The Cap Came Back. Well, That Was Quick. Yes, Captain America's back. But did you miss him? Did you even have a chance to?
NPR logo The Cap Came Back. Well, That Was Quick.

The Cap Came Back. Well, That Was Quick.

Captain America: Death be not proud...nor necessarily permanent. Marvel Entertainment hide caption

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Marvel Entertainment

For most of us, Death is the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

For superheroes, Death is more like Tijuana, and they've got round-trip tickets on the Baja Shuttle.

You may have heard that Captain America is coming back from the dead next month. (Technically true, but for completeness' sake we'll note that the story of his return actually begins in a special issue, Captain America #600, in comic shops now.)

Yep, the cycle of death and rebirth is as much a part of superhero comics as Superman's kicky blue highlights. Often the Death of a Hero is little more than a stunt, but it can be a well-intentioned one -- a chance to let an overused character go fallow for a year or twenty, so that readers' hearts might be made to grow fonder.

Cap, who was struck down by an assassin's bullet just over two years ago now, is only the freshest example in the venerable tradition of spandexhumation.

After the jump: Many other heroes have shuffled off this mortal coil only to shuffle right back. How does Cap's return compare? We rank the dynamic dirtnaps.

Note: Here's a list of heroes who've gone on to the Great Beyond and made an illegal karmic U-turn.

Durations of death are measured in our time, not comic book time, which is its own nasty turbid sea of reboots, retcons and alternate histories that's impervious to arithmetic.

Which is to say: I'm not even touching Hawkman. That way madness lies.

From longest to shortest:

Heroes and Their Deathspans

The Flash (Barry Allen): 24 years.
Died saving the universe in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Didn't take.

Robin (Jason Todd): 15 years.
Died in ... um, long story.

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan): 14 years.
GL walked what turns out to be a well-traveled path to the super-grave: First you turn evil, then you die. Then, after an appropriate interval, you come back and promptly reveal that -- funny story -- all that evil, murderous rampaging you did before you died was actually the result of mind-control/possession. "So, uh ... we cool?"

Jericho: 11 years.
You've never heard of him: A Teen Titan. Blond muttonchops. Turned evil, then died. I'm not saying the muttonchops were responsible, exactly. But you have to wonder.

Jean Grey/Phoenix: I'm oversimplifying here, but: First death: 7 years, Second death: 15 years ... and counting.
It's a given that she'll be back sooner or later: Her name's Phoenix, fer pity's sake. The only superheroine with a wash'n'wear death shroud. Didn't just turn evil and die -- she invented turn evil and die.

Green Arrow: 5 years.

Hawkeye: 3 years
Marvel famously threatened that the revelation of this character's death would "break the Internet in half." It's like everyone at Marvel graduated from the Stan Lee School of Hyperbole.

Superboy (Conner Kent): 3 years.
Not Superman as a kid, but a younger clone, bred from a combination of Supes' and Lex Luthor's DNA: Conner has two daddies. Died saving the universe, as you do.

Thor: 3 years
He's a god, so he was more MIA than anything else, but still.

Captain America: 2 years.
See how far down he is on the list? Relatively speaking, Cap's two-year wormfood sabbatical just isn't that big a deal. I don't care what the CNN ticker says.

Wonder Girl (Donna Troy): 2 years.
Died saving the universe. Kidding! Kidding! She was killed by a renegade Superman robot. "Died saving the universe." Heh. As IF. She's a GIRL.

Kid Flash (Bart Allen) 2 years.
Pummeled to death by a gang of villains. (Hey Kids! Comics!)

Metamorpho: 1 year, then 8 years.
This guy's more a collection of elements than a man, so he doesn't so much die as go inert. Periodically.

Superman: 1 year
His was the first stunt death to spark a real media frenzy, yet he only stayed dead about a year.

From my informal survey of the four-color literature, it seems DC's much more inclined than Marvel to kill off their heroes and bring them back. (Commenters: Who've I missed? Have at it, and me.)

Which is interesting, because Marvel pretty much invented the hero death/rebirth meme, with the Dark Phoenix Saga.

In fact, DC's going back to that well yet again this summer, launching a high-profile mini-series called The Blackest Night, in which the corpses of currently dead heroes and villains rise and attack the living.

(I suspect they're calling it "The Blackest Night" because "The Summer of Zombie Aquaman" didn't test well. Because I wasn't in the focus group.)

Anyway: Welcome back, Captain, and take your usual seat at the Avengers roundtable.

I think you'll find it's still a little warm.