The Legionnaires: Ferro Lad
Ferro Lad, aka Andrew Nolan of Earth, aka Ferro. Created by Jim Shooter.
Ferro Lad was a guy with the power of turning his body to iron. He wore a face-concealing iron helmet because of some severe facial deformities (and had a brother, Douglas, who had the same deal). Ferro Lad joined the Legion in the mid-'60s, but wasn't a member for long because of his heroic death, about which more in a second. Legend has it that originally he was conceived as a black guy, which would have been groundbreaking at the time, but the conservative editors at DC wouldn't go for it. Yes on the green- and blue- and orange-skinned characters; no on the brown-skinned characters, was the story.
Ferro Lad's signature moment came in the famous Sun-Eater story. A big cloud of gas called the Sun-Eater was prowling the galaxy, consuming stars left and right, and was putting everything in jeopardy. The Legion tried lots of things to stop it, none of which were ultimately successful. Finally:
He was the first Legionnaire (possibly the first superhero! For reference, this is, as far as I can tell, early ‘67) to die and stay dead, and served as a heroic example to future Legionnaires thereafter. Ferro Lad repeated this performance in the animated series, and his reboot counterpart Ferro almost did the same thing in the 'Final Night' storyline in the '90s... but lived through it (and more about that later). (Which was kind of ill-advised, because the writers didn't know what else to do with him and he was just kind of there for the rest of the reboot.) (No Ferro Lad so far in the threeboot.)
When Ferro Lad took that dive into the Sun-Eater, knowing that he was going to die and knowing that everyone else was going to live, he added a new tarot card to the Legion's deck. And various Legionnaires, and other characters, have played that card at times. Here's one example that I think rewards closer examination.
Ferro Lad joined the Legion at the same time as Karate Kid, Princess Projectra and Nemesis Kid. They were a group, Jim Shooter's Class of '66. Instead of using their names, let's call them, respectively, A,B,C, and D; it makes the pattern more obvious. First, D turned out to be a traitor. Second, A sacrificed his life to save the galaxy. B and C remained Legion stalwarts, fell in love, and eventually married. But then D led a group of villains that conquered C's planet, and only B could free himself to confront D. But B couldn't beat D! D was too strong. So what did he do? He got help from A.
Karate Kid summoned up the spirit of Ferro Lad within himself, symbolically, and dove into the fusion sphere like it was a little Sun-Eater, destroying the shield around Orando, ruining Nemesis Kid's plans and giving Projectra the resolve she needed to defeat Nemesis Kid herself*. (And if you doubt that this was intentional, consider this: when Karate Kid flew to his death, we couldn’t see his face. Nemesis Kid had beaten him up so badly that he couldn’t be shown in a comic book that kids might read, was the alleged reason… but I think it was also to symbolize Ferro Lad, whose face we never saw either.)
There have been other examples. In Legion Lost, for example: Live Wire sacrificing himself to stop the Omniphagos ("All-Eater") was almost exactly the same thing. Magnetic Kid flying to his death high over the Sorceror’s World was comparable. Wildfire at Black Dawn fits decently. Any others? (Any by female characters?)
In fact, Ferro Lad’s example reaches beyond the Legion. In the ‘Final Night’ storyline, Ferro is about to sacrifice himself to stop the Sun-Eater, when he’s pre-empted by Parallax, aka Hal Jordan, who saves Ferro and sacrifices himself instead. Jordan had been pretty much a supervillain at the time, but came back to himself enough to save Ferro and the world. He eventually returned to life as a heroic Green Lantern again, with Final Night as his key redemptive moment. Parallax, one of DC’s most destructive supervillains, was transformed back into one of DC’s greatest heroes through Jordan’s participation in the spirit of Ferro Lad. Parallax saved Ferro… but Ferro Lad saved Hal Jordan.
That’s not bad for a guy who died over forty years ago and whose continuity hasn’t even been around in more than ten.
* I think there’s also a case to be made that Projectra was channeling Karate Kid when she killed Nemesis Kid, the same way Karate Kid was channeling Ferro Lad in blowing the shield. She didn’t do it through the deception of illusion, after all; she did it in hand-to-hand combat, through sheer determination and willpower, which is exactly Karate Kid’s style. Who would have picked Projectra to be the last survivor of the four?