We all know death is a revolving door in pop culture, and nowhere more so than in science fiction, fantasy and comics. But there are a few resurrections that feel especially cheap, and which cheapen the characters who had previously died with great fanfare. Here are 11 characters who should have stayed dead.
This list could have been entirely comic-book characters, especially superheroes. But we tried to branch out a bit. Please share your least favorite resurrection with us below.
11) Jean Grey
Thanks to everyone who brought her up in comments — she really should have been on the list from the beginning. As ERBlackwood says, "Jean Grey's death at the end of the Phoenix Saga was tragic and beautiful, bringing her back to life with the clones and the Nathan Grey and the Cable and the Rachel Summers and the craziness...it kind of ruined it. A lot."
This list is mostly "good guys," because it's a villain's job to keep coming back from the dead. But Sylar's death at the end of Heroes season one would have put the capstone on the show's first year and showed that these guys really were, well, "heroes" — they'd prevented the terrible future where Sylar became an immortal, psychotic POTUS. After that, the show never knew what to do with Sylar, and this was the first sign that the storytelling was becoming aimless. Sylar could have come back from the dead in season four and made an impact, but in season two his return felt unnecessary.
9) Aunt May
In Amazing Spider-Man #400, Aunt May finally reveals that she always knew the truth about her nephew: that he was Spider-Man all along. It's an incredibly moving issue, in which she finally shows pride in her nephew's heroism, and dies surrounded by people who love her. And then... it's revealed that "Aunt May" was actually a "genetically modified actress" sent by Norman Osborn to pretend to die, and the real Aunt May is still alive. Thus robbing Peter Parker of an important moment of character growth and development. Well, at least it's not like they retconned his marriage or anything. Oh... wait.
8) Barry Allen
Barry Allen was the original Flash, who dies heroically saving the universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in the case of Barry Allen, it's not just that his heroic death gets reversed when he's brought back — it's also that his former sidekick, Wally West, gets kind of cheapened. (Not to mention the unfortunate mistreatment of Wally's own sidekick, Bart Allen.) The growth of Wally West from chump to savior is one of the great arcs in comics, running throughout the Flash comics of the late 1980s and 1990s — and bringing Wally's mentor back pretty much derails that arc.
Back when Frank Miller could do no wrong, he created a Greek-American ninja assassin named Elektra, who was a match for Daredevil both as a fighter and as a lover. The original issues of Miller's Elektra saga are breathtaking and ground-breaking, and part of what makes them so powerful is that Elektra finally dies at the hands of another assassin, Bullseye. Elektra eventually comes back from the dead and becomes one of the stock "sexy badass" characters who fills out crowd scenes or something. Even Peter Milligan, in the 1990s, couldn't make an Elektra solo comic interesting.
6) Jason Todd
It's easy to mock the manner of Jason Todd's return — he comes back from the dead after Superboy Prime punches the walls of reality. But what gets lost in the consideration of that particular bit of idiocy is the way Jason Todd's return reduces Batman, his former mentor. Since the "Death in the Family" storyline, Batman's failure to save the second Robin has been one of his defining traumas, and it's helped show that there are still high stakes in Batman's world. Having Jason running around as the Red Hood, fulfilling more or less the same "vigilante who kills" role as Huntress, shows Batman that he doesn't need to worry so much. It's all good, Bats. No harm, no foul.
5) Anakin Skywalker
Granted, Anakin only "comes back" at the end of Return of the Jedi, for a few brief moments by the fire. (Although who wants to bet that he'll be floating around during Episode VII, dishing out bits of Jedi wisdom?) But holy cow, does Anakin's Force-ghost resurrection not make sense. Even if you leave aside the notion that Obi-Wan knew a secret of coming back from death which Darth Vader did not — as established in the first movie — there's just the question of whether one act (killing the Emperor) earns Darth Vader the right to go to Jedi Heaven, after he helped wipe out Alderaan and murder all those Jedi younglings and stuff.
4) Steve Rogers
As with Barry Allen, Captain America was replaced by his former sidekick after his untimely death. Steve Rogers' death at the hands of Sharon Carter not only provides some dramatic weight to the Civil War storyline, it's a fittingly dark end to an American hero — gunned down on the steps of a courthouse. Cap does come back, and for a while he just sort of hangs around while Bucky is the new Cap. We were enjoying seeing Bucky take on the mantle, while everybody else deals with the permanent loss of one of their own.
3) Ellen Ripley
Ripley's return in the fourth Alien movie hits all the buttons: It fatally cheapens her self-sacrifice in the third movie. It also takes away everything that made her character special, turning her into a superhuman who has alien-endowed superstrength and stuff. And it prevents the series from moving forward after her death. By all accounts, the early scripts for Alien Resurrection centered around Newt, the kid from the second movie — until the studio insisted Ripley had to come back, no matter how silly the method of her return.
Unlike a lot of the other characters on this list, Starbuck's death was also kind of pointless — she suddenly goes nuts and crashes her ship while chasing a phantom Cylon. But if her death is kind of random, then her return from the dead is even more so — she just pops up at the end of season three, more to provide a shocking reveal than for any other reason. What follows is a season of Starbuck being kind of a basket case, while trying to get to the bottom of her spiritual, supernatural intuitions which turn out to be embedded in a piece of music from her piano-playing dad. Urk.
Who else were we going to put at the top of this list? Nicholas Meyer gave Spock a great death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — a scene that still gives us goosebumps. And when Meyer heard they wanted to bring back Spock, he refused to return for the next film. Star Trek III brings back Spock in the clunkiest possible fashion, and even though Spock got some great moments in the films that followed and Star Trek: The Next Generation, his return from the dead remains the gold standard for pointlessness and devaluation.
Thanks to Whitson Gordon for the story idea and the input!