No matter what they say, there are no permanent deaths in Marvel Comics. Oh sure, some villains might get out of hand and put their nemesis in the ground from time to time, but no one really expects someone like Captain America or Iron Man to stay buried for long.
Even lower-tier popular superheroes find a way to attain semi-immortality, even if they have a nasty habit of perishing every few years. There’s no rule about offing a hero, or even the parent of a hero in order to make an impact with the readers, but it’s hard to imagine making most comic book ends stick in a universe full of time travelers, pocket universes, and literal Norse gods.
None of the following superhero “deaths” were going to be forever, but a few of them must have seemed like it at the time.
How’d He Go: In the fallout from Civil War, an event series that pitted Marvel heroes against one another over the idea of superhero registration, Captain America and members of the Secret Avengers were apprehended by S.H.I.E.L.D. and taken into custody. While in his cell, Cap took a bullet on the orders of Red Skull. With Cap out of the way, Red Skull planned to put his consciousness into the unborn child of Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers. This particular plan flamed out in a major way with Skull stuck in a robot body, but Steve Rogers was still gone. While this was a big deal, it mostly served as a way to jumpstart a new, very comic book-y story following the super intense Civil War series.
How Long Was He Gone: Steve Rogers stayed gone for a little over a year in both real time and comic book time. Captain America: Reborn picked up with America trying to figure out how to honor the anniversary of his demise and Sharon Carter still grasping with the fact that she did away with the man she loves.
How’d He Come Back: It turns out the Cap didn’t actually perish. The device that Sharon used was created by Doctor Doom, and it froze the hero in space and time. Captain America wound up jumping through different points in his life until he ended up in an alternate reality where Red Skull is the leader of the “free” world. In reality, Skull took over Steve Rogers’s body and used it to fight Sharon, Hank Pym, and some of the Avengers. Eventually, Steve kicked Red Skull out of his body and regained full consciousness. The Avengers then enlarged Red Skull into a giant and Vision used the weapons aboard an Advanced Idea Mechanics transport ship to blow the villain to kingdom come.
How’d He Go: After losing his healing factor to a Microverse virus, Wolverine confronted Doctor Cornelius, the founder of the Weapon-X program, to stop the creepy scientist from replicating the experiments that created Wolverine in the first place. While fighting to stop Cornelius’s experiments, Wolverine slashed at vats of liquid adamantium and ended up encased in the unbreakable liquid metal, asphyxiating in front of the laboratory.
How Long Was He Gone: Wolverine was gone for five long years. As one of the most popular characters in the world of comics – not just Marvel – this was a huge deal. While it was necessary to get Wolverine out of the picture for a while to allow other characters to get some page time, he was a constant source of conversation.
How’d He Come Back: Wolverine was one of many formerly deceased mutants, assassins, and artists brought back to life by the mutant Persphone as her mind-controlled puppets. What she didn’t count on was how bringing back Wolverine would kickstart his healing factor and completely restore his body and mind.
How’d He Go: Civil War II found Tony Stark at odds with members of the intelligence community after they discovered an Inhuman named Ulysses with the ability to accurately predict the future. Carol Danvers considered Ulysses an asset to help protecting the world by arresting evil-doers before they did anything wrong. Tony Stark didn’t think it was right to go all Minority Report on people, and eventually he and Danvers faced off in a bloody contest. Danvers dealt out punishing blow after blow to Stark and straight-up beat the life out of him over their moral disagreement.
How Long Was He Gone: Stark spent months in stasis, but while that was happening, there was an A.I. of Stark around to offer guidance to Riri Williams when she took on the role of Ironheart.
How’d He Come Back: After coming out of stasis and nursing himself back to health with the help of his Iron Man armor, it was revealed that the now-living Tony Stark was actually a “lifelike copy” that was created in a tube.
How’d He Go: Civil War II upended the Earth-616 universe more than fans were ready for, and while the demise of Iron Man at the hands of Carol Danvers was shocking, the loss of Hulk was even more sudden. After learning from Ulysses (the future-seeing Inhuman) that Hulk was going to come back and wreck shop on Earth, a contingent of Avengers led by Captain Marvel and Iron Man paid Bruce Banner a visit to place him under arrest. When Hawkeye saw a glint of green in Banner’s eye, he fired an arrow straight through his friend’s head to follow through on a private request Banner had made in case the “other guy” ever got out of hand.
How Long Was He Gone: The gamma-irradiated vibranium arrow kept Hulk in the grave for about two years of time in Marvel Comics.
How’d He Come Back: When the Earth was stolen in Avengers: No Surrender, Hulk returned under the cover of night in a return to his classic, horror-inspired form. Writer Al Ewing explained that because Hulk had been resuscitated multiple times over the course of his life, he can’t really perish. So now, even if Banner kicks the bucket, Hulk is up and at ’em when the sun goes down.
How’d He Go: In one of the wildest comic book demises ever, Peter Parker and Doc Ock switched bodies, giving Ock control over Parker’s web-slinging abilities and leaving Parker in the cancer-ridden body of his arch-nemesis. When Ock perished, so did Parker.
How Long Were They Gone: All in all, Parker was out of commission for a little over a year, but in that time, Octavius took on the mantle of the “Superior Spider-Man” in order to prove that he was better at fighting crime than Peter Parker.
How’d He Come Back: It turned out that Parker’s consciousness was just lying dormant in his body. In issue #30 of The Superior Spider-Man, Octavius realized that he couldn’t make the hard decisions that Parker did while working under the red cowl. Ock removed his consciousness from Parker’s brain and allowed the true Spider-Man to save New York City from the Green Goblin and Mayor Jameson. Meanwhile, Ock’s consciousness moved into a clone body to become the “Superior Octopus.”
How’d He Go: In the Avengers: Disassembled event, the Avengers faced a catastrophic series of threats all at the same time. A Kree invasion, a She-Hulk rampage, and a horde of Ultron robots all converged on the Avengers’ mansion, leaving the heroes on the brink of defeat. Hawkeye bravely sacrificed himself to save the remaining members of the team by snatching a Kree jetpack and blowing up one of their battleships with his explosive arrows. It turned out that all of the threats were caused by the Scarlet Witch’s reality-warping powers after she suffered a mental break.
How Long Was He Gone: Not long, really. Hawkeye ended up coming back in the third issue of House of M, which was published in the same year as his passing.
How’d They Come Back: Thanks to Wanda’s reality-warping powers, Hawkeye wasn’t just resurrected – he never perished in that new reality. After discovering the truth about his demise, Hawkeye left the anti-mutant resistance and set off on his own. When House of M came to a close, he was left living to sling arrows another day.
How’d She Go: During 2008’s Secret Invasion storyline, the Wasp was secretly turned into a living bomb by the Skrulls. The compromised Pym Particles didn’t just threaten to end her life, but they also affected everyone in her immediate vicinity. To keep her from going nuclear, Thor used Mjolnir to send her into deep space before zapping her into a blast of energy.
How Long Was She Gone: There’s no indication of how long she was gone in the Marvel Universe, but her real-world return took a solid four years.
How’d She Come Back: It turned out that Wasp was never gone. In reality, she was parked in a Microverse where she fought against the despot Lord Gouzar. She was able to use her Avengers communication card to get in contact with Giant-Man, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man.
How’d He Go: While fighting Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four found themselves controlled by Doom’s body-swapping technology. In order to save Johnny Storm, Reed Richards had to fire a Thing-specific weapon at his best friend. Thing begged Richard to take him out, and once Doom was stopped, the fallen member of the Fantastic Four told Richards that he had made the right decision.
How Long Was He Gone: Ben Grimm wasn’t down for long. His life ended in issue #508 and he was brought back in issue #511.
How’d He Come Back: It what has to be to the most comic book-y of all comic book-y resurrections, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four used science to take them to heaven so they could retrieve Grimm’s soul. They ended up meeting God in the form of Jack Kirby and then they all went home.
How’d She Go: When an evil, Hydra-controlled Captain America threatened the very core of democracy, Black Widow was one of the many heroes who stood up to him. However, as she was attempting to save Miles Morales, Evil Cap snapped her neck with a massive blow from his shield.
How Long Was She Gone: Natasha may not have been out of commission for long, but her demise sent shock waves through the superhero community. Not only did it show that Evil Cap was seriously, for real, evil, but it also sent Hawkeye and Bucky on a mission to see if she had really perished or if she was just in hiding.
How’d She Come Back: Her Red Room handlers brought her back as a clone, but what they didn’t realize was that she would maintain all of her memories intact – even the memories of her demise.
How’d She Go: Jean Grey has perished A LOT in the comics, but her most memorable death and rebirth came when she took on the role of the Phoenix. As the power of this extraterrestrial entity corrupted her, she turned dark and destroyed an entire planet after consuming a star. In Uncanny X-Men #137, Grey took her own life to save the universe.
How Long Was She Gone: Grey was out of the picture for three years after her passing, but her return was teased in 1983’s Uncanny X-Men #173 with the appearance of Madelyne Pryor. Scott Summers fell in love with her and fathered the child that grew up to be Cable all before finding out that she was actually a creation by Mister Sinister. So technically, Jean Grey was still gone. It was two more years before the real Grey returned.
How’d She Come Back: Five years after Jean sacrificed herself, sailors discovered a cocoon at the bottom of the ocean that contained her body. It turned out that when Grey first plunged into the water and was taken over by the Phoenix, she was actually encased in a cocoon so her body could heal while the Phoenix copied her form. This not only absolved Grey of the Phoenix’s transgressions against space, but it also cemented her status as one of the good guys.