Your favorite superheroes are over 50 years old! Before they got dark and gritty, they did some goofy things. Welcome to Midlife Crisis on Infinite Earths where we look back at the less than illustrious adventures of some of the biggest heroes in comics. In this edition, we are talking about… Death?!
Welcome back! In our last edition, I mentioned the recent resurrection of Gwen Stacy. Gwen Stacy, as many of you know, was Spider-Man‘s old girlfriend who was killed by the Green Goblin a long time ago. It got me thinking about how trivial death has gotten in comics. Last time I looked at deaths in the Marvel Universe that were rendered meaningless by impromptu resurrections. This time I’m looking at the world of DC Comics, buckle up and here we go!
Recently, DC Comics told the tale where Superman dies (again), but it didn’t last long (as you’ll see below). So is DC Comics just as bad as Marvel when it comes to bringing characters back from the dead? In my opinion, respective universes between Marvel and DC are entirely different beasts and they both deal with death in very different ways. Whereas Marvel makes heartfelt sacrifices that are later rendered pointless by resurrecting a dead character, I’d argue that in DC Comics death is such an irrelevant thing that it doesn’t even matter.
The evidence your honor:
Hey, You Know Those Big Shoes You Had To Fill?
One of the recurring themes of DC Comics is that of legacy. If an iconic hero bites the dust, there is always someone that will take up the mantle and keep the legacy alive. The stories play out pretty much to same: Hero dies, a family member takes on the identity, a speech about hoping they can be just as good etc. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Except, death in the DC Universe is as much of a revolving door as it is over at Marvel. So the person leaving those shoes can take ’em back at any time.
Gone in a Flash
During 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Flash (Barry Allen) sacrificed his life to try and stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying the Multiverse. He literally ran himself to death. In the aftermath, ally Kid Flash (Wally West), took over the role.
Pardon the pun, but he had a pretty good run as the Flash until 23 years later Barry popped back up alive, literally running in to save the day during both Infinite and Final Crisis. These were quick blips, and eventually, Wally retired leaving the role to Barry’s grandson Bart Allen. Bart gets himself killed because he was kind of bad at the job.
Turns out he was part of the Speed Force (the source of every speedster’s powers) the whole time. It took the villain Profesor Zoom to muck around with their powers. Flash goes back to work as a hero kind of making all the other speedsters redundant, but I’ll get into that..
Battle For the Hand-Me-Down
Speaking of Final Crisis, that’s also a story where Batman gets killed by the powerful Omega Sanction, leaving nothing but a charred skeleton behind. It’s pretty hard to come back from something like that. Right?
Then the members of the Bat-Family then fought over who would succeed as the next Batman. In the end, Dick Grayson becomes the new Batman. Which, if you ask me, after all the years he was forced to run around in a green speedo, he kind of earned the job.
But it turns out Batman wasn’t dead at all, he was really shifting through time. Because reasons.
So even though he was left as a charred skeleton, Batman somehow ends up living through the ages because — ah, I don’t know, gremlins? Let’s go with gremlins — anyway, eventually, the heroes find out Bruce is still alive and bring him back to the present.
Not only does Bruce Wayne take back the mantle of Batman, but he also decides to franchise out and forms Batman Incorporated.
Reign On My Parade
Probably the most egregious instance of a death turn around was back in the dread 90’s, when comic books were horrible but we bought them anyway. We’ve talked about it before. DC Comics famously killed off Superman in the cleverly titled Death of Superman. Superman was apparently beaten to death by Doomsday.
No sooner is Superman apparently dead that four successors appeared: a clone (uck), a guy in a suit of armor, an evil energy being posing as Superman, and an evil genius disguised as a cyborg Superman.
As it turned out, Superman wasn’t killed enough because his soul was still lurking around his body and once his body was brought to the Fortress of Solitude its advanced technology revived him. After some time watching his successors screw up the job he was really good at, Superman returned, exposed the bad guys and well, didn’t need a successor after all.
Don’t Worry, We Have a Spare
Whereas Marvel Comics has a long running history, DC Comics is big on reboots. Why bother with years of continuity and a lush history when you can just hit the reset button and present a version of the characters in a modern setting?
These usually result in a big event with the word “Crisis” slapped on the title. If DC suffers from any kind of crisis, it’s indecision. Do they have a multiverse? Don’t they have a multiverse? Does the old multiverse matter? Does the new one matter? Oh how about the new one? It’s got a number attached to it. The number means nothing? Well um…
You’re a Corpse? Don’t Worry We’re a Corps.
When they revamped the Green Lantern and introduced Hal Jordan in the 1960s, they revealed that he was part of an intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. The Corps was an army of protectors of the universe that fought space crime with magic rings.
Over the years Hal has had a number of successors, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner. So when Hal went crazy and later died while possessed by the Parallax, the position was filled immediately.
Hal’s death was pretty convenient because they also needed a new Spectre and wouldn’t you know it, Hal fit the bill.
Even in death, a super-hero isn’t out of a job when he dies it seems. Also apparently there’s no attrition in the DCU, and retirement isn’t an option. Your golden parachute is actually a cape.
Poo-Poo On You New 52
Hey, remember when the New 52 came out with the new dark and edgy Superman that came with it? It was all right. That version of Superman was the one modeled after the Man of Steel/Batman v. Superman. However, as dark and edgy as Superman was, people still love him better as a Boy Scout. When DC Comics decided that they were going to bring back some of their old continuity with Rebirth, they decided to do away with the New 52 Superman. In fact, they killed him in the same way Superman died in Batman v. Superman.
No sooner was this Superman killed off did yet another one pop up to take his place. One with a kid! Dark-and-gritty-Hot-Topic Superman was still cooling on the slab and they just rolled out a spare without batting an eye.
So what’s the whole point of the whole noble sacrifice thing if all they’re going to do is dust off the next reasonable facsimile to take your place?
If You Hit Something Hard Enough…
In a medium where resurrection is becoming more and more common, sometimes he’s really hard to come up with new and innovative ways to bring characters back from the dead.
In the 1980s, Batman had a new Robin by the name of Jason Todd. Fans hated the character. So much so, when they did a story wherein Todd was caught in an explosion, DC Comics left the boy’s fate in the hands of fans. Using a 1-800 number to vote, fans unanimously voted that Jason Todd had to go.
The character remained dead the early 2000s when suddenly, out of the blue, Jason Todd was back again.
The explanation? Well, Superboy Prime, who spent 20 odd years outside the Multiverse, wanted to get back in. He did it the only way he knew how: punching. Apparently, he hit time and space so hard that it changed some concrete historical facts. One of those was Jason Todd went from a dead kid to a living adult.
I understand that anger is one of the five stages of grief, but this is ridiculous.
Judging a Book By Its Cover
If anyone read my article How Batman Got His Groove Back, you may recall me mentioning how a lot of old Batman covers that claimed that Batman would get killed in a given story. There were a lot of these stories. Like, enough to be concerned.
But it wasn’t just Batman, it seemed like the promises of death was on the cover of every hero in the DC line.
Naturally, all of these are false claims. The hero makes it out alive or it turns out to be an imaginary story. All the stories like this really drive home the fact that death doesn’t really mean anything. There’s always an escape route. Bad things that happen have no consequence because there’s always a happy ending eventually.
That’s it for this edition of Midlife Crisis, be here next time when we ask the burning question “How real can the Hulk get?” The answer, as they say on the Internet, will shock you. In the meantime, check out past Midlife Crisis articles here.