In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic book death. A comic book death is generally not taken seriously by readers and is rarely permanent or meaningful other than for story or thematic purposes. The term is usually not applied to characters who have the ability to return from the dead as an established power or ability, such as Solomon Grundy or Ra's al Ghul.
Commenting on the impact and role of comic book character deaths, writer Geoff Johns said: "Death in superhero comics is cyclical in its nature, and that's for a lot of reasons, whether they are story reasons, copyright reasons, or fan reasons." The phenomenon of comic book death is particularly common for superhero characters. Writer Danny Fingeroth suggests that the nature of superheroes requires that they be both ageless and immortal.
A common expression regarding comic book death was once "The only people who stay dead in comics are Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben," referring to the seminal importance of those characters' deaths to the title character: Captain America's sidekick (retconned dead in 1964), Batman's second Robin (dead in 1988), and Spider-Man's uncle (dead since 1962), respectively. This long-held tenet was broken in 2005, when Jason Todd returned to life as the Red Hood and Bucky was reported to have survived the accident that seemingly killed him, brought back in 2005 as the Winter Soldier, remaining in the shadows for decades. Barnes apparently died again in 2011 after a short tenure as Captain America, only to be revived by Nick Fury's Infinity Formula.
Because death in American super-hero comics is so often temporary, readers rarely take the death of a character seriously; when a character dies, readers feel very little sense of loss, and are simply left wondering how long it will be before they return to life.
Although several comic book deaths are well-known, two of the best-known are the 1980 "death" of Jean Grey in Marvel's "Dark Phoenix Saga" and that of Superman in DC's highly publicized 1993 "Death of Superman" storyline. There is one major distinction between the two, however—whereas it was never intended that Superman's death be permanent, but rather that he would return to life at the conclusion of the story, Jean's passing was intended to be permanent, as the editor Jim Shooter felt that would be the only satisfactory outcome given that she had committed mass murder. Despite this, the story was retconned a few years later to facilitate Jean's return.
Planters cited comic book deaths (particularly those adapted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as the inspiration for a storyline killing off its century-old mascot Mr. Peanut in January 2020 and having him reborn as a baby the next month.
Comic book characters themselves have made comments about the frequency of resurrections. Professor X has commented "in mutant heaven there are no pearly gates, but instead revolving doors." When Siryn was made aware of her father's death, she refused to mourn him, giddily claiming that since her father has died as an X-Man, he was likely going to be soon resurrected, shocking her friends. Her father is later restored to life but is recruited by the Apocalypse Twins as part of their new Horsemen of Apocalypse. The obituary writer of the in-universe newspaper the Daily Bugle once bemoaned to reporter Ben Urich about how many retractions he has had to write after each resurrection of a superhero or supervillain. In one issue of The Incredible Hercules, there is a betting game for then deceased superheroes to return to life.
- Soap opera, radio drama and television genre also known for such character deaths
- Retroactive continuity, related to comic book deaths
- IGN Geoff Johns: Inside Blackest Night
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- X-Factor #70 page 17, panel 1
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