Sunday, April 24, 2011

The 10 Greatest Resurrections Ever

Today is Easter Sunday and in honor of J.C., Superpowers That Be takes a look at the best (and worst) back-from-the-dead events that have occurred in comics, TV, and literature. One might as well call this an X-Men list, but I'll try to add a little diversity. Let's work our way from "meh" to "Holy crap that was awesome!"

10. Psylocke

Here's a situation that we're going to encounter a few times. Namely, that I love the character and am very glad that she was brought back to us, but the manner in which it was done, and the potential stories wasted upon her return is enough to sour the whole experience.

Betsy Braddock is a gem of a character. Purple haired, gorgeous, British telepath, she fought hard to prove herself among Powerless-Storm's kick-ass 80s X-Men, then BOOM Siege Perilous happens and she's in the body of a Japanese ninja assassin (not to say that she only assassinates ninjas, she's pretty liberal about her targets) and back on the X-Men, being hardcore and dating fairly heavily.

Her death at the hands of Vargas, in an attempt to protect the already badly defeated Beast, came as rather a surprise, though I recall they didn't show much of the fight at all, just her body bleeding from a stab wound in the gut. Vargas was super-powerful, not super-interesting, and was never seen again after Rogue, avenging her old friend Betts, apparently kills him off-panel. Psylocke's reappearance, wonderful as it was to have her back in the fold, unfortunately came during a terrible run of stories in Uncanny X-Men, far worse than even the pages of X-Treme X-Men, where she had been killed.

Basically, she showed up where she had died (Valencia, Spain) fully intact and extra powerful. Her teammates come to check her out, verify she's the real deal, and then they all get detoured on a Savage Land adventure in which her teammate Rachel gets convinced she's a dinosaur, Storm is used in a plan to destroy the world by weather, X-23 mimics Pyslocke's every posture, and Pyslocke kinda flirts with both Bishop and Nightcrawler. All in all, a pretty embarrassing story. Then we learn it was her crazy, reality manipulating, hobo-resembling brother Jamie who brought her back to life, for another bizarre semi-spiritual story called, I believe, The Foursaken, whose title alone was enough to encourage me to forget all other plot points.

Obviously I'm glad she came back. She was in some fantastic X-Eras, and can have some great character development coming up (look at Uncanny X-Force) but honestly, that's the best way we can bring her back? Resurrection is very common among the X-Men, granted, but it's just like killing off one of the team--you don't treat it as a cheap, throwaway plot point to get you to the next issue. It's rather a big frikkin' deal.

9. Colossus

Sticking with the X-Men, Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men saw the discovery of a captive Colossus by none other than Kitty Pryde. Another character I was glad to have returned to us, the manner in which it was done was certainly better than Psylocke's (if only for Kitty's reaction and the inevitable emotional complications) yet it still felt a bit like devaluing past stories.

Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin (aptly named, it turns out) had sacrificed himself in order to cure the long-running and devastating Legacy Virus that had killed his little sister (don't get me started on Illyana Rasputin's unending cycle of death and rebirth.) In a similarly weak time for Uncanny X-Men, Piotr's unwillingness to wait for Beast to design a non-fatal cure illustrated the extreme grief he had lived with ever since his sister's death. If it meant a single mutant would die while Beast perfected the cure, Colossus couldn't live with it, so he injected himself and shifted into armored form in a powerful scene with Dr. Cecilia Reyes trying desperately to resuscitate him.

The subsequent mourning issue was equally affecting, showing us a hardened, grown-up Kitty taking his ashes back to Russia and scattering them in the Ust-Ordynski Collective he loved so much (one of the greatest tricks the writers ever did was vaguely acknowledging what a Commie Piotr was, and still getting us to love him.) Kitty performs the funereal rites on her own, having loved him and been closer to him than even Wolverine or Nightcrawler or Storm, with whom he joined the X-Men as the second generation. Afterwards, his death tipped the scales for Kitty. Having lost too many friends and loved ones, Kitty writes a letter to Professor X telling him not to look for her, that she had to find her own way to save the world, and she goes off to college to be brilliant and make her own way in life.

That alone was inspiring, since if anyone could have their own dream and the ability to change the world, it would be Kitty Pryde. Plus it led to the exciting, if all-too-brief, stories of her as a graduate student at the University of Chicago (yes, she's THAT brilliant).

So when Whedon brought him back, (his body had been switched, he was revived and locked up by an alien who used the cure in his bloodstream to create a cure for mutants via a human corporation, duh) obviously there was relief and interest in Kitty's immediate future, but there was some sadness about the invalidation of past stories. Of course, being Joss Whedon, he showed them reuniting, happily in love, and even finally consummating their feelings, and then pretty quickly separating them by sending Kitty on a space bullet to the ends of the universe. She's since returned, but now she can't un-phase, and their relationship resumed without any physicality.

The main point being, life is cruel for X-Men.

8. Jean Grey

The last X-Men addition, what Resurrection list would be complete without mention of Jean Grey? The poster child for rebirth, Marvel Girl/Phoenix/Jean Grey died and came back at least 3 times, possibly more if you count miniseries. The first time was while piloting the X-Men in a space shuttle. Then after that whole Dark Phoenix debacle the Shi'ar put her on trial and she sacrificed herself again by jumping in front of an alien laser gun on the moon (though I think that might have really been a Phoenix-crafted Jean-Grey-duplicate, but it's a classic story.)

She lasted awhile after that, barring the occasional body death, but what's that to a gal who can transfer her mind into another body and wait for her kindly old Professor to put her back where she belongs? Once Grant Morrison became writer of the X-Men he decided to take the age old kill-Jean-Grey-awaken-the-Phoenix cycle and supercharge it, having Wolverine gut-stab her (his true love) on a space ship before the heat of the sun could make her suffer anymore before death. Naturally this ended up tapping her into her omega-class Phoenix powers, and she saved them both, bringing them back to Earth, so it all worked out.

Oh, wait, no, it didn't. Upon returning to Earth she helps stop the rampage of Xorn/Magneto Clone, who takes his revenge by giving her a massive magnetic pulse and causing a 'planetary scale stroke' so she died, yet again.

Until a year later when they wrote a miniseries where a wounded Phoenix Force comes back to Earth and brings Jean back to life, needing her help. She asks her ol' buddy Wolverine for some help, so he stabs the crap out of her again, and then she buries herself under ice, ascending to a higher plan, the "White Hot Room" where it can be assumed she is in a kind of enlightened limbo.

No plans have been revealed to bring her back, and most writers and editors vigorously deny it will happen, but c'mon, you can't keep Jean Grey down. We never had nearly enough Emma Frost/Jean interactions. I expect it may not be in the immediate future, but once all the lingering Phoenix-Hope questions are resolved, I predict we'll see dear Jean before 2020.

7. Kara Thrace/Starbuck

The foul-mouthed, rebellious Kara Thrace was one of the best characters on the Battlestar Galactica reboot (a not inconsiderable compliment, considering the caliber of the cast.) Originally causing anger among fans, since the original Starbuck was male, Kara was pitch-perfect as the consummate warrior, the best pilot on the ship, the surrogate daughter of Adama, and the unrequited love of Lee.

As the series began to build to its end, Kara, having suffered through occupation, psychological torture, and an unhappy marriage, grew bitter and resentful. Her storyline began to be bogged down by prophecies and dreams, portents and recurring images. She was told by cryptic characters that she is the harbinger of death. Eventually, unable to resist when a bizarre storm cloud appears in the shape of her visions, she flies into it despite orders and her viper explodes.

During the Final Five Cylon climax, she reappears, unharmed and claiming she knows the way to Earth. For the most part her resurrection is considered a cylon trick and she is not trusted. Mini-mutinies, discord and rebellion ensue, and Kara struggles to convince others to believe her. From a dedicated soldier she became a paragon of faith, trusting in her instinct and things she could not explain. Eventually, after considerable heartache and drama and action, she is the one who types in the coordinates to a blind jump that brings them to the ideal, uninhabited world that is their journey's end (and will become our modern-day Earth.) She says goodbye to her loved ones and then disappears, with no explanation given as to whether she was a ghost or an angel or some other God-sent guide.

According to actress Katee Sackhoff "She's with Anders playing pyramid in the sky somewhere." No matter what you may think of the ultimate final episode (no, I was not a fan of the ending), one must admit that Thrace was one of the most valuable and interesting characters on the show, and whether it caused heartache or skepticism, her personal story arc was impressive. Although I must admit, I preferred her when she was chewing cigars, swigging ambrosia, and shooting the hell out of cylons.

6. Bruce Wayne

Another massive Grant Morrison death and resurrection, this time in the DC Universe. The death of Batman at the hands of Darkseid (who he, in an uncharacteristic move that I have never gotten over, shot in the head at the same time as being fried by Darkseid's Omega Beams) attracted huge media attention as well as comic sales.

Despite the lack of fans who doubted that Bruce Wayne would remain dead for long, it was still an emotional image to see Superman cradling the burnt husk of Batman. The interim that saw the reordering of the Bat-family, with Dick Grayson the original Robin stepping into the main role, and Damian Wayne, Bruce's unstable, violent, abrasive son becoming the new Robin. While definitely interesting and unique, it was only a matter of time before Bruce return, especially when it was pointed out that Darkseid's Omega Beams are "the death that is life."

Meaning, Bruce wasn't killed (though I guess his body was?) but sent back in time to live through thousands and thousands of years of history, never fully remembering who he is, but working to get closer to the present. Now, I was quite a fan of Morrison's X-Men run, at least up until the whole Magneto/Xorn thing, but his time on Final Crisis and Batman? Not in any way my favorite.

These stories have been critically acclaimed and drooled over by comics fans and reviewers all over, who analyze and break down every word of Morrison's scripts. Perhaps I am too lowbrow when it comes to my comics, but I don't particularly enjoy the ones I need to reread 3 times to understand what's going on. Esoteric and "unique", I find Morrison's Batman run boring and dry, and like most of his work tinged with a nausea-inducing darkness, whether it be from the gore or the commentary on modern life.

So, again, another resurrection I was very glad for, but the manner in which it happens leaves me cold. I mean, Batman sent back in time in the middle of a buried-treasure Pirate story? That's the kind of thing that was MADE for a fan like me, and yet it was too convoluted and self-important to be an enjoyable read.

5. Sherlock Holmes

This one isn't, strictly speaking, a resurrection (though I don't imagine it would be hard to convince Dr. Watson that Holmes was actually capable of such a feat.) In truth, Sherlock faked his death on the spur of the moment when an opportunity to rest, recover, hone some new skills, and confront the criminal mind from an unsuspected position proved irresistible.

It is quite possibly the most famous Holmes story of all, the final meeting with Professor Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. Climactic battle, dangerous precipice, a physical end to an intense mental struggle, the greatest arch-enemy ever created for the most brilliant hero ever written...what more could one ask for?

His eventual return to London and the world of crime is a well-known event by now, but imagine the surprise and gratification back then when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his unexpected return. In fact Doyle had no intention of bringing him back: "I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." His mother responded, "You may do what you deem fit, but the crowds will not take this lightheartedly." True words, since the public reaction led him to return to the character in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which in some ways surpassed the fame of the Reichenbach story. 

Holmes went on to become one of the most enduring characters in literature, being written by multitudes of authors, both worthy and not. Most recently, Laurie R. King performed a kind of resurrection of her own, writing about his years post-retirement as a beekeeper in Sussex, and creating a female character, Mary Russell, who is not only the intellectual equivalent of Holmes, but brings out the often overlooked emotional side of the great man. Even Michael Chabon wrote a wonderful mystery that took place in his old age. Sherlock Holmes is a character that will never die, or if one writer has the temerity to kill him, there will always be another to bring him back to us.

4. The Doctor

Specifically, the phenomenon of Regeneration, possibly the most inspired characteristic ever created. The Doctor is an alien, a Time Lord, who possesses the ability to Regenerate. That is, when his body either grows old and infirm and past the point of living, or if he is grievously wounded or his energies spent, he can activate a biological process in which a new adult body is immediately grown in its place.

This simple, brilliant ability led Doctor Who to become the longest lasting television program ever, with, so far, 11 actors having portrayed the dynamic Doctor, now considered the role of a lifetime for a British actor. An entire list could be made of the best Doctor resurrections alone.

In later years, since the 2005 reboot, the Doctor has regenerated twice and been played by three actors. Additionally, they began to experiment with the limits and possibilities of regeneration. For instance debate raged about the amount of times a Time Lord could regenerate, with lines from Classic episodes saying 12, and a line from the last season of The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor" having Matt Smith state the number was 507. The jury's still out, but one can imagine the BBC is not eager to limit the number. David Tennant's Doctor had a number of regeneration-concerned plot developments, include one soon after his 'rebirth' in which a cut-off hand was able to be regrown due to the energies of the process still coursing through his body. Later, a climactic regeneration was occurring when instead he transferred the energy into the aforementioned cut-off hand (which he saved in a box, natch) which in turn later reacted with Donna Noble to create a hybrid clone, the DoctorDonna.

Tennant's Doctor was also the first incarnation to reveal the deep terror and grief associated with regeneration, giving us an emotional description of how similar to dying it really was.

And just last night, in the premiere episode of the sixth series, "The Impossible Astronaut", it was shown that the only way to truly kill the Doctor would be to kill him in the midst of regeneration. Doubtless, we will not see the death of Matt Smith's Doctor for awhile, but watching the story unfold is always the most interesting part.

3. Captain Jack Harkness

Staying in the universe of Doctor Who in the 2000s, the first series sees Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as fan-favorite companion Rose Tyler. Along the way they befriend Captain Jack Harkness, a Time Agent from the 51st century, who is brave, handsome, and apparently omnisexual, bringing him along in their further adventures. Originally sneaky and rather self-involved, Captain Jack is inspired by the Doctor and his noble companion, rising to heights of heroism and sacrificing himself in the season finale when they fight against the Daleks.

However, a considerable plot twists sees Rose Tyler absorb the power of the Time Vortex and become a seemingly omnipotent character. Speaking in a dreamy, enlightened, superpowerful voice, just before destroying the entire Dalek fleet, she says "I bring life" and we see Captain Jack gasp awake, resurrected.

In her vast but inconceivable power, Rose not only brought Jack back to life, but back to life forever. That is, he cannot die. Ever. From any wound. A thrilling twist on the basic resurrection plot device, it has lead to Captain Jack becoming one of the most constant characters in this universe, leading the Torchwood team in his numerous spinoffs (the latest from Starz is upcoming), and often rejoining the Doctor on his adventures (here's hoping for an appearance alongside Matt Smith's Doctor and Amy Pond.)

Not only a wonderful plot development that continues to pay off, but a stroke of good fortune for the gorgeous John Barrowman's career.

2. Captain America

Another Captain, but even more long-lasting and certainly more iconic, this is another resurrection that might not technically deserve the name. Still, consider what the Marvel Universe would be today if he had never been brought back. No, don't, stop now, it's unthinkable.

Steve Rogers, after getting all super-secret-soldier-serum'd, fought the Nazis with a vengeance in World War II. Alongside his team the Invaders, they fought the Red Skull, Nazi scientists, and your basic, evil, goose-stepping foot soldiers. However by the end of the war, he had an unfortunate fall off a plane and landed in the very-cold part of the North Atlantic Ocean, where he was subsequently frozen in a large block ice.

There he remained in suspended animation, until The Avengers found him and thawed him out in the deservedly classic Avengers #4. Quickly he became their leader, and, with a few strange diversions (including yet another, more legitimate but not personally enjoyed, recent murder and resurrection), remained the heart of the Avengers to this day.

Not only did this plot development give the basis of Steve Rogers' character as a noble, just, traditional hero, a man-out-of-time who remembers when good and evil were clearly delineated and will never stop fighting for justice, but it solidified the still-new team of the Avengers, which has become perhaps the most recognizable and influential super group in comic book history.

1. Buffy Summers

Buffy the Vampire Slayer first died (yes, that's right, first) in the finale of the first season, when the Master vampire drowned her, thus fulfilling the prophesy of her death. However, this nontraditional slayer had involved her best friends in her war against evil, and stalwart Xander was able to revive her in moments. Any confusion as her to her truly being deceased was cleared up when another Slayer was called, an event that can only happen when the previous Slayer dies.

But that resurrection alone is not what brings her to the list, nor what gives her the Top Spot of honor. At the end of season five, when her newly-formed sister Dawn's magical blood opens a portal to multiple hell dimensions, Buffy realizes that her blood can close, and in one of the most stirring and beautiful moments of the show (and thus all of television ever) she dives into the portal, sacrificing herself to save the world.
If this had been a typical season, the teenage Buffy obsessed Captain Elias would not have doubted her return. He would have known that of course she would come back, that the following Autumn the God-like Joss Whedon would cleverly start anew. But that episode ended with the WB putting an epigraph on screen before the credits, thanking the show for five great years, and then the news that their contract had not been renewed.

My despair at watching her death was overshadowed by the grief and confusion that this could really be the end of the show. Imagine my joy when, driving in the car with my family to the city, I beheld a large, red, (unfortunately cheesy) billboard with a pair of glowing eyes and the words "Buffy Lives" above the logo for UPN.

Not only did Buffy the Vampire Slayer resume for two more years on the lambasted and lesser known channel, but the sixth season premiere gave us the harrowing two-parter "Becoming" in which Willow, Buffy's magical best friend, performs the blackest of black magics to bring Buffy back to life.

Disturbingly, Willow and her friends neglected to dig her up first, and we were forced to watch the painful scene of Buffy coming back to life in her coffin, and forced to dig her way out of her grave, mirroring the common experience of vampires that we had seen time and time again.

"Hey, I've died twice."

This wasn't a simple, easy, back-to-life, the show-goes-on storyline. Not only do we watch Buffy's reacclimation to this world of chaos (Sunnydale had been overrun with demons since her death) but we soon discover that she had been in a place of peace, a Heaven-like dimension, perhaps Heaven itself, before her best friends had selfishly ripped her out of there, causing ramifications that led not only to the darkest Buffy season yet but gave an opening to the Big Bad for the following, and final, season that turned the Buffy mythos on its head forever.

Buffy exemplifies the inherent power of resurrection as a device in fiction, showing the forced maturation of a character, the dealing of life and death issues, and the various ways in which new stories can be created to resuscitate old characters and classic brands, bringing us exciting and heretofore impossible opportunities.

Happy Easter.


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