The Marvel Spider-Man event series, “The Clone Conspiracy,” had already delivered a number of shocking resurrections, but the reveal of a certain resurrected character as the mastermind behind the conspiracy this week was the most shocking yet.
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Of course, in the world of comic books, it is hard for any resurrection to be shocking nowadays, since characters seem to die and return like clockwork. Therefore, when a character’s return actually does manage to shock people, it stands out a lot more than other comic book plots. With that in mind, let us take a look at the most shocking comic book character resurrections ever (just for the record, last character cut was Jean Grey. Her initial return was a bit of a shock, but Marvel had also hyped a mystery fifth member of X-Factor for some time, and by the time she actually returned in “Fantastic Four” #286 as a lead-in to “X-Factor” #1, her return was less of a secret as much as it was an event).
15. Jason Todd
The death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, was a media sensation, as DC Comics had allowed the fans to vote on whether Jason Todd would live or die after being brutally assaulted by the Joker and then trapped in a room with an exploding bomb. Either way, Jason was going to be near death, it was just up to the fans whether he barely survived or if he perished. The fans barely voted for death and it became a major news story. Jason Todd was more famous in death than he ever was when he was alive.
Therefore, when he returned to life as the Red Hood (the official reveal occurred in “Batman” #638 by Judd Winick, Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen), beating Joker with a crowbar, just like Joker had done to him, it should have been one of the most shocking returns ever. However, DC had teased Jason’s return a couple of times already. It happened first as a complete red herring in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s “Hush” storyline, and then in more of a teaser by Judd Winick in his first storyline on “Batman.” So, when Jason officially showed up, it was a bit of an anti-climactic moment.
The most notable death in Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch and Danny Miki’s “Avengers Disassembled” storyline was clearly that of Hawkeye, who died fighting Kree warriors conjured up by the reality-altering powers of his longtime teammate and friend, the Scarlet Witch, who was in the midst of a mental breakdown (later revealed to have been unnaturally accelerated by Doctor Doom). Following “Disassembled,” the same creative team launched “New Avengers” to great success.
A year into “New Avengers,” the book was the centerpiece of a crossover event called “House of M,” where the Avengers and the X-Men got together and decided to do something about the Scarlet Witch, who had been taken into the custody of her father, Magneto. The Avengers and X-Men debated possibly having to kill her, as her reality-altering powers were so strong that they could kill everyone. Instead, her brother Quicksilver warned her and she altered reality to create a new world where mutants were the world’s ruling class. Wolverine was forced by a new character named Layla Miller to realize that something was not right and he met with a group of human freedom fighters, one of whom was Hawkeye! At the time, Bendis suggested that the reveal that Hawkeye was alive in this altered reality (and would remain alive when things went back to normal), would “break the internet in half.” We don’t know about that, exactly, but it was a shocking return!
For years, Ice was the heart and soul of Justice League International. Mark Waid even wrote a story once where Ice considered leaving the team, but was convinced to stay for that very reason. So, when it came time for Waid to write a big crossover of all of the “Justice League” titles that would reshape the books going forward, he thought the way to get the biggest reaction was to kill off Ice. He later apologized for the idea on Gail Simone‘s old “Women in Refrigerators” website, stating:
I’m responsible for the death of Ice. My call, my worst mistake in comics, my biggest regret. I remember hearing myself ask the editor, “Who’s the JLAer whose death would evoke the most fierce gut reaction from readers?” What a dope. Mea culpa.
It shouldn’t be that shocking to see that it was Simone herself who brought Ice back to life, although it still came as a bit of a shock, considering that Ice had no connection to any of the characters in Simone’s “Birds of Prey” series, who were in Russia alongside the Secret Six in “Birds of Prey” #104 (art by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood) on a mission to collect a Rocket Red armor, not knowing that Ice was inside, let alone alive!
Few characters have had quite as complicated a back story as Bobbi Morse, the superhero known as Mockingbird. She appeared as a supporting character in a number of different books and tried different identities before finally catching on as Mockingbird, who ended up meeting and marrying Hawkeye soon after she first adopted her new name and costume. Their marriage slowly fell apart in the pages of “West Coast Avengers.” They reconciled, but she tragically died in “Avengers West Coast” #100. If you were a comic fan in the ’90s, when killing off characters was all the rage, you would always dread anniversary issues, as they would often mean death for minor characters like Mockingbird.
Her death seemed particularly final, especially as her spirit came back and led to the return of a different character from the dead. However, in the final issue of “Secret Invasion” #8 (by Brian Michael Bendis, Leinil Francis Yu and Mark Morales), it was revealed that the Mockinbird who had died was actually a Skrull impersonator. Bendis threw this bit in as a favor to writer/editor Jim McCann, who is a huge Mockingbird fan.
11. Sharon Carter
Sharon Carter had one of the worst deaths that you can imagine for a character who was Captain America‘s girlfriend for a number of years and was a major supporting cast member in “Captain America” for even longer. Instead, she was brainwashed into joining a neo-Nazi group and then killed herself off-panel, with her death only being confirmed a few issues later by news footage shown to Captain America. The craziest thing was that the neo-Nazi group had made a robot duplicate of Sharon earlier in the storyline and yet Captain America never questioned whether perhaps Sharon was still alive.
In any event, time passed and soon it had been over a decade since Sharon’s death. One person who hadn’t forgotten how weird her death was was Mark Waid, and when he took over writing “Captain America,” he returned Sharon to the book (with a simple “it was faked footage” explanation) in a shocking reveal in “Captain America” #445 (by Waid, Ron Garney and Scott Koblish).
While Sharon Carter had a bad death due to how nonchalantly it was handled, Stephanie Brown had an even worse fate, in just how degrading her experience was. Stephanie fought crime as Spoiler, originally named because her father was the villain known as the Cluemaster and Stephanie would keep “spoiling” his crimes. She began dating Tim Drake, Jason Todd’s successor as Robin. When Tim had to give up being Robin, Stephanie took over. Batman fired her soon after, though, so Stephanie tried to prove her worth by implementing a war game she had found in the Batcave, which was designed to end up with Batman in charge of organized crime in Gotham City. However, she didn’t have all of the details, so the war game went very, very wrong.
In the end, Stephanie was tortured by the evil Black Mask, who had used the war games to take control of the gangs himself. She escaped but was badly injured. After she died, Batman learned that she could have lived, but her doctor, Leslie Thompkins, let her die to prove a lesson to Batman about how he was putting people in danger. It was a crazy turn of events for a noble character like Leslie, so it was very well appreciated (although still shocking) when Stephanie returned in “Robin” #172 (by Chuck Dixon, Chris Batista and Cam Smith) and we learned that Leslie had just helped her fake her death.
Piotr Rasputin, the X-Man known as Colossus, died at a strange time in Marvel Comics history. Newly promoted Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada wanted a moratorium on bringing characters back from the dead, as he felt that it had become too common of a writing trick. This caused some problems for writers who had killed off characters with the specific intent of bringing them back (like Chris Claremont with Psylocke in “X-Treme X-Men”). It also meant that notable characters like Colossus, who had died curing the world of the deadly Legacy Virus, were seemingly going to be dead for the foreseeable future.
However, when Joss Whedon and John Cassaday launched “Astonishing X-Men,” Quesada allowed them to become the first creative team to reverse “dead is dead” as a policy. When “Astonishing X-Men” #4 came out, the X-Men learned that the bad guys had an X-Man held captive. There were hints that it was the then-recently deceased Jean Grey, but Kitty Pryde soon discovered that it was her old boyfriend, Colossus.
8. Harry Osborn
In a famous series of stories that took over a year to slowly unfold (beginning as a sub-plot before ramping up to become the lead story in the series), J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema saw Harry Osborn take over as the Green Goblin in the pages of “Spectacular Spider-Man.” However, Harry fought back against the mental illness that drove him to villainy and in “Spectacular Spider-Man” #200, he ended up sacrificing himself to save his friend, Peter Parker, after initially intending to kill him.
In the storyline, “Brand New Day,” Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker bargained away their marriage (and the life of their now never-to-be born daughter, Annie Parker) to the demon Mephisto so that Aunt May could live (she had been shot by a bullet meant for Peter). After the spell had been cast, “Amazing Spider-Man” #546 (by Joe Quesada and Danny Miki) showed the “Brand New Day” that Peter was now living in. Shockingly enough, his dead friend Harry was now alive, as well! This was later explained as unrelated to Mephisto’s spell, but just a case of Harry’s death being faked. People were prepared for the marriage to be over, but Harry living was still quite a shock.
7. Bart Allen
After the events of “Infinite Crisis” seemed to remove Wally West and his family from the picture, an artificially aged Bart Allen took over as the Flash. However, his ongoing series ended tragically when the Flash Rogues were tricked into beating Bart to death. Wally later returned to reclaim the Flash name.
However, during the “Final Crisis,” writer Geoff Johns and artists George Perez and Scott Koblish told a tie-in series dealing with the three different versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes that had been created over the years. In “Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds,” we officially learned that each Legion came from a different world of the Multiverse. They teamed up to fight Superboy Prime. In the series, Conner Kent, Superboy, returned to life. That was not that surprising for a “Legion” series (as the Legion debuted as part of the original Superboy’s comic book feature), but what was a shock was that the mini-series also had the return of Bart Allen to life, and not only life, but de-aged to his teens as Kid Flash!
6. Norman Osborn
One of the most shocking events in comic book history was the death of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, in “Amazing Spider-Man” #121. The following issue, after killing Gwen, the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, also met his final fate when he was impaled in the heart by his own Goblin Glider (he tried to stab Spider-Man with it, but Spidey jumped out of the way and Norman was stabbed by his own attack). Norman Osborn was d-e-a-d dead. The “Spider-Man” titles even introduced a notable new villain, Hobgoblin, based just on copying Osborn’s old journals.
However, there was a long-running event series called the “Clone Saga,” where Peter Parker was ultimately replaced as Spider-Man by Ben Reilly, his clone that turned out to be the “real” Peter Parker (with Peter actually being a clone all of these years). Marvel wanted to bring Peter back, but they needed some way to explain all the various mysteries of the Saga. Their solution was to shock the world and bring Osborn back and have him be the orchestrator of everything, even tricking Peter into thinking that he was a clone.
5. Iris West-Allen
One of the big changes in comic books in the late 1970s was DC Comics catching up a bit to Marvel when it came to killing characters off. The death of Gwen Stacy was such a big deal because it was such a rare thing. Sure, DC had killed off the Doom Patrol in the final issue of their own magazine, but the Doom Patrol were always strange characters. In the late 1970s, though, DC had Aquaman’s son be murdered and also have Barry Allen lose his wife, Iris West-Allen, at the hands of the Reverse-Flash.
Six years later, with Barry soon to be killed off in “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” “Flash” writer Cary Bates had to wrap his series up and give Barry a bit of a happy ending. Barry at the time was on trial for seemingly murdering Reverse-Flash after the villain tried to kill the woman that Barry was going to marry a few years after Iris’ death. In the final issue, “Flash” #350 (by Bates, Carmine Infantino and Frank McLaughlin), Barry is cleared through the help of a strange jury member. As it turned out, the jury member was actually Iris West-Allen is disguise! Iris had been born in the future, so when she “died,” her parents had managed to catch her soul and bring her into the future. Ergo, she and Barry were now reunited in the future to live happily ever after… for a while.
Patsy Walker, Hellcat, had a depressing death. Her husband, Daimon Hellstrom, was given his own ongoing series in the early 1990s that was both dark and gothic. There was no real place for Patsy in the comic, so first she was driven insane by Hellstrom, trying to accept his demonic heritage (he had always been billed as “The Son of Satan”) and was institutionalized. Later in the series, she killed herself.
During an Avengers storyline, the ghost of Mockingbird appeared to try to get a message to Hawkeye (we mentioned this event earlier in the list). So in “Thunderbolts Annual 2000,” by Fabian Nicieza and Norm Breyfogle, Hawkeye heads to hell to rescue Mockingbird. He brings a woman back in a cocoon from hell, but it turned out that it was not Mockingbird, but Hellcat! This was far out of left field, and as such, it remains one of the most amazing (if underrated) returns in comics history.
3. Aunt May
One of the highlights in the middle of the “Clone Saga” was the very nicely handled death of Aunt May in “Amazing Spider-Man” #400. She revealed that she had known Peter Parker’s secret identity for years. She spent one last day with her nephew and his wife before she passed away in her own bed at home. Later on, Peter and Mary Jane had a daughter that died at birth. They had named the baby May.
Soon after, there were hints that their baby had survived and that Norman Osborn had kidnapped her. Peter, in a frantic rage, chased down leads to find his daughter. In the end, he was shocked to learn that the “May” that Osborn had kidnapped was Aunt May! As it turned out, Osborn had faked her death just to mess with Spider-Man. He had hired an actress, done plastic surgery on her and had her pretend to know Peter Parker’s secret (she didn’t know she had been poisoned and died in her greatest role). This was all just to mess with Spider-Man’s head. Norman Osborn is super disturbing.
2. Bucky Barnes
It was not until Captain America returned in “Avengers” #4 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and George Roussos) that readers learned that Captain America’s young sidekick, Bucky Barnes, had died in the same accident that had led to Captain America becoming frozen in suspended animation. So Bucky’s was a relatively late death, but it played such a major role in Captain America’s struggles with adjusting to modern society that Bucky was soon considered one of those characters that just had to stay dead. In fact, it was considered on the same level as Peter Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben, whose death helped create the hero known as Spider-Man.
Therefore, it was a major shock when Ed Brubaker launched a new ongoing series with artist Steve Epting that revolved around a new villain known as the Winter Soldier — a villain who turned out to be Bucky in “Captain America” #8 (by Brubaker and Epting)! The Soviets had rescued Bucky and kept him alive (with some cybernetic additions) and brainwashed him into becoming an assassin. They would hold him in cryogenic storage between missions, which would sometimes last years, which was how he became known as the Winter Soldier. That’s also why he has barely aged in the decades since.
1. Alfred Pennyworth
As part of the “New Look” approach to Batman that began with Julius Schwartz taking over as the editor of the “Batman” group of titles, DC Comics decided that it was a bit weird that Wayne Manor only had three guys living there, so they decided to replace Alfred Pennyworth with Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet. Therefore, Alfred was tragically killed while sacrificing himself to save Bruce and Dick in “Detective Comics” #328 (just one issue into the “New Look” era).
However, soon after this, Batman was adapted for a new television show, and the execs wanted to use Alfred in it (as Alfred has been present in the 1940s “Batman” serials). So, DC had to quickly bring Alfred back. Their solution was to use a mysterious villain created by writer Gardner Fox called the Outsider. Fox had someone in mind to be revealed as the Outsider, but he never got a chance to make his reveal, as the Outsider was instead used to explain how Alfred could still be alive (it turned out that a bad guy used a special ray that brought Alfred back to life but also turned him evil). Characters rarely came back to life back in those days, so Alfred’s return in “Detective Comics” #356 was a true shocker.
Which character’s resurrection was the biggest shock to you? Let us know in the comments section!
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