When superhero farewell becomes superhero welcome back
As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” But “Avengers” fans will have to see how closely the “death” part ultimately applies to the casualty-heavy action of “Infinity War” and its epic continuation, “Endgame.” After all, the superhero genre has always been pretty out of this world, hasn’t it?
Unless you’re part of the subculture, you’d be surprised by how often Marvel and DC comics have killed off marquee characters. It’s a move they can generally count on to generate a healthy sales spike, mainstream media coverage, and furious fanboy debate. Another go-to attention-grabber: a fallen hero’s inevitable miraculous return. Chalk it up to our societal demand that the good guys win — or to the never-ending need of comics writers and artists to deliver a new story every month, tearful send-offs notwithstanding.
Among the most notable superhero deaths — and rebirths — comics readers have witnessed:
Superman Maybe there’s an argument to be made that killing Superman and resurrecting him simply reinforced his allegorical standing as Christ figure sent from the heavens to save us. Still, what a bogus, mainstream-bamboozling “event” DC’s 1992 “Death of Superman” story line felt like. As if the Man of Steel’s demise in a slugfest with brutal new nemesis Doomsday could actually be anything lasting. Nope, not when you’re the world’s most iconic superhero — too much history and too many corporate dollars involved. He made his convoluted return less than a year later.
Jean Grey, a.k.a. Phoenix of Marvel’s X-Men In a classic 1980 “Uncanny X-Men” arc, uncontrollably powerful telepath Jean Grey took her own life as her mutant abilities spiraled cataclysmically out of control. The story line is seminal enough that Fox is taking a second crack at it with “Dark Phoenix,” due in June. (The studio originally adapted the saga in 2006 in its coolly received “X-Men: The Last Stand.”) In the comics, the heroine returned in the mid-’80s, first as a clone, then as the genuine article.
Robin No, it wasn’t Bat-cademy grad Dick Grayson but his replacement, Jason Todd, who got blown up by the Joker in the 1988 story line “Batman: A Death in the Family.” You could blame it on comics creator Jim Starlin, whose later work on Marvel’s “The Infinity Gauntlet” would serve as the basis for “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” Or you could blame it on fans who voted for offing the Boy Wonder in a DC call-in promotion. Anywho . . . Batman found another new Robin within a year. (Todd eventually resurfaced, too.)
Captain America The 2007 arc “The Death of Captain America” chronicled Steve Rogers’s assassination by villainously hypnotized girlfriend-turned-gunwoman Sharon Carter, with old Nazi nemesis the Red Skull issuing the kill order. Bucky Barnes took up the shield for a couple of years before Cap returned, courtesy of Marvel’s own unique brand of magic-bullet theorizing.
Captain Marvel No, this isn’t the hero Brie Larson plays, but her male predecessor. (Larson’s cosmic flygal was known as Ms. Marvel back in those days. Look it up.) “The Death of Captain Marvel” broke new creative ground in 1982, both as one of the earliest bona fide graphic novels and for its thematically ambitious narrative. “Infinity Gauntlet” creator Starlin, the artist most closely associated with the character, showed readers a superhero’s passing that wasn’t brought about by bombs, bullets, or super-beatdowns, but cancer. No coincidence that Starlin’s affecting tale is one comic book death that has mostly stuck.