In the latest issue (No. 587) of the Fantastic Four, out today, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, heroically dies in battle.
Death is natural. Death is normal. Given the extraordinary dangers these characters face on a monthly basis, it would be unrealistic for some of them not to die. One of the reasons superhero stories can be so dramatic is that the writers can take the characters right up to the brink of death. It would be unnatural for some of the heroes not to topple off the cliff.
I have no idea if death is more common today than it was in the Silver Age. Certainly in the last few years, some pretty iconic heroes have shuffled off the mortal coil: Batman and Captain America, for starters. In the Silver Age it was mostly the second-stringers that took the dirt nap: Proty, Ferro Lad, Fredrick Foswell, etc. Lightning Lad was arguably the most important character to die, and of course, he didn't stay that way:
This, to me, is the real problem. It's not that characters die; it's that they are resuscitated. I mentioned that Batman died recently; well, not really. To people in the comics universe he appeared to die, but in actuality he went back to the Stone
Age, then jumped forward a few times in a very confusing series called the Return of Bruce Wayne. I don't read Captain America anymore, but I gather Steve Rogers is back as well. And the articles discussing Johnny Storm's demise make it clear that nobody really thinks he's going to be pushing up daisies for long:
Even though you know this death will not be permanent (superheroes almost always return), this is quite the event since the character has been around for 50 years.
If it's unrealistic for comic characters to keep dodging the bullet, how much more unrealistic is it for them to stop the bullet but then be revived? We all know someone who's passed away and been buried; how many of us have later encountered them on the street?
Don't get me wrong; I loved the Lightning Lad story when I first read it. I also was fascinated by the (brief) return of Gwen. But what works once or twice rapidly becomes cliched.
Death and resurrection breeds cynicism. And cynicism is Kryptonite to fantasy.