Should Characters in Comics Stay Dead?
Mar 13, 2012 by     5 Comments    Posted In: Editorial

Crisis on Infinite EarthsLife and death in a comic book is treated relatively lightly nowadays. Characters die and return in the space of a story arc. A character’s death is usually treated with a certain amount of reverence, and when the character inevitably returns it is business as usual. But, should characters remain deceased? Does a character’s return cheapen the value of their death?

There was an old saying you may have heard when dealing with death and comics. “No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben.” Well, seeing as the former two are back among the living, I guess the phrase has been changed. The big 2, in recent years, have worn out death and resurrection as a plot device. Between the Death of Superman, Blackest Night, Captain America: Reborn, Colossus’ reappearance, and everything in-between, it is no surprise when a dead character comes back from the grave. Granted, the deaths of such icons as Superman and Captain America shouldn’t be expected to last long.

Superman #75 Polybagged CoverBut, once the heroes are resurrected, is the story in which they died, cheapened? I guess it depends on how well the story is handled. For me, if I go into a story knowing that whoever dies will return without any repercussions, I find the story less interesting. Everyone should have known Superman wouldn’t stay dead. Even though the story was well written and interesting, just the knowledge it wouldn’t last made it seem futile. Supers coming back and resuming his life, business as usual, fell short for me. If a character is going to die and come back, I’d want lasting changes. After Captain America returned he didn’t try and remove Bucky from the role. His death changed him, it allowed him to grow as a character, which is how it should be.

Then again there are the few characters who have stayed dead or were dead so long that their deaths had a profound impact. Most famously is Uncle Ben. His murder is what influenced Peter Parker to become the hero he could be. The memory of Uncle Ben drove Peter to use the Spider-Man persona as a force for good. The death of Barry Allen had the same impact on Wally West. Wally took up the Flash mantle to honor Barry, and had a great run (pun unintended). While Barry did eventually return, his death lasted such a long time that bringing him back gave way to new stories and wasn’t perceived as a money grab (by most).

Characters like Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, and Piotr Rasputin were all dead for a significant amount of time and the stories which marked their death weren’t written as a gimmick to pump up sales *cough* Death of Superman *cough*. I think a character’s death can serve to make a story better or to better facilitate the growth of existing or new characters. I guess the question comes down to, how long should a character stay dead? If you feel you have an answer leave it in the comments. For me, it all comes down to how well the death and rebirth is handled, and if it feels like a marketing ploy.


5 Comments Add Comment

  • MattB March 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Nice article. I feel like if they are going to do it, they should at least wait 3 years to bring the character back and stop doing it over and over. Maybe like one big one a year.

  • Jason March 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I think they should hire good writers and make it a rule that the writer gets final say on deaths.

  • Chip Reece March 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I’ve become numb to character deaths for this reason. Like you said, if it helps the character grow then I’m okay with it. Captain America was a great example.

    I knew the recent death of the Human Torch would be lame. Was it even a year before he came back? I didn’t even care, and his coming back so quickly validated my reasons for not caring.

  • Steven Sparks March 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm


  • Ron Jimenez June 19, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    While I disagree with you on how Superman’s death was handled, I agree with you overall. For most of the big ones, you can pinpoint when they’ll return on when they’ll be appearing in a major film. Captain America, Batman, and, most recently, Spider-Man, were all back in their spandex in time for curious moviegoers to hit comics shops. You don’t want a newbie picking up a Batman book without Bruce Wayne in it. They might put it back and walkout. Oh, no. I wonder how often that strategy actually works. Like you, my thing is about whether it’s a good story. Batman and Captain America are two of my favorite characters. I didn’t want to see them die. I was pleased with how they handled it. I was VERY pleased with their replacements. Having grown up on Wally West and Kyle Raynor, I very quickly adapted to Dick Grayson as Batman and Bucky Barnes as Captain America. I thought it opened up a lot of storytelling possibilities. But, alas, it was not meant to be. It was over too soon and the way that Wayne and Rogers were brought back didn’t exactly inspire awe. Even the whole Dr. Spiderpus thing, I liked. Did it need a whole relaunch or to last as long as it did? No. It could have been condensed into an arc. But big deaths, big events, and new #1s sell issues. Take the upcoming “Death of Wolverine”. Oh, no. Not Wolvie! Never mind that he’s died before. It will honestly be more shocking to me if Logan’s still standing at the end of the story. But he won’t be. He’ll eat it. Probably in some way that makes most fanboys cringe and say “that would never happen”. And he’ll stay dead, the Marvel Universe will move on, the X-Men will return to their pre-AVX status quo because of his absence. Marvel will spew some crap about how his death was needed in order to bring the X-Men back together. Then, around May 2016, he’ll be back. Maybe with the help of Jean Grey. Conveniently in time for “X-Men: Apocalypse”, starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, to hit theaters.