Death in comics is one of the industry’s guilty pleasures. As much as creators try and instill each death with gravitas and a sense of loss, readers are wise to the Wizard behind the curtain. Long-time comic readers are fully aware that death in comics is normally a temporary state of affairs, with the majority of dead superheroes eventually returning. In some cases, such as Captain America and Superman, this death and rebirth is part of a longer-term story arc. In others, such as the unexpected resurrections of Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd, it’s a case of new writers seeing potential in characters that have long departed.
This state of affairs is now an accepted part of comics, but there remains a small number of characters who, despite having been around for years, have somehow managed to escape the notice of the Grim Reaper. Here, CBR spotlights 15 heroes who have never died (yet…).
Note – Events with mass deaths which were reversed immediately afterwards (e.g. “Infinity Gauntlet” and “Secret Wars”) have not been counted for characters.
15. LUKE CAGE
First appearing in “Luke Cage: Power Man” #1 (1972), Cage has somehow managed to survive 45 years as one of the toughest Marvel heroes without being killed off. Sweet Christmas! Part of the reason for this is probably that killing Cage would not be a straightforward task, due to the minor details of his unbreakable skin and superhuman strength and durability. His case has also been helped by the fact that his exposure in the Marvel universe has been rather sporadic. While he has been ever-present since Brian Bendis brought him into “New Avengers” in 2005, his appearances in the decade prior to this were few and far between.
Of course, Luke himself is no stranger to death, with the final issue of “Power-Man and Iron Fist”, in 1986, seeing him on the run for the apparent murder of Iron Fist. The Luke Cage featured in modern comics has come a long way from the blaxploitation-inspired character that originally debuted in 1972. He is now happily married to Jessica Jones, and a doting father to baby Danielle. This happy family situation suggests that Luke should be safe for a while yet. Then again, Marvel does love a tragedy…
14. SUE RICHARDS
As a member of the Fantastic Four since the team’s debut in 1961, Sue’s longevity is somewhat surprising — even more so when it’s considered that there’s a portal to the Negative Zone in her spare room and her brother is a walking fire hazard. Sue is the only member of the Fantastic Four not to have died, with Reed (“Fantastic Four” #380), Ben (“Fantastic Four” #508) and Johnny (“Fantastic Four” #587) all having previously died and come back to life.
She’s faced death on many occasions, including close calls with her pregnancies. In her early appearances, Sue was undoubtedly portrayed as the weakest member of the team (with Reed and Ben memorably breaking the fourth wall in “Fantastic Four” #11 to defend her from criticism by readers), but her development by successive writers has meant that Sue’s powerset not only makes her the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four, but is ideally suited to keeping her and her loved ones safe.
13. JAY GARRICK
Jay Garrick debuted in “Flash Comics” #1 back in 1940, by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. Over the following years he fought against many evildoers before the decline in popularity for superhero comics saw his adventures cease publication. Famously, a new Flash, Barry Allen, debuted in 1956, but this wasn’t the end of Jay’s adventures. It was later revealed that Jay and his fellow Golden Age heroes were resident on Earth 2, before the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” brought them into Barry’s world.
In a medium where older comics characters are frequently killed off, with their sacrifice used to inspire others (as happened to many of Jay’s compatriots in the JSA), Jay is a survivor. He has acted as friend and mentor to numerous heroes, including a memorable spell when he acted as guardian for Bart Allen, the super powered youth then-known as Impulse. He faced many challenges in his life, including the loss of the Speedforce in “Infinite Crisis,” but survived it all, showing that sometimes good guys do get the reward they deserve.
Among the superhumans and mutants that populate the Marvel universe, Kevin Plunder, better known as Ka-Zar, stands out. A normal man with no super powers, he has nevertheless grown to be the protector of the Savage Land, Marvel’s land that time forgot. This, then, is a man who lives surrounded by dinosaurs and savage beasts and whose best friend is a sabretooth tiger. That he hasn’t died yet seems almost a minor miracle.
Part of the reason is for storytelling necessity. With the savage land being an exotic locale, it makes sense that there’s always a familiar face there to interact with characters when they visit. Another reason is the simple fact that Ka-Zar is a very formidable fighter. During Mark Waid’s run on “Ka-Zar,” some fans voiced discontent over the fact that Ka-Zar fought Thanos and not only survived, but defeated him. They shouldn’t have been surprising. As Marvel’s version of Tarzan, Ka-Zar has lived in the Savage Land since he was a child, ensuring that he’s used to surviving all the varied threats that may come his way.
As Queen of the Inhumans, Medusa has always had a heavy burden to bear (and not just due to her legendary head of hair). As consort and interpreter for Black Bolt, and then later as Queen in her own right, she has had to make difficult choices and has struggled with her sense of duty and what’s right. While Medusa has, at times, lost sight of her own identity (including her first appearance in “Fantastic Four” #36, where she joined the Frightful Four while suffering amnesia), she’s thus far managed to avoid being killed.
She has faced plenty of heartache and sadness, including the loss of her son and her separation from Black Bolt, but has consistently shown an ability to put aside her own needs and concerns and focus on what needs to be done. Medusa and her fellow Inhumans have been the focus of many stories in the past few years, with her wider profile set to increase when the “Inhumans” TV series debuts later in 2017. This exposure should ensure Medusa remains safe. However, as the death of Wolverine showed readers, film stardom does not necessarily mean comic survival.
Zatanna Zatara first appeared in 1964’s “Hawkman” #4, by Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. Instantly recognizable in her stage magician’s outfit and fishnet stockings, Zatanna has battled many magical and supernatural foes over the years, yet has somehow made it through in one piece. That’s even more impressive when it’s considered that she was once romantically involved with John Constantine. Zatanna is a long-time member of the JLA and has also worked with other heroes, most notably Batman and Tim Hunter.
One of the interesting aspects of Zatanna’s survival is that her powers are often linked to her speaking spells — either backwards or normally. This suggests that an easy way to leave Zatanna vulnerable would be to remove her ability to speak; this has actually happened on a number of occasions, sometimes forcing Zatanna to write the spells in her own blood as a last resort. Zatanna’s role as the Justice League’s resident magic user should guarantee her safety for the foreseeable future. Then again, from her experience as a stage illusionist, Zatanna knows that the curtain comes down on everyone eventually.
The perception that Marvel fans have of Hank McCoy differs greatly depending upon when they first started reading comics. Whether humanoid, blue ape or gorilla, whether a bouncing Casanova or an obsessive blinded to his own failings, one thing is constant: Hank is one of the few longstanding X-Men not to have died and returned. He’s been subject to many physical transformations and came close to death in “All New X-Men” before being saved by his younger self, but he’s yet to fall into the Grim Reaper’s clutches.
While Hank may not have left this mortal coil, the last few years have seen his character presented in a way that has divided X-fans. The bitterness he felt towards Cyclops turned into an obsession, clouding his judgement and allowing him to justify the most extreme acts. This culminated in his “trial” in “Uncanny X-Men” #600, where Hank still couldn’t resist blaming Scott instead of owning up to his own mistakes. Hank hasn’t died yet, but perhaps a death and resurrection is just what he needs to gain a new perspective on what’s really important in life.
8. SAM WILSON
Sam Wilson first appeared in “Captain America” #117 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, back in 1969. While stranded on the island of the Exiles, he met Captain America and formed a mental link with Redwing, a falcon he befriended, marking the first step on his heroic journey. Soon Sam would become Captain America’s sidekick in the guise of the Falcon, and many years later would assume the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers was aged into an old man.
The Falcon has historically been one of these Marvel characters who receives the spotlight for some time, before vanishing from sight for a long period. The last five years have seen Sam spotlighted as never before, headlining his own title for the first time, but this seems to have come to an end. In “Captain America: Sam Wilson” #21, Sam gave up the identity of Captain America as he could no longer fully believe in his country. The question is, with Steve Rogers’ allegiance to Hydra about to be revealed, does this remove Sam from the line of fire or simply make him a more dispensable character?
7. BARBARA GORDON
Barbara Gordon is nothing if not a survivor. Infamously crippled by the Joker during the events of “The Killing Joke,” she learned to adapt to her new circumstances and became the computer hacker known as Oracle, working with the Birds of Prey and assisting numerous DC heroes. This placed Barbara in a central position in the DC universe, to an even greater extent than when she had operated as Batgirl. How much of a survivor is Barbara? Well, her first appearance in her Oracle identity was in the pages of “Suicide Squad” and she later served as a full member of the team. With the team’s unenviable mortality rate, getting out alive was no small achievement.
Since the launch of the “New 52,” Barbara has regained her mobility and has readopted the guise of Batgirl. What hasn’t changed is that she’s still the same brave, principled character that readers know and love. As one of DC’s most popular characters, with prominent roles in “The Lego Batman Movie” and “DC Superhero Girls,” it looks like she’ll remain among the living for a long time to come.
During the years since his 1963 debut, Pietro Maximoff has made so many bad choices and enraged so many characters — hero and villain alike — it’s remarkable that he hasn’t died yet. This is a character whose actions led to war between the Inhumans and humanity, who was responsible for creating the “House of M” reality and who has frequently been a hard character to like, let alone love. And yet, despite this, there’s something to admire about Quicksilver. There’s no denying that he’s a flawed character; his family issues alone could keep a therapist busy for weeks. Yet at the same time, he always carries on, trying to do the best that he can.
Quicksilver has come close to death many times, most notably at the hands of Magneto in “House of M” and during his lowest moments in Peter David’s “X-Factor” run. He may have been able to outrun the Grim Reaper, but can he outrun his own mistakes? That might be the deciding factor in determining whether the comic book Quicksilver, like his MCU counterpart, meets a tragic end.
For a character that’s been kicking around the Marvel universe since the 1970s, Vance Astrovik has never gained the attention that he deserves. While his alternate future self was one of the stars of the original Guardians of the Galaxy team, the younger Vance’s evolution as a hero saw him become involved with several different teams. Vance met Ben Grimm when the two competed in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, but he’s most well known for his long membership of the New Warriors. During his time with the team Vance grew as a person and a hero, going to jail after accidentally killing his father and learning that the world can’t always be seen in black and white.
In the aftermath of the cancellation of “New Warriors,” Vance joined the Avengers for a time, but in recent years has once again found himself pulled back to the familiar family of the Warriors. Membership of this team has meant that Vance is no stranger to death, losing some of his closest friends in the Stamford disaster. But, until now at least, he has managed to remain in the land of the living.
4. BLACK CANARY
In many ways, the history of Black Canary in the pages of DC Comics echoes the name-changes and mantle swapping seen in DC’s CW shows. The Black Canary, Dinah Drake Lance, originally appeared in “Flash Comics” #86, in 1947. She appeared in DC Comics until the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” event in 1986, where the present-day Canary was retconned as being Dinah Laurel Lance, the daughter of the original. It’s best not to dwell on this too much, as it creates such anomalies as both Canaries, mother and daughter, being romantically involved with Oliver Queen.
Regardless of the time period, what remains the case is that, unlike in her TV appearances, the Canary is yet to die. As a member of the JLA and the Birds of Prey, she’s faced all kinds of danger, but her Canary Cry and her skills as one of DC’s top martial artists have helped her to come through relatively unscathed.
3. ROY HARPER
Roy Harper should not have survived this long. That’s not a slight on his character, just a recognition of the fact that he’s had many factors counting against him. He first appeared in “More Fun Comics” #3 in 1941, as a superhero sidekick and has battled addictions to both drugs and drink. And yet, somehow, he has survived all of these traditional comic book red flags to play a prominent role in the modern DC universe.
This isn’t to say that Roy’s life has been all sunshine and rainbows. He’s endured tremendous loss and hardship, including an addiction to heroin that ended his partnership with Green Arrow, and the death of his daughter Lian. Despite this, he has an inner strength that helps him to carry on, even when he’s at his lowest ebb. A founder member of the Teen Titans, Roy is now the only one of the original members not to have died (as a result of Dick Grayson’s brief death in “Forever Evil”). As one of DC’s greatest risk-takers, it’s perhaps unlikely that this will remain the case.
Debuting in her own series in 1980, Jennifer Walters has often been overshadowed by her more famous and more savage cousin, the Incredible Hulk. However, Jen can claim bragging rights over Bruce Banner in one notable way. While he was killed in the recent “Civil War II” miniseries, Jen has yet to suffer the same fate. She did come close, spending some time in a coma as the result of a brutal confrontation with Thanos, but ultimately she was able to pull through, having had a painful reminder of her own mortality.
In her superhero life to date, Jen has been one of the ultimate team players in the Marvel universe, spending time with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Heroes for Hire and many more teams. Part of what makes her so effective in this role is her fun loving yet compassionate personality; she is confident enough to fly solo, but also enjoys the camaraderie of being on a team. Jen’s recent brush with death and the loss of Bruce has changed this to a degree, leaving her struggling with anger and post traumatic stress disorder, with the “Hulk” series currently exploring Jen’s struggle.
2017 looks set to be the year of the Iceman, nearly 54 years on from his first appearance in “Uncanny X-Men.” While Bobby Drake has had two miniseries in the past, 2017 will mark the debut of his very first ongoing solo series. It’s an opportune time for a solo series as the last few years have seen major, if controversial, changes to Iceman’s life, including the reveal of his true sexuality. Iceman has often been overlooked and dismissed as the class clown of the X-Men, and it will be fascinating to see whether a greater focus on his character will change this view.
Bobby has often been criticized for using humor as a defense mechanism and a way to avoid uncomfortable truths, but one issue that he has previously confronted is that of his own mortality. As Bobby’s conrol of his powers has grown, he’s advanced far beyond the jolly snowman of his early appearances. He’s proven himself capable of reforming his body from moisture on a number of occasions, making him extraordinarily difficult to kill. With the powerful threats that he’ll now be facing solo, this ability could well be put to the test.
Have we missed out any other great survivors? Or perhaps we’ve overlooked a death for the heroes featured above? As always, we’d love to hear your comments. Hit us up!