Comic book deaths are notoriously impermanent. If you can name a famous hero or villain, the chances are that they’ve died and come back at some point, most likely multiple times. The apparent death of a superhero on the cover is a guaranteed attention-grabber and has been responsible for some of the most iconic covers ever printed. However, whereas these “deaths” are usually resolved by it turning out to be fake, a dream, a clone or some mixture of all three, we’re concentrating on the characters that have died for all intents and purposes and been brought back in their main continuity.
Alternate realities and storylines where pretty much everyone died (like Marvel Zombies) are therefore disqualified, and awesome death-cheating characters like Deadpool and Lobo aren’t really a fit, as they can’t die by definition. With all that out of the way, here are the 15 Most Resurrected Characters in Comic Book History.
15. Nick Fury
As the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and an experienced spy to boot, it’s no surprise that Nick Fury has died and been brought back a handful of times. He’s assassinated by hitman Bull’s Eye (no relation to the Daredevil villain) in Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #15. Fury stayed dead for several months before it was revealed that he’d faked it with the good ol’ Marvel plot stand-in, the Life-Model Decoy, a robot double that walks and talks like whomever it has been programmed to look like.
Nick’s judicious use of LMDs make him a hard man to pin down. As part of the Over The Edge event, The Punisher is brainwashed into thinking that Fury killed his family. Frank Castle then proceeds to hunt down and, eventually, kill him. Fury is given a decent send-off and even a special funeral story in Incredible Hulk #434, but it wasn’t long before he was back at it again, his explanation involving, you guessed it, a Life-Model Decoy. You can’t keep a good spy down, and Nick Fury is the defiant living proof of that.
14. The Punisher
Considering his grounded abilities and weaponry, Frank Castle’s Punisher isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about otherworldly entities and superpowered beings making their way back from the afterlife. However, Frank has had his share of the other side. After several alternate reality and “What If?” scenarios that ended up ending Frank Castle, his first “proper” death was in the Marvel Knights: Punisher series in 1998. It turns out that Frank had enough of this world and shot himself, only to be resurrected by an angel to become a demon ass-kicker on a mission from God. The series was poorly received, and the resulting mess was written off in Garth Ennis’ well-regarded Welcome Back Frank series.
After an ignoble death as a result of being abandoned by Evil Dead‘s Ash in an Army of Darkness crossover, Frank’s next death was part of the 2009 Dark Reign arc and came at the hands (and claws) of Wolverine’s wayward son, Dakan. Dakan is hired to kill Frank once and for all, and he does just that. After a brutal and bloody fight, Dakan slices Punisher up into gory chunks. If you haven’t heard about this story, bear with us, because it’s going to sound like we made this up to mess with you. The chunks are then found and collected by mole people, who bring them to the Living Vampire Morbius. Morbius stitches the parts together and uses a Bloodstone to revive Frank as Franken-Castle. The reaction to this new direction was mixed (to say the least) and the angle was dropped after a year.
In case you were wondering how they got out of that particular writing corner, the Bloodstone eventually fully restored him to his human form. Don’t expect this storyline to show up in the Netflix series any time soon.
13. Captain America
Captain America was pretty much resurrected by Marvel before he hit the newsstands as part of The Avengers. The character was initially World War II propaganda, but as the war ended and interest in superheroes waned, his Timely Comics run was cancelled. He had several unsuccessful revival attempts, but after testing the waters for the character’s return in Marvel’s Strange Tales, Steve Rogers was formally brought back and found his place as the old school leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Cap has bitten the dust several times over his 75 year history. He’s been wiped out of existence along with his Avengers teammates more than a few times, but the status quo is always reset by the end, making it hard to know whether to actually count them or not. The cover for Captain America #443 boldly stated that Cap had 24 hours left to live. It turns out that his super-soldier serum had caused him to degenerate slowly and Tony Stark’s custom-made armor was merely staving off the inevitable. The Avengers eventually find the armor empty and mourn the loss of Steve Rogers. However, it later transpired that Red Skull had stolen the body and given Steve a blood transfusion, bringing him back from the precipice.
His most well-known demise, of course, comes in The Death of Captain America, where Cap is assassinated by Crossbones, with the final shots coming courtesy of a brainwashed Sharon Carter. Captain America was dead, leading Bucky Barnes to pick up the shield and carry on Cap’s good name in his absence. The character stayed dead for a year before Captain America: Reborn was published, explaining that Steve Rogers hadn’t been killed, but rather frozen in space and time. He’s brought back, only to have the recently deceased Red Skull possess him. Rogers was given control back eventually and he was officially revived in the Marvel Universe.
If you’re up on your Norse mythology, you’ll know that the lore dictates that all life is cyclical. When the end of the world (called Ragnarok) arrives, it cleans the slate, ready for life to begin anew. Thor Odinson has spent a fair share of his time pushing up daisies. In earlier comics, he was poisoned in addition to being cursed with the ability to never die. Thor eventually manages to reverse this after storming the Land of the Dead with the enchanted Destroyer armor. He apparently died after the events of Ragnarok, but this was later revealed to be a form of Odinsleep, a death-like regenerative state his father has underwent on several occasions. His biggest death, however, occurs during the Fear Itself crossover event.
Basically, there’s a giant Asgardian deity known as the Serpent that creates a dangerous worldwide panic on Earth. The Serpent is revealed to be Cul, Odin’s brother, who believes that he should rule Asgard, and that killing Thor is the way to cure him of his madness. Many heroes across the Marvel Universe team up to fight him, but it ends with Thor and the Serpent taking center stage and brutalizing each other. Thor eventually wins out and kills Serpent, but not without suffering from mortal wounds that send him tumbling to the ground. He survives long enough to die in his father’s arms, but safe in the knowledge he’s saved countless lives. His soul was eventually retrieved from limbo and returned to his body with the help of the Silver Surfer and Loki, and while someone else has since taken on his mantle as the God of Thunder, Thor Odinson is finally back in the pages of Marvel Comics.
Batman is no stranger to the resurrection game. As with most incredibly popular comic book heroes, Batman has appeared to die in many issues. He’s faked his death repeatedly, usually by ingesting various drugs that simulate death. In The Brave and the Bold #115, Batman is electrocuted and left braindead by a boobytrap set by villain Buggsy Cathart. Doctors state that nothing can be done for him and that he’ll be completely dead in a matter of hours. Ray Palmer aka The Atom shrinks down and goes inside Bats’ brain, puppeteering him and solving his final case. It’s like Ratatouille, but grosser. Atom’s manipulations eventually kickstart Batman’s brain back to life and he’s revived without any repercussions.
In Birth of the Demon, a series focusing on Ra’s al Ghul’s origins (we’ll come back to him), Batman ends up impaled and is forced to use a Lazarus Pit to revive himself. He shrugs off an apparent death in Going Sane where he’s caught in an explosion and left lifeless and dumped in a river. Everyone, including The Joker, believes him to be gone until he shows up a few issues later, his miraculous recovery chalked up to an emergency surgery by a small town doctor. Things really looked bleak for the Dark Knight in Emperor Joker, when the Clown Prince of Crime gains reality-altering powers and keeps killing Batman, only to bring him back to kill him all over again, with one especially memorable moment where he’s caged and eaten by vultures. Joker eventually comes to the realization that he needs Batman, as no matter how many times he gets rid of him, he keeps reappearing, and the Caped Crusader’s archnemesis is ultimately defeated by this knowledge.
Batman’s death at the conclusion of Final Crisis is perhaps his most well-known demise, but even then, he didn’t really die. Although it appeared that he’d been vaporized by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction attack, he’d actually been sent back in time to prehistoric Gotham. The Caped Crusader’s vaunted rogue’s gallery really should just give up, because if the Lord of Apokolips can’t kill him, then they don’t stand a chance.
Ever the thorn in the X-Men‘s side, Magneto, the undisputed Master of Magnetism has always found ways to cheat death and be a continuous problem for Charles Xavier’s mutant squad. He’s appeared to die many times over the course of the various X-Men comics. He’s a slippery customer, so nailing down the exact number of times he’s died is tough. We know he was killed in the Genoshan massacre, but his daughter, Scarlet Witch brought him back during the House of M saga. However, one “death” has to be mentioned due to its Russian Doll-like complexity. In the issues leading up to the story, Magneto is shown in residence on the island of Genosha, only for the whole place to be sieged by Sentinels and totally destroyed, leaving him amongst the many dead.
In The Man from Room X, the X-Men pick up a new member for their team in the form of mysterious prisoner Xorn. The newcomer is persuaded to become a teacher at Xavier’s school, but soon attracts suspicion due to his extremist teachings. Xorn reveals himself to be Magneto in disguise, having survived the Sentinel attack and using his “death” to infiltrate Xavier’s ranks. In an effort to prove his power, Xorn/Magneto gives Jean Grey a massive fatal stroke. Heartbroken and raging, Wolverine decapitates him where he stands. Xorn was later retconned as a different character that had gone mad and believed himself to be Magneto. Writer Grant Morrison had intended for Xorn to be the actual Magneto, but mixed reaction and decisions from the higher-ups dictated that Magneto live to bend spoons another day.
9. Moon Knight
Initially intended to be a one-shot villain, Moon Knight proved to be popular enough with readers to earn a solo story in the try-out series Marvel Spotlight. When he reappeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #22, Moon Knight was now on the side of good and explained that his previous villainy had been a ploy to avoid blowing his cover as part of an infiltration attempt. We’ve all tried that excuse.
After he was granted a solo series, we learned that Moon Knight was Marc Spector, an ex-Marine mercenary tough guy. He draws his power from the Ancient Egyptian moon god Khonshu as part of their bargain for Spector’s initial resurrection. Since then, Spector has died multiple times, only to be brought back by Khonshu. The most notable instance of this is after Spector quits the Avengers and symbolically burns his membership card. This led to a storyline that ended with Marc Spector: Moon Knight #60‘s cover featuring the striking black and white image of a beaten and broken Moon Knight you see above. In the issue, Spector buys the farm by sacrificing himself for his friends and getting trapped in an exploding building. Moon Knight stayed dead for four years before being resurrected in a 1998 mini-series to fight another Egyptian deity. Whilst he hasn’t got as many stamps on his afterlife loyalty card as some of the other entries on our list, his handful of deaths and subsequent resurrections earn him a place.
8. The Joker
You don’t need us to tell you about the Joker. He’s the Joker – one of the greatest comic book characters ever. He’s been killed many times over the years, but his evergreen popularity always ensures that he’ll be back again in some form. After nearly fatally stabbing himself in Batman #1, the Joker’s first proper death was in The Joker Walks the Last Mile in Detective Comics #64. In that story, the Joker turns himself in to the authorities and helpfully confesses his long list of crimes. He is subsequently sentenced and executed by electric chair.
However, this was all part of the plan! Joker’s goons break into the morgue and inject him with some kind of serum that revives him. He returns and is confronted by Batman, who finds himself powerless to do anything. As Joker was technically executed, he’s legally paid for all his crimes, so the Dark Knight can’t lay a gloved finger on him. In The Sign of The Joker, Joker seemingly falls to his death after lightning strikes a girder. He was gone from Detective Comics for several years before returning. More recently, Batman and Joker died together in the Batman: Endgame series, with the severely wounded enemies trapped inside a collapsing building. DC’s Rebirth has even introduced the idea of there being multiple Jokers, which would go a long way towards explaining how Mr. J always manages to get the last laugh.
7. Professor X
As a leader and mentor, Professor Charles Xavier is the paternal figure of the X-Men. Because of this, X-Men writers over the years have killed him off in various different ways to either shock the reader, explore the team’s dynamic after his passing, or a bit of both. X-Men #42 featured a dramatic promise on its cover: a silhouette of a falling Xavier surrounded by the shocked faces of the X-Men. To cap it off, the strapline boasted that it was definitely “Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary tale! This is for REAL!”. This of course, turned out to be false, and instead Xavier had allowed the shapeshifter Changeling to take his place whilst in hiding. He didn’t tell the X-Men of his masterplan though. Bit of a jerk move.
Xavier dies for real in Uncanny X-Men #167 after being infected with an alien Brood Queen. He mutates and asks to be put out of his misery. The ever-resourceful Moira MacTaggert manages to take Xavier’s mind and put it into a younger clone of himself, killing his old body. Professor X also died as part of the Messiah Complex arc, having been shot and killed by Bishop, but his body was mysteriously absent from the aftermath.
In Avengers vs. X-Men #11, Charles dies again at the hands of a Phoenix-powered Cyclops (as seen above). He even had a resurrection on the big screen, as he was killed by Jean Grey in the godawful X-Men: The Last Stand movie, only to make his return to that land of the living in the credit sequence for 2013’s The Wolverine. No matter how many times he’s seemingly put away though, Xavier always seems to be able to come back to give newer generations of X-Men the benefit of his wisdom.
Whilst there have been other Spider-Men, Peter Parker is usually the name people think of when the wall-crawler’s name is brought up. Despite Spider-Man having some cosmic and even metaphysical adventures, generations keep coming back to relatable ol’ Peter. As you’d expect for a hero that’s been around for over 60 years, Peter’s died a bunch too, only to be brought back — usually within a few issues.
The first real death Peter suffered wasn’t due to any supervillain, but by a chain of accidents that led Spider-Man to sacrifice himself while saving a mother and daughter from a huge Freon spill. Peter is exposed to a lethal dose of the chemical and dies, giving him an out-of-body experience where he meets and fights Thanos. He later meets Death and manages to convince her to send him back to the land of the living.
Peter also flatlines during the infamous Clone Saga story, but recovers to take the mantle of Spider-Man full time after Ben Reilly is murdered by Green Goblin. In the Superior Spider-Man arc, Peter’s consciousness is transferred into Otto Octavius’ dying body and is killed, leaving Ock in control of Peter’s body. Peter’s consciousness makes a comeback, however, and Ock finally relents and gives him his body back. Spidey also seemingly died at the hands of Kraven the Hunter in Kraven’s Last Hunt, which is probably most notable for that awesome shot of him bursting out of his own grave, zombie-style.
5. Ra’s al Ghul
Fittingly, the near-immortal Ra’s al Ghul has been one of the DC Universe’s most enduring supervillains. He’s predominantly known as a Batman foe, but he’s tangled with many famous heroes like Green Arrow and the Justice League too. If you weren’t aware, Ra’s is an evil mastermind hell bent on preventing ecological destruction and shaping the world to be environmentally balanced. This initially sounds rather admirable, but the sticking point is that Ra’s means to kill entire populations of people to achieve it. His age and especially the number of times he’s died is difficult to determine, as he has access to Lazarus Pits, mysterious, green, naturally-occurring chemical pools that heal injuries and restore life.
In one memorable death, Ra’s is killed by his own daughter, Nyssa. A Lazarus Pit can technically be only used once, but Nyssa finds a way to use one indefinitely. Nyssa — who’s become disillusioned by her father’s teachings and world views — deems her findings too valuable to share with her father and stabs him to prevent him from learning of her discovery. Ra’s dies and is even cremated on Batman’s orders, but he still manages to return in his son White Ghost’s body. It doesn’t seem to matter how careful Batman is and how many pits he destroys, Ra’s will always find a way to come back and test his limits.
Superman is one of the oldest and most enduring comic heroes ever created. He’s practically the prototype for the entire genre, so it makes sense that he’s no stranger to shrugging off death. DC made real-world headlines in 1992 when they published The Death of Superman, a comic arc that detailed Superman dying as a result of his hellacious battle with Doomsday. But Superman has technically died and been brought back numerous times before and since.
In one of the odder stories from Superman’s past, The School for Superman Assassins!, several members of the Galactic Crimeteers (give them a break, it was the ’60s) train to kill Superman by using a lifelike Superman android. Zunial aka Murder Man succeeds in killing the bot and decides to turn his attention to the real thing. He comes to Earth and manages to kill Superman using kryptonite radio waves, and he then elects to brings the body of our fallen hero home. The android is reactivated, and because it has been programmed to act like Superman, it gives its artificial life to revive the flesh-and-blood version.
That wasn’t the only time Supes needed reviving either. He was killed by Doctor Light in one issue and was brought back to life by Batman, who reversed the spell. On another occasion, the Justice League had to step in and explore an otherworldly realm to find and return Superman’s lost soul to his lifeless body.
3. Jean Grey
The X-Men’s Jean Grey and her uncanny ability to wind up dead has become somewhat of an in-joke in comic circles. She was originally killed off in Uncanny X-Men #101, where she pilots a space shuttle through deadly radiation. She’s later revived, but she’s possessed by an ancient entity and becomes the all-powerful Phoenix. Jean’s new lease on life only lasted a few years before the Phoenix Force would become corrupted and kick off the uber-famous Dark Phoenix saga.
In the Fresh Upstart story featured in Uncanny X-Men #281, Jean was killed by Sentinels, but survived by transferring her mind into Emma Frost before dying and having Charles Xavier return her consciousness to her corpse some time after. We’re not sure how that works either, but let’s just roll with it.
As the Phoenix, rebirth is part of the deal, and she’s kicked an entire truckload of buckets in the decades since. She’s killed by Wolverine on more than one occasion — once in X-Men #148 and numerous times in the 2005 Phoenix: Endsong arc. In Endsong, it becomes apparent that Jean can only gain control of the wild Phoenix Force if she dies enough to weaken it. Wolvie grimly steps up to the plate and puts his claws to upsetting use. Jean dies and is brought back many times before she finally wrestles control back, casually brushing off a disquieting number of puncture wounds in the process.
2. Mister Immortal
You’d struggle to find a hero with a blunter, more factual name than Marvel’s Mister Immortal. Whilst the power of immortality may seem to fly in the face of the whole “dying” theme of the list, Mister Immortal makes the grade on a technicality because his powers are activated by his death. Once his body dies, he regenerates any injury sustained and springs back to life, unlike someone like Deadpool, who never actually dies from his injuries. Mister Immortal is also prone to fits of rage upon reviving.
It’s hard to chart just how many times Immortal aka Craig Hollis has died and come back. He’s survived multiple suicide attempts from his youth, and has since been killed in pretty much every way you can think of. Poor Craig has been shot, stabbed, poisoned, exploded, decapitated and chainsawed, amongst many other things. He’s even died of alcohol poisoning on three separate occasions. Mister Immortal can also never age. This may sound like the best power ever, but there’s a dark side to his abilities too. The superhuman being Deathurge has stated that Mister Immortal will live to see the end of the Universe, which is a dark and sobering thought to say the least.
1. Resurrection Man
If ever there was a lock for this list, it’d be Resurrection Man. Mitch Shelley was inspired by Mister Immortal, but with an important distinction: he’s a lawyer turned unwitting guinea-pig for nanotechnology. He’s been implanted with Tektites, specialized devices that make him practically immortal. He can die, but he’s revived seconds later with a superpower related to the circumstances of his death. He can only have one power at a time, but considering the sheer number of superpowered villains in the DCU, Shelley has the potential to come back as an immensely powerful being.
If we listed all of Mitch’s deaths in this article, we’d have no room for anything else. He’s a superhero with death-activated powers, so of course he dies a lot. In his first issue, he wakes up from a drive-by shooting and dies in a truck explosion, only to revive seconds later with the ability to create fire. In his second issue, he dies after a burning hospital roof gives way, which gives him empathic powers. He’s even turned into weird human/creature hybrids, including rat and bat versions after eating rat poison and being hit by a train, respectively (we don’t know how the latter one makes sense either). A strong case could be made for either Mister Immortal or Resurrection Man to hold the top spot, but since exact figures are impossible to find, we opted for the latter considering he gets a cool new power every time he wakes up, even if they are sometimes as seemingly pointless as being able to create butterflies or turn everything he touches to glass.
Did we forget any of oft-killed heroes that just can’t seem to stay dead? Let us know in the comments.