For the 30th anniversary of Superman’s death, DC celebrates in the greatest way imaginable – by killing every member of the Justice League. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Black Canary and Zatanna are all on their way to their final battle against the Dark Army, a collective of the greatest villains they have ever faced from their side- side by side for the first time.
Yet no matter how shocking it may be, the most remarkable thing about it may be that it will not be a new experience for the majority of the team. Most of them have died before. As we all know, death is rarely permanent in the DC Universe, and a hero’s rebirth and return is as surprising and as crucial a part of history as their passing. So while the world wonders if this Death of the Justice League really is the end this time, we should reflect on the time our heroes have already spent on the DL (Deceased List) – specifically how they died, how they returned, and where long they were gone. Perhaps we will eventually reach an average to indicate how long death typically lasts in DCU.
Death: Superman # 75, November 17th1992
Cause: Judgment Day
Rebirth: Superman: The Man of Steel # 25, July 13thth1993
Cause: Regeneration matrix
Although his was the most notorious death of them all, Superman’s death is the shortest recorded among the current (final) list in the Justice League. When he fell in a battle to the death with Doomsday, Superman’s body was eventually revealed to have been recovered by his Superman robots in the Fortress of Solitude and placed in a “Regeneration Matrix”, designed to revive the recently dead. (Some good old-fashioned prayer from Pa Kent was also suggested to have helped Superman’s spirit back.) In his absence, four claims on the S-shield arose, including a cryptic artifact known as “The Eradicator,” which had ushered in Superman’s own power in the fortress. , when he recovered.
Death for rebirth: 238 days (7 months, 26 days)
Death: Dark Nights: Death Metal # 7, June 16th2020
Cause: Reforming the multiverse
Rebirth: Wonder Woman # 780, October 12th2021
Cause: Odyssey through the sphere of the gods
Diana’s journey to the other side was not her first prolonged death in the comics – that distinction goes to Neron, who banished Wonder Woman to hell for three months in 1997 from Wonder Woman # 124-127. But Diana’s recent victory in Dark Nights: Death Metal over the Darkest Knight gave her the ability to repair all the different forms of the multiverse into a single coherent continuity … at the expense of her life. Faced with the decision to save all versions of everyone who has ever lived, or just her own self, Diana made the hero’s choice. But when a coup took place in Diana’s intended afterlife on Mount Olympus, Wonder Woman found herself on a journey through the sphere of the gods to correct an imbalance on a polytheistic scale. After a little over double the duration of Superman’s more familiar death, Diana, a master of several divine pantheons, returned to the land of the living.
Death to rebirth: 483 days (1 year, 3 months, 26 days)
Death: Final Crisis # 6, January 14thth2009
Rebirth: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne # 6, November 10th2010
Cause: Omega Sanction
Some say that Batman never really died in his climactic battle with Darkseid in Final Crisis # 6, when he turned out to be alive, but hurried back in time in the next issue. We have two answers to that. First, as we would soon learn, Batman was certainly dying repeatedly, only to find himself reincarnated in subsequent epochs of human history. Second, as far as the DC Universe itself knew, Batman was dead throughout his time travel absence. As revealed in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, The purpose of Darkseid’s Omega Sanction was not only to kill Batman, but to turn him into a human reality bomb by building “Omega Energy” through each of his reincarnations until it detonated when it reached the modern age. Intervention from Batman’s allies in the Justice League prevented this from happening, leaving us with a Batman alive in the 21st century again.
Death for rebirth: 665 days (1 year, 9 months, 27 days)
Death: Final crisis # 1, May 29th2008
Cause: Secret Company of Super Villains
Rebirth: Blackest night # 8, March 31st2010
Cause: The white unit
Darkseid’s most ambitious designs on earth to date in Final crisis began with the advance guard of his agent Libra and his own assembled Secret Society of Super-Villains, whose opening salvo to Earth Heroes was the murder of the heart of the Justice League: J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter. Years after a touching funeral, at the end of Nekron’s attack on life itself in blackest night, J’onn was selected by the cosmic White Entity of Life as one of twelve previously deceased individuals to be restored to life as part of a larger intricate plan to rebalance the scale between life and death. Two others appear in this list.
Death for rebirth: 671 days (1 year, 10 months, 2 days)
Death: Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis # 40, March 1st2006
Cause: Sacrifice to older sea gods
Rebirth: Blackest night # 8, March 31st2010
Cause: The white unit
The aftermath of Endless crisis brought us the mystery of “One Year Later”, a time leap that presented a host of mysteries in the DC Universe that would only be revealed in due course. IN Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis # 40, we are told that Arthur Curry in the last year has been missing and presumed dead. A new Aquaman, Arthur Joseph Curry, takes the place of his predecessor, as we gradually experience, sacrificing his own life to the ancient sea gods to save a few vulnerable lives from the underwater community of Sub Diego. Over the next few years, a series of red herrings and fakeouts would erroneously herald the return of the original Aquamans, even though he had in fact been reincarnated as a monstrous older god himself – the Dweller of the Deep. At the end of blackest night, Arthur, however, returned as another of the dozens selected for the resurrection of the white unit.
Death for rebirth: 1,491 days (4 years, 30 days)
Death: Green arrow # 101, August 3rd1995
Cause: Aircraft explosion
Rebirth: Green arrow # 1, 28th of Febuaryth2001
Cause: The ghost
I have to be honest, the death of Green Arrows is my personal favorite among all those we are talking about today. After embedding in an eco-terrorist group called the Eden Corps, Oliver Queen finds herself trapped in a plane with a bomb that was supposed to destroy Metropolis. At the last minute, however, Superman arrives to present Oliver with a difficult choice: he can go down by plane, or he could possibly live another day, but loses his bow arm, which had been squeezed into trouble. Oliver, as a bowman, made a typical bullheaded decision to go down with the ship. In his absence, Oliver Queen was succeeded by his son, Connor Hawke. But Oliver was eventually returned to life by his former best friend Hal Jordan as one of the benefits of getting a new role as Specter after his own death. Oliver was going on a whole new mission to repair his own soul, which had been broken into shuffle, but a resurrection is a resurrection.
Death for rebirth: 2,036 days (5 years, 6 months, 25 days)
Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders)
Death: Blackest night # 1, 15th of Julyth2009
Cause: Black lantern Sue Dibny
Rebirth: Dark Days: The Forge # 1, June 14th2017
Cause: Continuity Restart
Hawkgirl is the only hero we look at who never strictly came back to life – at least not as we knew her. Prophesied to die when she confessed her love for Hawkman, this complex life in Hawkwoman’s chain of reincarnation did just that, when moments later she was killed by the undead Sue Dibny, the wife of the also undead, elongated man. At the end of blackest night, Hawkman and Hawkgirl were among the twelve resurrected by the White Entity. But as Hawkman would eventually discover, this resurrected Hawkgirl was not Kendra at all, but her former incarnation, Shiera. Kendra Saunders would remain dead throughout the pre-Flashpoint DC universe and sit out in the New 52 era as an alternate inhabitant of Earth-2. A few cosmic reshuffles later, Kendra Saunders returned again in the run-up to Dark Nights: Metal—from which she would assume a central role in the Justice League to this day.
Death for rebirth: 2,891 days (7 years, 10 months, 30 days)
If we look at what we have so far, we can on average have a resurrection rate based on our heroes’ previous experiences with death of 1,211 days … or 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. Goodbye, heroes – maybe see you again in 2025.
Untouched by death (So far)
It leaves only three members of the current Justice League who have managed to remain in the realm of the living: Black Canary, John Stewart and Zatanna Zatara.
Black Canary is a strange case, as growing pains between periods of continuity have amplified and separated Dinah Drake and Dinah Lance – often mother and daughter, sometimes the same person. The current black canary, as we best understand her, has never died in any significant amount of time, but her mother has spent years on either mysteriously fused in her daughter or death before the younger canary could begin her career. In either case, the current black canary as we know her has never really been dead, give or take Justice League of America # 219-220 in 1983, where she was simply presumed dead after an attack by the wizard.
Unlike many of his fellow corpsmen, John Stewart has not yet experienced death. His predecessor, however, is a different story. Hal Jordan spent September 25thth1996 to 16 Februaryth2005 in his post-mortem career as Specter, between The Last Night # 4 and Green Lantern: Rebirth # 4—a death that lasted 3,066 days or 8 years, 4 months and 22 days, which even overshadowed Hawkgirl’s rebirth rate. Barry Allen was dead even further, from Crisis on infinite lands to Final crisis, but none of them are currently in the league, so Barry and Hal both fall outside our test group.
Our last Justice Leaguer to consider is Zatanna, who has never died either. However, the same cannot be said of her father. One of DC’s first heroes, Zatara was killed in Swamp thing # 50 on April 17th, 1986 and has never since returned to the mortal realm. We would figure this out as a statistical outlier, except for one thing. The very entity that killed Zatara is the one that the entire Justice League and DC Universe as a whole now face: the Great Darkness.
Now returned for the first time since Swamp Thing temporarily averted it 36 years ago, there is no telling whether anyone crossing it could face the same very permanent fate as Zatara himself. We just have to put our faith in the Earth’s heroes from the coming darkness … that is, who will survive.
Justice League # 75 by Joshua Williamson, Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona is now available in print and as a digital comic.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about television, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffes and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.