Death is one of the things in comic books that is almost never permanent. Sometimes characters stay dead for a few years, making fans miss them before their inevitable return. Other times, characters stay dead for a few months, causing their previous sacrifice to feel cheapened. Of all the comic book characters, none have made a joke of death more than Jean Grey a.k.a. The Phoenix.
It's been 14 years since Jean Grey has risen from the grave like the fiery bird that is her namesake. In December, Jean will be making her return yet again in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of (adult) Jean Grey (the distinction of 'adult' Jean Grey had to be made because Hank McCoy brought the young original X-Men to the future in 2012).
I had some concerns about the return of Jean Grey, but after reading a quote from writer Matthew Rosenberg, some of my fears were calmed.
“I've been an X-Men fan my whole life and Jean is, in my mind, the true soul of the X-Men. So we aren't taking this lightly ... We're going for that perfect balance of universe shaking epic and intimate personal drama that only the X-Men ever truly achieve. This is all hands on deck for the X-Men as every available member heads into battle for the soul of their team and maybe even the fate of the Marvel Universe.”
Fortunately, this strongly suggests that her resurrection isn't going to cheapen the character's legacy. So, what is it that makes a great resurrection? We've all seen some very cheap and also some amazing ways that people have come back from the dead in entertainment. On the big screen, we'll be seeing the rebirth of Superman in Justice League this November. Depending on how events play out, it could end up being a great moment in Justice League or it could end up with people scratching their heads.
Meanwhile, Marvel Comics' various rebirths have been a mixed bag. To get further insight into what makes a great character resurrection, here are some of the best and worst rebirths in Marvel comics.
- Died: X-Men: Second Coming (2011)
- Returned: Amazing X-Men (2013)
In Amazing X-Men, Nightcrawler not only gave up eternal happiness in Heaven to help his friends, he also gave up his soul in the process. He did this so his father Azazel would be bound to the land of the living forever. However, coming back from Heaven or Hell is never an easy task, as it requires a sacrifice of some sort. So, Nightcrawler spent his life trying his best to live the way God would want him to.
Seeing him give up his eternal reward for his friends made his two years away from comic a great story. Fortunately, he wasn't just brought back for a cheap gimmick, and seeing how he went to Heaven after death made Nightcrawler's return great without cheapening his sacrifice.
- Died: Avengers Disassembled (2004)
- Returned: House Of M (2005)
In Avengers Disassembled, Hawkeye sacrificed his life to help stop an army of Kree soldiers. However, we eventually find out it was actually his teammate, Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch), who created the Kree army with her Chaos Magic. Almost a year to the day, Hawkeye was brought back during the Marvel Comic event House Of M.
Most comic book readers assumed that this would be a one-off, as this series was in a world created by Wanda. But after she returned the world back to normal, (albeit without most of the world's the mutants), Hawkeye was back for good. Needless to say, this left a bad taste in the mouth of many comic book fans.
Hawkeye came back, and it was treated as though nothing had happened. Sure, he dressed as Ronin for a while, but that was the only real change. In fact, he went back to being Hawkeye in 2010. This was easily one of the cheapest deaths in comic book history, and marked the moment in time when fans started to realize that death doesn't mean much in Marvel Comics. However, Frank Castle's return in Punisher (2009) only made things worse.
- Died: Dark Reign: The List – Punisher (October 2009)
- Returned: Punisher (November 2009)
While in charge of national security, Norman Osborn put out a hit list. Among them was Frank Castle a.k.a. Punisher. Unlike most people who go after Frank, Norman didn't underestimate the vigilante. In fact, he sent a ton of H.A.M.M.E.R. goons and HIS Wolverine (Logan's son Daken) after him. After a brutal fight, Daken literally takes Punisher apart and kicks his severed body parts off a roof.
However, not even a month went by before Punisher was brought back – although he was resurrected with a twist.
Yep. That is Punisher, a.k.a. Frankencastle. He was brought back as a Frankenstein monster. It wasn't the worst story, but it was definitely a waste. One of Frank Castle's biggest attributes was his ability to exist in a world of superpowers WITHOUT having any superpowers. He was given super strength and a gem that healed him (The Blood Stone), making his death seem like a gimmick.
On the plus side, there was a great crossover with Dark Wolverine and Frankencastle. Of course, Castle gets his revenge in the end, but it still seemed like a pointless death due to the short amount of time the character was absent from the comic book run.
Spider-Man Sheds His Skin
- Died: February Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man (February 2006)
- Returned: Amazing Spider-Man (February 2006)
Peter Parker went up against Morlun, a being that was eating away at his life force. Peter won the first fight, but was nearly beaten to death. While Peter was in a comatose state, he woke and attacked Morlun, ultimately killing him. Peter then died seconds later.
Peter's death was part of a new metamorphosis. He was "shedding his old skin" to come back stronger and with more powers. Of course, when it was announced that Spider-Man was going to die, no one believed it would last that long. Even though he didn't stay dead longer than a couple of weeks, it was so great of a story and explanation that his death and rebirth was done to near perfection.
This is the perfect example of how to handle an important death, showing that the amount of time a character isn't an all-important factor if you can find a way to make their quick return add to the character's journey.
An 'Astonishing' Moment
- Died: Uncanny X-Men #390 (March 2001)
- Returned: Astonishing X-Men (October 2004)
Without hesitation, Colossus sacrificed his life to make sure that a plague called the Legacy Virus would never kill another mutant. While the world thought he was dead, Colossus was actually being experimented on by an alien race from a planet called Breakworld.
Everything about Colossus' rebirth was amazing. First off, the speech he gave before he sacrificed himself was beautiful.
"I'm sorry, Doctor. I hope you will understand why I must do this. I have battled living islands. I have fought Sentinels whose soul purpose was to kill mutants. I have helped to save the universe, more than once. I have done all this and more and yet the hardest thing I have ever done was watch helplessly as my sister's life was taken by the Legacy Virus. Someday, there may be a cure that does not require a sacrifice. Someday, the violence will end. Someday... children like Illyana will not be victims of a war they are not a part of. But I cannot stand by for even one hour knowing somewhere, someone else's little sister is dying from this disease."
Then, when he came back, he was freed by the love of his life, Kitty Pryde. The moment was incredibly sweet and well worth it. It made it hard to be mad that Colossus' death was so short because his return was beautifully written.
At the end of the day, comic book are going to have really good and bad resurrections. However, if Matthew Rosenberg can write something as poignant as Colossus' return in Astonishing X-Men and as monumental as Spidey's rebirth in Amazing Spider-Man, it will certainly be worth it.
What do you think about the decision to bring back Jean Grey? Let me know in the comments below!