The saying used to go that, “Nobody stays dead in comics apart from Bucky Barnes, Uncle Ben and Jason Todd.” But Bucky and Jason didn’t stay dead at all, and even Uncle Ben wasn't exactly never seen again. The death of a major character makes for great “event” drama in the monthly pages of a comic book, but so rarely remains permanent that frequent resurrections have become a cliché. But did we ever expect, and do we really want, realism? "I want to take this opportunity to formally apologise to all the readers," said Fabian Nicieza, addressing upset over the apparent deaths of two Legion of Super Heroes members, "for having killed off a shapeshifter and a teleporter in a superhero comic book…"
Premiering this week is Marvel’s four-issue The Death of Wolverine, wherein the mutant with the healing factor will finally meet his doom. How seriously should we take that? Here are 16 comic deaths, starting with Logan himself, suggesting that death is not necessarily the end.
(Rules: we’ve stuck to main-series continuities, so this doesn’t include alternate versions and re-starts like Marvel’s Ultimates or DC’s Elseworlds, or The New 52, or What Ifs, or whatever.)
When did he die? Assuming he does, given the title of the mini-series, it will presumably happen in issue 4 on September 24 (barring flashbacks and other timey-wimey shenanigans). Issue 1 is out this week.
How did he die? That remains to be seen. Issue 1 finds Logan, following recent events, still with adamantium claws and skeleton, but without his mutant healing factor. Reed Richards is working on kickstarting it, but doesn’t seem especially optimistic after the failure of Tony Stark and Hank McCoy to help. The ol' canucklehead is advised to lie low, but word gets out and Nuke shows up for a fight, eventually revealing that Viper has put a price on Wolverine’s shaggy bonce. (Incidentally Wolverine also had some adventures in Hell a couple of years ago while his body was possessed by a demon, but this seems not to be regarded as a death, per se).
How will he come back? That also remains to be seen, but Mr Fantastic is clearly working on it…
How long will he be dead? Again, unknown. We’d put money on his miraculous revival in time for X-Men: Apocalypse’s cinema release in May 2016.
When did he die? The Death of Superman, 1992
How did he die? The Man Of Steel was pummelled to death in front of the Daily Planet building by prehistoric Kryptonian supervillain clone Doomsday. This is why you still see comics fans campaigning for Doomsday's inclusion in a future DC movie at Warner Bros. He's sort of the Superman equivalent of Bane.
How did he come back? The Last Son of Krypton – AKA reformed bad guy The Eradicator, one of four new Supermen who showed up to fill the Kal-El shaped void following Doomsday – stole Superman’s body and stashed it in a “regeneration matrix” in the Fortress of Solitude. Supes eventually staggered out, powers depleted but on the mend, and showed up in a Kryptonian Battle suit off the Metropolis Harbour.
How long was he dead? About a year.
When did he die? Final Crisis, 2009
How did he die? The Dark Knight was finally killed by the dastardly Omega Beams of Apokolips overlord Darkseid (unfortunately both of those spellings are correct). Original Robin Dick Grayson took over the Batman mantle, and Bruce Wayne’s son Damian became the new Robin (in the subsequent Battle For the Cowl).
How did he come back? Darkseid didn’t kill him after all: the Omega Beams merely deposited him in the Palaeolithic era like one of those Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. The 6-issue Return of Bruce Wayne saw the displaced Dark Knight travelling through time to get back to the future (or the present). Look, just go with it. He finally rocked up back in Gotham to pick up where he left off, and Grayson took up duties as Nightwing again.
How long was he dead? About 18 months.
When did he die? A Death in the Family, 1989
How did he die? Famously, this was the result of a poll in which the comic’s readers voted whether the unpopular second Robin should live or die. It was close (there were only 62 votes between the yeses and the nos), but the result was a thumbs-down, and the Joker murdered him. He beat Todd to a pulp with a crowbar and then left him to burn in an exploding warehouse.
How did he come back? It was all a result of the massive ret-conning of Infinite Crisis in 2005-2006. The crossover epic was all about DC tidying up its sprawling multiple universes, which came down to Superboy-Prime changing reality by punching the walls of his paradise-dimension prison (really). One of the many results of that was Todd waking up in his grave (in Under the Hood). He wandered as a vagrant amnesiac for a while before being recognised by Talia Al-Ghul, who eventually dunked him in her father’s Lazarus Pit to restore him to full spec. He spent some time as Red Robin; an evil version of Nightwing; and mostly as masked-vigilante anti-hero Red Hood (and animated Bat-film Under The Red Hood is an excellent example of the man in action).
How long was he dead? 16 years.
When did she die? Crisis on Infinite Earths, 1985
How did she die? Supergirl was killed in a titanic battle with the universe-wobbling Anti-Monitor. Not only did she die, but her whole existence was deleted from history, so that most characters in the DC Universe no longer even remembered that they'd ever known her. Way harsh.
How did she come back? This is a mess. There were other Supergirls (clone Matrix; cop’s daughter Linda Danvers), but Kara showed up a few times as a disembodied soul, encountering Danvers and Boston Brand (Deadman). She returned properly in 2004, but with an entirely new origin. So she didn’t really come back to life: she died, then had never existed (but sort of did and was still around as either a protoplasmic entity created by non-evil Lex Luthor from a Pocket Universe or as a Christmas ghost), and then arrived for the first time again because Darkseid sent her to Earth. Then arrived for the first time differently. Again. Also, she’s called Power Girl on Earth 2, except when she's being called Power Girl on Earth Prime. Clear?
How long was she dead? For a given value of “dead”, about 19 years.
When did he die? The Death of Captain America, 2007
How did he die? Marvel's massive crossover series Civil War saw superhero-dom split down the middle following calls - led by Iron Man - for superheroes to register their identities and work for the government, following a tragedy caused by superheroes getting out of line. Captain America saw the drive for forced registration as un-American and came to lead the resistance movement, before finally surrendering when he found himself fighting close friends and the US itself. By this story, Steve Rogers was in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. There he fell victim to a scheme masterminded by the Red Skull and others, and was apparently killed by Crossbones and brainwashed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter.
How did he come back? Much like Batman, Rogers was revealed not to have been killed at all, but to be phasing in and out of space and time, revisiting previous events from his lifetime. The ailing Red Skull finally returned him to the present, planning to possess Rogers’ mind and body, but Rogers eventually fought him off. On his return he asked Bucky Barnes to take over as Captain America, and carried on as plain old Steve for a while. But he donned the uniform again during Fear Itself in 2011 and is once again back in the star-spangled saddle.
How long was he dead? Two years.
When did he die? Crisis On Infinite Earths, 1985
How did he die? He’s the man ultimately responsible for foiling the Anti-Monitor’s evil scheme. Allen created a speed vortex to suck up the power from the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon, but while it was successful, the power was too much for him to survive and he was killed in the course of securing victory.
How does he come back? Originally emerging, like Beckett’s Unnamable, as a disembodied mind from a void, Allen regained corporeal form in Final Crisis. It turns out his essence had been living in the Speed Force, a sort of Valhalla from which he always drew his speed power in the first place. The nefarious “Reverse Flash” Professor Eobard Thawne (AKA Zoom) is revealed to be responsible for drawing Barry back to reality. Because schemes.
How long was he dead? 23 years.
When did he die? Dying Wish, 2012
How did he die? Long revealed to have been terminally ill, Doctor Octopus put in motion one final plan, and swapped bodies with Peter Parker. Doc Ock’s consciousness survived in the healthy Parker’s body, while Parker died, his mind having been transferred to the Doc’s soon-to-be corpse. The event ended the 700-issue run of Amazing Spider-Man, and began a new series, Superior Spider-Man, with the Doc Ock Spidey in the saddle for a rather interesting run of stories examining his new state.
How did he come back? The memories Doc Ock absorbed from Peter Parker ended up re-constituting Parker’s whole personality, which still existed in a secret corner of the Doc’s mind. Eventually failing in a fight against the Green Goblin, Doc allowed Peter to take control back again, with no memory of what’s been happening since his supposed demise. Having deleted his own consciousness (and apart from some time-travel shenanigans instigated previously) Doc himself appears to be no more… for the time being.
How long was he dead? About 18 months
When did she die? Amazing Spider-Man, 1973
How did she die? Peter Parker’s other great love (along with Mary Jane Watson) fell victim to the Green Goblin and, tragically, to Spidey himself. The Goblin threw Gwen from the George Washington Bridge, and Spidey thwipped a web to save her, only for the laws of inertia to break her neck.
How did she come back? Supervillain The Jackal cloned her in 1975. The new Gwen was a perfect copy in every way but had no memory of the bridge incident. After some drama she went on to live her own life, but was captured by The High Evolutionary in 1988’s Evolutionary War. There have been several other clones in later years, some of whom even murder each other and use different names. It gets complicated.
How long was she dead? Well, technically forever, but her clone arrived after two years.
When did she die? Green Lantern. 1994
How did she die? Newspaper photographer Alexandra was the girlfriend of the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern incarnation. She was strangled and dismembered by supervillain Major Force, who then left her in Kyle’s fridge with a note reading “Surprise for you!” This is where the phrase “Women In Refrigerators” and the verb "fridging" (first coined by Gail Simone) comes from, referring to women being killed as a mere plot device in a male hero’s story and coming back, if they did at all, less powerful than before.
How did she come back? At one point there was some time switching and body-swapping between Kyle and other-Lantern Hal Jordan, during which Hal stopped DeWitt's death from ever having happened. But then it was all reversed again. Another time, Kyle seemed to summon an Alexandra from another dimension who was herself a Green Lantern, but she turned out to be merely a sentient construct of his Power Ring.
How long was she dead? She still is, but her major reappearance as her own Green Lantern was in 2000. So 6 years. Sort of.
When did he die? End of Days, 2012
How did he die? Years after he was last seen, Daredevil returned to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, only to be brutally and publicly murdered by his old arch-nemesis Bullseye. His final word, “Mapone”, sent journo Ben Urich on a mission to find out what he meant.
How did he come back? Like The Dark Knight Returns, End of Days is positioned as the final Daredevil story. Unlike DC's book, however, Marvel have explicitly called it canon, so it seems genuinely to be the death of Matt Murdock. All other Daredevil stories are simply set before this one, including crossover event Shadowland, where he commited suicide to get rid of a demon possessing him, but was immediately resurrected, presumably by ninja Hand techniques.
How long was he dead? In publication terms, never. End of Days came out alongside the ongoing series, and Matt Murdock’s adventures continue. In Shadowland he was dead for three pages.
When did he die? Fear Itself, 2011
How did he die? It was in a titanic battle with Asgardian fear god The Serpent. There was a funeral and everything, and Thor was replaced by new thunder god Tanarus, who was really the no-good troll Ulik.
How does he come back? Ulik’s Tanarus glamour made everyone forget that Thor ever existed, but there were hold-outs like Loki and Karnilla. Thor was eventually retrieved from a limbo where dead, forgotten gods go, by Loki and the Silver Surfer, whereupon he gave Ulik a good kicking and sent him on his way.
How long was he dead? 7 months.
When did he die? Double Edge: Omega, 1995
How did he die? The tough, canny Fury was shot by the tougher, nearly-as-canny Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher. Fury had the murderous vigilante apprehended and imprisoned on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. While there, a hypnotherapy session went awry and Castle ended up believing that Fury was responsible for the death of his family (and hence his whole Punisher life). So Castle escaped and blew Fury away with, you might say, great anger and furious vengeance.
How does he come back? Fury’s allies all believed there was a conspiracy afoot, but were finally convinced of his death by his actual funeral. But then it turned out he wasn’t dead at all, and The Punisher only killed one of his Life Model Decoy robots. That old saw, eh? This may all sound familiar to some of you, but we'll say no more to avoid spoilers.
How long was he dead? 3 years.
When did he die? The Avengers, 1968
How did he die? Towards the end of World War II, Captain America and his sidekick Bucky were on the trail of the villain Baron Zemo, who was trying to destroy an important experimental drone plane. The plane was launched with a time-bomb aboard, and Bucky was presumed killed when he failed to defuse it and the plane blew up. The same explosion threw Cap into the ice below, to be defrosted in the future.
How did he come back? Immediately after the plane exploded, big bad Russians found Bucky also preserved in the ice, minus an arm, and took him back to Moscow. They made him bionic, and employed him for Soviet black-ops. He had amnesia, so he didn’t mind. And when they weren’t using him they kept him in cryogenic suspension, which is why he still looked young when he caught up with Cap again…
How long was he dead? In story terms, almost never: in publishing terms, 37 years.
When did he die? The Final Solution, 1988
How did he die? Just to break the DC / Marvel oligopoly, here's one from 2000AD, who are actually quite respected for generally leaving dead characters in the ground. Except for Johnny Alpha of mutant anti-heroes Strontium Dog. He died to save his comrades from the mutant-hating Kreelers, offering himself as a blood sacrifice to a monstrous skeletal dragon created by Lyran sorcerers, in order to open a portal to safety for everyone else.
How did he come back? Johnny continued to appear in sporadic flashback stories that took place before his death, but was actually resurrected in recent years. The angle was that the events of his death had been unreliably narrated before: his body hadn’t been destroyed at all and albino goth Feral had in fact brought him through the portal. Stronts Middenface and Precious went on a quest to find the truth, during which they uncovered his body and took him to the powerful Stone Wizards for revival. His adventures have continued…
How long was he dead? 22 years.
When did she die? The Dark Phoenix Saga, 1980
How did she die? After the X-Men were trapped aboard a crashing space shuttle, Jean sacrified herself to save them, piloting the shuttle to a crash landing thanks to her combination of telepathy (to read a trained astronaut's mind) and telekinesis (to steady the flight) while everyone else sheltered from deadly radiation. But Jean emerged powered-up from the disaster, as a new entity called Phoenix who had planet-destroying powers (literally; she flew to some other solar system and killed billions). With the cosmic authorities well peeved, she and all the X-Men were taken to the Blue Area of the moon and forced to fight. To save them all, Jean regained control and asked Cyclops to help her die, sacrificing herself for Phoenix's crimes.
How did she come back? Well, it turns out that Jean was spirited away and secreted in an underwater cocoon to heal from her injuries in the crash, while Phoenix took her form and imbued this copy with her "essence". The Fantastic Four dug her up and she eventually rejoined her old teammates - incidentally prompting old boyfriend Cyclops to abandon his wife and son and run off with her. Oh, and the wife he abandoned turned out to be another clone of Jean created because of Reasons, who eventually became the Goblin Queen. Their family get-togethers are awkward.
How long was she dead? Six years.