Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
People have their preferences.
In the comic book world, fans fall into one of three places: Primarily DC fans, primarily Marvel fans, or primarily fans of smaller markets.
The last choice is tantamount to computer professionals that like making their own Linnux machines at home and use that to get their work done. They are the outliers who love reading an interesting story and have not fallen prey to the popular culture of the more syndicated characters. If you go to any comic book convention, you’ll find these publishers at their own tables with some characters you might have heard of. This is where you find Dark Horse, Image, and a whole host of underground produced comics.
But I digress.
For most of us, we’re either primarily DC or primarily Marvel. And when we talk about characters that come back from the void, it’s more likely to happen in a DC comic than it is with a Marvel comic. One of the reasons behind this is that Marvel has pretty much kept its history relatively free of complete retcons (Retroactive Continuity Change). I’m not saying that Marvel does not do this, I’m just saying that when it’s done, it’s not done on the vast multiverse scale that DC does it. So, yes, fans of Spider-man know that the entire Brand New Day storyline was based on this and had the subsequent consequence the resurrection of Harry Osborne.
As far as people coming back from the oblivion, this change was minor.
We also have to remember that each one of DC’s main line up has been dead at least once. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Flash have all been dead and have all been brought back to continue their never ending war on crime.
DC on the other hand, has done this many time on an entire publication level – beginning with their Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. When DC does this, they kill off a few characters and, in the reboot, bring some back. Essentially, they rewrite the universes history. With the advent of the 52 universe structure, things are relatively up in the air.
With that being said, I’m going to try and make a determination of five heroes that probably won’t be coming back.
Yes, I know. It sounds like a no-brainer.
Immortal Man, it’s the entire story in a name. He dies and comes back as someone else completely different. He’s like Doctor Who. Whenever he resurrects he retains the history of who he was and comes back either as an adult, a child, a man or a woman. He is not to be confused with a character called Resurrection Man who is a different entity completely.
Immortal Man has the ability to not only resurrect, but he also have some amount of telekinesis, super strength, and hypnotic ability. He has used his TK abilities to fly when he has to.
His origin runs parallel to the villain, Vandal Savage. He and Savage, through the same meteorite, gain their own powers. Savage gains immortality (he won’t die of natural causes) and Immortal Man gains the power of resurrection as he carries a crystal pendant of the meteor with each incarnation he returns in.
Immortal man fought with a team called The Forgotten Heroes for many years – dying and being reborn throughout his heroic career. He finally met his apparent end in The Crisis on Infinite Earths when he was killed and erased from existence. This was not the case as he came back to join his team in the Post-Crisis continuity. He later on sacrifices his immortal existence and merges his Tectite field into the time stream – erasing himself from existence again.
It is doubtful that he’ll ever come back as they’ve kept the Resurrection Man character in play and having I-Man around is only redundant.
Note: Normally I try to find an eBay comic book issue or Amazon link to at least give the reader an idea of what the character looks like. Immortal Man by his very nature of being born in different bodies would make that exercise moot. Just imagine him (or her) looking like basically anyone.
Protecting Metropolis is hard work and Superman did have one ally – Marcus Aelius, The Alpha Centurion.
Marcus Aelius was a Roman Centurian who lived during the time of the Roman Empire and was recruited by an alien race called Virmiru. They took him off planet to train him as a warrior champion. Although only ten years physically passed for Aelius, by the time he returned to Earth, it was the present day.
The Virmiru armed Aelius with advanced technologies and his very own spaceship called the Pax Romana. Although he only had normal human strength, he wore a suit of armor that increased his strength dramatically and allowed him flight. His chief weapon was his energy shield and blade (similar to a light sabre).
Calling himself The Alpha Centurion, Aelius was attracted to Lois Lane and had a strained relationship with the man of steel. Eventually, he and Superman became allies often aiding Superman in the protection of Metropolis, although he did also join with Luthor’s team of Lexcorp’s paid heroes. As time passed he turned against Luthor.
When the Centurion discovered the Virmiru’s covert plans for Earth conquest, he fought back against the aliens and perished in the battle.
Aztek, the Ultimate Man
Aztek is one of the DC creations to come from the mind of Grant Morrison.
Azteck is the champion of the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl. From childhood he was prepared for this role by a secret society named the Q. His destiny would be to battle the god, Tezcatlipoca. Aztek was given magical armor that gave him super strength, flight, invisibility, X-Ray vision, weapons, density manipulation, and body heat camouflage.
Between the time after his training and his ultimate destiny of god fighting, he was with the Justice League. He quit shortly afterward when he discovered that Luthor was part of the Q society that trained him.
In his final battle, he is blinded against the Maggedon (really Tezcatlipoca) and loses. Superman finishes the battle against Meggedon.
Aztek was one of those heroes that looked really good on paper. Unfortunately, it looked like his entire life and career were written to look good and fail.
The Golden Age Doctor Mid-Nite
One of the few Golden Age superheroes to actually stay dead.
Doctor Mid-Nite is Doctor Charles McNider, a brilliant surgeon who through a violent attack has his vision inverted. Through this incident, he can see clearly in perfect darkness. Unfortunately, during the day, he’s completely blind. He’s able to compensate with this handicap by wearing special goggles that allow him to see during daylight hours. The crime fighting advantage that he has is that through the use of “blackout bombs” and other circumstances that call for fighting in complete darkness, he can strike at now blind opponents.
Given his less than spectacular powers, it really is amazing that he could remain marketable for as long as he did.
His real value was his skills as a surgeon and mathematician. Every team needs a resident genius and the Justice Society of America, where McNider spent most of his career, appreciated his talents.
As with most of the Justice Society, their longevity to the present time from World War II had to be explained. The writers had explained this by having the JSA captured by Vandal Savage and placed in suspended animation (there have been other explanations through the decades but this seems to be one that has stuck as canon).
Eventually through age, Doctor Mid-Nite’s vision began to deteriorate and he gave up crime fighting and went into retirement. His last mission was during the DC reboot of Zero Hour where the villain, Extant, faced off against three of the senior members of the JSA original team (Hour Man, the Atom, and Doctor Mid-Nite) and aged all three members to death.
The only member of the team to escape this death (retroactively by swapping out the future android, Hour Man, was Ted Tyler, the original Hour Man.
The Golden Age Atom
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “The Atom isn’t dead. The Atom is Ray Palmer and his power is that he shrinks down to microscopic size and fights crime.”
This is not the same guy. The guy I’m talking about is Al Pratt.
Al was the classic 5’4”, 98 lbs. weakling who was constantly bullied even in adulthood. While he was walking the streets feeling sorry for himself, he’s approached by a homeless man who he gives some money to. The homeless man turns out to be an ex-boxer named, Joe Morgan – who was a heavy weight champion. He offers to whip Al into shape as he said, “You’re just soft. I’ve taken guys worse than you and made them champs.”
Joe Morgan over-trains Pratt to the point that he not only can fight like a champion, but he now has peak human strength. (Morgan was also responsible for training the two mystery men, Wildcat and The Sandman).
While he didn’t have super powers in the early years, he’s still able to join the JSA and fight crime. Later, during World War II, he encounters a villain called Cyclotron and gets super strength as a result of the encounter. The superhero, Damage, has part of Pratt’s Cyclotron enhanced genetic make-up within him – part of his powers come from Pratt.
So the Atom part of his name is more “atomic” powered rather than “shrinking”.
Pratt like the rest of the JSA was in suspended animation as a result of the machinations of Vandal Savage and died along with Doctor Mid-Nite and the Hour Man android.
Note: As this is the second time I’m mentioning the Zero Hour death of these two heroes, it should be known that the very resurrection of Hour Man was a tricky event within the time-space continuum. As it was, it took the sacrifice of a very sophisticated android as a convincingly good stand in and be destroyed using a temporal engine of incredible power and magnitude. The android did this knowing that the rules of time, while they can bend, cannot be broken. The last nanosecond swap could not be repeated.
I was reading through Writing for Comics by Peter David and David discusses his views on what death means in the comic books.
The main point he mentions is that death has a different effect depending on the medium and who’s reading it. For example, David cited an instance of when he was on a plane talking to a woman who asked him what he did. At the time, David was writing for The Incredible Hulk comic series.
He told her what he did and she said, “Isn’t the Hulk dead?” She was referring to the made for TV movie The Death of the Incredible Hulk. The TV Hulk died after he was dropped from a helicopter and died from the fall.
David explained to the woman that the character he wrote in the comic books couldn’t die from a fall like that. In fact, he added, if you dropped the Hulk from orbit all you’d get when he hit ground is an annoyed Hulk climbing out of a Hulk-sized hole and then going about his business. However despite this explanation, the woman couldn’t understand this because in her mind “dead is dead”.
And that’s how it is in a classic literature world – dead is dead.
Once you kill off a character, he stayed dead. The problem is that in comic book literature for some titles characters are killed off and then are brought back to life. This is all well and good if you are the actual character that has been brought back to the land of the living, however there is a definite price to pay as far as the storyteller’s impact to the reader. When characters are frequently brought back to life the reader does not see any risk for any of the characters in any “life and death” situation. He has an expectation that if a character dies it would only be a matter of time before he’d return to the storyline because the writer has no real commitment to the actual threat the character faced.
The readers become skeptical that any plot device a writer comes up with will only result in a characters inconvenient burial.
David recommends that you kill off secondary characters and do it in a very mundane way – like a gunshot, or heart attack, or any one of a thousand different ordinary ways a person would die in the real world. Hell, writers could make it the flu if they really wanted to.
The important part is that a comic book writer either has to recognize the finality of death or know that his readers won’t really feel any sympathy for the characters when they go to that great Bat-cave in the sky.
© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on November 23, 2012:
I think I just laughed for a solid minute. I have clarified the title.
Attikos from East Cackalacky on November 23, 2012:
Until I saw the picture, I thought you were talking about high federal officials. You shouldn't get people's hopes up like that.