Comic book deaths just aren’t the same as they used to be. Why? While heroes, villains and supporting characters do kick the bucket in today’s tales, they don’t stay six feet under permanently and are expected to reappear in due time, through a time-travel event, an “all a dream” cop-out, a cloning experiment, or even the creation of an entirely new universe.
A decade ago, only Superman’s parents, Batman’s parents, Uncle Ben and Bucky Barnes were classified as “sacred” deceased characters. However, with Bucky back as the Winter Soldier and the other three constantly getting flashback scenes or turning up alive and kicking in some netherverse, they are only one crossover event away from a return/resurrection.
That could change further with Marvel’s upcoming The Clone Conspiracy Spider-Man event, which has been teasing readers with a “Dead No More” tagline, hinting at a possible resurrection (please, please, please don’t let it be Uncle Ben).
If you are disgusted by the way characters are constantly getting killed off and coming back, maybe you should stick to immortal characters who can’t even die in the first place. That way readers don’t have to worry about them dying on us only to come back a while later.
This week, as a tribute to Ra’s al Ghul’s 45th anniversary this year, we list some of our favourite immortal comic characters.
Ra’s al Ghul
Having not one but a few portable Lazarus Pits has kept Ra’s alive for centuries and will possibly continue to do so for eternity. Since making his debut 45 years ago in Batman #232, the character has been significantly enhanced – making him a big-time dastardly villain and someone worthy of headlining a Batman movie (kudos to Liam Neeson for beautifully portraying Ra’s).
Apart from heading the League of Assassins, he has many other facets, the most unusual one being that he is the Dark Knight’s father-in-law (!). Being the grandfather to Damian Wayne and father to Talia al Ghul (Bruce Wayne’s on-and-off lover) grants Ra’s “exclusive rights” to meddle in the Dark Knight’s affairs.
His name says it all. The character, who made his first appearance in issue #7 of Robert Kirkman’s Image superhero title Invincible, has been around since the days of King Arthur (he was one of his knights), and was instrumental in a few other historical milestones, including several wars, and even became the US President under the alias of Abraham Lincoln!
When the Hulk is at his maddest, he is definitely at his strongest … so strong, in fact, that he can best almost anyone, even his alter ego, Bruce Banner. In the epic 2002 Hulk: The End one-shot, Hulk and Banner are the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust that has ravaged Earth. With no one (except cockroaches) left to battle or banter with, they are left to share the ravaged planet – in one body. Alas, even an entire planet isn’t big enough to house both the Hulk and Banner, as the former exerts his will on “crushing puny Banner”. The end result is both devastating and touching … the Hulk does prove that he is the strongest of them all by literally outliving everyone.
Forget about the recent Death Of Wolverine hullabaloo, as there’s no way Marvel will let their eternal cash-cow be “permanently” entombed in adamantium. With a third solo movie in the works, it is incomprehensible for the Ol’ Canucklehead to not be resurrected. Anyway, as his comics mythos goes, every time Wolverine “dies”, he ends up in a hellish setting where he has to battle a demon samurai to return to life. Expect more of this scenario in the future.
One of DC Comics’ most persistent and hard-to-kill villains, Vandal Savage has been a savage vandal of history since … well, apparently since prehistoric times. He started out as a caveman in 50,000BC, and gained his immortality (and great intellect) after being bathed by the radiation from a mysterious meteorite. Since then, he has been adviser to some of the most influential people in history, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, and was even rumoured to be Jack The Ripper himself.
Jane Vasko heals from the most horrendous injuries in a matter of minutes, but boy, do they hurt like hell. To cope with the pain, she has to pop painkillers, hence the nickname. Despite a few notable crossovers (Punisher, Hellboy, Darkness and Vampirella) and two television stints, this underutilised Joe Quesada-Jimmy Palmiotti creation is still underdeveloped and needs time to gather more depth and develop her character/origin.
The bloodthirsty last Czarnian can be resurrected from just a drop of his blood, just like how Groot is regrown from a single tree branch, but that has not helped him resurrect his flagging popularity. Most recently given a much-derided “pretty boy” retcon, Lobo is best remembered for popularising the term “bastich”, but he needs to step up his comic-book exploits to increase his popularity. Fortunately for him, being an “immortal” grants him all the time to achieve this … but I doubt it will be during my lifetime.
When you’re Death itself/herself, it stands to reason that you probably can’t die. Both DC and Marvel have their own versions of Death. The former’s most famous Death is the ankh-wearing Goth pixie in the Sandman comics, while the Marvel version is also female, but is a more conventional “skeleton in an ominous hood” kind of character. Still, that didn’t stop a certain supervillain from falling in love with her …
Ironically, Thanos’ immortality stems from his love for and devotion to Death, who has shunned him and barred him from her realm! So, despite all the chaos he brings to the universe, the Mad Titan simply can’t be killed, and at best, can only be imprisoned in the soul gems/cosmic cube/pocket dimensions!
Stan ‘The Man’ Lee
Heads up, True Believers! After all he has done (and is still doing) for comics, The Man will live on eternally in the hearts of comics fans, be it via paper-based appearances or CGI. Recent rumors of him “dye-ing” may have cause a few missed heartbeats, but he is living proof that being a comics fan does keep one eternally young. Excelsior!