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It’s no secret that comic book characters come back from the dead (or seeming to be dead) with impressive regularity. There are reasons for it, too. Killing off characters is very tempting both to creators — who enjoy the dramatic oomph deaths provide — and for publishers — who enjoy the sales oomph. Still, when good characters are killed, they are always some fans who wish for their return. When the characters return, there is usually buzz and sales bumps (though that can be quite short-lived as characters returns have become increasingly expected). Back-from-the-dead characters have a long history in comics.
So as we approach Easter Sunday, I started thinking about which returns from the dead in comic books have been the greatest. In some cases, “dead” is a relative term. Still, I tried to focus here on characters that were presumed not living. So that excluded more general “returns,” such as the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, meeting his Silver Age counterpart, Barry Allen.
Honestly, if we’re talking about X-Men, it’s easier to mention who hasn’t been killed and returned than who has. Nightcrawler is a recent example. So there are many mutants to choose from in this category. Some of the returns are not all that popular — such as Magneto being revealed as Xorn or Jean Grey’s multiple returns. However, if we’re going for dramatic returns, it’s hard to top riding a giant space bullet. Although Kitty was never “officially” dead, many assumed that after she fused to a giant bullet, she was. However, she just was riding through space phasing the bullet to avoid killing planets until she was brought back to Earth by Magneto. Although this may sound ridiculous, the story arcs where she left, handled by Joss Whedon in Astonishing X-Men, and returned, by Matt Fraction in Uncanny X-Men, were both emotionally strong.
When I was thinking about comic book resurrections, it was interesting that so many of the good ones are heroes. It’s actually pretty common for villains to disappear, be presumed dead or actually dead. There are some returns that are noteworthy, but I picked Norman Osborn here because he was gone for many years, after his glider impaled him in Amazing Spider-Man #122 (one issue after he dropped Gwen Stacy to her death). He was a very significant villain who stayed dead for over 20 years of real world time until he turned in the 1990’s. Although many dislike his return and the explanation (the goblin serum healed him!), I do feel like a number of interesting things have been done with Osborn since his return, earning him a spot on the list.
Now that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a commercial and critical hit, the return of James “Bucky” Barnes seems obvious. However, for decades Bucky Barnes was a symbol of an earlier, more innocent time, when superheroes had young sidekicks. There wasn’t a whole lot of push for the return of Captain America’s World War II buddy. However, Ed Brubaker had the foresight to reinvent Barnes as the brainwashed super-soldier assassin The Winter Soldier in 2005. Unlike many resurrections, this one was well planned and gradually revealed. The Winter Soldier, both the character and the storyline, was so popular that it was the focus of the 2nd Captain America movie. Considering how many great stories Cap has had, that’s saying something.
The return of Barnes is linked for me to the return of another sidekick in 2005: Jason Todd. Todd was so unpopular as Robin that fans voted in 1988 to have him killed by the Joker. There are many similarities between the Todd and Barnes returns. They are both former teen sidekicks who return as mysterious villains with memory damage. Like Barnes, Todd’s return as The Red Hood inspired a film, the DC Direct animated feature Batman: Under the Red Hood.
The milestone comic event of the 1990s was the Death of Superman, a comic that made newspaper and nightly news headlines. At the time, the return of dead comic book characters wasn’t assumed as much as it is now. Although the creators of the Superman comics always intended to bring Superman back, they took their time, focusing on four characters who were attempting take the mantel of the Man of Steel. This storyline, called “Reign of the Supermen” and later collected as “The Return of Superman,” has become of one of the most popular Superman stories of the last 25 years. In many ways, the death and return of Superman ushered in the age of the mega-death (not to be confused with Megadeth) in comics and the mega-return. Although the trend has become overused, the return of Superman still is one of the best resurrections in comics.
The best resurrection in comics history is one of the first: Captain America’s return in Avengers #4. The cover of the issue, which was published in 1963, is one of the most iconic covers in Avengers and Marvel Comics history. The character, who had been so popular in the U.S. during World War II, even punching Hitler before the States joined the war, had long been dormant after the drop in excitement about superheroes following the end of WWII. Although Captain America didn’t die in his original comic, he would have been much older or dead by the 1960’s Marvel Comics. So I still consider his discovery in ice and thawing at the beginning of the Avengers series to be a resurrection. It’s also fitting that the Avenges #4 was drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby, who created Captain America with writer Joe Simon.
What do you think? Which other characters who returned from presumed or real death deserve a place on this list?