We're thrilled that Joker was brought back to life by editor Whitney Ellsworth in his very first appearance. And we cheered Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Luthor, Bucky, Reed Richards, Captain Marvel and Captain America when they all returned from the dead But what about the mistakes? The horrible retcons and the undoing of GREAT farewell issues?
#7 RESURRECTION MAN
Created by Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett and Jackson Guice for DC Comics in the late '90s, the character of Mitchell Shelly was a lawyer who could not die. Shoot him in the face, he was back in 10 minutes, thanks to an experimental nanotechnology formula coursing through his veins that fixed any hole, rupture, exploded heart or crushed skeleton he bad-lucked his way into that issue. And you know, if you left it there, you'd have an interesting idea.
But the concept of an un-killable lawyer wasn't pants-wetting enough for these guys, Old R-Man had a GIMMICK, too! Every time Mitch died and came back, he got a brand-new super power, because, you know, that's logical. Sometimes when he picked himself up off the ground, he could fly, or shoot beams from his eyes, or he suddenly understood the intricacies of feng shui, and it was different every time. Then it got weird.
He developed this device he wore around his wrist called "The Resurrector," which allowed him to know what powers he would get, depending on how he next died. So it was ENCOURAGING him to commit suicide. It was a Suicide Watch, clearly, but they hadn't the courage to name it . Can we all say ICCCCKKKK at the same time?
The scripts were actually okay, really, and the art by Butch Guice was excellent ... but how could a series based around so wholesome and friendly a concept as continuous suicide ever get canceled?
#6 Norman Osborn
Oh, THIS old tale. An industrialist ingests an experimental formula, gains super-intelligence-and-mad-strength, dons a Halloween goblin costume, fights Spider-Man, kills the love of that hero's life and ends up impaled on his own rocket glider. Gone, dead, gone—a beautifully told tale that runs from Spider-Man's first year until issues #121-122. And at least this time, the experimental formula is going inside an INDUSTRIALIST. No more undead lawyers.
You couldn't bring a character like the Goblin back after so dramatically correct an ending as he saw in #122. But a fleeting 20 years later, toward the end of the universally despised CLONE NONSENSE, we discover that Osborn was alive and well and had been behind damn near every piece of evil that happened to Spider-Man in the years in between, including the Clone Stuff, Spider-Man's tax audit, Gwen Stacy's lost virginity and the death of Aunt May.
The explanation? See, the Goblin had long ago healed himself of that nasty bout of "impaled chest cavity" disease more or less just because he was all "super-heal-y" and stuff, we just didn't know ... and he had more or less just gotten up off the slab at the morgue, replaced himself with a recently chest-impaled homeless guy and wandered off to Europe to secretly pull the strings.
A world-famous Super-Villain and equally world-famous billionaire industrialist went wandering undead around Europe for 20 years and did not get noticed. Lucky guy was only world-famous in the United States, I guess.
Though there have been a few good Norman stories of late, the Osborn resurrection made us all victims of the Gwen-Stacy-gave-Norman-her-virginity-and-had-kids-with-him-that-grew-up-to-try-to-kill-Peter storyline that made a generation of Spider-Man fans physically ill a few years back. And that I cannot forgive.
#5 Iron Man - The Crossing - Timeslide
Not a resurrection in the technical sense, so it's lower on the list than it should be. For its sheer nonsense factor, it should be around #2, but here's the 411: Around Avengers #395, it started to come out that Tony Stark had been a longtime agent of Kang, the Avengers' time-traveling enemy. And now Iron Man was working against the Avengers, and the only way to stop him was to travel back in time and pick up a teenage Tony Stark from BEFORE he was a Kang agent, and strap the teenage Stark into some IRON MAN armor and let the teenage one kill the middle-aged, drunken Kang Bad Guy Iron Man so he could be replaced by a new, commercially friendly TEEN IRON MAN.
Lordy lordy, it was awful. A special kind of awful. And thankfully, it all wrapped itself up in less than a year, as the entire Avengers franchise was handed over to Rob Liefeld to clean it up, and it was swept under the rug like the skin of a dead animal. Imagine a time when Rob Liefeld was an improvement on what you were getting previously, and pray you never read these comics. Pray hard.
#4 Alfred Pennyworth
The granddaddy of the preposterously stupid resurrection stories of the Batman Universe. Show of hands, how many of you knew Batman's famous butler had died? We ancient fans, in our mid-40s, recall a time (Detective #328) when Alfred pushed the Caped Crusaders to safety one evening, whilst they were menaced by a giant boulder, and he was squished flat by this boulder and left for dead by Batman and Robin, who wandered off to put a little Aunt Harriet in their lives. (An editorial decision had hoped that folks might stop thinking Bruce and Dick were gay if they had a spinster aunt living with them. Well, obviously, gays never go near the spinster aunts!)
Sadly, with crime to fight, there was no time to go back and get Alfred's body for burial, or even to think much about it after a while, and Batman and Robin left Pennyworth's rotting corpse to the hands of a mad scientist named BRANDON CRAWFORD, who we find out (in Detective #356) sort of fiddled around with Alfred's dead body, hoping to resurrect him. He had mixed results, bringing Alfred back to life all right, but accidentally turning him into a boil-covered telekinetic supervillain named the Outsider. After turning the Batmobile and Batcave against our Dynamic Duo, the OUTSIDER effects kind of "wore off" and that was that. Smiles all around.
And then they kicked Aunt Harriet out of their lives, and resumed what they were doing before all this nonsense began. Alfred NEVER talks about it. Neither do we.
#3 Doctor Doom
I have had enough of bringing Doctor Doom back from the dead. The first 86 times they did it, it was all kinds of fun-cookery, but after a while, who didn't notice the pattern? As soon as someone kicks Doctor Doom's ass, and he falls off a cliff, into the nether-lava, we all know IT'S NOT DOCTOR DOOM. It's a clone, or a robot, or his brother in-law, or his chiropractor. In fact, any time you start to think you have the drop on Doctor Doom, you might as well pack up and go home, because it won't be him.
He wouldn't go into battle with a real enemy if there was any danger on the line, and he's shown it over and over again. He hides at HOME. You know that green costume he wears? It was originally BLUE, but the gallons of coward urine this knee-knocking candy boy has been spraying from his terrified urethra has stained it green over the years.
That's right, Doom. You heard me. You're a coward, and I'm calling you on it. What are you going to do? Send your best friend from summer camp after me in a Doom Suit? Call me when you grow a pair. Ty's new rule. You CAN'T KILL DOCTOR DOOM anymore. We no longer care.
#2 Jason Todd. Robin II
If we depend on my obviously fuzzy memory, Jason was either an orphaned circus boy (like Dick Grayson) or a jerk street kid who stole the wheels off of the Batmobile on a whim and became Robin the Second. I seem to recall that Jason was fairly popular when first introduced, and equally unpopular once he'd morphed into the "total douche" version of Robin after the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS (or "Ass-Hat-Robin," as he was known at the time). But rather than just "improving the writing" (a tactic abandoned in a number of comics throughout the nineties), DC had a phone-line poll to see if the brat lived or died. After a judicial application of tire-iron to the boy's skull, at the hands of the Joker, the phone calls were counted. The kid lost, and Crap-Robin was mercifully Dead. Gone. Dead. Batman got mopey. Tim Drake eventually showed up as the new Robin. We got on with our lives ...
Enter Superboy-Prime and the glorious, magical, transcendent RETCON PUNCH.
I'll try to explain this to the unfamiliar, and you'll believe me insane when I do, but here goes: There's a version of Superboy from a parallel world, and that world got destroyed before THAT Superboy had much of a chance at a career of super-ing. Instead of saving banks from teenage Lex Luthor, Superboy-Prime got to see his universe wiped out, and as a reward, he got to live on a farm in the parallel nether-world of Paradise Wonder Cove Land, with an older version of himself that was married to old Lois Lane. And there was a teenage version of Luthor there, too ... with a terrible perm and metal pants.
So Superboy-Prime did what any teenager with the powers of a god would do (when the only nearby female was married to an older version of himself) ... he punched the walls of his pocket universe in frustration. And each punch changed someone's history back here on Earth (including dead Jason Todd's), because, like, the Super-ripples of continuity super-frustration and confusion went forth from the parallel world and just ... "did stuff" to the universe, man. POW! The Doom Patrol is sort of not dead. POW, Brother Power the Geek has a muskrat farm in Ohio. BANG. Whatever your head could blort out could be explained away by one of these retcon punch things. ...
NOTE TO EDITORS: You CANNOT allow writers to use just ANY substance to help them be inspired. NO ingesting cactus and anything with little pictures of Care Bears printed on them.
Anyway, a Superboy-Prime punch caused the highly tire-ironed and very much ripped-apart-in-an-explosion Jason Todd to just "wake up" in his coffin and claw his way to the surface. And the digging out section of his week didn't require any air, but it did require temporary superhuman strength, to push the 6 feet of dirt and coffin lid off him, but then that went away.
And now Jason's back. Sometimes he's Nightwing. Sometimes he's the Red Hood. Once he pretended to be Clayface pretending to be Jason Todd. It's all good.
#1 Aunt May dies beautifully in Amazing Spider-Man #400
Comes back with a bomb in her head, about four years later.
At the time they killed off Peter Parker's perennially pill-popping Aunt May, I thought it was a poor choice, as the character was too important to the basic Spidey dynamic to lose (especially after so many other core characters had died ... Uncle Ben... high school sweetheart Gwen ... best friend Harry, favorite high school teacher Professor Warren and best villain the Goblin amongst others). But it was impossible to argue the story wasn't touching and memorable. May gets a sense that it's "her time," and she and Peter go to the Empire State Building, where she confesses to Peter that she's known he was Spider-Man all along, and she tells him that she's secretly proud of him and that Ben would be, too. They discuss tiny details of their time together and wrap up a lifetime of love. Then she goes home, lies down, cradles Peter's face, gets a sudden worrying fever and dies, while Mary Jane waits in the hall outside with her Aunt Anna.
Go read the story and try not to cry. I'm sobbing like a bear caught in a leg trap just typing this.
But a few years later, Howard Mackie returned Aunt May to the world of Spider-Man using a little-known writing trick called "not giving a crap if you suspend disbelief."
Here's the rub: The Aunt May who died at home, surrounded by family, friends and detailed memories of their lives together, was, in fact, an actress, hired by Norman Osborn and given DNA-altering compounds and plastic surgery to more closely resemble Aunt May ... all because Normie wanted to make Peter experience the death of a loved one, essentially as a really mean prank. This was part of his being-behind-everything-awful-that-happened-to-Peter scheme mentioned earlier. Why KILLING the actual Aunt May wouldn't have been a far meaner prank is beyond any mortal mind to comprehend.
Instead, the Goblin kidnaps the REAL Aunt May and replaces her with the actress ... then, after carefully not killing Aunt May at all, he surgically implants her with a bizarre weapon/device/bomb in her skull that makes nearby people melt into piles of DNA goo if Norman presses a button. THEN he puts May Parker into suspended animation, to pull out as a goo-melting dead-Aunt trump card, should he need one in the middle of a battle. Which he does in Spider-Man #75.
I swear to god Marvel published it. I didn't just dream it. It may be the single worst retcon of all time. And I'm including the much-maligned BRAND NEW DAY, which resurrected Harry Osborn with the delightfully succinct "I've been in Europe," where the undead are clearly commonplace.
What happened at the editorial meeting where someone said, "Let's bring back Aunt May, wire her head with a flesh-gooing weapon, claim the one in the gravesite next to Ben was a genetically altered actress, and the fans will just ADORE it!"?!? How could a loving and forgiving God have allowed this comic to be published?
I'm sure I missed some. Hammerhead escaping a nuclear explosion by turning into a ghost. Red Skull becoming a disembodied spirit of hate ... and ALL those Life Model Decoys taking one for the team. If there's an especially awful resurrection I left out, let me know in the comments section.