This trope involves the cold realization that Shared Universes enjoy events, but not necessarily changing the status quo. Whenever a purported big shake-up occurs, you can bet it's your so-called "C-list" characters and below who will be brought out of the woodwork. Alternatively, if a given series is becoming less popular, given that they are less prominent, have less appeal, or aren't as easy to write for, these characters can be prime candidates for getting the axe, via the single-character subtype of The Firefly Effect. The Heart is a frequent victim of this.
An optimist will say this is because "minor" characters (and the authors writing for them) are allowed leeway to change more than big shots, and if they're lucky they can become newly popular due to this.
A cynic will say the main use of bringing in C-listers is so you can kill them off, creating a sense of "change" without really affecting the universe in any way, ruining the attempt to make an Anyone Can Die and Tonight Someone Dies atmosphere when the only real deaths are these characters. Same with a Sacrificial Lamb.
This is a double-edged sword. It certainly can be shocking and emotional to fans of the character, but remember... the main people who recognize these characters are the same people who will be most angry if you kill them off, whereas those who do not recognize them will not care. Thus, you toy with the emotions of those who are likely to be your most dedicated fans.
Since newer characters tend to be more C-list than older characters, and also tend to include more females and minorities, this may lead to Women in Refrigerators and Bury Your Gays. (Although, on the other hand, outright Red Shirts tend to be straightmen.) Another disturbing tendency in the comic book industry is to use teenage super-team characters as this. It works dramatically because of the impact of a child (or young adult) dying, but is over-used to the point where the Teen Titans actually hang a lampshade on this frequently. Similar young teams, the New Mutants and Legion of Super-Heroes, also fall victim to this with regularity.
But it can be a winner-winner deal if you manage to create a character that seriously sucks. This way, you clean the universe from a bad character and the readers rejoice while you create the fear atmosphere. Marvel Comics has a specialty on this: see Civil War or Maximum Carnage.
And anyway, it's not as though the character is being used anyway. Being brought Back for the Dead is better than not being brought back at all, right?
When the character has the shortest, smallest, most stereotypical background possible (especially ended by a He's Dead, Jim to show he's really dead), we're probably dealing with a Red Shirt instead. If one of these "major" characters were created so they can be killed then it might be a Mauve Shirt.
Often leads to cases of Forgotten Fallen Friend.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Marvel'sDecimation event involved the depowering of 90% of the world's mutant population, in an attempt to re-establish mutants as a "minority" (i.e., give newer writers and editors much less work and focus-splitting to do and newer readers less things to catch-up on). Nearly all the depowered characters were fairly minor, and the major characters who lost their powers have mostly gotten them back.
With the 2011 repowering of Chamber and Rictor, the biggest-name character to still be powerless is probably low-B-List villain Blob. Jubilee, Dani Moonstar, and Prodigy haven't gotten their original powers back, but are once again superhuman.
When it was revealed that the appropriately named Random still had his powers (he can turn his hands into organic guns that shoot little blobs of… himself), it was hard not to wonder if anyone was C-List enough to actually be affected by the Decimation. note In practice, it was really done to eliminate the anonymous crowds of millions of mutants revealed to exist during Grant Morrison's run, because it ran counter to the X-Men's original concept of mutants being so rare that you needed Cerebro just to gather a handful out of the whole world's population (seriously, what was the point of Cerebro by that point?). On the other hand, the supposed reason for Morrison's mutant population explosion had been to make mutants seem more like a real world minority group, and the Decimation scuttled that by turning them back into a tiny handful of oddballs.
The villain Scourge's whole point was the killing-off of C-list Marvel villains, something that creator Mark Gruenwald later came to deeply regret. Some of the characters have since been resurrected and upgraded, others are mostly forgotten. The kill list included both obscure types and once prominent characters who fell out of favor.
Bird-Man was a Legacy Character. The original villain of this name debuted in 1965 and was killed in combat with Iron Man in 1978. The replacement debuted in 1979 but was barely used. They brought him back in 1986 just in time to die.
Black Abbot was created in 1984, as a telepath and telekinetic who was seeking to control the minds of entire groups of people. He fought Spider-Man, Nomad/Jack Monroe, the Human Torch, and Thor. They added him to the list of Scourge victims in 1991, killing him offscreen.
Blowtorch Brand was created in 1984 as a one-shot foe of The Defenders. He was an arsonist who was immune to the effects of fire. They brought him back in 1993 just to kill him. He holds the dubious distinction of being the final victim of the original Scourge organization.
Blue Streak was created in 1978 as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. At the time there was a long ongoing storyline concerning "the Corporation", a Nebulous Evil Organisation, and Blue Streak was revealed to be one of its agents and a Mole in the SHIELD ranks. The storyline lasted from 1976 to 1979, and Blue Streak was one of the few Corporation agents to survive the downfall of the organization. They brought him back in 1986 just to kill him.
Cheetah was created in 1977. He was a revolutionary who got mutated by Kree technology and received Animal Abilities. He fought against Captain Mar-Vell and was supposedly Brought Down to Normal. In 1986, they brought him back, with powers seemingly restored, just to kill him.
Cyclone was created in 1975 as a Spider-Man villain. He was a Maggia (Mafia) enforcer who wielded a costume generating "tornado-force whirlwinds about himself" which he used to various effects. He faced Moon Knight in a subsequent storyline and was last used in 1978. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him. He has since inspired a couple of Legacy Characters of his own.
Death Adder was created in 1980. He was originally a common human who was enhanced with bionic technology. He served as Professional Killer in the ranks of the Serpent Squad and (later) the Serpent Society. His most notable victim was M.O.D.O.K., who stayed dead from 1986 to 1995. He was killed in 1986, but not because Gruenwald thought him lame. He wanted to have at least one legitimate threat terminated by the Scourge, to convince readers that Anyone Can Die, and chose one of his own pet characters.
The Enforcer was created in 1977, serving as a foe for the Los Angeles based Marvel heroes of the time: Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze), Werewolf by Night (Jack Russell), and Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew). He was played as a legitimate threat for a while and was a recurring character to 1983. By 1985 these heroes themselves had lost their titles and were Out of Focus. The Enforcer resurfaced just to become the first Scourge victim.
Firebrand was created in 1970 as an Iron Man foe. He was a political activist who wore Powered Armor to achieve his goals through campaigns of terror. Basically a Well-Intentioned Extremist with lethal powers. He was used as a serious foil for Iron Man for much of the 1970s, and his sister Roxanne Gilbert was a key love interest for Tony Stark. He returned in 1983 as a relic of a more radical time. Then they brought him back in 1986 as a disillusioned man, a recovering alcoholic, and a shell of his former self. Then they killed him. He has since inspired a couple of Legacy Characters.
The Fly was created in 1978 as an insectoid villain for Spider-Man. While not a major character, he had scored victories in combat with both Spidey and Moon Knight, leaving the latter paralyzed for a while. His character arc was that his mutation gave him Animal Abilities but was progressively making him feral. He was a recurring character to 1984. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
The Grappler was created in 1981 as a one-shot enemy for She-Hulk. He was a champion martial artist who turned to crime for profit. Grappler reportedly already got rich through investing the loot of his robberies in the stock market, but continued his criminal career for the thrill of it. His only appearance landed him in prison. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Hammer and Anvil were created in 1974 as an Odd Friendship duo of villains. A Misanthropic African-American and White Supremacist try to escape prison together. A random alien mutated them, granting them superpowers at the price of permanently joining them in a symbiotic relationship. They were created as Hulk foes and went on to face Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew). They were last seriously used in 1981. They brought them back in 1986 to kill them.
The Hate-Monger killed was not the original, an Adolf Hitler clone, but a creation of Psycho-Man. He debuted in 1985 as a Fantastic Four foe. He had both Shapeshifting and Emotion Control powers. His main claim to fame is creating Malice, a Brainwashed and Crazy personality for Invisible Woman. He was killed two months following his first appearance, as Jim Shooter thought that someone had to kill this guy.
Hellrazor was created in 1979 as a Black Panther foe. His main power was absorbing kinetic energy. Otherwise he had little to distinguish him from the average mercenary of the Marvel Universe. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him. The folks at the Appendix of the Marvel Handbook cite him as easily the dullest and most forgettable Scourge victim.
The Hijacker was created in 1963 as an Ant-Man foe. He had no real powers, but drove a specially-equipped tank which could handle combat situations with ease. He spends the 1970s and 1980s as a minor foe for the Thing, last used in 1983. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Keegan was pretty much a nobody, only appearing once in 1986. A Mook working for the Melter, he was killed as part of a Dead Person Impersonation plot. Scourge used Keegan's identity to approach the Melter.
Letha was created in 1979 as part of the Grapplers, a group of female Professional Wrestlers who were given cybernetic enhancements to serve as mercenaries. They were recurring foes of the the Thing and Dazzler, last used in 1986. In an early episode of the Scourge storyline, Titania the leading Grappler was killed in the Showers of their arena. Months later, Letha was seeking to Avenge her Friend and payed for it with her life.
Lionfang, a Beastmaster type, is a bit of an unusual case. He was created in 1973 as a foe for Luke Cage, and was seemingly killed in an accidental fall at the end of his debut issue. In 1991, he was revealed to be still alive just to be killed by a Scourge. In 2010, he was again revealed to still be alive, though paralyzed from the waist down. At this point Staying Alive seems to be his secondary power.
Megatak was a Fad Super created in 1983. He was an industrial spy who was somehow merged with a video game, gaining various electronic-related powers. He was at first used as a one-shot foe for Thor. They brought him back in 1985 to kill him.
The Melter was created in 1963 as a Iron Man foe. His main ability was melting metal. He was one of the founding members of the Masters of Evil and was relatively prominent in the 1960s. He was later still a recurring foe for Avengers related characters, but of increasingly diminished importance. He was last seriously used in 1983, then they killed him in 1986.
Mind-Wave was created in 1976 as a telepath foe for Daredevil. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
The Miracle Man was created in 1962 as one of the earliest foes of the Fantastic Four. He was originally only a Master of Illusion. He was eventually upgraded to a magic-user whose arsenal of powers included telekinesis, animating and restructuring inanimate matter. He was used as a serious threat to The Defenders in 1983, but then forgotten. They brought him back in 1985 to kill him.
Mirage was created in 1976 as a Spider-Man foe. His main power was projecting Holograms. He was last used in 1983, as a minor foe for the Thing. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
The Phone Ranger was a parody character introduced in 1985. In a chaotic brawl between heroes and villains, the Phone-Ranger joined the heroes' ranks ...only to be killed by a present Scourge who mistook him for a villain. In 2006, the character was revealed to have survived being shot in the head.
The Rapier was created in 1980 and resembles protagonists of the Swashbuckler genre. According to his backstory, he used to be the best friend and business partner of Silvio Manfredi (Silvermane). Until his buddy got greedy and decided to gain sole ownership of their business activities, by having the Rapier assassinated. The assassin left the man for dead, but he survived and returned to seek Revenge. He was effectively a one-shot character, but they brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Red Skull /Albert Malik was created in 1947, served as the communist Red Skull in the 1950s, and in the 1960s was revealed to have killed the parents of Spider-Man. His main character arc afterwards was his rivalry with the Nazi Red Skull (Johann Schmidt). They used him in one serious storyline in 1988 and then killed him.
The Ringer was created in 1977 as a Nighthawk foe. He really used rings as weapons. He faced Spider-Man in 1981 and was then forgotten. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him. Curiously he has inspired a couple of Legacy Characters and his widow was the user of the Beetle armor. He tends to get more mentions and connections than villains with longer careers.
Shellshock was created in 1967 as a Fantastic Four foe. He had no powers but had a Ray Gun with a seemingly endless list of uses. He served as a minor but persistent foe to the Thing until 1983. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Steeplejack was a Legacy Character. The original Steeplejack was introduced in 1974 as a foe for Luke Cage. He was an ordinary man who used construction tools as weapons. He was killed at the end of his debut story. In 1978, the second Steeplejack debuted. He had been introduced in the Luke Cage story as a would-be victim of the original Steepleman. When the original died, this "victim" picked up the mantle to advance his own agenda. He served as a minor Ms. Marvel villain and was then forgotten. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Turner D. Century was created in 1980 as a Spider-Woman foe. A young man who seeks to return the world to the ideal (in his view) Edwardian Era. He was brought back in 1982 to face aging hero Dominic Fortune, then forgotten. They brought him back in 1986 to kill him.
Vamp/Animus was introduced in 1978 as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Mole for the Corporation. The character could shape-shift between two forms: A feminine form with regular human features, and a masculine giant form with monstrous features. Beauty and the Beast in a single package so to speak. The Corporation storyline lasted from 1976 to 1979, and Vamp was one of the few Corporation agents to survive the downfall of the organization. They brought her back in 1986 just to kill her.
The Wraith was created in 1976 as the villainous brother of Jean De Wolff, with various psionic powers. He was mentally unstable, sometimes acting as a vigilante hero, others as a typical mercenary, and others as a crazed killer. He was last seriously used in 1978. In 1986, he learned that his sister was killed and blamed the NYPD for it. He was prepared to start a killing spree against them when killed by the Scourge.
Marvel's "Mutant Massacre" storyline promised big changes, but ended up killing off only a bunch of Morlocks (tunnel dwelling mutants), most of whom had never appeared before the issue in which they died. There were at least some serious injuries to A- and B- list characters, though.
Three characters died in Necrosha, each of whom was more obscure and minute than the other: Onyxx, Meld and Diamond Lil. Lampshaded soon after by Namor, who wonders why they were even worth noting. Cyclops responded by claiming that with the mutant population so small, each death in their small band mattered. Diamond Lil at least had the distinction of being a B-lister in a title that in all fairness was itself B-list. Still averages out to C-list overall, but unlike the other two, she actually had a fanbase.
When The Collective showed up in New Avengers, he killed off the entirety of Alpha Flight — a superhero team with over thirty years of history in the Marvel Universe — before taking on the Avengers. Sure, that history consisted of being "Canada's premiere superhero team", but they were still mainstays of the setting. To add insult to injury, the guy who was possessed by The Collective at the time ends up on the new version of Alpha Flight and wears the same costume as its former leader.
They've since done a major amount of backpedaling on Alpha Flight: Sasquatch was upgraded from dead to just injured after the "Collective" storyline and only Shaman and James MacDonald Hudson (the original Guardian) have been officially declared dead in the aftermath.
Their defeat (and this trope) was amusingly referenced in Mighty Avengers #27, when a new supervillain named the Unspoken (non-lethally) wipes out a Chinese government team - USAgent (who was briefly a member of Omega Flight, believe it or not) whispers in horror "Oh my God... He Alpha-Flighted them."
This has become a Running Gag at this point. A new Omega Flight showed up during the Marvel NOW! relaunch, only for the entire team except for Validator to be violently killed off in the span of a few pages.
A grand total of four superpowered characters — not counting the cloned cyborg Thor, the New Warriors (before the actual war) or Captain America (after the war, but he didn't really die anyway) — are killed during the war. They consist of Goliath, Bantam, Typeface, and Stilt-Man. Most readers would need to look at least three of these up in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe before being able to properly mourn.
The next event was the Initiative, an attempt to give every state a team of superheroes. Realistically, they're not always up to scratch. The Great Lakes Initiative is probably one of the best known and strongest teams. Entire teams have been all but wiped out, notably Florida in Marvel Zombies 3 and Nebraska in Iron Man. They don't do very well in their own series, either; cadet fatalities have included MVP, Dragon Lord, two Scarlet Spiders, Proton and Crusader (though MVP continues to be a huge part of the storyline after his death and Crusader was the viewpoint character of the Secret Invasion issues). Recent graduate Gorilla Girl put it best:
I'm black. I'm female. I turn into a gorilla, and nobody's ever heard of me. I might as well have cannon fodder stamped on my forehead.
The Punisher doubled the casualty list by himself. He killed the super villains Jester, Jack o' Lantern, Goldbug, and Plunderer. Referring to them as C-List would probably be a promotion for those four characters. Punisher's next move at the start of the War Journal relaunch was to blow up a super villain bar where villains were holding a wake for Stilt-Man, though it's eventually revealed that everyone in the building survived with injuries. Later Plunderer (Ka-zar's brother) was revealed to be alive, noting that the guy Punisher killed was his "American representative."
In Marvel Zombies 3 this happens to Siege and Conquistador, two heroes almost nobody heard of. Similar with Ogre, Razor Wire and Lighting Fist, murdered in Marvel Zombies 4 and combined into one zombie. Subverted with Night Shift, a team of C-listed villains - Dansen Macabre, Tatterdemallion, Needle and Digger - they were killed and resurrected as zombies only to later be cured and left unharmed.
The poor New Mutants and their co-stars were often victims of this, pre-dating the Teen Titans' over-use of the trope. Doug "Cypher" Ramsey and Warlock didn't survive the 100-issue run of the series, Magik/Illyana was de-aged and then killed later, and nearly the entire team of Hellions (a few had quit since then, and Roulette and Empath both escaped) were horribly killed by Trevor Fitzroy's Sentinels in one fell swoop, wiping away several beloved (but little-known or referenced) characters. The New Mutants later returned, but the Hellions didn't. What is frustrating with the Hellions is the manner that they died. They were killed as part of a wider storyline featuring the Upstarts wiping out the old Hellfire Club members in order to replace them. The story had Sebastian Shaw killed, Emma Frost comatose and Selene captive. All to prove the Upstarts were badasses. Guess which three Hellfire Club members returned and guess how poorly remembered are the Upstarts themselves two decades later.
Similarly, Generation X has had a pretty rough time of it as well. Aside from being reduced primarily to extras, we have the aforementioned Jubilee and Chamber depowering (Chamber got better), the limbo placement of Penance (who was called Hollow for a while to not be confused with Speedball's new identity), as well as the deaths of Synch, Maggot, Mondo and Skin. Skin's case was particularly bad because they ended up getting his name wrong on the tombstone for his funeral! That's more than half of everyone who's been on the team!
In the "Underbase Saga" in The Transformers, almost all of Starscream's victims are characters who had not appeared in a couple of years and whose toys were no longer available. This was explained by having organic components grant some protection from the Underbase energies; thus, the Headmasters, Powermasters, and Pretenders were safe, though the fairly recently introduced Seacons bought it.
G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama was finally given permission to kill off some of the members of the Joe cast who did not currently have a toy to sell. The result? Arc after arc featuring side-characters and various Fodder getting killed. At one point, Duke led a mission that resulted in a glorified Mook offing a squadron of once-sold toys! Quick Kick, we hardly knew ye... A dozen other characters (including Dr. Mindbender, Crocmaster and Raptor) were given a horrible demise after Cobra Commander left all of the people who had betrayed him to die in a freighter on Cobra Island.
Craig Kyle and Chris Yost kicked off their New X-Men run with an arc where a whole bunch of classmates of the protagonists whom it would probably be generous to call C-list get blown up by the Purifiers. The least obscure character to die in this scene was Tag, who was The Generic Guy in the Jerk Ass posse. Another character, DJ, got Famous Last Words that were the only thing he has ever said in any comic ever. Kyle and Yost would go on to kill two main characters (main for this title, anyway) and were responsible for the aforementioned Necrosha, so at least that's something.
Averted in X-Men: Second Coming. A-Listers Nightcrawler and Cable both die (even if you argue that they're not A-Listers, they're still definitely two recognisable and fairly popular characters), in addition to Vanisher (C-List, although arguably B-List since moving to X-Force), and Ariel (couldn't be more C-List if she tried). Cable, Vanisher and Ariel were all revived in relatively short order, though Nightcrawler had to wait several years for his resurrection.
The X-books do this a lot. In the leadup to the Messiah CompleXBat Family Crossover, it was revealed that Mr. Sinister had ordered the execution of all mutants with knowledge of alternate futures. The final kill tally? Quiet Bill (a character who'd appeared in Gambit's solo series from the '90s and nowhere else), the Witness (an elderly version of Gambit who'd settled down in the present in 2001 and hadn't been seen since), Vargas (an Arc Villain notable only for temporarily killing Psylocke and being created by Chris Claremont), the Dark Mother (a forgotten Dark AgeArc Villain) and Gateway, who in all fairness was a high C-Lister, mostly forgotten in the present but having been a supporting character in A-List books in the '80s, and who was later revealed to have survived the attempt on his life anyway.
There was a Spider-Man/New WarriorsCross Over through their annuals with the title "Hero Killers", which hinted at the prospect of well-known heroes getting killed off. The finale even contained the cover blurb, "Inside - A Hero Dies!". The issue in question showed two members of Gamma Flight getting captured with only one of them dying. For those of you who don't know, Gamma Flight is the B-team of Alpha Flight. Yeah.
In issue #49-50 of the first series, Micronauts killed off a lot of supporting characters such as Argon, Pharoid, Slug, Margrace, Duchess Belladonna, and Devil. Microtron and Nanotron (who was never a popular character) sacrificed themselves so that a resurrected Biotron could have their memories. Bill Mantlo did this in order to tie up a lot of the subplots and return the Micronauts to a small-knit group constantly on the run from Baron Karza.
The image comes from a Deadpool specialnote Issue #0, a freebie from Wizard: The Guide to Comics where Arnim Zola, who's certainly high C-list/low B-list, snatched up DNA samples of dead characters (many of them victims of Scourge, from the list above) and resurrected them. Deadpool considered it early Christmas and gleefully killed them all again (yep, even Bucky before nearly killing Zola for snookering him into looking at a naked Uncle Ben and Aunt May.
Jason Macendale, who was the Hobgoblin during the Spider-Man comics of the late 80s-early-to-mid 90s, quickly sent the character of Hobgoblin into the C-list by his ineptitude. His last act before being murdered by the real Hobgoblin? Boasting about how he had killed the "real" Hobgoblin. Roderick Kingsley certainly showed him who was the true Hobgoblin and Kingsley's appearances since then have been spaced out enough so that he ends up being a Magnificent Bastard.
Spider-Verse has the concept that every Spider-Man and spider-related character, ever, from any media, is under attack, so of course some don't make it: the casualty list includes [[Comic Book/Marvel1602 1602]] Spider-Man, House of M Spider-Man, the Spider-Man from What If Spidey joined the Fantastic Four?, multiple alternate versions of Spider-Man 2099, the cast of the Spider-Man Unlimited cartoon, and Spider-Girl's parents. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends can be said to be as high as the B-list. To be fair, the nature of the event means that the large majority of the cast are C-listers in the first place - a sample of those involved that don't show up just to die includes Spider-Man India, Spider-B*** from Old Man Logan, and Spider-Man (Japan).
Crisis on Infinite Earths: Supergirl and Barry Allen were the main A-Lister deaths, as well as B-Listers Clayface, Mirror Master and Dove. However, C-List casualties included Angle Man, Psimon, Nighthawk, Sunburst, The Ten-Eyed Man, Prince Ra-Man, Kole, The Bug-Eyed Bandit, Icicle, and, most ironically, Immortal Man.
Infinite Crisis: The whole thing was kicked off by the deaths of certified B-Listers Maxwell Lord and Blue Beetle. C-List casualties included Rocket Red, Monocle, Black Condor, Baron Blitzkrieg, Star Sapphire, Wildebeest, Pantha, Air-Wave, Ratcatcher, Geist, Doctor Polaris, Human Bomb, Chemo, Peacemaker, Breach, Judomaster, Technocrat, and Phantom Lady. And those are only a few in comparison. This was supposed to be averted by offing Nightwing, a certified A-lister (especially for a former sidekick), but instead Superboy was killed, and he can be considered low A-list or high B-list.
When James Robinson wanted to kill off an ex-Justice League Europe member in Starman #38, his editor suggested he kill off more, since they weren't using them at the time. Robinson did so, taking a whole issue to depict The Mist's slaughter, eventually having a part of Jack Knight's Shut Up, Hannibal! being mocking her for taking on innocent, easy targets. The Justice League also has a pretty storied history of C-listers who ended up being brutally killed off, ranging from Vibe and Agent Liberty to Triumph and Black Condor.
DC'sMini Series "Death of the New Gods" did exactly what it said on the label, killing off the entire suite of these well-known-yet-rarely-high-selling characters. While their original creator had Kill 'em All as part of their original planned arc, it was wildly different than the story we got here.
Preparatory to kicking off the dramatic Mordru arc, DC's post-Zero HourLegion of Super-Heroes comic introduced a set of minor characters — specifically new Legionnaire Magno, Workforce recruits Radion and Blast-Off, and Uncanny Amazers member Atom'x — in order to brutalize them to lend impact to the climactic battle at the end of the arc, which saw Blast-Off and Atom'x killed, Radion disfigured, and Magno permanently depowered.
The Legion of Three Worlds limited series quickly killed off several lesser-known Legionnaires—the Threeboot Sun Boy and Element Lad, Kinetix, and the second Karate Kid—and a large handful of minor villains. Minor character Rond "Green Lantern" Vidar, on the other hand, was given an extended send-off and proved instrumental in moving the plot along.
Thanks to a resurgence of nostalgia and a desire to improve old characters, at least one C-List Fodder massacre, Zero Hour, has been almost entirely undone, with the Hawks and the first Hourman brought back to life. Similarly, other heroes have been shown to survive the Eclipso event of that same time.
Teen Titans makes so much use of this that at least one person has made the rather morbid observation that the superhero group made of teenagers has one of the highest death-rates of any team in DC Comics. In-story, Beast Boy once lamented that several of the team's recently deceased C-list members were destined to be quickly forgotten after their funerals.
This isn't even taking into consideration how many of them have children who are either dead (Lian Harper, Robert and Jennifer Long, Cerdian, and Baby Wildebeest) or have been dead (Jai and Iris West).
The cover to Teen Titans (vol. 3) #74 said it best: "Another Titan Dies". Oddly, it was the most emotionally satisfying Titans death in that decade.
The spinoff miniseries, Terror Titans, seemed to exist for this purpose. Throughout the course of the series six characters bite it: Molecule, a Z-list Titan during the post-Infinite Crisis year long gap, is cleaved in half by Persuader. Bolt, a minor villain with teleportation powers, is killed by his son. TNTeena and Pristine are new characters created solely to die. Disrupter is one of the main characters and killed at the end of the series after less than a dozen appearances. The most prominent character killed is Fever, one of the main characters from the 2001 Doom Patrol series.
This trope and its connection to the Teen Titans was pretty much lampshaded during Infinite Crisis when Jason Todd drops in at Titans Tower and confronts Tim Drake. As the two Robins fight, Jason blows up when he realizes that there were statues of Titans who have died and people probably never knew existed, yet he never got a statue of his own, though he was a member for about one mission and, being a Robin, was probably more well known than they ever were.
Followed closely by The Legion Of Super-Heroes, another group of teenagers. In this case, the sheer number of characters attached to the team may help to explain the higher body count. (Because of the Legion's frequent reboots, though, dead characters frequently turn up alive in the team's next incarnation. To date, the only Legionnaire who was killed off and stayed dead is Monstress.)
Sometimes, it seems like the bulk of the Green Lantern Corps exists to provide this for the latest Crisis Crossover. Green Lantern (vol. 4) #27 revealed that the average life expectancy for a member is "four years, three months, one day, thirteen hours and seven minutes".
To set up their new addition to Batman'sRogues Gallery, Hush, in the aptly titled comic "Batman: Hush" as villainous enough, they have him Kick the Dog by killing Harold. Who is Harold? Well, he's a character that's barely ever been mentioned in Batman comics in the last 10 years, a mute and deformed homeless person with a gift for mechanics that Batman took in and hired to work on the Batcave. No, you're not really supposed to know about him.
In Batman, following the year of 52 where Harvey Dent protected the city, to have a Face-Heel Turn again, they had the Great White Shark frame Harvey for the murders of C-Listers Magpie, the KGBeast, and Orca (to add insult to injury, her corpse was later found partially eaten by Killer Croc). He also took out certified B-Lister (or should it be certi''g''lied ''g''-Lister) The Ventriloquist, so that has to give them some solace. Also, a new version of C-Lister Tally Man appears during the story, and lasts for all of three pages.
The Knightfall event also indulged in a little house cleaning of minor baddies: Film Freak was killed by Bane, Abattoir was killed by Jean-Paul Valley (thus leaving Abat's hostage to die in a torture chamber), and the two puppets of The Ventriloquist shot each other in what ended up being a form of suicide.
Interestingly handled in The Sandman: Forgotten minor character Element Girl gets a story about being minor and forgotten, with powers that make it impossible to have a normal life or death.
Seemingly averted at the start of Blackest Night: the first victims of the Black Lanterns were relatively well-known heroes Tempest, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, with the latter two resurrected by the end of the event. However, C-list former Teen Titans Damage and Hawk are killed, as is Gehenna (Firestorm's girlfriend and partner) and Doctor Polaris (who is killed offscreen). The Justice League of America tie-in issues lampshade this a bit. The resurrected Arthur Light mocks Kimiyo Hoshi by telling her that she'll quickly be forgotten after her death due to her relative obscurity. He then lists several deceased D-listers (such as Triumph and the Blood Pack) who were indeed quickly forgotten about by heroes and fans alike after their deaths.
Happens twice in DC's Identity Crisis, wherein Elongated Man's wife is killed and raped (in a flashback) and Firestorm explodes after being stabbed through the chest with another C-Lister hero's (Shining Knight) sword by a C-Lister villain (Shadow Thief). The whole series was a C-List-fest! Elongated Man even lampshades it in his narration. Saying that since he and Firehawk are relatively minor characters, the reader cannot be assured they won't be killed.
In Justice League: Cry for Justice, the villain Prometheus mentions having killed off several members of the little-known Global Guardians team in passing with a brief flashback. One member, Tasmanian Devil, was eventually revived by a friend in the one-shot Starman & Congorilla special.
Most of the heroes created during the 90's Bloodlines event ended up quickly falling into obscurity, only to be brought out of limbo in order to be used as cannon fodder in events such as Infinite Crisis and Faces of Evil. The high mortality rate of the Bloodlines heroes was referenced in-universe several times, with the Flash chalking this up to a general lack of competence on their part. In addition, certain writers (Jamal Igle being most vocal) have gone on record stating that these characters' deaths were due to the fact that they (the writers) personally didn't like them and found them to be one of the worst parts of '90s DC canon.
Similarly, Roulette (who runs the House, where kidnapped metahumans fight for their lives on the wagers of supervillains) has a wall of pictures depicting all the heroes who fell under her supervision. These include Maximan, Impala (of the Global Guardians, even), and the third Firebrand. Yeah, who?
Sort of the point of Suicide Squad. They would send C-list super powered scumbags on dangerous missions because they are expendable.
The Atom (Ryan Choi) was killed to show how dangerous Deathstroke's new Titans team was, which occurred during the same month that the company was launching a new one-shot and co-feature starring Ryan's predecessor. After some controversy regarding killing off one of the company's few Asian heroes to push his white originator, DC decided to retcon Ryan's death.
The Ur example of this one for comic books has to be Doom Patrol. At least two entire incarnations of the team were destroyed. The only survivor of any of these teams has been Cliff "Robotman" Steele, and he often wonders if it wouldn't have been better to join them.
Other Comic Book series
In All Fall Down, this happens to any number of characters killed in their first appearance, mainly the first chapter.
In Invincible, the original Guardians of the Globe were killed off in their introductory issue. All of them, except the Immortal (two guesses as to what his powers are), have remained dead since. Kirkman hasn't been afraid to permanently kill off well-known characters, though, and dead means dead with him. After a new Guardians team was formed, the first member to die was Shrinking Ray, by far the one with the least screentime and characterization. Capes, another Kirkman book, featured several deaths during its run — most of them minor background employees who are lucky to be given names afterwards.
The whole reason Star Wars: Purge series exists is to have Darth Vader finish off minor Jedi who aren't supposed to survive until the time of the Original Trilogy.
Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers consists of a team made up primarily of C-listers (did you know who Ironfist was before this comic? How about Rotorstorm?) with a few A-list names like Springer and Perceptor, facing off a Decepticon team, also consisting of C-listers (The names Stalker or Snare ring any bells?). However, in spite of their C-list rating, the characters presented are actually given an amazing amount of characterization and personality, and the deaths among the Wreckers are always heartbreaking.
This is actually a recurring trend of the Wreckers as a whole across the various publishers, and their Decepticon counterparts, the Mayhem Attack Squad; when they appear, they often consist mostly of little-known C-listers with one or two A-listers in their ranks (most notably Springer for the Wreckers and Bludgeon for the Mayhems), and many, many of their stories involve numerous members of both teams dying in gruesome ways.
The Retribution story arc also uses this, mostly debuting a bunch of G1 characters into the comics to have them be victims of a serial killer, including a few minicons and headmasters (including autobot headmasters) reimagined into villains. Among them are a few recurring players in the IDW comics like Skram and Gutcruncher.
DC Nation lampshades the Teen Titans example above big time, and inverted it. Arsenal gets angry enough challenge Hades for Donna Troy and convinces the other Titans to go in on it by arguing to the effect "The Justice League die and come back. Titans die and stay dead. Why are we putting up with it when we can have a chance of fighting back?!" As an indirect result, the Nation-verse Titans have thrown a few more challenges and are now the largest hero team in the storyline. This bit in the ass when Nationverse launched their take on Blackest Night.
It's not just the Titans. Nation is notorious for making use of obscure, underwritten, and c-list characters. The Dibnys, for example, are major players. The Doom Patrol is getting re-launched, the Metal Men and the JSA are starting to get more plots... Conversely, it's been very difficult to get a JLA plot done.
In the 1987 Masters of the Universe film, Suarod was killed because the producer wanted one of Skeletor's generals to be killed off in the film, and they wanted to make sure it was one who did not appear in the cartoon.
Wild Cards has had a lot of these—contributing authors were encouraged to come up with "Red Shirt Aces" for the second and third books, just to show that the villains meant business. Then again, Anyone Can Die in that setting.
In the New Jedi Order, guess how many movie characters named on screen of any level of importance die. Two. And one of them is from old age.
Many characters introduced in the Bantam Publishing era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe were reduced to this when Del Rey took the reins, such as Borsk Feyl'ya, Prince Isolder, and several of Luke Skywalker's Jedi students. This remains a point of contention among fans.
In The Vampire Chronicles: Queen of the Damned, once unleashed, Akasha kills off most of the vampire race except, conveniently, for every single major character in the series, and plots to exterminate all men on earth.
Every time the Warrior Cats series needs some more angst, a minor character gets killed. This doubles as thinning of the herd, since there are Loads and Loads of Characters. In Twilight, the Tonight Someone Dies book, there's a supposedly "devastating" attack on Thunder Clan which results in them needing plenty of help from the other clans in the next book... but then you realize that only three cats died. And two of them were minor characters. The other ends up getting reincarnated, anyway.
Live Action TV
Game Shows that have celebrity players sometimes are accused of using these, especially when A- and B-list celebrities are unavailable or don't wish to do a specific show.
What's My Line?: Gil Fates, executive producer of the iconic panel game show that aired from 1950-1975, wrote in his 1978 retrospective of the series that some "mystery guests" during the syndicated years were rather obscure to most viewers. These included second-tier Broadway performers, local New York-New Jersey personalities, and lesser-known soap opera actors/actresses of shows produced in New Yorknote , where most soaps were still being produced at the time. This, he reasoned, was because of having to stretch to find mystery guests for a five-day-a-week program (or, 195 per television season) once the better-known stars had their turn, whereas it was much simpler to find just one prominent star a week for the original CBS series (or, just 35 or so during a September-through-May season) … and it led to many panelists and viewers scratching their heads, wondering, "Who is that person?"
In the early days of Smallville, they used the Body of the Week more, but slowly more C-list fodder is killed off. Not counting one-episode characters, or we'll be here all day.
Season one: Lewis & Laura Lang (appeared in flashbacks), Principal Kwan.
Season two: Roger Nixon, Steven Hamilton, Ryan James, Tina Greer, Dr. Walden.
Season three: Morgan Edge, Ian Randall, Pete Dinsmore, Frank Loder.
Season four: Alicia Baker, Bridgette Crosby, Genevieve and Jason Teaque.
Season five: Sheriff Nancy Adams.
Season six: Raya, Dr. Langston.
Season seven: Sasha Woodman, Agent Carter, clone Lara and Zor-El, Patricia Swann, Gina, Edward Teague.
Season eight: Regan Matthews, Linda Lake. While this season has the highest body count thanks to Doomsday being around, tons of it are one-episode appearances or even unnamed.
In the new Battlestar Galactica, with the exception of Kara Thrace and Laura Roslin, every character who died was either a C- or B-list character, or has turned out to be a Cylon. Or both, in the case of named Cylons who have died since the Resurrection Hub went up. (This changed in the finale.)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer eventually ended up with the same cast that they started the series with, and a few extras. The only major deaths in the Grand Finale were Spike (who got better on Angel) and Anya who, while popular, never played a role desperately needed on the show. Imagine the outrage from fans if Xander or Willow died in the Grand Finale. Also, throughout Season 7, the group of potentials often seemed to take the role of "people who get killed so as to show the situation is serious." In the commentary track to the final episode Joss Whedon tacitly acknowledges this trope, saying that he couldn't kill off any of the major four (Buffy, Giles, Willow or Xander) or it wouldn't seem like a victorious ending. It also bears mention that Whedon had to kill someone important and Emma Caulfield said explicitly at the beginning of the season that she would not renew her contract, whether Buffy continued or not. So, as Whedon said, she was the logical choice.
Stargate SG-1, rather unsurprisingly, had a tendency to pop off secondary characters every so often, between the inevitable Red Shirts. Most obvious with Dr. Frasier, the medical officer who spent 78 episodes on the show, and 1 as a corpse standing in for O'Neill (who the writers tried to fake out as being the actual casualty). Later, she made one more appearance as an Parallel Universe version.
You can figure out which seasons they thought they were being canceled on, due to how many C-Listers get killed. The only C-Lister to escape this was Ensemble Dark Horse Bratac, who was mentioned as dead once. Turns out it was a lie to break Teal'c spirit. A few times he has been dragged off to his doom, left for dead, poisoned, stabbed, shot, and all sorts of lethal thrown at him. They didn't take.
Supernatural is infamous for this. Any character who isn't not Sam, Dean or Castiel will die permanently while those three will keep coming back to life. Many recurring characters, villains and heroes alike, get killed simply to either cause angst or show how badass the boys are just as they are getting character development or interesting story lines (a cause of frustration to fans due to the sheer amount of EnsembleDarkhorses that suffer this fate).
A good example are the Harvelles. Originally intended as support, Love Interest and Distaff Counterparts to the Winchesters, they were quickly hated by the fanbase for various reasons. Writers wrote them out but brought them back with Jo Taking A Level In Badass and becoming much more mature and grown up, making her much more of a hit with fans. Unfortunately, this potential was wasted as they were blown up in the mid season episode in an utterly useless sacrifice solely to cause angst and show how deadly that season's Big Bad was.
Heroes was originally intended to have a new group of heroes each season. Due to the popularity of the characters, this didn't happen. So later seasons have a tendency to bring in lots of new characters only to kill them off or drop their story line. For some examples Daphne dies, Elle dies, Usutu is killed almost immediately, Maya loses her abilities, West is introduced and then quickly forgotten, Alejandro is around for only a few episodes before he dies, Bob dies, Candace dies, Monica's plot is dropped, and we could really go on forever here. There was even Bridgette, who seemed like she had potential, only to be eaten by Sylar seconds later. Sue Landers? Never stood a chance.
The Walking Dead has done this a handful of times. The first was during the attack on the group's camp in episode four, where, although three named characters end up dead, there are over a dozen (many unnamed) extras that are also killed and only seemed to be there to increase the attack's body count. Even later, the attack on Herschel's farm in the season 2 finale only claims the lives of two characters, Jimmy and Patricia, both of whom are effectively worthless to the entire story.
Stephan Pastis kills off minor characters regularly in Pearls Before Swine - then frequently brings them back with no explanation or the cheap explanation that they "un-died." Examples include the killer whale that lived next door to the seals, Chucky the Non-Anthropomorphic Sheep and Leonard, aka "Tattuli the Self-Esteem Building Bear" (Leonard has yet to be brought back). The crocodiles have clearly been promoted to A-list, and they keep dying also. Of course, there are quite a few of them and they're pretty much interchangeable, so the net effect of killing one off for a cheap joke is nil anyway.
Several wrestlers in the WWE, no matter how talented they are, are unfortunately relegated to competing on WWE Superstars or WWE NXT. Examples include Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel, Alex Riley, JTG, and Michael McGillicutty as well as several Divas. In fact, being demoted to the undercard is sometimes considered as a punishment. Triple H became the fall guy for the "Curtain Call" incident and was stuck jobbing in opening matches before they finally pushed him again (in fact, rumor has it that he was supposed to win the King of the Ring tournament around this time - a tournament which was then won by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin). A similar case happened with Alex Riley, who was in line for a push, but then an incident with John Cena got him demoted to jobber. Riley now appears on WWE Superstars and WWE NXT as an announcer.
A similar if not exact term in wrestling is known as the "jobber to the stars." While jobbers are usually completely unknown local talent brought up solely to get squashed, a jobber to the stars is a more high-profile contracted wrestler who is in the mid-card and seen as more of a threat, who are brought up solely to get squashed. Ryback's winning streak originally started against complete unknowns, but he slowly moved up to lower- and mid-card C-List Fodder such as Curt Hawkins, Johnny Curtis, and Darren Young. Historically, this has happened to former main event wrestlers who are now toward the end of their careers, and are jobbing on the way out, often as a way to put over younger stars. Examples include Dominic DeNucci, Tony Garea, "The Unpredictable" Johnny Rodz, "Baron" Mikel Siccluna, Rene Goulet and others. Yet, one-time stars may be one of the headliners of a C-Show card and may even be given a title match against a current champion.
A promotion will sometimes run a house show with C-List wrestlers in smaller (or new) markets, often as a test ground and/or to give the lower-tier wrestlers work; these will sometimes take place the same night that the promotion is running two (or more) shows, including the A Show, in other towns. While a B Show wrestler or two will often be on the card (frequently as part of the main event, or to help anchor the card and guide the younger/local talent), and a secondary championship will frequently be defended (usually against wrestlers who would never be given the opportunity at an A-Show), these shows also are put on to allow promoters to evaluate new and potential talent. Often, matches against local wrestlers will also be on the card, with the promotion's main wrestlers being the headliners. As such, being on a C-Show isn't always a bad thing.
''Destroy The Godmodder": Almost every single entity summoned throughout the series is this. Very few of them are actually plot-relevant.
Game Masters frequently do this with RPGs. You want to shock your characters out of apathy? Kill a named NPC that the party knows and may even sort of like. But if things go as they normally do, only half of your party will even remember the NPC, making them firmly C-List. Further, if the party starts developing resources, such as subordinate NPCs, you can get their attention by killing off some of those resources… again assuming that the party even remembers them aside from a bullet point on an inventory sheet. This can be subverted if the DM decides to kill off a prominent setting-specific NPC that is often criticized as a Mary Sue of some sort. When a supposedly A-list character like Elminster is killed off, you know that the villain means business.
Superbowl Sunday in Holiday Wars is nothing but cannon fodder and killed off at almost the very start of the story.
Pete flat out admitted that the whole point of the Kitten arcs was to kill off characters he no longer wanted around.
Lampshade Hanging: Galasso, owner of the titular toy store in Shortpacked!!, decides to lay off one of the staff. It isn't one of the established cast, it isn't one of the new cast he hired for Christmas, it's some random girl the audience — and the rest of the cast — have never seen before. However, in a subversion this was really a Sequel Hook. Sydney Yus (Get it?) Came back years later as the Big Bad of a later arc.
Irregular Webcomic! killed off the entire cast, background characters were visible in the crowd scene on the Infinite Featureless Plain.
In the massive Halloween invasion of Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, not one protagonist or important side character was killed. The only deaths were some mooks, a couple unimportant members of Whateley Security, and Erik Mahren's girlfriend.
Star Wars: Clone Wars introduces General Grievous — and establishes him as a threat — by having him defeat a team of seven Jedi: Daakman Barrek, K'Kruhk, Tarr Seirr, Sha'a Gi, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, and Ki-Adi-Mundi (all but the last three are killed). Who? Exactly.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars prefers to use simple redshirts and mauveshirts over this trope in most situations but they managed to kill off one of their better known clone trooper protagonists and one Jedi who survived the Clone Wars in the EU. In "Grievous' Intrigue" however this was averted. Eeth Koth was brought back after an artwork stated him as one of the dead Jedi from Attack of the Clones and originally died in the script but this idea was scrapped in favour of him being too interesting to be simply killed off.
Family Guy: almost nothing changes over 100+ episodes, except Cleveland and Loretta (supporting character and minor character, respectively) separate, Mr. Weed chokes to death, Paddy Tanniger the caddy manager is run over by a tank, and the vaudeville guys (joke characters) are killed by Stewie (though they do show up in the afterlife). Also all the victims in the hour-long special "And Then There Were Fewer" count, though as there was a bunch of other C-Listers hanging around, this actually served to make it more suspenseful: you really didn't know which minor characters would be dead by the end of the episode. Of all the characters who died in the murder mystery episode, two of them were introduced in that episode (Priscilla and Stephanie), another one only appeared in one episode, and wasn't too popular nor interesting (Derek Wilcox) and another one was an extra (Muriel Goldman). Although they did try to make her into a recurring character by making her to hang out with Lois and Bonnie during season 6, without any success). The only important death was Dianne Simmons. Muriel's death was actually lampshaded in "The Simpsons Guy". During the fight between Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson, Homer attempts a Pre-Mortem One-Liner by saying "Say hello to Maude Flanders!" Peter pulls a No, You by saying "No, you say hello to Muriel Goldman!", prompting Homer to reply "Who?"
American Dad! used this in episode that opens with a promise to kill 100 characters during the course of the story. Several A-Listers are teased as possibilities throughout the episode (including a few Tempting Fate moments). Ultimately though, the death toll comes when a literal busload of C-Listers all go off a cliff together. The next episode opens with their mass funeral as a Continuity Nod, then quickly forgets about them to focus on the earlier episode's change to the status quo involving Haley and Jeff instead.
The Simpsons: one of the most Status Quo Is God series ever. Bleedin' Gums Murphy, Mrs. Glick and Maude Flanders died, as did Marvin Monroe (and he got better). Frank Grimes died in the episode he was introduced. Dr. Nick apparently died in the movie, but got better. Mona Simpson (Homer's mother) did die but the number of episodes she had a major role in can be counted on one hand. The same can be said for the victim of the Tonight Someone Dies episode of Season 26, Rabbi Krustofsky. And numerous other characters have died, but only in non-canon Treehouse of Horror episodes.
In the Justice League Unlimited episode, "The Doomsday Sanction":, Professor Milo is killed after awakening Doomsday. He thought he could convince Doomsday to kill Amanda Waller, whom he wanted revenge on, but he was gravely mistaken.
Also from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, B'wana Beast could be considered an example or an inversion. On one hand he's certainly a more obscure character who they could get away with killing off for real. On the other, his final scenes were both heart-rending and extremely heroic, giving it far more weight then is usual for the trope.
A massive Enemy Civil War breaks out in the penultimate episode "Alive!" and while there are a few major deaths, most of the casualties are villains who've had few-to-no lines in the series: people like Monocle, Neutron, Merlyn, Major Disaster, Lady Lunar, Fastball, Goldface, Hellgrammite, Electrocutioner, Doctor Cyber, Crowbar, Bloodsport, Angle Man… The more relevant villains in the list include Silver Banshee, the Shade, Copperhead, and Parasite. Although the last one got better in time for Batman Beyond, he was still a relatively prominent bad guy in Superman: The Animated Series.
The Wreckers in Transformers Prime seem to be heading towards this. One of the toys created for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, a prequel to the show, is a Palette Swap of Bruticus that's made out of several Wreckers including Impactor and Roadbuster. The only time those two are mentioned in the show is in a rant from Wheeljack about the Great War killing almost all of the Wreckers. Though the Wreckers have low life expectancy in pretty much every continuity, so this is to be expected.