The Most Memorable Superhero Resurrections in Comics
It’s official – the superhero resurrection is back in vogue. With events in motion to return Steve Rogers as Captain America, the “Rebirth” of Barry Allen, the inevitable reappearance of Bruce Wayne as Batman
, and a phalanx of resurrected DC Comics characters ready to wreak havoc on the DC Universe as Black Lanterns, it’s pretty safe to declare that this decade-long drought of characters dying and (mostly) staying dead is now over.
Superheroes find their origins in myth and religion, and the rebirth is a motif found in stories from pretty much every ancient culture, from the tale of the Phoenix to the story of Jesus. It’s what Joseph Campbell referred to as “The Crossing of the Return Threshold,” the capstone of the hero’s arc and an integral part of the Ur-story.
What matters is the execution – the who, what, and why of reincarnation – and as we step into this resurrection renaissance, the readers, editors, and creators have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. So while nearly every comics character seems to have had cheated death at one time or another — often in very forgettable ways — we took a quick look back at some of the most notable returns from the grave. Just not Jean Grey.SUPERMAN
It all starts with Superman. While there were certainly a few instances of characters getting killed and brought back before the mid-nineties, the death of Superman was a massive success that grabbed mainstream media coverage and got hundreds of thousands of non-readers into comic book stores to buy poly-bagged copies of “Superman” #75.
The subsequent success of his reappearance a few months later opened the floodgates and sent a tide of reanimated corpses crashing against the industry’s shores; it seemed as if you couldn’t go more than a month without tripping over a character returning from the grave. After years of momentary deaths and manufactured events, readers got sick of it, with cries echoing out in letter columns that “dead characters should stay dead!” and “coming back to life isn’t realistic!”
Realistic? Getting tired of seeing a character die and return in a gimmicky, sloppy mess of a story is perfectly understandable and the resulting “resurrection fatigue” makes perfect sense. But, ahem, since when do superheroes have anything to do with reality? If in comics a flying man can defeat a giant, star-shaped alien, why is it so crazy for him to conquer death?
Superman died at the bone-spurred hands of Doomsday, a living weapon from outer space, and as far as these things go, it was a good death. Four replacement supermen appear; most readers believe the Cyborg Superman to be the real deal. One of the replacements, the Last Son of Krypton, is actually reformed villain The Eradicator. He steals Supes’ body from its resting place and dumps him in a “regeneration matrix” inside the Fortress of Solitude. Eventually, the one true Kal-El reappears, complete with mullet. Overall, this isn’t bad, but there is one major flaw with this storyline: Lex Luthor had practically nothing to do with it. If you’re going to kill the most iconic fictional character in history, his nemesis has got to be the one pulling the trigger.
Stabbed with her own sai by assassin Bullseye, Elektra Natchios’ body is stolen by mystical ninjas The Hand, who attempt to resurrect her as an undead instrument of wrath. Daredevil and former Hand member Stone halt the attempt, but DD’s love makes her “clean,” so Stone brings her back later anyway. Never ones to give up, the Hand kill her and resurrect her again to be their leader, but she’s killed again by Echo of the New Avengers. And then it turns out she’s a Skrull. Which is pretty cool – it kicked off “Secret Invasion” while dealing with the controversial matter of Marvel bringing her back in the first place, which Frank Miller was highly opp-wait, what? The real Elektra was on the Skrull ship? So they brought her back anyway? Again? Unh. Let’s just move on.
The steel-skinned X-Man Colossus gave his life to help find a cure for the Legacy Virus, a sort of superhero AIDS that had killed his sister Illyana. Some years later, it’s revealed that Ord of Breakworld intercepted the body before being incinerated, revived Colossus, and tortured him for a really long time. Now, the whole “body was stolen but nobody knew” thing is pretty cheap, but the whole of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s “Astonishing X-Men” run where he came back was so fantastic, nobody really cared.
GREEN LANTERN (HAL JORDAN)
One of the longest-running death-and-return arcs, this is also easily the most controversial. In the wake of the “Death of Superman” storyline, Mongul and Cyborg/Hank Henshaw destroy Hal Jordan’s hometown Coast City. Jordan tries to rebuild, but the Guardians of Oa deny him because they consider it an act for his own personal gain.
Jordan flips out, kills a bunch of Green Lanterns, and destroys the central power battery, becoming the hyper-powered villain Parallax. After a few more nefarious acts, a Sun-Eater attacks Earth’s sun and Jordan sacrifices himself to re-ignite it, redeeming himself and returning as the Spectre. You with me so far? Too bad. It’s later revealed that Parallax is in fact an evil alien entity freed from the central power battery when Jordan destroyed it. Parallax once again tries to corrupt Jordan/The Spectre, but with a supreme effort of will, Jordan shrugs it off, rejoins his soul to his body, reclaims his power ring, and brushes some Just for Men into his temples.
Turning Jordan into a psychotic supervillain was really hated at the time, and drove a lot of fans away, but when you look back on this whole story it was actually kind of worth it. Geoff Johns not only found a way to bring Jordan back, he exonerated him, made him younger, moved him back to the forefront of the DCU, made the stupid Yellow Impurity cool and interesting, and set up some pretty gargantuan storylines with major ramifications along the way. There’d be no “Blackest Night” without all the stuff that came before it.
Those are our favorite superheroes who rose from the grave, but there are plenty of others — tell us yours in the comments!