Unlike in the real world, in comics, death is rarely the end. Over the course of nearly a century of superheroics, almost every crimefighter who ever slapped on a mask or pulled on a cape has died (or appeared to die) – only to return from the grave further down the line.
Indeed, we’re at the point now where the very concept of death has lost virtually all meaning within the confines of the genre. After all, why bother getting upset over the death of your favorite do-gooder, when they’re almost certain to be back on their feet again in a year’s time?
And so it is that we find ourselves in the unusual scenario where it’s only when a superhero bites the bullet and doesn’t recover that we consider it remarkable. It’s easy to forget that this does happen from time to time. Sadly, it turns out not every hero gets a do-over. Conversely, there are some heroes that have undertaken the death/rebirth cycle so often that even their allies barely bother organizing a funeral!
With this in mind, here is a round-up of 12 Superheroes Who Died And Stayed Dead (And 8 Who Won’t Stop Coming Back).
20 Stayed Dead – The Ancient One
Long before Doctor Strange uttered his first spell, the Ancient One held the title of Sorcerer Supreme, protecting Earth from supernatural threats only a Master of the Mystic Arts can handle.
By the time Strange encountered the Ancient One, the dude was old – we’re talking at least 500 years of age. It made sense that the elderly mage eventually opted to retire, appointing Strange as his successor. Unfortunately, the Ancient One wasn’t allowed to die peacefully in his sleep. Instead, he was killed in battle with Shuma-Gorath, sacrificing himself to prevent this extra-dimensional beastie from entering our world.
Luckily, the Ancient One’s spirit transcended to a higher plane of reality, and he still provides ghostly advice to Strange from time to time. But for all intents and purposes, the guy is dead – and doesn’t look set to return to the land of the living any time soon!
19 Keeps Coming Back – Batman
Batman has been around for nearly 80 years, and given the high risk attached to his chosen vocation, it’s amazing he’s still fighting the good fight.
Of course, DC Comics is hardly going to kill their biggest cash cow, so the Dark Knight is never truly going to die - at least, not permanently.
Nevertheless, Batman has flirted with seemingly permanent death on multiple occasions.
Like the time when the Joker gained the power to alter the universe according to his own mad designs in “Emperor Joker” – which of course involved killing the Dark Knight on a daily basis! Or take Final Crisis, where Darkseid blasts our hero with his Omega Beams leaving behind a charred skeleton.
In both of these situations and more, Batman later resurfaced alive and well. Indeed, in “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”, it’s suggested it’s his fate to die and be reborn again forever.
18 Stayed Dead – Ant-Man
No, we’re not talking about Hank Pym or Scott Lang, but rather poor Eric O’Grady. The third person to assume the Ant-Man identity, O’Grady was low-ranking SHIELD agent, with even lower moral standards.
In a next level display of workplace deviance, O’Grady stole the Ant-Man outfit from under his employers’ noses, and didn’t waste any time using it for his own selfish purposes. Mostly, this amounted to trying to pick up women and harassing anyone he didn’t like – so it’s fair to say Eric isn’t exactly the most ambitious player in the Marvel Universe.
For all his faults – and despite all his misdeeds – O’Grady did manage to go out a hero.
After joining the Secret Avengers, he selflessly intervened when goons working for the villainous Father threatened the life of a child – earning a fatal beat-down for his efforts.
17 Stayed Dead – (Almost) Every Hero Who Died In Watchmen
Unlike in almost any other comic book universe, in the world of Watchmen, there’s no coming back from the dead - unless you’re Doctor Manhattan, that is. For everyone else – even costumed adventurers – when your time is up, it really is up!
From the murder of the Comedian which opens Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark tale, through to the obliteration of fan-favorite vigilante Rorschach at its conclusion, every death we witness along the way (barring Manhattan’s) is a lasting one.
This lends Watchmen an additional layer of emotional resonance that few other comic book stories can match – when we see a character like former Nite Owl Hollis Mason savagely slain, it’s heartbreaking to know this really is the end.
We’re not saying that comic books should abandon superhero resurrections entirely, but Moore and Gibbons make a compelling argument for the importance of meaningful, final exits for beloved characters.
16 Keeps Coming Back – Professor X
Coming back from the dead is kind of a thing for the X-Men – it’s hard to find a member of the mutant superhero group who hasn’t died at least once. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that team founder Professor Xavier has himself died multiple times before.
The first such instance proved to be a fake-out, when Xavier appeared to die at the hands of subterranean warrior Grotesk. It later came to light that the Professor’s demise was all a ruse, a fact he neglected to share with any of his students.
Xavier’s other two deaths were the real deal, however. The first of these saw Xavier euthanized rather than transform into a member of the Brood alien race. The second had Charles’ one-time star pupil Cyclops use his newly-gained Phoenix Force powers to obliterate his former mentor. But don’t worry: both times, he got better.
15 Stayed Dead – Hellboy
Thanks to his incredible durability and considerable longevity, it’s hard to imagine Hellboy ever truly going down for the count. After all, the World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator – a half-demon who fights on the side of the angels – has confronted virtually every major menace the supernatural realm has to offer and lived to tell the tale.
Yet even the Great Beast of the Apocalypse can die, as the “Hellboy in Hell” storyarc has shown us. Here, Hellboy – having previously been mortally wounded by the witch Nimue – finds himself the latest (unwilling) resident of his fiery birthplace.
Realizing that he is stranded in Hell forever, Red finally makes peace with his demonic heritage and destiny. Although Hellboy won’t be coming back, at least we know the big guy isn’t suffering – which is more than can be said for most of Hell’s denizens!
14 Stayed Dead – Captain Marvel
The original Captain Marvel, a soldier from the Kree race named Mar-Vell – the 1960s were a simpler time – famously died of a special form of cancer over 30 years ago. Although his deceased status has largely remain unchanged, he has cropped up again a couple of times since (if only temporarily).
Sadly, fate has not been so kind to Mar-Vell’s son, Genis, who carried on his father’s legacy as the new Captain Marvel. Genis – who went on to adopt another moniker, Photon – would also shuffle off this mortal coil far before his time, only in decidedly more irreversible fashion.
Just how irreversible are we talking?
Try “split into multiple pieces and scattered throughout an alternate dimension” – which, even by the standards of comics, sounds pretty hard to bounce back from.
13 Keeps Coming Back – Nick Fury
As a paranoid superspy with countless powerful enemies, Nick Fury has sensibly taken many precautions against being assassinated. Easily the most brilliant of these are his Life-Model Decoys, robotic copies of himself that are practically indistinguishable from the genuine article.
Owing to his seemingly limitless supply of LMDs, Fury has survived numerous attempts on his life over the years. Even highly-skilled assailants like the Punisher have been fooled by Nick’s cybernetic doppelgängers – terminating a faux-Fury while their real target remains completely unharmed.
Even when he was stripped of the so-called “Infinity Formula” – the medication he relied on to keep old age at bay – Fury still avoided taking a long dirt nap. On the contrary, after dropping even further out of sight than usual, he re-emerged – more grizzled, sure, but still a force to be reckoned with.
12 Stayed Dead – Goliath
A respected biochemist, Bill Foster was also a well-regarded member of the Marvel Universe’s superhero community, as the size-shifting adventurer Goliath. This meant that his death during Civil War hit combatants on both sides of the conflict hard – with several formerly pro-registration heroes shifting their allegiances in protest at Foster’s senseless murder.
To date, Foster has shown no sign of being resurrected.
The fatal injury dealt to him by a clone of Thor has consigned him to lie forever in the 38 burial plots his gigantic corpse was laid to rest in. His consciousness has resurfaced, but this was merely an artificial recreation of Foster’s mind preserved in a virtual reality program – so strictly speaking, this literal pillar of the superhuman community is still very much deceased.
11 Stayed Dead – Nomad
Jack Monroe boasts the kind of convoluted backstory that only a comic book character could lay claim to. Essentially, he’s the third replacement for Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky.
Of all of Cap’s partners, his story may be the saddest!
Plagued by mental instability and abandoned in cyrogenic stasis by the government, Jack was eventually rehabilitated and reintroduced into society. Under the alias Nomad, he set his sights on Neo-Nazis wherever they reared their heads, and even more admirably, fought on behalf of the homeless and downtrodden.
Cruel fate wasn’t quite finished with Jack, and he would discover that the imperfect Super Soldier serum that granted him his powers – and caused his earlier psychosis – was now killing him. Ironically, however, this wasn’t the cause of Jack’s eventual death, as he was murdered by the original Bucky – now known as the Winter Soldier – in a final tragic turn of events.
10 Keeps Coming Back – Captain America
Living legend that he is, Captain America has been shrugging off certain death since World War II. Let’s not forget that Cap exited the war under seemingly fatal circumstances, plunging into the freezing cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, only to survive in suspend animation.
The Sentinel of Liberty has also been erased from existence only to wind up restored to it once more.
He’s even overcome a degenerative condition linked to the Super Soldier serum – courtesy of a blood transfusion from archenemy the Red Skull!
More recently, the good Captain has recovered from multiple ostensibly fatal gunshot wounds delivered by Crossbones and his brainwashed love interest Sharon Carter. Despite appearances – there sure was a lot of blood – Cap wasn’t actually killed, but rather cast adrift into his own timestream, an inconvenience that was soon remedied.
9 Stayed Dead – Starman
The Starman mantle can lay claim to one of the oldest, proudest legacies in the DC Universe – but it’s also a bit of a poisoned chalice. Ever since Ted Knight first pulled on the distinctive finned cowl and red spandex synonymouswith Opal City’s champion of justice, he and his successors haven’t had it easy.
Ted himself went out a hero, locked in combat with longtime foe the Mist, decades after leaving behind a glittering superhero career. His eldest son David fared less well, finding himself on the wrong end of a sniper’s bullet just as his own adventures were beginning.
The deaths of Knight senior and junior have proven to be final, although both men subsequently appeared to Jack Knight – Ted’s youngest kid, and his third official successor – as well-meaning apparitions.
8 Stayed Dead – Thunderstrike
Tasked with the unenviable job of filling in for Thor, Eric Masterson did the best he could. Although he wasn’t a patch on the original God of Thunder, when it came time for Masterson to hand back Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir, Odin rewarded Eric by granting him an enchanted mace called Thunderstrike.
Adopting his new weapon’s name as his superhero sobriquet, Masterson continued to confront evil as Thunderstrike, only to wind up tainted by the corrupting influence of the Bloodaxe.
Eric valiantly fought against the power exerted over him by the axe, with the ensuing struggle proving fatal to him.
In the aftermath, Odin personally shepherded Masterson to the afterlife himself – following a brief detour to Valhalla – and that’s where he’s remained (excluding a brief summoning by Avenger’s villain the Grim Reaper).
7 Keeps Coming Back – Superman
For a character with a reputation for being indestructible, Superman has come to grips with his own mortality repeatedly since he first debuted in 1938. Much like Batman, as one of DC Comics’ key breadwinners, the Man of Steel is never going remain six feet under for long, but that doesn’t mean the publisher doesn’t like to tease fans with the possibility.
The most well-known instance of this occurred in the “Doomsday!” storyline, which garnered widespread media attention.
For casual readers, Superman’s act of self-sacrifice to stop rampaging monster Doomsday represented the end for this heroic icon – so it must have come as a shock when he was revived less than a year later!
More recently, the Last Son of Krypton made a beeline for the afterlife in “The Final Days of Superman”, although his soul promptly merged with that of an alternate version of himself, enabling him to survive.
6 Stayed Dead – Shard
A member of mutant superhero team X-Factor and Bishop’s sister, Shard has kicked the bucket twice – but she looks unlikely to repeat this trick a third time.
Shard’s first brush with death came when she was bitten by a victim of the mutant Emplate, contracting the same vampire-like symptoms as her attacker. Bishop did everything he could to save his younger sibling, but was ultimately forced to kill Shard once she fully succumbed to her monstrous ailment.
Shard gained a new lease on life further down the track, after a freak accident caused a holographic recording of her “essence” to assume a photon-based “body”. It was in this new form that Shard joined forces with Bishop one last time, expending her photonic life energies – seemingly forever – so that her brother could prevail against the Chronomancer.
5 Keeps Coming Back – Jean Grey
The poster child for comic book resurrections, Jean Grey has been rebornso often it’s not hard to see why her codename changed from “Marvel Girl” to “Phoenix”. True, her first and second deaths were retconned – the cosmic Phoenix Force secretly rescued Jean from a fatal overdose of radiation, in the process creating a clone of her that later committed suicide.
But even setting these aside, Jean has endured several fatalities without any lasting consequences. She’s been gunned down by Sentinels – using her telepathic abilities to eject her consciousness to safety – while in New X-Men, she’s mercy-killed by Wolverine as the pair plunge into the Sun, only for the Phoenix Force to save the day once more.
Speaking of Wolvie, in Phoenix: Endsong, the X-Man is forced to kill Jean repeatedly and even that doesn’t do her in!
4 Stayed Dead – Dream
We know: Dream of the Endless isn’t exactly a superhero (and certainly wouldn’t see himself as such). But as a tremendously powerful benign force in the DC Universe, we still think he qualifies. We’ll also admit that Dream can’t really die – as one of the Endless, he’ll go on existing until there’s nobody left capable of entering his realm, the Dreaming.
At the same time, whilst Dream – as the embodiment of the very concept of dreams – cannot die, individual personifications of this concept very much can. This is shown in Sandman story “The Kindly Ones”, where the Morpheus incarnation of Dream met his demise at the hands of the Furies.
Of course, Morpheus was immediately superseded by his successor, Daniel – formerly a human child born in the Dreaming – as though nothing had happened. But Morpheus, and his distinct perspective on what it means to be Dream, was gone for good.
3 Keeps Coming Back – Resurrection Man
No surprises here, really: the guy’s name is Resurrection Man, so dying and coming back to life is obviously going to be his deal. Thanks to good old fashioned Comic Book Science, Mitch Shelley is capable of returning to life after being mortally wounded – even picking up a new superpower along the way.
On the downside, Shelley can only possess one superhuman gift at a time – and some of these haven’t exactly been worth the excruciatingly painful, traumatic deaths that triggered them. Gaining pyrokinesis after dying in a truck explosion sounds like a fair trade off, but we’re not sure even the mildest fatality would leave us content with the ability to create butterflies!
Despite his understandable reticence to enter the fray – he dies on almost every mission he takes part in – Resurrection Man is a true hero, due to his willingness to continually die for a good cause.
2 Stayed Dead – Pantha
There are some injuries that a superhero can be expected to shake off – but decapitation generally isn’t considered one of them. Teen Titans member Pantha found this out the hard way during Infinite Crisis, when she faced off against Superboy-Prime, an unhinged alternate version of the Man of Steel.
As you’d expect, an out of control Superman is an insanely dangerous opponent, and the Titans’ showdown with Prime – whose powers outmatch those of his core universe counterpart – quickly devolved into a bloodbath.
Pantha was the first casualty, after a careless backhand from Prime separated her head from her shoulders, killing her instantly. The unstable fallen hero immediately expressed horror at his actions, but this brief flicker of remorse proved useless to Pantha – “sorry” doesn’t put heads back on bodies, mister.
1 Keeps Coming Back – Mister Immortal
This one might come as a surprise, as the “immortal” part of Mister Immortal’s alter-ego suggests someone who can’t die. Except it turns out Craig Hollis isn’t blessed with that kind of eternal life – instead, not only can he die, but he does…repeatedly!
That’s when his mutant power – the ability to recuperate from any life-threatening injuries – kicks in. As a result, Hollis has laughed off being shot, stabbed, drowned, poisoned, immolated and just about anything else you can think of – although “laughed off” might not be the right way of phrasing it.
See, the instant Mister Immortal returns to life, he is gripped by an uncontrollable, irrational anger and cannot be pacified. This – coupled with the certain knowledge that he will live to see the end of the very universe itself – means the guy occasionally has to battle quite severe bouts of depression.
Who are some other superheroes that have (or haven’t) stayed dead? Let us know in the comments!