Heroes never die. Except when they have brief vacations in the past, alternate dimensions, outside time, future or just decide to take a brief break in the various afterlives. Of course, those that permanently die are never popular enough to be widely missed or even noticed in the first place. I could probably go through several pages with characters who you probably didn’t even know existed in the first place if I could actually remember any.
But for every twenty unnoticeable heroes that die, a few seemed unable to pass their mantle on to others. Hal Jordan slowly aged and was joined by John Stewart and Guy Gardner. Somehow, all three survived long enough to fight alongside a much younger Kyle Rayner. Oh, and Alan Scott. And Simon Baz. So we had five Green Lantern Corps members and one magical one. One, maybe two would have been enough but six?
Flash suffered the same problem. Barry died for enough time for Wally to step into his running shoes as the Scarlet Speedster while working alongside the original Flash of Jay Garrick with Johnny Chambers and Max Mercury standing alongside the pair. And during their limbo time, it was Bart Allen who rose to take the mantle until they returned. During Blackest Night, Barry (or was it Wally? One Flash anyway,) even said that though they didn’t have enough members for a Flash Corps, they were still fairly big.
Batman was barely capable of avoiding the curse of over-expansion with the various heroes under his tutelage slowly breaking away and joining or creating groups of their own. Even after the events of the Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon still continued her own line of heroics as the cyber-hero Oracle. Richard Grayson became Nightwing in Gotham’s Gotham of Blüdhaven and continues the good fight. Meanwhile, his replacement of Tim Drake served with the Titans and Stephanie Brown helped people out in Africa during her ‘year away’ before returning as Spoiler. Helena Bertenelli serves the same cause in a much different way even as she maintains an uneasy alliance with Batman. But let’s face it, Bat-Cow? Ace the Bat-Hound? Bat-Mite? I sort of like Man-Bat but expanding his genetic traits to children and wife? Definitely pushing it a little.
Let me just list some characters who have a genuine reason to last longer than others.
Hawkman and Hawkgirl can probably afford to have a longer than normal run with their accumulated experience and, in the unlikely event of their early departure from the fight, they can just as easily be written back in either a patient twentyish years later or by (as done previously) slotting their ready and willing spirits into some temporarily dead bodies.
Shazam! Billy Batson utters the wizard’s name to turn himself into the paragon of mystical protection. Originally starting out as a boy, it appears that his alternate body does not age at the same rate. Providing he doesn’t meet anything he can’t handle, there’s no real reason why he can’t comfortably fight his way into retirement without anyone the wiser.
Vandal Savage. Slated as the original caveman, exposure to an alien substance contained within a meteorite rendered him immortal and allowed him to live far beyond the normal span of any life-form, aliens and all. In addition to his exponential lifespan, his is capable of mastering any talent he turns his attention to with limitless time to do it with.
Martian Manhunter and the Kryptonians. Generally more because they happen to be aliens and have different biologies, this particular group still suffers from their setbacks of flame and Kryptonite respectively. Also, can anyone explain the Kryptonite thing? It’s like people being allergic to dirt.
Hal Jordan went mad, tore apart the Green Lantern Corps, tried to destroy the universe and eventually died restarting the sun. Then he aided heroes with kicking the demons of Hell back to where they belong and returned as the newest host for the Spectre. Even being the ghostly Spirit of Vengeance turned out being beneath him and he made a grand return. But flirting with death wasn’t enough for him. Seriously, Hal jumps off a cliff in the realm of the dead, puts on a black ring, orders Nekron (Grim Reaper of the DC universe) about and then just simply pops back to the land of the living. Batman was hit by Darkseid’s Omega Beams but instead of simply dying, Wayne was thrown into the past and slowly jerked forward to his present time in brief spurts. Let’s also not forget the time Bane broke his back and he should have retired permanently but for his magical therapist. Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, both Hawks and several others perished only to come back the Blackest Night/Brightest Day arc. There’s practically no reason to kill heroes or villains for a few months and bring them back through time-travel, magic or plain rising from the grave.
Over the years, DC has slowly crammed dozens of different versions and spin-offs of their heroes and villains between the pages. Death of Superman gave rise to two new heroes and two villains. The Flash has just increased their ranks with barely a missed beat. The Green Lantern Corp placed five heroes on the same planet with the magical original. Each title attempts to add excitement by adding characters and plot twists but just ends up forcing more problems into the mess. Maybe one in ten characters has a legitimate reason for a longer than human average lifespan. Batman began in the early half of the 20th century and cycled through five side-kicks before the Flashpoint restart. During that time, Brucey barely took a break when Bane broke his spine or Darkseid sent him on holiday. Even with all the inner peace, meditating and Earth-2 ‘alternate Batman’ hoopla, somebody should have been pushing the Dark Knight to retirement sometime around the millennium. Grayson followed him around for enough years that he should be middle-aged instead of running around rooftops in spandex. Most heroes are just normal people with superpowers or advanced technology and can’t survive for extended decades without any explanation. Much as we love watching our heroes smash through the laws of physics and accomplish the impossible, it has always been established that a large percentage of them are at least partly human.
When the original Robin became the new Batman, it made complete sense. But when Bruce turned up again, amazing as it was, it felt like a step backwards instead of forwards. Seeing Aqualad become the king of Atlantis only to die and watch the original ruler return? Same effect. Hawkman, Batman, and Superman. Green Lantern, Flash and all manner of villains seem stuck in their sets with only more members joining the ranks. Batman Incorporated only lasted so long before being shut back down and sent their separate ways. Every time there is the slightest hint that one of the main characters in the DC Universe is up for replacement we find ourselves dragged back to the old ways again.