It is an cliché by now that any story about a comic book character’s “death” should be taken with a a grain of salt. However, sometimes the end of the character is not only a great story, but a symbol of growth for every single character around them. That is all undone, however, when the character is inevitably brought back for no good reason. The following are the top ten most egregious examples of characters that were better off in their graves.
10. Captain America (Steve Rogers)
Death: Captain America #25 (March 2007)
Return: Captain America: Reborn #1 (August 2009)
As Anthony Hopkins said in Legends of the Fall, Steve Rogers “was a soldier and soldiers die.” Captain America’s shooting death, on the steps of a courthouse, had the look of a scene from The People vs. Larry Flynt. It was also emblematic of a very real time, when America was at a crossroads and needed to re-evaluate what it meant by “hero.” Of course, it was all undone by a resurrection and a goofy “reality warping bullet” theory that not even the biggest conspiracy nut could buy into. Of course, this had nothing to do with the new Captain America movie, right? You can almost hear Jon Lovitz saying “yeah…that’s the ticket…”
9. Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
Death: Green Arrow #101 (October 1995)
Return: Green Arrow #1 (April 2001)
There was something altogether fitting about Oliver Queen sacrificing himself to stop eco-terrorists. Queen was a left-leaning radical liberal, whose philosophy was actually pretty close to the people that he died to stop. Furthermore, Queen’s replacement was his son Conner Hawke, who had been raised by monks. Hawke possessed all of Queen’s skills, and none of his vices. Hawke actually allowed the comic to go in a compelling new direction.
Queen was blown up in an airplane but, miraculously sprayed “spare atoms” onto Superman’s uniform. Apparently, Superman has never heard of dry cleaning. An insane Hal Jordan was then able to use those spare atoms to resurrect Queen as a poor homeless man with amnesia. This was after Queen shot Jordan straight through the heart with an arrow, by the way. Hal’s a forgiving kind of guy.
8. Johnny Storm (The Human Torch)
Death: Fantastic Four #587 (March 2011)
Return: Fantastic Four #600 (November 2011)
In 1961, Storm was a hot-headed frat boy with a penchant for daring and bad decisions. In 2011, Torch had evolved into a resurrected hot-headed frat boy with a penchant for daring and bad decisions. Why? Well, we’re not sure. Fantastic Four stories tend to take more time than the History of the Catholic Church in the Middles Ages to explain. Suffice it to say, Johnny Storm died, willed Spider-Man as his replacement, and was then resurrected. Six months later, Storm had a Negative Zone hangover.
7. Hal Jordan (Green Lantern)
Death: Final Night #4 (November 1996)
Return as Spectre: Day of Judgement #5 (November 1999)
Return as a Living Green Lantern: Green Lantern: Rebirth #5 (March 2005)
DC Comics did everything that they could to get rid of Hal Jordan. First, they made him a villain named Parallax. Next, they made him a hero with one final sacrifice to re-ignite the Sun. They tried to compromise by bring him out of Purgatory as a Spirit of Vengeance called the Spectre. At this point, even Hal himself probably wanted to just stay dead. Fans protested this charade for nearly a decade until Jordan was brought back young, healthy, and with a more confusing timeline than that of Friday the 13th’s Jason.
6. Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin)
Death: Amazing Spider-Man #122 (July 1973)
Return: Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75 (December 1996)
The death of Green Goblin, following the death of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, is one of the defining moments in Spider-Man history. His return, decades later, was written in to end the colossally bad Clone Sage that the Spider-verse is still recovering from. There is no “jumping the shark” moment quite like Osborn ripping off his shirt to reveal a huge scar. In that visual, Spider-Man fans learned you can have your heart ripped completely out, and still live. Somewhere, off in the distance, Kraven the Hunter is still cackling. Norman Osborn coming alive was a ludicrous resolution to an even more ludicrous storyline.
5. Jean Grey (Marvel Girl, Phoenix)
Death (as Marvel Girl:) Uncanny X-Men #100 (August 1976)
Return (as Phoenix:) Uncanny X-men #101 (September 1976)
Death (as Dark Phoenix:) Uncanny X-men #137 (September 1980)
Return (as some sort of cocooned pod thing:) Avengers #263 (January 1986)
Return (as a non-Phoenix force Jean Grey:) Fantastic Four #286 (January 1986)
When you have a name like Phoenix, dying and coming back is kind of…your thing. Jean Grey seems to have frequent flyer miles to various netherworlds. Grey sacrificed herself to save the X-Men in Uncanny # 100. Grey (or rather the Phoenix behaving like Grey) sacrificed itself (or rather the shell of a fake hot redhead’s body) to save a universe. When Grey herself returned, she worked up from the bottom of the ocean and arrived to one of the most confusing hangovers ever. She had not only been dead, but her boyfriend had actually married a clone of her in the meantime. After that, things went from noble to ridiculous in damn near record time.
4. Aunt May Parker
Death: Amazing Spider-Man #400 (April 1995)
Return: Peter Parker: Spider-Man (November 1998)
The title of Amazing Spider-Man #400 was called “The Gift.” It was a beautifully written comic book masterpiece, in which May was healthy just long enough to enjoy her family. She finally told Peter that she knew he was Spider-Man all along. It ended with a beautifully recited line from Peter Pan.
The “real” Aunt May was later found to be a prisoner of Norman Osborn. At the time of May’s “death,” Osborn was also universally accepted to be dead. The woman who died was revealed to be an actress. The actress in question really died though, and was buried as May Parker. Talk about dedication to one’s role; Marlon Brando might give her an honorary award in Heaven for that one.
3. James “Bucky” Barnes
Died: Presumably in World War 2
Death First Detailed: Avengers #56 (September 1968)
Return First Shown: Captain America #8 (September 2005)
At one point, comic book fans was referred to it as the “Bucky Clause.” The only characters who died, and had the dignity to stay dead, were James “Bucky” Barnes, Ben Parker, Bruce Wayne’s parents, and Captain Mar-vell. Bucky’s death was an essential part of Captain America’s development. After coming back in Avengers # 4, Captain America was overcome with the guilt of Bucky’s death. Rogers fought not only for America, but also for Bucky’s memory. In 2005, the revelation was made that Bucky had been saved years ago, and was now the “Winter Soldier.” When Captain America “died,” Barnes took over the role. When Steve Rogers “came back,” Barnes stayed in the Captain America role. Good thing that decades of guilt can go away a little communication over a simple misunderstanding. The worst part? The next Captain America movie is subtitled “Winter Soldier.”
2. Jason Todd (Robin II)
Death: Batman #428 (December 1988)
Return: Batman #638 (May 2005)
It is really possible, on some level, that DC Comics never really had the right to bring Jason Todd back. His death was voted on by people willing to pay a 1-900 number for the right to decide his fate. After losing a gladiatorial decision, as well as a tire iron beating by the Joker, Todd’s death was, and remains, one of the indelible points of Batman’s existence. Todd’s costume hanging empty in the Batcave had more resonance than Todd ever did.
The whole situation gets even stupider once you realize the writer who brought back Todd admitted that he was more interested in writing Batman’s reaction, than bothering to properly explain why Todd was still alive. Clearly, 2005 was not a good year for editorial decisions.
1. Clark Kent (Superman)
Death: Superman #75 (January 1993)
Return: Adventures of Superman #500 (June 1993)
Batman really said it best when he told Superman that the last thing Supes had done to inspire anyone was “to die.” After a titanic battle with one of the few villains able to match Superman in strength (Doomsday,) Superman and his foe both died on the field of battle. Superman is a great character, but there are not a lot of stories about him that people readily remember. They remember the origin, that he loves Lois Lane, Lex Luthor being the main enemy, and his death at the hands of Doomsday. This is why there are never more than two good Superman movies in a row. This is also why everyone is clamoring for a Doomsday movie.
Case in point: we could tell you how Superman came back, but you probably wouldn’t remember it, anyway.