs, and his cousins were some of the ringleaders of a revolt on the farm in question. Tasked with finding and copying a key to the main office in the city, Colin fails. His cousins do not take kindly to this failure, with the resulting outcome.
Colin’s tale does not end there though, and he pops up as a bloody disembodied head a few times to Snow White, offering warnings of things to come. I do wonder if the Farm canteen had an abundance of bacon sandwiches not long after Colin’s demise.
7. Preacher (Vertigo)
Er, where to start with this? Some animals do not get out of the series in a happy place. Mainly due to being buggered by T.C. – a rather backwards fella who likes to stick his, well, you get the idea. To be fair to T.C., he’s an equal opportunities deranged rapist, he doesn't discriminate against what he’s going to desecrate. This includes Jesse’s (the main protagonist’s) 10th birthday cake. Chickens and fish are just two of the species to suffer at the pecker of T.C.
Luckily, the demented idiot is firstly beaten to a pulp by Jesse and then shot point blank in the face by Tulip. Good.
6. Wolverine (Vol. 3 #21, Marvel Comics, 2004)
With Mark Millar’s Enemy of the State storyline, Logan is brainwashed into a bad guy and proceeds to cause all sorts of carnage, including ditching a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier into the Atlantic Ocean. With so many bodies in the water, a school of sharks soon make an appearance for a bit of lunch. Evil-Logan isn't having any of that and John Romita Jr. gets to draw the image you’d want him to draw if you’d thought of it.
Next time Amity Island has an issue with a big fish eating the locals, they don’t need a bigger boat, they need a psychotic midget from Canada, eh?
5. Green Lantern (Mosaic #2, DC Comics, 1992)
Now, the Green Lantern Corps have a wide range of members, as they should, boasting members from pretty much every sentient planet in the universe. Their roster has included walking plants, a giant sentient planet, even an intelligent virus.
For the basis of our list of affronts to the animal kingdom, we’re going with the Green Lantern that is essentially an alien squirrel – Ch’p of Sector 1014. This little furry guy went through a lot: he married his girlfriend only to have Crisis on Infinite Earths wipe out his timeline and found his wife was now married to his best friend and no-one could remember the old timeline. So distraught by this, poor old Ch’p decided to hang himself, only to be talked out of by Saleek, a fellow Green Lantern Ch’p heads to the Mosaic world where he works alongside perpetual doom-laden guilt-meister, John Stewart.
The truck was probably a relief by this point.
Yes, Ch’p is offed by a yellow truck in an issue subtly titled “roadkill”. For those who don’t know, Green Lantern rings had an impurity against yellow which rendered them ineffective. And poor Ch’p - squashed.
Even Ch’p’s post-death adventures were a bit lacking - randomly haunting John Stewart for a few issues. This is a man who doomed an entire planet, so the tree-climbing version of Ghostbusters wasn't going to be very intimidating.
4. Pride of Baghdad (Vertigo, 2006)
Brian K. Vaughn spins a wonderful tale with an inevitable ending. Based on a true story of a pride of lions who escape from Baghdad Zoo during the 2003 war, it’s a powerful piece of work. Our pride is made up of 4 lions; Zill, the alpha male; Safa, an old lioness; Noor, a younger lioness, and; Ali, Noor’s cub.
The pride offers the reader a series of viewpoints that are allegorical of the war taking place in Iraq in 2003. For example, Safa does not like the idea of freedom after suffering in her past in the wild. Noor, on the other hand, wants freedom – negotiates for it with the other animals in the zoo.
What soon becomes apparent is that the freedom they are granted comes with a heavy price.
No pictures from the end of this story, as I would rather you bought the book yourself, if you haven’t already done so, and experienced the entire tale.
3. Superman (Action Comics #583, DC Comics, 1986)
When DC Comics decided it was time to wipe the comics continuity slate clean for the first time in their history back in 1986, Alan Moore got the chance to right the “final” Superman stories in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 with the brilliant Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? It was seen a definitive end to a character that had been around for 48 years at that time, before the Crisis would bring in John Byrne to start the whole storytelling process over again.
This Alan Moore tale is glorious, heartbreaking, exciting, joyous and sad all at the same time. Starting with the incredible rationalisation by Bizarro that if Superman lives and he is truly the imperfect version of Superman, he must commit suicide. And so it goes on, all the major Superman characters get their moment. Including Krypto. Superman’s faithful, caped hound.
Superman, under siege in his Fortress of Solitude by Brainaic and the Legion of Super-villains, comes under repeated attack. The Kryptonite Man manages to breach the walls foiling a nuclear bomb attack by Brainiac and makes a bee-line for Superman. Krypto, however, realises the threat – and rips out the Kryptonite Man’s throat. It is too much exposure to radiation for the poor dog, and with a death-howl, he passes away.
As an aside, it seems almost surreal now that Alan Moore was given the task of writing this defining chapter of Superman – not because of his ability – that is without question. It is more that this was the end of an era that stretches back to the 1930s, and Alan ends it with multiple, horrible deaths for so many (and a happy ending, of course). Probably closer to the comics, and real world, of 1986 then I could know at the time.
2. WE3 (#3, Vertigo, 2005)
WE3 is a comic unlike almost any other. Basically The Incredible Journey meets Robocop, it tells the story of 1 (Bandit, a dog), 2 (Tinker, a cat), and 3 (Pirate, a rabbit) who are prototype armoured weapons.
Just read that paragraph again. It’s a nuts concept. Grant Morrison has Frank Quitely on hand to draw, and it’s some of the best work he’s ever done. Which is saying something. Our furry protagonists want freedom, and as we found with Pride of Baghdad, that comes with a cost.
You really do not know which, if any, of the three might not make it out if you were reading the original 3-part series as it came out. Hell, I'm not sure too many of us were sure what it was we were reading – but we knew it was incredible.
Pirate is the one who doesn't make it out. In fact, he really gets the rough end of the three of them. He gets a shotgun to the head, courtesy of a couple of hill-billies. And then, he manages to come face-to-face with WE4 – a bull mastiff. Admittedly, 3 does head-butt 4 upon sight, but it doesn't end well beyond that. The only upswing being that Pirate does manage to take the mastiff down in his dying moments.
1. Y: The Last Man (#60, DC Comics, 2008)
Old BKV is back again with his epic tale of the fall of mankind and monkeys throwing shit around the place. Whilst I’m going to casually dismiss the annihilation of all the males on the planet, it’s the tail (heh) of one monkey that makes the end of our list.
Ampersand the monkey accompanies our hero, Yorick throughout the epic series. Indeed, one suggestion put forward in the series is that Yorick survives the male-culling by virtue of having Ampersand throwing his faeces at him on a regular basis. This is because Ampersand is a genetically modified monkey. Like Cy-Gor from Spawn, remember him?
No, neither does anyone else. Look him up, and then think how Y: The Last Man might have been improved 1000% by that crossover. You’re welcome.
Anyway, by the end of the story, Ampersand is an old monkey, and in a lot of pain. Yorick makes the awful decision to put poor Ampersand out of his pain, and makes the long walk into the woods to do the deed via some poisoned food. At the end of such a long story, it’s a truly depressing moment not only for poor Yorick, but for all the readers who have experienced their adventures together.
As heartbreaking as that page is, I like to think that the last panel of Ampersand narrowing his eyes as he passes away, the monkey is thinking “if I had the strength left, I would throw my shit in your face, you ungrateful, euthanizing fuck”. But, hey, I've just listed out a litany of animal-related atrocities, so what do I know?
And that brings us to the end of our little journey into the comics animal kingdom. I’d like to think that we've all learnt some valuable lessons, such as don’t punch polar bears. Or sodomise fish. Important lessons, indeed.
No animals were harmed in the writing of this column. Some shit may have been thrown.
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