In comics lots of characters have died over the years. But I can only think of a few that have really resonated with readers. Outside of Wonder Man, Jean Grey, Supergirl, Barry Allen, Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn most deaths haven’t really had an emotional impact on readers.
So many comic book characters come back to life these days the plot device has no emotional impact on the reader. But there’s a story that most writers haven’t explored about a hero coming back to life.
Jim Shooter was the only writer I know of to explore that concept of what it was really like to come back from the dead in depth with Wonder Man in the pages of The Avengers. In some ways Simon Williams was a man out of time like Captain America. And while he was dealing with a new and different world, he was exploring his fears and anxieties about being alive again in a world he no longer understood.
It had to be more unnerving watching The Vision, an artificial man living the real life he never got a chance to. Seeing him married to the Scarlet Witch had to make him think about the hopes and dreams he could have achieved in a possible future if he remained alive.
While Shooter told a great story about returning from the dead with Wonder Man, I always thought there was an even greater story to be told with Jean Grey’s resurrection that never saw print. Chris Claremont and Bob Layton didn’t dig as deep with X-Factor as Shooter did with Wonder Man in The Avengers. They just put Jean with back Cyclops and acted like nothing happened. Even though Cyclops had a wife and child he ran back to Jean and abandoned his family like old garbage in Claremont’s disastrous crossover event Inferno instead of dealing with his unresolved feelings regarding her death.
For me, the deeper story would have to deal with Jean’s her fears and anxieties about having to deal with a world that had changed and people in her life she had grown close to moving on. Wondering what type of hero she wanted to be. Or even if she still wanted to ever put on a costume again.
I believe there’s much deeper story to be told about a hero coming back from the dead. But outside of Shooter, no comic book writer ever scratched the surface regarding the subject. For them, death is a poorly used plot device and a hero just comes back from the dead and goes back to life like nothing happened. But that’s not how the real world works.
As I see it, there are just so many questions a writer could try to answer writing a story on the subject of a superhero coming back from the dead. Did the character have a soul? Where did they go when they died? Heaven? Hell? Someplace in between? And would they even be interested coming back to this world again to start fighting the never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and The American Way again?
And how does a hero adjust to getting back to life? Does an organization like S.H.I.E.LD. or The Wayne Foundation cut through the government bureaucratic red tape to help them restore their identity? What kind of job would they get? How do they find another place to live? How do they rebuild their lives? And what kind of life would they build in a completely different world than the one they knew?
I think there’d be a whole host of mental health issues a hero would have to deal with if they came back from the dead. Depression, anxiety, guilt doubt, and feelings of failure. Compound this with the stress of trying to rebuild a life in a changing world around people who are completely different than what they knew and there’s a foundation for a great character transformation arc. That’s what I believe were some of the issues Wonder Man was struggling with in those old issues of The Avengers. And that’s why he froze up in fights. I believe exploring that aspect of a superhero’s psychological issues related to returning from the dead would make for some fascinating comic storytelling.
I believe if a hero died and 15-20 years of real time passed, I believe there’d be a HUGE culture shock if they returned from the grave. In addition to dealing with a changed world, the mission they had for fighting evil would be considered obsolete by today’s standards. And the approaches they had for fighting crime would be outdated. It’d be hard for them to relate to anyone, the heroes their age they worked with would be either dead or retired, and the younger heroes like sidekicks would be adults dealing with the struggles of filling their predecessor’s boots or going in a completely different direction.
Some of the younger heroes would see that hero’s life through rose-colored™ glasses and others would express great contempt for the praise they received in the past. A few would be indifferent to them and see them as some sort of historical figure. It’d be hard to relate to for many to see them as a person like them with actual feelings.
And I think their former supporting cast would struggle with dealing with this hero coming back. When people die, people mourn that person being gone. They miss them, then they move on with their lives. And seeing that person come back brings back a lot of painful memories they don’t want to deal with.
Then there would be the members of the rogues gallery. I think the hero’s surviving arch-enemies wouldn’t want to go back to business as usual if a hero came back to life 20 years later. Some would have moved onto feuds with other heroes, others would get out of the game altogether. A few would die old and bitter about their lifelong dream of killing that hero being unfulfilled. Many would struggle with their feelings regarding some hated and others respected.
The story of a hero returning from the dead is a concept that I believe that needs a complete overhaul. Because there’s a great character transformation arc in it and a great story to be told in the 21st Century. Just as the world has changed, the hero who returns from the dead is changing as they adapt to it. And the question is What kind of hero would they become in a new and completely different world? Would they stay true to their original mission? Or would they adopt a completely different philosophy to adjust to the changing world? Or would they just decide to hang up their cape once and for all and let the next generation take care of business?
I think I could put a fresh take on death in comics if I wrote a story on the subject. And I think I could make it a fascinating story for a new generation of readers. Drawing from my experiences during my numerous periods of long-term unemployment I think I could tell a powerful story about a hero coming back from the dead, exploring all the mental health issues a person would have to deal with experiencing a changing world and the world’s perceptions of a person who some older people only knew in old memories and younger ones only knew in a history book. The conflicts would come from that character adjusting to the changes in their life as it restarted and running into resistance from those who had to deal with the changes in their lives from that person trying to move forward with their life. I think I could present a unique take on a hero coming back from the dead, one that would really get comic readers to appreciate this thing we call life and why we need to value every moment in it as precious.