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4 superheroes who came back from the dead (in ridiculous ways)

Avengers vs X-Men AvX Scott Summers Cyclops kills Professor X Xavier

2012 had two nasty surprises for Marvel comics fans: Cyclops killed X-Men founder Charles Xavier, and Doctor Octopus beat Spider-Man in a game of Trading Spaces, leaving Peter to die in Doc Ock’s withered body.

Bummer, huh? Professor X was old and part of a team, but Spidey was young and solo, making the loss that much more potent.

No more Amazing Spider-Man – except for that identically-titled film franchise they’re making a sequel for.

If Marvel expects to drive new readership to its comics by catching them at the cineplex, how long do you think they’ll keep their movie heroes out of the pages of their comics?

Plenty of other superheroes have come back from the dead: why not Peter Parker?

Death and rebirth narratives form some of the most lasting stories in any given mythology. Superheroes are the modern mythology, and they die and come back all the time. So chin up, Spidey fans: the following big names have all died and come back to life – sometimes more than once.

1. Superman

Superman vs Doomsday Death of Superman DC Comics

The Death

You already knew this one, right? Hell, Our Lady Peace wrote a song about it.

You know it because it was thought to be impossible: the invincible, supremely powerful, supremely good Superman never fails and never gets hurt. Sure, Kryptonite make him sweaty, but that’s because it makes him feel human when he is used to being so much more.

And that’s exactly why he had to die. He had become so strong that there was no way to keep his stories interesting.

But if DC Comics showed that the Man of Steel could die, anyone could die, and anything could happen.

That’s why they threw Doomsday at him in 1992. Doomsday defeated the entire Justice League, and Supes had to sacrifice himself to bring the big brute down.

Death of Superman with Lois Lane

Jimmy Olsen, your hero just died – why are you taking pictures?

DC killed Superman and instantly released the storyline in paperback. All four Superman titles then went on hiatus before reappearing three months later, with each title starring a different hero claiming (wrongly) to be Superman. One was a clone; one was a cyborg; one was a reformed villain; one was Steel.

Shaquielle O'Neal Steel superhero

A.K.A. Shaquille O’Neal.

The Return

Remember that old Monty Python sketch where the dead parrot’s not dead – he’s just resting?

That’s what DC did to bring Superman back.

Essentially, Superman was only badly beaten, not dead; after the fight with Doomsday, Superman was put in a regeneration machine and left at the Fortress of Solitude for a big long nap. When he awoke he was weakened, wearing a black costume, and in serious need of a haircut.

Superman with long hair and a black costume

His hair is long and he’s wearing black. He must mean business!

Superman joined his posers, saved the world with them and regained his powers. He got his old costume back, but he kept his hair long for years because he liked it.

So basically, the greatest long-term impact of Superman’s death was a change in hairstyle that was reversed when he married Lois Lane.

2. Captain America

Captain America Steve Rogers Marvel Comics Civil War

The Death

Marvel’s 2006-2007 Civil War storyline forced the entire Marvel Universe of superheroes to pick sides over a new federal law demanding that all masked heroes register their identities with the American government.

Iron Man Tony Stark became the face of superhuman registration, while his longtime Avenger ally Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, became the leader of a resistance movement.

After a long and bloody rebellion, Captain America surrendered to Iron Man and was taken into custody, where he was gunned down by sometime girlfriend Sharon Carter. Carter had been brainwashed by Cap’s archenemy, the Red Skull.

Marvel Civil War - the death of Captain America Steve Rogers

Note the bloody bullet holes – they’ll be unimportant later.

Like with most of the characters on this list, someone had to fill the A-lister hero’s shoes with him “dead,” so Iron Man convinced Bucky Barnes to become the new Captain America. Steve Rogers’ body was taken to the Arctic and refrozen in the spot where the Avengers originally found him.

The Return

For a storyline all about American freedoms, a dead Captain America presents a pretty compelling final image.

But in Marvel’s eyes, the emotional impact wasn’t worth the complete loss of Steve Rogers.

To bring him back, Marvel explained that all those bullet holes were from a special phasing gun that sent Steve Rogers’ consciousness hurtling through time and space, jumping between moments from the past and future. In the mean time, Red Skull found Cap’s body and transferred his own mind into it.

Lindsay Lohan Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday

This movie provides a lot of creative inspiration for the Marvel folks.

Cap eventually found his way back from his time travel vacation and had a mental mind battle with Red Skull for control of their shared body. Captain America won, bounced Red Skull’s consciousness out to a robot body, then helped the Avengers defeat the Red Skull robot.

Bucky continued on as Captain America for a while, and Steve Rogers received a presidential pardon for that whole Civil War thing. He eventually took the Captain America title back, and everything went back to normal.

3. Robin (Jason Todd)

Batman a Death in the Family Jason Todd Robin's death

The Death

Jason Todd, the second Robin, started out pretty good. He was an enthusiastic circus kid with blonde hair who took over as Batman’s sidekick when Dick Grayson became Nightwing.

Jason Todd with dyed hair as Robin, the Boy Wonder, with Batman

Unfortunately for Jason, Batman prefers his boys with black hair.

The first version of Jason was a Dick Grayson copy with a near-identical backstory, so when DC retconned their universe, Jason got a revamp.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline in the ’80s, Jason Todd was recast as a troubled street urchin who gets taken in and trained as Batman’s new sidekick. The new version of Jason was angrier, more rebellious, and a dick in general. He soon became a lightning rod for fan hatred, so DC Comics laid his life on the line in a publicity stunt.

In 1988, the Joker captured Robin and beat the hell out of him with a crowbar, then left him to die in a warehouse filled with explosives.

In an unprecedented act of fan involvement, DC set up a hotline for fans to vote on whether Jason Todd should live or die. The final vote was 5,343 to 5,271 in favour of killing him. The longstanding rumour is that one guy with an auto-dialer cast about 200 swing votes for killing Jason. Still, it was enough.

Batman carried Jason’s limp body out of the demolished building, and h hase carried the emotional scars of that failure ever since. Batman had failed Robin; Bruce Wayne had allowed a young boy to die at the hands of a maniac.

It became a defining psychological event for the Dark Knight.

Batman's Batcave memorial to Jason Todd's Robin costume

Jason Todd’s memorial in the Batcave.

The Return

Jason Todd stayed dead for decades, but in 2003, an older version of him appeared in Batman as part of the Hush storyline. That older Jason turned out to be Clayface messing with Batman, but fans responded well to the idea. A few years later, Jason came back for real.

Now take a deep breath, because this one doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Remember in the Superman movie when he reversed the rotation of the earth and somehow rewound time? Well, this is an even bigger stretch.

Superboy-Prime – an alternate universe version of Superman – punched reality in the face, and the tremor brought Jason Todd back to life.

Superboy-Prime punches reality retcon

Take that, reality!

Jason woke up and was eventually taken in by Talia al Ghul. Talia trained him as an assassin out of her own devotion to Batman, and when Jason was ready, he returned to Gotham to take revenge on Batman for not ever killing the Joker.

Jason Todd took the Joker’s former alter ego, the Red Hood, for himself, and became a lethal, gun-toting vigilante. He and Batman eventually made up and Jason rejoined the Bat-family as an occasional helper, but he remained a black sheep compared to Batgirl and the other Robins.

Jason Todd as the Red Hood DC Comics New 52

Jason Todd as the Red Hood.

Jason became popular enough to headline his own comic, Red Hood and the Outlaws, with the New 52 relaunch. Apparently, readers hate a douchey kid in green tights, but they like a douchey adult with a mask and a bomber jacket.

All in all, a change for the better.

4. Jean Grey

X-Men's Jean Grey as the Phoenix - Marvel Comics

The Death

If you grew up in the ’90s, you know the deal from the TV show, and if you’re a longtime X-Men reader, you know that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Jean Grey’s death(s) have been the backdrop for every X-Men story for the last thirty years.

The deaths start with the Phoenix Saga. Jean crashed a shattered spaceship into a lake to save the other X-Men, but was saved from death when she was possessed by the all-powerful cosmic Phoenix Force. The Phoenix supercharged Jean’s telekinetic and psychic powers, and gave her a new costume to boot.

Jean Grey as the Phoenix Marvel Comics X-Men

Fun Fact: DeviantArt LOVES Jean Grey’s Phoenix.

The Phoenix blended itself with Jean’s personality, but it had never experienced human emotion before. When it got its first taste of evil, it went nuts and became the Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix killed a whole lot of people, blew up an entire solar system and nearly destroyed the entire universe before Jean’s consciousness took control long enough to commit suicide.

The Return

Turns out that Dark Phoenix chick wasn’t Jean Grey at all.

That’s right: the old personality switcheroo again!

Later issues explained that when the Phoenix came to Jean’s aid on the crashing ship, it simply copied her body, convinced itself it was Jean, and put the real Jean Grey in a healing cocoon to sit at the bottom of the lake.

When the Dark Phoenix died, the Phoenix Force went back to the real Jean and tried to join with her, but she told it to get lost.

Like a jilted ex-boyfriend who tries to date your sister, the Phoenix Force bonded with a mindless Jean Grey clone and became Madelyne Pryor. Ms. Madelyne married Cyclops and had a kid with him, then went insane and became a villain when the real Jean Grey rejoined the X-Men.

Jean later fought her clone and absorbed the Phoenix Force out of Madelyne – including all the Dark Phoenix memories. She took on the Phoenix name and costume again, and married Cyclops herself.

Cyclops X-Men Scott Summers

“Crazy or not, I’ve got a thing for redheads.”

Jean died again in 2006 when she went all Phoenix on a traitorous mutant at the X-Men school. That Jean hasn’t come back yet, but writer Brian Michael Bendis time-traveled a teenage Jean Grey – along with four other young X-Men – to the present for Marvel NOW’s All-New X-Men. Young Jean got a crash course in her future history, and she wasn’t too impressed.

Jean Grey Marvel Girl All-New X-Men

“I die this many times?”

Given that returning to her time meant enduring multiple deaths and watching her boyfriend go evil, young Jean decided to stay in the present so she could set things right.

Here’s hoping she goes home before she gets killed again.

And There’s More…

There are too many resurrected superheroes to count.

Bucky Barnes, Hawkeye, Green Lantern, and even Batman have all been more or less “dead” at various times. Cloning, time travel, body doubles and mind transfers are just a few of the ways comic book writers work their way around it.

Half of DC’s characters died all at once when writer Geoff Johns killed them off in his Blackest Night Green Lantern event, only to bring them all back with the Brightest Day follow-up arc. Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl were among the many to get a second shot at life.

Yes, Peter Parker is dead.

No, he won’t be dead forever. That you can guarantee.

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