Top 10 Dead Comic Book Characters (Who Should Have Stayed Dead)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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return-of-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

aunt-may-death

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

death-of-bucky

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-of-jason-todd

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)

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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.

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16 Comments

  1. Agree with everything on this list EXCEPT Oliver Queen. Most super-hero resurrections are pure cheese done solely to increase the numbers for various books, but Kevin Smith’s careful handling of the Queen resurrection was handled very well.

    Short gist: right before he went to fight (and die in battle) against the Sun-Eater, Hal Jordan talks to Oliver Queen in the afterlife and tells him he wants to set things right again. Queen allows him to resurrect his body, but only if his soul remains in Heaven. Queen is resurrected with his memories wiped back to the time when he was the happiest, before the events of the Longbow Hunters when everything got “gritty”, and is found and cared for by a guy named Stanley Dover, an older man who provides funding for shelters for homeless children. Queen, along with the help of the Justice League and a new Speedy, tries to find out what’s gone wrong with the help of Jason Blood. Blood finds out that Queen has no soul and is a “husk”, meaning that a demon from hell can occupy Queen’s body. Blood turns into Etrigan and tries to destroy Queen, who’s rescued just in time by The Spectre (now being played by… Hal Jordan) who introduces body-Queen to soul-Queen to try to get them to reunite. Body-Queen is sent back to earth and is captured by Stanley, who’s revealed to be a black magician who’s been trying to find a way to extend his own life by attracting the only demon he’s personally aware of, thanks to his grandson who’s been kidnapped and hidden and fed blood for years. However, The demon shows up right around the same time that Connor Hawke (aka Ollie’s son) and Soul-Oliver does and turns out to be one of those demons who’s escaped hell and doesn’t like evil very much. He saves the day and, most importantly, the grandson, sending him away before eating Stanley. Queen’s reunited with himself and his son.

    In other words: it’s a complex tale with a mix of sci-fi, comic reality, philosophy, and supernatural stuff you don’t normally get from your run-of-the-mill superhero resurrection. I’d say replace Ollie with the Spider-Man Clone Saga.

  2. Thanks for the input! Norman Osborn’s resurrection was a direct result of the writer’s trying to write themselves out of the Clone Saga. Naturally, everyone will have opinions on this. On Oliver Queen, I will mention that his passing in comics led to one of the best moments in comics to me. There was a ‘plus one’ team up between Batman and Arsenal who was the former Speedy during that period of time. At one point, Arsenal is carryong on about growing up and Batman interrupts him and says “I miss him too!” It was not only a rare break into emotion while Batman was in character as Batman but it was also signifigant for me at that point and time. A friend of mine from high school had lost his mother and we had not talked for a few years. The guy was so shattered by his Mom’s death that I did not actually receive a notice that she died. He ended up writing me a letter around Christmastime saying that it has happened. I never knew how I felt about that until Batman interrupted Arsenal and said “I miss him too!” That, to me, was real. Then they go ahead and bring him back anyway and while it did not really diminish the power of the scene to me, it did in my mind earn a spot on the list. At any rate, thanks again for taking the time to comment and interact.

  3. Dude, Winter Soldier is considered one of the greatest Captain America storylines ever. And because Bucky took over for Captain America when he died, having both of them on this list is asinine.

    • “Greatest Captain America storylines ever?” What are you, 13 years old? There are 75 years of Cap stories. Bucky has been back for 5 minutes. I’m waiting for him to turn out to be a clone and gotten rid of.

  4. The last truly great Captain America storyline in my opinion was Earth. X.. That is of course up for debate. However, it is consistent to have both on the list. Consider that Captain America is at its heart a story about soldiers. To paraphrase Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall. They are soldiers and soldiers die. Of all books, Captain America should be respectful of that fact? Captain America being unfrozen and out of his time period is an undeniable part of the mythos but there should have been a modern Captain America introduced for modern day and both left dead.

  5. This list is good, but in my view, if all of these guys remained dead comic books would be very different and not in a good way. People like Bucky and Jason Todd can remain dead but if superman and captain america, the main creations of both DC and Marvel stay dead the avengers and the Justice Leauge would feel very weird. Not to mention that the fantastic four would not be the same without Johnny Storm and the Green Lantern is one of the best selling books in DC and the reason is Geoff Johns who brought back Hal Jordan.

  6. Don’t mind the list but to subtitle it “Who should’ve stayed dead” and including Supes on the list is just silly. You’re telling me they should’ve kept a character who is the face of comics to pop culture, was already about 60 years old, the “original superhero” (outside of pulp heroes and ancient god myths) in the grave? I’m sure it was an honest mistake but a mistake IT IS!

    • can we at least agree they should have written a better resurrection story for him. It was one of the worst i have ever read

  7. Big Fan of this list. I hate characters that don’t stay dead – there’s a sentance I never thought I’d write.

    i remember reading the jason Todd / Red Hood storyline and slinging the comic book across the room in disgust. Grrrr!

  8. André M. de Souza on

    With all respect, Jean Grey as Phoenix was a avant gard idea (a female cosmic heroine).Point for Claremont & Cockrum. Byrne is the bastard wich kill the Phoenix of Billions of Dollars…In any case, Phoenix (as human myth) is respected outside U.S…. If Marvel don’t have any respect the eldest fans and world mythology, patience. And, c’mon, we’re talkin’ ’bout a comic book death.
    I still prefeer read my ond X Men stuff than that modern New X Men crap…
    … sorry.

    😉

    • in all honesty never complain about a character named phoenix coming back from the dead. You can complain about the way it happened but not that it did. that is just stupid

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