Everyone knows, of course, that comic book death is cheap. Too often used as a ploy to give a story “consequences” or “gravity,” or even just to spike sales for an issue, characters will die in service of a story and then be brought back, often with only the most cursory of explanations, the next time they’re needed in service of another story.
This really isn’t all that uncommon in literature; if James Bond were to die, the next movie would be set during the time he was alive and just pick right up and keep moving. Sherlock Holmes was brought back due to fan outcry following his death, and that was over 100 years ago. But “comic book death” is actually a phrase that’s used outside of comics now to denote a death that doesn’t mean anything because the person will be back soon.
This has all come up quite a bit this week with regard to Damian Wayne, Batman’s son and most recent sidekick, who died in a story published yesterday. His grandfather (Ra’s al Ghul) pioneered the Lazarus Pit and has used it any number of times to keep himself young, vibrant and return from the dead at least once or twice. Arguably the most notable use of the Pit has been when Ra’s stole the corpse of the previous dead Robin, Jason Todd (now known as Red Hood), and revived Batman’s ex-sidekick in it.
And while Damian’s mother, who’s currently the inheritor of her father’s empire, referred to Damian as a “failed experiment,” that didn’t stop her from having a moment of regret and mourning when she realized that she had caused his death.
Even before his death was published, there was a line of thinking that if the character were to die, and there was anything left of him to bury, he could be revived using the Lazarus Pit. With four issues remaining on Grant Morrison’s epic Batman run and nothing left but the crying, artist Chris Burnham says he expects Damian’s death to be for keeps–but most comic fans don’t seem to believe him.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Morrison run ends with Damian up and around again, it won’t be the first time a character death has lasted for less time than it takes to hard boil an egg. There are probably dozens of these, but we hand-picked our five favorite character deaths that turned out not to be quite as permanent as promised…within about a month of happening.
Some of these weren’t technically “deaths,” but some other storytelling device. They were, however, sold to the fans as Dead For Real for however long they lasted, and many had big media events tied to them, not unlike what DC has done with Robin. So I’m counting it.
Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, which reinvigorated a character who had been flagging pretty much since Frank Miller left ten or so years before, came to a head when Mysterio was revealed as the central villain of the story, and the killer of Daredevil’s girlfriend Karen Page. As it turned out, he was dying slowly and painfully due to illness, and wanted to make a grand, theatrical gesture on the way out–which he did, and got killed for his troubles in the ensuing fight with Daredevil.
Of course, Kevin Smith was a bit loose with his deadlines and the best-selling storyline came out in drips over far more months than advertised. As a result, when he reappeared in the Spider-Man titles a week or so after he died, it wasn’t because Marvel had intended to cheapen the ending of “Guardian Devil,” so much as it was a reflection on how far behind that story was shipping. The character’s death (he’d shot himself) was addressed in the story, though. According to his Wikipedia entry, Mysterio “explains that, having gone to Hell for suicide, his ‘superiors’ in the afterlife sent him back to Earth to maintain a cosmic balance.”
When DC launched their big weekly event story 52, it was no secret that at least one of the seven main characters wouldn’t survive to the end. With that information in the hands of the readers, DC had a few false deaths along the way to throw people off the scent of what would actually be the “genuine” consequences of the story. One of those was Booster Gold, who returned about fifteen issues later and turned out to have faked his own death–but the length of that ruse was actually a bit too long to earn him a spot on this list.
Animal Man, though, died and was given a ceremony on an alien world. His corpse was laid to rest there by Starfire and Adam Strange, with whom he’d been traveling…and then he woke up moments after they left the planet, shocked to find himself stranded alone in space. His connection with The Red had revived him and set him on a path to changing and greater powers, a theme that’s still being explored in the New 52 version of his series.
This one came under Morrison’s watch, too, and so is probably the most appropriate on the list.
Leaving aside the fact that Batman “died” in Batman R.I.P., but survived the story to go on and die in Final Crisis shortly after, even that second death only lasted a few weeks, as he was next spotted–alive, but shunted backwards through time–at the end of Final Crisis.
Now, the fact that Morrison wrote that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do anything similar with Robin. After all, the Batman story took place in the middle of his run and was part of the massive epic Morrison has crafted in the Batman universe over the last many years. Still, “Batman and Robin will never die.”
We’ve talked about this one before–Peter dies a lot and never really stays down.
Particularly notable for the purposes of this discussion, though, are his deaths at the end of The Other, when he died in Mary Jane’s arms–and it was played as the big, dramatic end of the story–but he woke up a few moments later; part of the clone saga where he spent most of an issue dying, finally flatlined and then woke up the next week; and of course in Amazing Spider-Man #700, where he died but then returned (albeit as a ghost, so far) two weeks later in Superior Spider-Man #1.
Once again–we’ve discussed this.
Still, Steve Rogers has “died” and then been somewhat less dead than advertised a number of times, most notably at the end of the “Stark Armor” era, when a much-hyped death issue segued into a return the very next month at the hands of incoming writer Mark Waid. The Red Skull was responsible that time, but you could go with the Onslaught story and have about the same turnaround.