It's soon to be the first day of the rest of Captain America's some more life, apparently, so we're having a special edition of Justify Your Existence in which we take a look at some of the many, many ways that comic book folks have cheated death over the years. This is a very small sample, of course - I managed to think up something like fifty possibilities ranging from Superman to Little Mermaid over the course of half an hour. Really, the question isn't whether a comic book character is going to come back but when.
If you're not familiar with Hellhound, don't worry. He was a chump with a pretty decent costume who had an ongoing rivalry with Catwoman - your standard martial artist type, plus some big dogs. He eventually showed up at the beginning of the very long "War Games" arc that ran through the Bat-family comics a few years ago, acting as a bodyguard to one of Gotham's innumerable crime bosses:
He's a pretty tough-looking bodyguard, that's for sure. To bad tough didn't turn out to count for much amongst the shipping crates of Gotham Docks or wherever this meeting took place, as the eternal truth of the Gotham underworld held true: get more than two guys with any degree of power together and there will be a shoot-out, or maybe a freeze-out or a mud-out or some sort of violent guessing game. Poor Hellhound just wasn't up to the challenge and ended up sprawled behind a crate full of bootleg Ken dolls. Hell, the first time I read this issue I wasn't paying too much attention and thought that he was Catman - an ignoble end indeed for a dog-villain.
Just a couple of years later, though, in the highly-entertaining Villains United:
Well well, what have we here? Were reports of Hellhound's death greatly exagarrated? Nope, turns out that Calculator sold the franchise to some other chump. Well, I'm sure that he'll have a long and storied career, right? Maybe have some fights with Mr Bones or Bouncing Boy? Let's check out what I'm half certain is his very next appearance, in Salvation Run:
Yep, he was used as a contingency plan and fed to lizard-lions by the Body Doubles, a team of fashionista assassins who haven't changed their clothes in at least five years. And then this guy's cousin and some dog-looking guy showed up in Blue Beetle:
Don't worry, I hadn't heard of a title fight either. Evidently, it's what happens when a super-villain kicks off and two or more guys want to fill his shoes for some reason. This is now imprinted on my brain - every time some R-grade bad guy gets shot in the head I'm going to picture seven guys meeting up outside of a bar in Toledo, all wearing their best Crazy Quilt or Planet Master outfits. Evidently, an established name is way more valuable than people not immediately picturing you getting eaten by evolutionarily-unlikely alien beasts when they meet you.
Means of death: back alley brawl; distraction.
Means of revival: Replaced by a series of chumps.
Verdict: NOT APPROVED
Black Adam, as integral to the DCU as he has been for the last decade or so, debuted in 1945 as a one-shot villain, an old student of the wizard Shazam who had turned to the bad and been banished to deepest space for his temerity. He showed up in Marvel Family No. 1 and took on the whole darned bunch of 'em, until he was finally outsmarted by the cunning of Uncle Dudley, who fooled him into saying Shazam and turning back into his 5000 year-old alter-ego, Teth-Adam:
And we all know what happens when someone who is very old stops being under a magic spell or unfreezes or is cured of vampirism or the like: instant ageing! Poor old Teth-Adam, who had spent the last 5000 years flying through space and was understandably a bit pissed off, wrinkled up and turned to dust, which must have been very pleasant for the preadolescent members of the Marvel Family (i.e., all of them) to watch.
So Black Adam was no more. Too bad, as he was a super-distinctive looking character. Look at that widow's peak, surely one of the wonders of the age! And between his eyebrows, ears, nose and chin, his features were so exaggeratedly evil that I'd be surprised if he could have gone into any field other than that of the super-villain. Seriously, I might call the police if I saw him buying a lotto ticket.
Flash forward to 1974 or 75, to the DC-published Shazam! No. 28. Bily Batson and Uncle Dudley have been on an extended road trip across the USA, chasing Dr Sivana as he wreaks havoc in city after city. Finally, he fires up his trusty reincarnation machine...
And brings back Teth-Adam! This time around the same old trick will not work again on ol' Tethy, no sir. Thanks to Sivana's machine, Black Adam will have to wait a long, long time before he has to worry about crumbling to dust unexpectedly if he accidently says hello to his neighbour Shazam Johnson. Plus, the machine somehow manages to give him a swanky new hat, which might be a built-in feature. You know, in case someone wasn't satisfied with merely being raised from the dead and needed some material inducement to stick around and hang out with a dwarfen science-tyrant.
The best part is that he not only smashes Sivana's machine so that is can never be used to return him to dust but he also steals the wee doctor's plan. I have never seen the little guy so upset. Good job, Black Adam!
Mode of death: the old "make 'em so old they turn to dust" manouvre.
Means of revival: tiny megalomaniac and his Reincarnation Machine (bonus points for now being immune to original mode of death; more points for making Sivana sad).
Verdict: JOHN APPROVED
It's true! Way back in Detective Comics No. 328 they killed off Alfred "bestest butler" Pennyworth. See, Batman and Robin were fighting some goons in a construction site (as they are wont to do) and Alfred drove up on a motorcycle (as he was very occasionally wont to do), and:
Alfred was duely buried, the Alfred Foundation was started in his honour and Aunt Harriet moved in with the boys before the Butlercycle had even cooled off. And this is how things stayed for the next thirty issues, until (reportedly) the appearance of Alfred on the Batman TV show necessitated that he be brought back in the comics as well. How'd they fix a man who had been smushed under a boulder, you ask? Well:
They called in Brandon Crawford! Brandon Crawford, a man who describes himself as "a radical individualist, always experimenting, always finding new laws of nature and science - laws which orthodox scientists do not yet admit". Yes, Brandon Crawford, the man who discovered that dogs have no sense of irony! The radical individualist who refused to wear a tie to the Tycho Brahe roast!
Frankly, if I was a barely-alive butler lying in a refrigerated tomb without having been embalmed and this guy found me? I'd be resigning my mostly-dead ass to being rubbed with essential oils and then shoved into an orgone accumulator for a couple of hours. What I'm saying is: what happens next does not surprise me.
Crawford throws Alfred (still reeking of rose-hips and bitter almonds) into a cellular regeneration machine and throws the switch. Evidently, this bathes the whole damn room in whatever energy the thing uses, because it's not only "Corpsey" Pennyworth that gets a jolt. Brandon Crawford lapses into unconsciousness, wishing all the while that he had discovered the "radiation shielding is good" law of science.
Alfred, meanwhile, is indeed revived - score one for radical individualism, I guess - but in horrifically lumpy form:
Following this, Alfred-as-the Outsider bedeviled the Dynamic Duo with Grasshopper Men and booby traps and all manner of tomfoolery (oh, and he turned Crawford into an Alfred doppleganger and put him back in the crypt, so as to fool the Bat). It isn't until issue numba 356 that Batman and Robin managed to track him down, and that only after Robin had been turned into a coffin. In the ensuing fight:
That darn regeneration machine! Alfred could have learned a thing or two from Black Adam, I swear. Smash the machine after you are fully regenerated, guys, because those things usually work in reverse.
Sure enough, a second dose of those crazy rays de-lumps Mr Pennyworth and everyone gets to go home and be sarcatic at each other about how Batman doesn't eat. Incidently, if you, like me, are sad whenever you get to the part of Dark Knight Returns where Alfred dies, just imagine that this all happens again afterward. It's very cathartic!
Mode of death: Smushed by a boulder whilst motorcycling for justice.
Means of revival: Turned into a lumpy telekinetic monster by a radical individualist/got popular on the teevee.
Verdict: JOHN APPROVED
Good afternoon, folks.