The recent news that DC comics have killed off both Batman and The Joker in the conclusion to the Endgame story arc, came as a great shock to many comic book fans. Writer Scott Snyder swears that the finale, leaving both characters buried under a ton of rubble, seals their fate permanently but hardened fans know that even the usual rules about death and taxes don’t apply in comic books. Unless you’re Uncle Ben, of course.
While TV and movie fans have had a lot to put up with when writers box themselves into a corner and must bring back a beloved character to halt sliding ratings, at least Bobby Ewing didn’t give birth to himself in that infamous shower scene, unlike one of the featured characters in this list. While the need for characters to always exist in some form or other doesn’t tally with the dramatic device of having the same characters encounter perils which they may not survive, the writers don’t always cover themselves in glory when trying to solve this conundrum.
From the sheer laziness of simply having popular characters wake up in their coffins to realize that they’re not quite dead enough, to a much-maligned sidekick being resurrected via the all-time greatest teenage tantrum, we’re about to look at some of the dumbest, most inane and, frankly weirdest ways that writers have played God.
10. Steve Rodgers/Captain America
Captain America managed to take on Hitler and the commies and come out unscathed, so his demise at the hands of a sniper’s bullet seemed like a massive mis-step in 2007 and provoked much forehead slapping amongst fans of the superhero. For a symbol of American strength, it was a rotten way to go.
The writers obviously thought so too, for they spent the next two years thinking of ways to bring Rodgers back while Bucky Barnes carried the shield. However, two years of story-boarding ended with the visible reveal that the assassination was planned by Red Skull, who used a magic bullet to send Rodgers’ soul spiraling through space and time. After somehow regaining control of his body from Red Skull, the writers closed their copy of Metaphysics For Dummies, and fans breathed a massive sigh of relief.
9. Alfred J. Pennyworth
Batman’s butler has had a few different styles over the years. While he’s mainly portrayed as a wise and noble confidante of Bats, he’s also had the tendency to be a bit of a hard-a** too. Alfred was never more hard-a** than when he was killed off in an attempt the shake the series up during the mid 60’s. He roared into sight on a motorbike, like a Hell’s Angel in a bow tie, to push Batman and Robin out of the way of a falling boulder and was crushed to death. Bruce promptly buries Alfred in a refrigerated coffin, hires a new maid and never mentions him again.
Two years later, we find out that Alfred was never actually killed at all and was merely sleeping, despite being crushed by a boulder. He’s also discovered by the only man in Gotham who happens to own a regeneration beam. Holy Ludcrous Retconning, Batman!
8. Barry Allen/The Flash
Barry Allen was a superhero whose primary talent was being able to run really fast. It was this talent which killed him – he prevented the Anti-Monitor from destroying Earth by running really fast around him and becoming pure energy, thus entering a kind of Valhalla for fast people called the Speed Force. However, Barry outran death itself and became the very lightning bolt that gave him his powers in the first place. Ironically for a guy who’s all about pace, he chose to use this conversion to pure energy to bring himself back to life after first gestating for 23 years, which isn’t very quick under any circumstance.
Of all the entries in this list, Barry’s rebirth is arguably the laziest piece of writing. He literally chose to come back to life after zooming about in the ether for a couple of decades. Surely they could have come up with a concept less insulting than this one?
7. Bucky Barnes (Captain America)
Bucky Barnes replaced Steve Rodgers for a while as Captain America, after that unfortunate business with the sniper’s bullet, but Bucky had already been the subject of a resurrection story himself. The character had been a sidekick to Rodgers, only to perish in a plane explosion. Or so everybody thought; he had actually been kidnapped by the Soviets and rebuilt by the KGB, who then turned him into the relentless assassin, the Winter Soldier. How do you explain away the fact that Bucky had forgotten his mentor and best friend? Simple – he was brainwashed for a ridiculous 40 years.
While that storyline is a testament either to the KGB’s brainwashing program or the writers’ assumption of their readers gullibility, it at least provided a solid-gold storyline in the Winter Soldier. Interestingly, Bucky would rise again from the grave following the Winter Soldier’s death, this time with the aid of a nonsensical syrup called the Infinity Formula. This makes him a brainwashed zombie, which is pretty cool, if utterly silly.
6. The Thing
In a list full of deaths and rebirths that stretch credibility, the resurrection of The Thing in The Fantastic Four series takes some beating. After the rocky giant is possessed by Doctor Doom, he is killed by Reed Richards, who is a scientist and a man you would imagine is grounded in reality. Richards instantly decides that the only way to cure his death problem is by going to Heaven to reclaim his soul. This is probably not the solution many doctors would prescribe. Obviously, a plan this insane works flawlessly and reed and Ben/Thing meet God, who bears a striking resemblance to F4 co-creator, Jack Kirby.
Kirby/God agrees to literally draw Ben back into existence with him being an artist, because this is how comics work. The story is actually quite sweet and inventive, though utterly mad.
5. Jean Grey
As with many comic book characters, one mere death is not enough for a character as iconic as Jean Grey. The X-Men favorite first died when she guided a spaceship with the other X-Men aboard back to Earth, and perished due to radiation poisoning and was reborn as the Phoenix.
If one rebirth was par for the course in comic book lore, her second was verging on ludicrous. Grey was corrupted by her power and literally murdered a galaxy of billions of people before committing suicide. While daft, at least the conclusion to her storyline brought her an air of dignity and finality.
Sadly, this didn’t last long. A swift ret-conning six years later revealed that Grey wasn’t the Phoenix after all and had actually been hiding in a cocoon on the ocean floor all along, which rendered a brave story arc null, void and very, very silly.
The Death of Superman story arc in 1992-3, was an impossibly brave and original concept at the time. While many sidekicks and villains had bitten the dust in comic books over the years at that point, never had the finger of death touched a major staple of the industry.
Superman was beaten to death while fighting the alien powerhouse Doomsday and the news made major headlines the world over. Surely the most iconic hero of the modern age wasn’t really dead forever? Of course he wasn’t, but the solution desecrated what had been a brilliant story arc. After much wrangling with four different characters claiming to be the real Man of Steel, it was revealed that Superman had been recovering in a regeneration matrix at his Fortress of Solitude all along. This is only one step above ‘it was all a dream’, in the laziness stakes.
3. Aunt May (Spiderman)
Though her husband is seemingly the only comic book character to stay dead, Aunt May has managed to return from the abyss with seeming ease. Inevitably, it was via a method so stupid it was impossible to take in. Aunt May had died after revealing to Peter Parker that she knew he was Spiderman all along. It was a nice way for a beloved character to bow out, which makes the subsequent reveal all the more baffling.
Spidey’s nemesis had forced an actress to have facial surgery to resemble May and revealed Spiderman’s identity to fool Parker into believing that his aunt was dead. He kidnapped the real May and implanted a bomb in her head that would detonate if it was removed. Lazy ideas of how to bring back a character are bad – inventiveness to the point of ridiculousness is worse.
2. Jason Todd/Robin
Jason Todd was famously the most hated character of his day, with the comic book community voting to have him beaten to death by The Joker and then blown up, just to make sure, in the A Death in the Family arc. He wasn’t missed and nobody asked for his return – but return he did.
In 2005, Jason returned to Gotham, understandably peeved with Batman and the readers. It turned out that he had been rescued from his coffin and trained by Ra’s al Ghul in the ways of villainy. But how was he alive in the first place? In a ret-con storyline, Superboy had become trapped in an alternate dimension and escaped by literally punching the universe hard enough to change time itself. The mother of all teenage tantrums had brought Todd back from the dead. Superman possibly never asked Superboy to tidy his room again.
1. Peter Parker/Spiderman
In easily the most confusing, ridiculous and downright crazy entry on the list, Peter Parker actually becomes a spider-man.
In the Changes story arc, Spidey finds himself targeted by a villainess called The Queen, who was never seen before or since. After beating Spiderman to a halt, The Queen kisses him and turns him into an actual spider through magic (or something equally silly). As if that wasn’t enough to make the most bottomed brow furrow, Spidey is also pregnant – with himself. The news of his pregnancy is so much of a shock to Parker that he collapses to the floor, dead as a dodo. After The Queen leaves, Parker emerges from the shell of his dead spider self, reborn. He doesn’t stop to question how this is possible and the writing team, who surely wrote this as some sort of dare, sloped off to collect their winnings.