It’s Only the Complaint That Keeps Getting Resurrected

WARNING: The following contains Avengers vs. X-Men spoilers that you almost certainly read ten times last week, along with a lot of stuff that would have rocked your world in 2006.


A prime example, if it had happened.

Our community suffered a painful loss last week. After months of bravery, Professor Charles Xavier finally lost his battle with an omnipotent fire thing. He is survived by his space girlfriend,* hundreds of devoted students and friends, a shadowy cabal, the son who pointed the fire thing at him, and his proud legacy as a civil rights leader.

For a mutant, Xavier was all too human, but he will be remembered as a hero to the outcast and a champion for the different. The only things that may tarnish his memory are a couple of years of apathetic authors and the cynicism of the comics crabosphere.

Before the body hit the ground, you started to see it: “Ugh. Another stupid Comic Book Event Death. Give me a break. We all know they’re going to bring him back in six months.”

You hear it all the time. It’s the conventional wisdom; “everyone knows” that that’s the way comics work.

Too bad it’s not true at all.

Believe me, I’ve said the same thing. When Nightcrawler died in the middle of Whatever That X-Men Crossover Was, I moaned, “We feel no impact from the loss, because it’s cheap and temporary. All killing him does is leave the next writer with a mess to clean up.”

Here’s the thing: that was more than two years ago. To paraphrase Chevy Chase, This just in: Nightcrawler is still dead.

The Sentry, in answer to a prayer of mine, died at the end of The Siege a couple of years ago. The Sentry is still dead.

Right before he died, the Sentry killed Ares. Ares is still dead, despite being a god.

The Wasp was killed at the end of Secret Invasion. That was three years ago, nearly four. The Wasp is still dead.

During Civil War six years ago, Goliath was killed. Goliath is still dead. He was thought to be killed by a resurrected Thor, but that turned out not to be the case; Thor, you see, was still dead. (I’ll get grief for citing that one, but it’s worth it.)

Lest we forget, the most infamous serial resurrecter of all time, Jean Grey, was killed by Grant Morrison nine years ago. Did you snark about it when it happened? How’s the baby you had back then doing in fifth grade?

How many other times has the “serial resurrecter” died, anyway? Once? By my count, she was a character for seventeen or so years, died for six, lived for another seventeen, and has been dead for nine. As a track record? I’d take it. Those are entire lifespans of comic book readership.

Jean Grey highlights the real issue, though. The last time I said something like this about her, the replies I got on the internet were all along the lines of, “Well, technically she was supposed to have died in the nineties, but it turned out her brain had jumped into another body.” “Well, technically she was supposed to have died in a cave-in, but it turned out she didn’t.” Before we nitpickers came along, these sorts of fake-outs were known by comic book readers as “comic books.” Other people know plots like these by names such as “half the serial fiction ever written.” Even Sherlock Holmes gave it a shot. You should have seen this Days of Our Lives my mom used to watch.

But those other media are deficient in one resource comic books have in abundance: an audience that derives half its enjoyment from complaining.

In the sixties, when Doctor Octopus was caught in an explosion in his underwater base that surely would have atomized and drowned him at the same time, I don’t believe anyone reading thought, “Pfft. Whatever.” When he showed up a year later with a bad mood and a very long story about where he’d been, did anyone read it and say, “This is bullshit“? Or is that an innovation we have brought to the table with our evolved sensibilities? Are crazy stories not, in fact, what we signed on for? There’s a lot of nonfiction at the library, kids. Go nuts.

I made some of these comments online last Wednesday, and I was more taken aback than I should have been by how many people came out to vociferously defend the right to be unhappy. For every example that came to mind, someone offered a counterexample. It’s almost as if comics as a whole were some kind of giant glass, and by volume that glass was as full as it was empty, and one’s satisfaction with that depended entirely upon how one consciously chose to look at that glass.

I was forwarded many an obituary for characters that are walking around now. Cap and Johnny Storm, of course. Bucky in Fear Itself. The X-Men’s Necrosha came up quite a bit, Cypher and Blink and whatnot. Hawkeye died, but the soreness about his death never will. Nobody mentioned that Spider-Man story The Other, confirming my suspicion that we’ve all decided that never happened.

Come on, though.

You'd love to cite this one, wouldn't you? Never happened! (Did it?)

Cypher was a character for four years before dying in 1988, and wasn’t seen again as we know him for twenty-one years. When Cypher was “cheaply brought back,” there were drinking, voting, bearded people who had never seen him in a comic before. Before Necrosha, the Marvel Universe’s Blink was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #316 (October 1994) and died in X-Men #37 (October 1994). She was born to die, and then she was off the table for fifteen years.

The Bucky death, I’m not even going to dignify with acknowledgement. Was he even out of print for a week? You’ve gotta have a mystical Asgardian battle axe to grind to even have that come to mind.

Even though Johnny Storm’s was a classic, “we never saw a body” demise, his death and Captain America’s gave me pause. These might stick, I thought, especially as Cap’s death got into year two. (They kept Cap dead at least twice as long as they originally planned to due to the impact it had, otherwise known as the impact “everyone knows” these deaths don’t have.) When Johnny returned– with a bad mood and a long story to tell about where he’d been– it packed a cathartic emotional wallop.

Which brings us back to the good Professor. Regardless of whether or not we see him again– and believe me, I hope we do; I hope he’s in Uncanny Avengers #5 and you can all come back here and ride me about it– the history between Xavier and Scott made their confrontation and its ultimate end an emotional one for people who’ve followed them for a while. There was more going on there than energy blasts. It gave me food for thought and evoked an emotional response. I’m told that’s what stories are supposed to do.

*Wait, I forgot! Lilandra was shot to death in 2009, and is still dead.

Jim Mroczkowski has nothing to say about DC characters, because they’re all only a year old and the only guilty party is Resurrection Man. But it’s right there in the name.


  1. Outstanding!

    *begins slow clap

  2. Very well said, as usual. People spend so much time bitching, I wonder why they even read comics. I find the Jean Grey complaints especially annoying. She came back from the dead….once. One time. And people act like she’s Marvel’s version of Solomon Grundy. It’s insane. I have no problem with characters dying, if the story is well told. I also have no problem wih those a rafters moving ack, if the story s well told. I just want to be entertained.

    • I agree that too many people bitch. I’d say that comics have the bitchiest fanbase that has ever lived. I’ve never seen so much negativity over something we’re supposed to love. Doesn’t make me love comics any less, just the worst fanbase I’m a part of.

  3. I love reading Jimski’s stuff and I think he’s dead on with this. We tend to focus on characters returning from the dead without keeping in mind the sheer amount who stay dead (or at least stay dead for a long time). I’m certain there are people out there who will complain that every character returning from the dead is a “cheap stunt” (and I certainly agree that some are), but characters returning from the dead and coming back onto the board are great ways to explore relationships in the comic universes.

    Your point about Jean Grey is one I’ve been trying to make for years. She has a reputation for “always” returning from the dead and it’s simply not the case.

    • When a character is named Phoenix, it’s easy to assume the character keeps coming back from the grave.

      But between the cloning (madelyn prior), many iterations known in pop culture (90s cartoon, x-men movie franchise, x-men evolutions cartoon, wolverine and the xmen cartoon) all of which have at some point used the Phoenix storyline, and the many iterations of similarly red-headed Phoenix characters (hope and Rachel summers) is it really a surprise we feel like we’ve seen the jean grey/Phoenix character die a thousand deaths?

  4. This is truly one of the best articles I have read on this topic….I wish more people had your viewpoint, but the divisiveness is a big factor of comic book fans, so I don’t lose any sleep over anyone else’s viewpoint, but the fact remains that these are stories made to entertain & enlighten, if we need to hold such weight to a death, when we read stories about characters being able to physically go to deaths realm, where do we cross the line? We can believe a man can fly but not that one can come back from the dead in some form? The stories are what ultimately matter, not the feasibility therein. As far as Charles death, it is something that just makes sense, the character obviously has stagnated in recent years & has lost his relevency, through death he gains that relevancy backin spades, and it serves to push the universe forward….if he does come back, he comes back as a rejuvenated & revitalized character who was created to represent an idea that never dies…..thanks for the article, I wish we had more thoughtful stuff like this in our community

  5. I was just thinking that.

  6. I’m not reading AvX, but I will say that, for me, it’s not about death OR resurrection, it’s all about the impact on the living characters — and the STORY you get from it. From what I can see, there’s some great impact to be had by Cyclops being responsible for the death of his “father.” That seems to be an emotional pivot point for a lot of characters, so I get that from a dramatic standpoint.

    (Whether or not it’s been executed WELL is another issue. I chose not to read this event, so I dunno. 😉 )

    I think Brubaker proved with Bucky that a resurrection can work well when it serves an emotional point in the story.

    Now, raising Professor X next week would, to me, indicate that they DID kill him as a stunt — or that the REALLY story isn’t what we thought it to be. However, If you resurrected The Wasp tomorrow, I’d be fine with it because her death no longer seems to have any impact in current stories. The only qualm I would have is — “What’s the emotional drama behind it? How does it affect the surviving characters? Do you get a good STORY out of bringing her back?”

    • Bucky is the perfect example of ressurection done right. I had a lot of trepidation when I first heard that her was coming back, but Brubaker did that story better that I could have imagined or hoped. Now he’s one of my favorite characters.

  7. Yeah, the “Jean never stays dead!” thing has always bugged me as well. She did only come back one time.

    But it seems like resurrections out and “bring in alternate-universe versions” are in. 616 Nightcrawler is still dead, but they brought in the Age of Apocalypse version last year. And 616 Jean is still dead, but next month Bendis is bringing back her ’60s incarnation.

    Overall, I still think the “No one stays dead in comics!” mantra is more true than the opposite. Because, c’mon, Thor dies and comes back every couple years, and that means way more than a D-lister like Goliath staying dead for all of five years so far.

    But like Dave said above, for me it’s about impact. Whenever deaths (or resurrections for that matter) have impact, I’m all for them.

  8. I’m glad to see this subject tackled by someone with
    A) the knowledge of Marvel Universe history necessary to do so
    B) an understanding of what comic book reading is all about

  9. I am sick and tired of characters dying as a way of get me to feel something. When someone I care about dies, I am sad because I know that person will never come by. When a comic book character dies, I know there is a possibility of them coming back. I hate reading a book after a character dies and everyone is sad. It’s a mockery of death and it means nothing. Professor X didn’t need to die to make a point. He has been under used for years. If a character dies and is never brought back again, then I can feel something. Until comic book characters death matter, I will continue to bitch about them dying.

    • This right here is why I stopped reading Rick Remender (after giving him a try because every gushes about how awesome he is). “I need you to care: here’s a dead hero.”

    • @JohnJello you have a very valid point, and I think you brought it home for me. I personally don’t mind it, but it has to have a point. You may have just changed my mind on it. Writers shouldn’t take us in a ride with characters we’ve been reading longer than we’ve known most people in our lives, just to bring then back.

  10. Banshee got hit by a plane and is still dead

  11. Didn’t Nightcrawler technically come back recently in Dark Angel storyline when they brought the alternate version over to the main universe.

    Ares came back in Chaos War then went back to the underworld.

    • Well they did bring in the alternate universe Nightcrawler, but the one that died is still dead. And the alternate universe Nightcrawler is a very different character than the regular Nightcrawler.

  12. My problem with death in comics is that when a character is dead, their story is over. No more stories can be told with Deathcry, Starlord or Nighthawk.

    Sometimes, that’s okay. Not many writers were chomping at the bit to tell “their” Deathcry story. Other times, the remaining emotional resonance from the death is more important than the character themselves, as with Banshee. Siryn is a more interesting character because her father is dead, for example. Still other times, the emotional resonance of the death, and the stories that can be told based on that character being dead, are played out, and the character is worth more to the narrative alive, see Jean Grey at the beginning of X-Factor. It’s all about the strength of the narrative.

    In the case of Nightcrawler, the character had been so abused that he was worth more to the narrative of the X-Men dead than alive (and continues to be). Will that ever not be true? Sure, and it may even play into his religion. That’d be cool. In the case of Xavier, he hasn’t been used in interesting ways in a long time. Many fans forgot he was still alive. Someday, there will be few stories that can be told about how the universe is different for his absence, and he’ll come back. And that will be okay, as long as the stories that come out of it are good.

  13. Looks like characters with solo books usually come back from the dead, which makes sense. Team-only characters though, are out of luck for the most part.

  14. the only problem i have with character deaths is that its becomes a predictable formula kind of like how in soap operas you have the coma/amnesia or evil twin. After a while, it starts to turn into a parody of itself and at the very best, loses the full on impact (esp when you have spoiler press confs) since you expect it. There have to be all kinds of other ways to make a a character go away (and come back) that could make more interesting story points.

    I want stories that surprise me, not just another character taking his/her “turn” with the same old plot points. I don’t spend my time bitching about every time it happens…i’ve just learned those stories are no longer for me, which in the past year or so has really pushed me away from big 2 superhero books and towards more creator owned stuff.

    Publishers shouldn’t worry about the people who bitch..they are still customers…they should worry about the readers who’ve quietly moved on.

  15. My only complaint about deaths in comics is if they overly advertised way before they happen. I would rather they be left as a surprise. I don’t remember seeing anything about Xavier’s death prior to AvX 11, which was nice because I didn’t see it coming.

  16. Goliath, in fact, did just come back recently. Issue 7 of the Children’s Crusade, I think. (right story arc, not sure on the issue)

    Clones and/or alternate reality versions of characters ARE resurrections, they’re just loopholed in to “not count”. It is EXACTLY like the bit in BEERFEST where the long lost twin brother shows up to be part of the team. If it’s a guest-star (AoA Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Force), all well and good and I won’t hold that against you. If it’s a main character that’s sticking around for a while (Madelynne Pryor) then no, that’s reversing a death.

    And absolutely no one thought Johnny Storm or Steve Rogers were going to stay dead more than 20 issues. The fact that Steve was left alone as long as he was is actually a credit to the editors.

    Marvel handles this trope so much more clumsily than DC does, and that’s the truth. DC kills off a big character, even someone to bring back at a later date, they make sure it’s a real sacrifice, an honest to goodness “I’ll trade you my life for a good-guy-win” type of deal. I’m looking at Wally, Superboy, Superman. There are exceptions, but not to MAJOR characters. Marvel, they kill off major characters to convince you a threat is real instead of killing them off to end a real threat (most of the ones cited above, including the Prof).

    • I said Wally above… I meant Barry. Wrong Flash Fact.

    • Goliath hasn’t come back, I don’t know where you got that….Scott Lang as ant man came back, but he then had to watch his daughter be killed, as far as your logic that clones are resurrections, then I suppose Hal Jordan should be considered a villain…he destroyed a whole city, and although he was possessed, it was still his visage, so by your logic, he still did it….clones I understand if they are the exact same person, but marvel hasn’t done that since the clone saga, and alternate reality versions of characters that come back almost always have completely different character traits & views, hence, different character… far as dc handing death better, that’s just fanboy talk there, mistakes with deaths have been made on both sides of the fence, ultimately it’s the stories that matter, and most of the characters that have died recently on marvels end have been to save their friends, nightcrawler, wasp, professor x, Goliath, all of these people made a “real sacrifice” so I don’t understand your logic there far as people staying dead, batman went through pretty much the exact same thing as captain America with his death 2 years later…..this isn’t a marvel vs dc issue, it’s a comic book issue that includes all companies, ultimately you can have your opinions, I personally like good stories, I’m not worried about what company did what, or what character came back from where, if a writer tells a good story & understands its characters, it’s a worthwhile story

  17. Surprised you didn’t mention the Flash (Barry Allen), he died in Crisis on Infinite Earths and stayed dead for 23 years, returning in Final Crisis.

    And Wally West died in Flashpoint and hasn’t been seen in the new 52 yet.

  18. Maybe I’m speaking from a “posterior location” here, but I think the reason people say “Jean Grey always come back” is how many times we’ve seen it happen in alternate universes, What If stories, cartoons and movies. It makes it feel like a lot more. Personally, I always thought Jean was duller than anyone, and killing her elicited barely a shrug from me.

  19. Someone needs to make a list of all the characters who have died and then come back. It would be massive. Believe me, you can expect Nightcrawler to come back to life at some point.

  20. This was a good article, even though I basically disagree with the thesis. It made me think. Still, in spite of some characters who haven’t been resurrected after a few years, the fact remain that death in mainstream superhero comics is a joke. When it happens, you know they’ll bring him back from death as soon as it’s convenient for them, as soon as they think they can use that return to make more money. Change, in general, is a joke. And since storytelling most powerful tool is conflict, and the way that conflict changes the characters… well, I have to say that from a storytelling point of view this industry is bankrupt. It’s endless fan-fiction. It’s “Please, let me read another tale with whatever superhero so that I can recapture the magic”. I can still enjoy it for what it is, but it’s not really going anywhere.

    Having said that, I appreciate Ifanboy’s tone of optimism, this “let’s enjoy comics”. Sometimes it seems that many fans are always bitching, and why keep wasting your time and money, if you dislike it? If you no longer enjoy mainstream superheroes why don’t you try manga or independent comics, where at least you can have a proper story. And, if you enjoy mainstream superheroes, by all means, keep enjoying them.

  21. Johnny Storm is alive?!?!? Hawkeye is dead!?!?!?

    What have I been doing with my life…

  22. I feel like a lot of people get weirdly upset because the characters in the story don’t act like they know the dead are coming back sooner or later. It’s like they’re upset that when Nightcrawler died, Wolverine didn’t just shrug and say “see you in a few years, Elf.” Because how can they be mad if Nightcrawler is alive in the comics again? That would be awesome. Is anyone really going to say that X-Men universe would be better if Colossus was still dead? Or Havok? Or Magik? Or if they’d never retconned Magneto into being a crazy dude named Xorn? Hell, I still want Banshee back. And Forge. And yes, even Jean. A character’s death can be a great story, as can a character coming back. I understand that the characters should probably pick up on this, as it’s happened frequently in their lives. But once the characters start treating death as being temporary, then, and only then, does it become meaningless.

    • I will say the X-Men universe would have been better if Magik stayed dead. She’s a character that doesn’t really add anything at all to the world.

    • I agree that Magik has been used poorly since she came back, but I think there’s potential for really good stories with her involved. They’d have to be sort of different and strange niche stories because she’s an odd character, but they could still be done well.

  23. I see what you’re saying, but there are still a mighty lot of characters walking around right now who have been advertised “dead,” in comparison to the general understanding of the word “dead.” And I had the same reaction to the Xavier death in AvX. “Oh, please, how many times has he died.” But. . .it’s not a COMPLAINT. It’s a, “This is how comics work, most of us will have forgotten about this in a few months, and that’s probably how it should be.”

    The Jean thing is bullshit, though.

  24. I think this article is coming at the controversy from the wrong angle. My problem isn’t that Bendis killed Xavier or whether or not he’ll come back. My problem is how they killed him.

    “How did Xavier die? Was it in an epic battle with Magneto?”

    “No, it was in the big summer event Avengers vs. X-men.”

    “Oh, was he a large part of the story”

    “Xavier showed up in issue 10, and then they offed him in 11.”

    At least Jean Grey’s death in New X-men was well done, regardless of whether Jean comes back or not.

  25. Marvel and DC using death as a publicity stunt for events, and knowing they’ll more often than not be back sooner or later is something some don’t enjoy, for various valid reasons. It’s it’s valid that the author of this article likes it, but he’s not right. Or wrong. Well, when he said “Too bad it’s not true at all.” he was wrong, but yeah.

    That said this isn’t a thing in all superhero titles, give Savage Dragon or Invincible a spin.

  26. good article!

  27. Jimski it’s not the timeline or the permanency that bothers readers. It’s that we don’t *care* when it happens.

    It’s when Alonso says “when we started planning AvX we planned on having a major X-Men death”. As if it was part of the crossover formula 1) Main characters fight 2) Someone will die 3) ???? 4) Profit. These deaths no longer feel authentic, even if they’re permanent.

    As Fear Itself demonstrated, no way will a publisher take a main player off the table for very long, far too much of their franchise depends on the Wolverines and the Spider-Mens propping up sales. So some secondary character with long-goodwill but has become little used is put on the crossover altar. In this case specifically, how could anyone have even *known* Professor X died until the press release, considering it looked like Scott had *choked Emma to death* a couple pages earlier but she turned out fine?

    It’s not that the death doesn’t mean anything for the readers. It’s that it doesn’t mean anything to the publishers and creators. Someone else mentioned that if Charles was an integral part of this story, let alone recent continuity, perhaps the turnabout would be more shocking or its potential longevity more affecting. But it was just thrown in there to grab a few headlines and fulfill the Modern Crossover Formula.

    If the people making these books don’t care, why should we?

  28. Thought provoking, but I do disagree with a few of the points. Listing characters that have been killed and not come back (yet) does not prove anything. The “rule” used to be that only Bucky and Uncle Ben stay dead in comics, and that at least appears to be half right. Give them enough time and I am sure your lust of dead characters will shrink significantly. Particularly for those characters that are more popular.
    I also concur with some of the statements on how a death occurs- and for that matter how the return is handled. Both major companies have relied on the shocking death sales technique with varied results, and I am cool with it if it is an integral component if a larger story (see captain America). But for every well written return (Bucky) there is an awful one – I mean really, Jason Todd was brought back because super-baby (or Superboy-prime) had a tantrum that broke time? Really. So Jason Todd literally died but a space-time tantrum woke him up on his freaking coffin. Sorry, I digress.
    I think your mention if early “deaths” like ones where villains should have died in explosions is good, but you need to differentiate those types of tropes from the actual “look at this charred or lifeless body” deaths that are more pervasive now, yet still reversible.

  29. I like this article, and agree with it, but I think you are taking liberties with who has been ressurected. Mostly because writers have found a way around it. For example, you cite Nightcrawler; still dead, but his AoA counterpart is now around. Blink was dead, yep, but her AoA counterpart kicked around. Jean Grey is dead, sure, but her past self will be back. Cypher stayed dead, but his phalanx copy, Douglock, was around for a while.

    So while I agree with your general point that we shouldn’t complain about comic book deaths, and many stick, you have to also consider who has been replaced when talking about who has stayed dead.

  30. Nobody’s ever gonna complain about ressurrection man dying. I’d love if they did.

  31. When Jason Aaron killed Frank Castle in PunisherMax (which I enjoyed!), the death gave me closure with the character. I have no interest in ever reading another Punisher story again. A first-time reaction I’ve had with a comic book.

  32. This is an example case for multiple logical fallacies.

  33. The significant characters never stay dead. They are always brought back to life. The characters who stay dead (for the most part) are side kicks or members of a group that aren’t front and center.

  34. I just saw Nightcrawler in a book last month….Oh that was another Nightcrawler.