It’s on everyone’s mind this time of year. Back from the grave, back to save humanity. In a long-overdue return of Four Color Top 5’s, here’s a TPB reading list of my favorite Superhero Resurrection stories.
A tale as old as time. Superhero dies valiantly; a world mourns. And, after the requisite grieving process has run its course, superhero comes back, typically in dramatic fashion. Sometimes the death story is more interesting than the actual return (sorry, Flash). Sometimes neither the death nor the resurrection seems particularly profound (looking at you, Psylocke), and the time spent on the Other Side amounts to little more than an extended sabbatical. But in certain special cases, we get epic yarns like the following.
Jonathan Hickman loves The End of Times. His parting shot to Marvel was to culminate a three-year “Everything Dies” Avengers storyline with the Secret Wars event, opening the doors for the All New All Different universe. Before he destroyed realities and made Dr. Doom a god, however, he was wrapping up a memorable run on Marvel’s First Family, The Fantastic Four.
In the “Three” storyline, Johnny Storm, who has long had a reputation as a self-centered, narcissistic attention whore, sacrifices himself to fend off a Negative Zone invasion from Annihilus and his scary-ass Annihilation Wave. Spider-Man joins the team, and they operate as “FF” for several months until The Human Torch makes his dramatic return.
All of Hickman’s Fantastic Four stories are worth checking out. His science-forward plots always seemed more appropriate to this title than The Avengers but, hell, he did some good stuff there too. But what really makes this particular pair of trades stand out is the way Hickman brings Johnny back to life. And this isn’t a thought-he-was-dead-but-he-really wasn’t scenario (we’ll see some of those below). The Torch was dead. Really dead. And not to spoil anything, but his resurrection tale involves bugs, Galactus, and Annihilus on a leash. It’s legitimately fantastic and might just wash away the bad taste left by yet another failed movie attempt.
|5. The Human Torch|
Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Vol. 4 (2013)
For weeks leading up to his demise, we knew someone on the FF was going to bite it. The arc was called “Three,” after all. And the Internet was wild with speculation as to which one it was going to be (my money had been on Reed). Props to Hickman for making one-in-four odds so engaging and surprising.
Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Vol. 5 (2013)
Just because this is “Volume 5” doesn’t mean Johnny was dead for only a few months. There’s a gap in between the two books, but the volumes read fluidly regardless. It’s the best run on Fantastic Four in – no kidding – about thirty years.
The death of everyone’s favorite Russian organic steel mutant is discussed in more detail in RF’s Colossus primer, but it’s worth mentioning that this is actually one of those just-kidding resurrections in which we discover that, despite the cremation, he wasn’t ever really dead. And that’s okay. Because as moving as his sacrifice is, collected in X-Men: Dream’s End, Colossus’s return in Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men is even more powerful.
The first two story arcs of Astonishing have been collected as separate trades and in one hardcover volume. The saga of Breakworld and a “cure” to the mutant gene marked not just a resurrection of Colossus, but of the entire X-Men franchise. The core group of characters brought to life by Claremont and company in the 80’s is instilled with a fresh energy and excitement, making it easily one of the best X-stories of the last twenty years.
This is the only entry in the Top 5 in which the death story and resurrection story are written by different authors, and, really, the main reading recommendation is that Whedon and Cassaday book. If it’s important to see Colossus die, then maybe just order up the digital version of Uncanny x-Men #390.
X-Men: Dream’s End (2004)
The only trade paperback collection that includes Uncanny #390, this contains the crossover event largely written by Chris Claremont and Scott Lobdell. It’s interesting because you can see Colossus die, but you also get the sense that the entire X-Men franchise is dying. There’s a disjointed where-are-we-going feeling that never quite figured itself out at the turn of the century: Grant Morrison, Bryan Singer movies, and the Ultimate universe made things very complicated.
Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1 (2006)
Before he raised Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to unprecedented box office glory, Joss Whedon was bringing glorious fun and adventure back to everyone’s favorite family of mutants.
I’d recommend reading the entire Whedon & Cassaday run on Astonishing, but starting here will at least get you the first twelve issues and the return of Colossus.
As good as Millar and McNiven’s Civil War was (the first time I overspent on a variant cover was when my LCS ran out of the regular version of issue #5 and I had to find out what was happening), the Captain America epic by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting that frames that event might be even better. You’ve already read Civil War in anticipation for the upcoming Cap movie. Good. Now, if you haven’t already done so, pick up The Death of Captain America. At the time, when issue #25 came out, surrounded by typical over-hyped media coverage, it seemed another in a long line of eye-rolling superhero deaths. But “The Death of a Dream” is surprisingly poignant, and even though we know how things are going to turn out… the twists are shocking.
Plus, there’s that great scene, an issue later, of Steve Rogers’s corpse on the autopsy table. If Iron Man says Cap’s dead, he’s dead. And here’s the withered serum-drained body to prove it. So if he’s really dead (and much of the Internet had its doubts up until then), how is Brubaker going to bring him back? Because he has to bring him back, right?!
He does. Captain America: Reborn is a time-traveling celebration of both the character and American history that even made a cynic like we feel pretty darn patriotic. And if you read it fresh off the Winter Soldier developments that took place immediately after Cap’s death, you’ll also gain an appreciation for the source material that has made for such great big-screen entertainment in the Marvel Cinematic U.
|3. Captain America|
The Death of Captain America: The Complete Collection (2013)
If you have the cash to spare, and want something really special for that home graphic novel library, splurge for the Ed Brubaker Omnibus, which contains all his stuff from “The Red Menace” through finding a replacement for dearly departed Steve Rogers.
But at the very least, check out this recent volume that collects both “The Death of a Dream” and the storyline in which Bucky Barnes picks up the shield.
Captain America: Reborn (2010)
We knew they were going to bring him back; this mini-series was solicited months in advance. So, surprise out the window, why bother reading this? It’s the how that is so much fun, as well as the tour through both Cap’s fictional biography and the world’s actual history. It’s not the end of Brubaker’s run on the character, but it’s a nice reminder that he practically single-handedly made Steve Rogers important again. No Brubaker, and Chris Evans’s only superhero role may have been The Human Torch. Now that would have been a true tragedy.
So, yes, this list is a little Marvel-centric. Sorry. If the category had been best supervillain resurrections, we might have seen things swing the other way. Maybe next Easter. In the meantime, settle down, because one of the two greatest cape-and-cowl comebacks in four color history belongs to the Dark Knight.
Grant Morrison is the Thom Yorke of the comic book biz. I approach his work with the initial assumption that he can do no wrong, and, even when something doesn’t hold up over time, it’s still better than 90% of the stuff in my collection. When he took over Batman in 2010, it was a big deal. It became an even bigger deal when we learned that his run on the title was working towards a storyline entitled “Batman R.I.P.” Now, if you’re unfamiliar, let me interrupt right here: Batman doesn’t actually die in “Batman R.I.P.” Shocking, I know. It’s an incredible chapter in one of the best Batman stories ever written, but he makes it through (physically) intact.
Furthermore, Batman does die around this time, and it is Grant Morrison who pulls the trigger. Or, more specifically, Darkseid, who hits him with the ol’ Omega Sanction and leaves Bruce Wayne a shriveled shell of a hero. This happens in Final Crisis, which is on my short list of favorite comic book events.
And The Return of Bruce Wayne is just as good. Similar to Captain America’s Reborn tale, this resurrection involves time-travel and a progression of our hero’s trials through the ages. But because this is Morrison, this story also involves a prehistoric bat-worshiping tribe, tentacled trans-dimensional predators, and the Library at The End of the Universe. You get Gumshoe Batman, Pirate Batman, Puritan Batman… It’s like the best Elseworlds Bat-concepts in one series, all tied together in one glorious adventure.
Final Crisis (New Edition) (2014)
When Evil Wins. Not just the death of Batman, but the death and reconstruction of our superhero mythos as well. The newest collection of this series, published a few years ago, is the definitive version of the event, including Morrison’s tie-in issues from Batman, as well as the two issues of Superman Beyond. Nice work, DC. You made me re-purchase the collection.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (2012)
Each issue of this great little series features Bruce Wayne trekking through a different era, with a different artist (“Until the End of Time” by Frazer Irving and “Masquerade” by Ryan Sook are my favorites) on each jaunt. For the full Morrison-Batman experience, however, I’d recommend following this up with Batman Incorporated. A gorgeous “absolute” edition of that series came out last year.
This maybe isn’t even fair. The character once known as “Him,” and re-christened Adam Warlock during one of his several resurrections, is built for coming back from the dead. His greatest stories (maybe all of his stories?) center on the questions of life and death, and the significance of one’s soul in the vast universe of interconnected hopes, dreams, and passions. It’s heady stuff, for sure, but in the hands of master cosmic storyteller Jim Starlin, it’s some of the best four color entertainment ever stapled together. Or squarebound, for that matter.
After his brief, initial appearances in The Fantastic Four and Thor, the enigmatic Him floats through space in his intergalactic cocoon before given his first opportunity to star in his own series: a super-powered Jesus Christ Superstar featuring the ominous machinations of The High Evolutionary and devious villainy of the Man-Beast. There’s a nice Marvel Masterworks edition collecting this Roy Thomas and Gil Kane gem that I recommend, but the best is yet to come for the man-god. It does top this list after all.
Jim Starlin got his first taste of Marvel’s cosmic universe with Captain Marvel, but the gloves came off when he took over Warlock. The constant struggle between Adam Warlock and Thanos, a character Starlin created in the pages of Iron Man, is as primal as the eternal tug-of-war between life and death. The first time Warlock and Thanos face off is one of the first great “events” in comics, culminating in their mutual destruction in Avengers Annual #7. The 1970’s was a weird, wonderful time for superhero comics, and that run that began in Strange Tales #178 is still a high-water mark for trippy space fiction. It also reminds us that Starlin was as adept at scripting space operas as he was at illustrating them. The evolution of Warlock goes hand in hand with the growth of Starlin as writer and artist.
And bringing him back, again, becomes just as fun. After resurrecting Thanos in the pages of Silver Surfer, Starlin does the same for the only guy capable of standing up to the death-worshiping Titan. In the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, Thanos has assembled the Infinity Gems and, as an offering to Mistress Death, and to restore balance to a universe that has more people currently alive than have ever died, he wipes out half the sentient beings in the cosmos. That’s next-level super-villainy, friends.
Warlock’s resurrections don’t end there, though, not even under Starlin’s watch. Check out the recent Thanos graphic novels and the current Infinity Entity mini-series for the latest reality-bending meditations on existence and omnipotence. And, more importantly, get caught up on Marvel’s cosmic canon before Thanos busts out that Infinity Gauntlet on the big screen (that’s what all us nerds were freaking out about in the after-credits scene of Age of Ultron). Or before Warlock pops out of his cocoon stashed in a corner of The Collector’s warehouse in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Cosmic Marvel, unsurprisingly, stagnated outside of Jim Starlin’s care. The notable exception came about a decade ago when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning came out of nowhere to drop the terrific Annihilation on our laps. That led to more space books, the revived incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy, and, of course, Mr. Resurrection himself, Adam Warlock. His Hollywood moment is imminent…
Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection (2014)
In addition to collecting that first encounter between Warlock and Thanos, this stacked TPB has some great early Starlin adventures, including the conflict with The Magus and Universal Truth of Church, the first appearance of Gamora and Pip the Troll, and the gathering of those fateful Infinity Gems.
The Infinity Gauntlet (2011)
After the dust settles from Civil War this summer, I expect the hype engine to start revving towards Infinity War. Although this story is not illustrated by Starlin, George Perez is certainly no slouch, and he may actually be the best at large-scale every-hero-and-villain-imaginable stories. This series was a big deal in the 90’s, and it birthed several follow-up mini-series and ongoing titles.