Comic book companies love to use fake outs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. When used properly, swerves can make a story a lot of fun. There are also the cheap attempts to trick fans. Sometimes, the cover to a comic will depict a shocking event that doesn’t actually happen within the pages of the book. Other times, a book will end on a terrifying cliffhanger that shows some catastrophic event occurring, but then the next chapter reveals that the cliffhanger either wasn’t real or that an important detail had been left out, completely changing the severity of events. The following fake outs, however, took things to the next level.
Once again, these weren’t necessarily bad stories. When all was said and done, many of them actually went down as classic entries into their respective franchises. It’s just that what the publishers went to great lengths to get fans to believe they were reading one thing, and then pulled the carpet out from under them at the last minute. Death is a recurring theme, because advertising a story as a hero’s final adventure is a surefire way to increase sales, but actually killing off a character prevents further stories from being told. There are also the huge status quo shake-ups, which are always advertised as permanent, but almost never actually are. Here are the biggest fake outs in comic book history.
15. SUPERMAN “DIES”
In 1992, DC Comics announced that it was doing the unthinkable: killing Superman. The highly promoted storyline featured a monster named Doomsday breaking free from its ancient vault and rampaging its way towards Metropolis. The beast proved itself to be too powerful, and Superman only barely defeats it before succumbing to his own wounds in Superman #75 (1993) by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding.
DC promoted the story as if Superman had actually died. A funeral was held in the comics for the fallen hero, and four replacement “Supermen” appeared in a storyline titled Reign of the Supermen (1993). That storyline concluded, however, with it being revealed that the real Superman hadn’t actually died. Instead, his body had gone into hibernation and after secretly being placed in a “regeneration matrix,” he returned to take down the evil Cyborg Superman with the help of Superboy, Green Lantern and Steel.
14. BEN REILLY IS THE “REAL” SPIDEY
In Amazing Spider-Man #149 (1975) by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru, the Jackal knocks Spider-Man out. When the hero awakens, he discovers that the villain created a clone of him. The clone is seemingly killed during the battle, leaving only the real Peter behind. It wasn’t until two decades later that the second Spider-Man would resurface, now living as Ben Reilly. Even more shocking was the fact that tests would reveal that he was actually the original Peter Parker.
With Mary Jane announcing her pregnancy and Peter temporarily losing his powers, Ben takes over as Spider-Man. Fans were shocked to find out that the Spider-Man they’d been reading about for almost two decades had been fake. It was ultimately revealed, however, that Norman Osborn had actually orchestrated the whole thing just to mess with Spider-Man, and that Ben Reilly was the clone and Peter was, in fact, the real Spider-Man.
13. CAPTAIN AMERICA “DIES”
Superheroes die all the time, and they come back almost as often. When Captain America was shot and killed in Captain America #25 (2007) by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, however, Marvel made it clear that Steve Rogers was dead. Not only was there a body and a public funeral, but Thor also communicated with Steve’s ghost at one point. In the aftermath, Bucky took up the mantle of Captain America and Steve Rogers seemed to be truly dead.
Of course, it was later revealed that the gun that shot Steve wasn’t a regular gun and sent his consciousness spiraling through time. The Red Skull had orchestrated the whole thing in order to place his mind in Rogers’ body. In the end, however, Rogers defeats the Skull and returns to his proper time period in the proper body.
12. BATMAN “DIES”
In Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis (2009), the Earth was once again placed in jeopardy because of Darkseid. Batman confronted the New God and shot him with a radion bullet that had been used on Orion. The Dark Knight hit his target, but not before Darkseid fired his omega beams, hitting the hero. Superman would later find his friend’s smoking corpse, which confirmed Batman’s death. Nekron would later use Batman’s corpse as part of his plans during the Blackest Night storyline.
Of course, Bruce Wayne wasn’t really dead. His essence had been sent spiraling through time. He was, however, infected with Omega Energy. If he returned to his own time, this energy would destroy reality. Luckily, the Justice League figured out a way to dissipate the energy by temporarily stopping Bruce’s heart, and Batman was returned home in “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” (2010), also by Grant Morrison.
11. MARVEL “DIES”
During the lead up to Secret Wars (2015) by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic, it seemed as if Marvel was prepping for a line-wide reboot, similar to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. During the lead up to the story, it was revealed that the multiverse was collapsing as each parallel universe colliding with one another. The first issue of Secret Wars ended with the mainstream Marvel Universe (Earth 616) colliding with the Ultimate Universe and both being destroyed.
The issue even ended with a death note for the Marvel Universe, giving both a birth and death date. It seemed as if a new Marvel Universe was set to take the original’s place. Secret Wars ended with Reed Richards restoring the multiverse, and the Marvel Universe was restored and mostly unchanged, aside from some very minor differences.
10. SPIDER-MAN “REPLACED”
While killing off and then later resurrecting heroes is common in comic books, Amazing Spider-Man #700 (2012) by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ended with Peter Parker dying but Spider-Man surviving and becoming the Superior Spider-Man. Doc Ock had switched brainwaves with Peter Parker, leaving the hero trapped in the villain’s dying body. The two enemies then fought while still body swapped, during which Ock’s body (containing Peter’s brain) was killed.
Otto then assumed Peter’s identity and began calling himself the Superior Spider-Man. A trace of Peter’s original brainwaves survived, however, but Otto discovered them and seemingly erased Peter forever. It seemed that all hope was lost until it was revealed that Peter’s brainwaves hadn’t actually been erased. When Otto failed as Spider-Man, he eventually gave back control of the body to Peter, the Amazing Spider-Man.
9. BATMAN “RETIRES”
Running throughout the Batman titles during 1993 to 1994, Knightfall started off with a new villain, Bane, doing the impossible and literally breaking Batman. After orchestrating a mass breakout of Batman’s villains, Bane let the hero wear himself down before attacking him in his home (Bane had figured out Bruce Wayne’s alter ego). The fight ended with Batman’s back broken and his crime fighting career seemingly over.
Unable to go on, Bruce passed on the mantle of the Batman to Jean-Paul Valley, who had previously been known as Azrael. With a broken back, this seemed to be a long term, if not permanent situation. In reality, Bruce Wayne’s wounds healed and he returned to Gotham reclaiming the mantle from Valley, who had become somewhat deranged by that point.
8. AGE OF “ULTRON”
Unlike the movie of the same name, the comic book Age of Ultron (2013) by Brian Michael Bendis actually featured the titular villain taking over the world and ushering in an age of his rule. The first issue kicks off with New York City already in ruins as Ultron’s army of robots continues to destroy all life across the planet. The few remaining heroes band together to stop Ultron, but he continuously overpowers them.
That is, until they find a time machine. The majority of thestoryline actually deals with Wolverine and Sue Storm traveling to the past, killing Hank Pym (preventing Ultron from ever being created) and then trying to fix the timeline. The titular villain barely appears in the story, and the entire thing ends all of the events from the comic being retconned out of existence.
7. CAPTAIN MARVEL’S “RETURN”
The Death of Captain Marvel (1982) by Jim Starlin remains one of Marvel’s most impactful stories, so it was obviously a big deal when the titular character was brought back to life in Civil War: The Return (2007) by Paul Jenkins and Tom Raney. Well, it was actually a Captain Marvel who traveled from the past and was stuck in the present day. Even though it technically didn’t do undo the death, it was still a big deal to actually have Captain Marvel back.
Then came Secret Invasion (2006). During the build-up to the event, it was revealed that the shapeshifting alien Skrulls had successfully replaced many of Earth’s superhumans and were plotting an invasion. When the event kicked off, all of the fake heroes were revealed, including Captain Marvel. It turns out, The Return should have actually been called Just Another Lie.
6. DEADPOOL “DIES”
In the months leading up the 250th issue of Deadpool (2015) by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan and Mike Hawthorne, Marvel began releasing promotions teasing the death of Deadpool. The issue itself showed the final fight between Deadpool, Flag Smasher and the ULTIMATUM organization, which resulted in a gigantic and bloody battle. While this was seemingly being billed as Deadpool’s last stand, he amazingly survived it.
The advertised death came at the end of the issue, when the incursion between Earth 616 and the Ultimate Marvel Earth occurred. While Deadpool did technically die, so did everyone else on Earth, as this was part of the lead-in to Secret Wars (2015). When the event ended, Deadpool was back to the land of the living, so billing this as the death of Deadpool was a bit of a swerve on Marvel’s part, though not an outright “lie.”
5. PETER PARKER’S “PARENTS”
Ever since he was first introduced, the fact that Peter Parker was raised by his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben has been a big part of his story. His parents were CIA agents who were killed in action (or declared missing in action — the details often get confused). That all changed when his parents first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #363 (1992) by David Michelinie and Mark Bagley, claiming to have spent years in a Russian Gulag.
At first, it all seemed like a happy family reunion. It was ultimately revealed, however, that these were actually replicants of Peter’s parents, who were created by Harry Osborn and the Chameleon. The decoys were killed off in Amazing Spider-Man #388 (1994), also by David Michelinie and Mark Bagley; since then, Peter’s parents have remained some of the few Marvel characters to truly remain dead.
One of the most controversial X-Men characters, Xorn made his debut in New X-Men Annual (2001) by Grant Morrison and Leinil Francis Lu. He was originally introduced as a Chinese mutant who is forced to wear a metal mask because he has a star for a brain. After joining the X-Men and gaining their trust over time, he is eventually revealed to have been Magneto in disguise. He launches an attack on the X-Men that leaves both him and Jean Grey dead.
Then, in another surprise twist, it was revealed that Xorn was only pretending to be Magneto. The real Magneto returned in Excalibur #1 (2004) by Chris Claremont and Aaron Lopresti, and it was eventually revealed that Xorn was under the influence of a substance known as sublime, leading him to think he was Magneto. Basically, Xorn was a fake out that ended up getting doubly faked out.
3. JOKER IS IMMORTAL
During the stories leading up to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Endgame (2014) story from their run on Batman, the Joker had a pretty rough time, including having his face cut off. When he showed up in Endgame, however, his face was somehow healed and he seemed to have become un-killable.
When Commissioner Gordon found evidence that the Joker had been in Gotham for centuries, it was suggested that the villain might actually be immortal. As more evidence began to mount, and the Joker recovered from one horrific wound after another, it seemed like DC had made a huge change to the character. At the very end of the story, however, it was heavily implied that Joker was just using pools of a healing substance known as Dionesium to heal himself.
2. SPIDER-MAN UNMASKS
As part of Marvel’s first “Civil War” (2006) event, Peter Parker revealed to the world that he was Spider-Man. The heroes had been fighting over a law forcing superheroes to register with the government. Parker had been working closely with Tony Stark, who was leading the pro-registration movement. Stark convinced Parker to reveal his identity as a publicity stunt to show support for registration in Civil War #2 (2006) by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven.
At the time, it was a huge deal, and for the following months, Spider-Man’s status quo was radically altered. That is, until Amazing Spider-Man #545 (2007) by J Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, where Peter made a literal deal with the devil to save his Aunt May (who had been shot). Reality was altered, and when Peter came to, he was back to having a secret identity, only 12 issues after he revealed it.
1. DONATELLO DIES
In one of the most shocking deaths ever, Donatello was killed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2015) by Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman and Cory Smith. Left alone in the lab while his brothers were fighting Krang, Donatello was ambushed by Bebop and Rocksteady. The fight took a more brutal turn than usual, and Donatello’s shell ended up being smashed with a sledgehammer by Rocksteady. The turtles returned home to find their brother dead.
The image of the turtles crying over their dead brother’s body was incredibly shocking, and was actually huge news at the time. For fans of Donnie, however, things got better pretty quickly. After a brief trip to the afterlife, Donnie found his consciousness preserved in the robotic body of Metalhead. When that body self destructed, Donnie ended up back in his own body while the series’ young fans ended up in therapy.
Which comic book swerve took you for a ride? Let us know in the comments!