For the 30th anniversary of The Death of Superman, DC is celebrating in the biggest way imaginable—by killing off every member of the Justice League. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Black Canary and Zatanna are all headed to their final battle against the Dark Army, a collective of the greatest villains they’ve ever faced working side-by-side for the first time.
Still, as shocking as that is, the most remarkable thing about it may be that it won’t 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 just as surprising and as pivotal a part of the story as their demise. So, as the world speculates on whether this Death of the Justice League is really 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 how long they were gone. Perhaps by the end, we’ll arrive at some average to indicate just how long death typically lasts in the DCU.
Death: Superman #75, November 17th, 1992
Rebirth: Superman: The Man of Steel #25, July 13th, 1993
Cause: Regeneration Matrix
Although his was the most infamous death of them all, the death of Superman is the shortest on record among the current (final) roster of the Justice League. Falling 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 resurrect the newly dead. (Some good old-fashioned prayer from Pa Kent was implied to have helped Superman’s spirit return, as well.) In his absence, four claimants to the S shield arose, including a Kryptonian artifact known as “The Eradicator” which had been siphoning Superman’s own power in the Fortress as he recovered.
Death to Rebirth: 238 Days (7 Months, 26 Days)
Death: Dark Nights: Death Metal #7, June 16th, 2020
Cause: Reforming the Multiverse
Rebirth: Wonder Woman #780, October 12th, 2021
Cause: Odyssey through the Sphere of the Gods
Diana’s journey to the other side wasn’t her first long-term 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 granted her the opportunity to repair all the disparate forms of the multiverse into a single cohesive continuity…at the cost of her life. Faced with the decision of saving every version of everyone who has ever lived or just her own self, Diana made the hero’s choice. But as a coup was occurring in Diana’s intended afterlife on Mt. Olympus, Wonder Woman found herself on a journey through the Sphere of the Gods to set right an imbalance on a polytheistic scale. After just over twice the duration of Superman’s more well-known death, Diana returned a champion of multiple deific pantheons to the land of the living.
Death to Rebirth: 483 Days (1 Year, 3 Months, 26 Days)
Death: Final Crisis #6, January 14th, 2009
Rebirth: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, November 10th, 2010
Cause: Omega Sanction
Some say Batman never really died in his climactic battle with Darkseid in Final Crisis #6, as he was shown to be alive but hurtled backward in time in the very next issue. We have two responses to that. First, as we’d soon learn, Batman was quite definitely dying repeatedly, only to find himself reincarnated in subsequent eras of human history. Second, as far as the DC Universe itself knew, Batman was dead for the entire period of his time traveling absence. As revealed in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, the purpose of Darkseid’s Omega Sanction was not merely to kill Batman, but to turn him into a human reality bomb by building “Omega Energy” through each of his reincarnations until detonating upon reaching 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 once more.
Death to Rebirth: 665 Days (1 Year, 9 Months, 27 Days)
Death: Final Crisis #1, May 29th, 2008
Cause: Secret Society of Super-Villains
Rebirth: Blackest Night #8, March 31st, 2010
Cause: The White Entity
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 on Earth’s heroes was the murder of the heart of the Justice League: J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Years after a stirring funeral, at the conclusion of Nekron’s assault on life itself in Blackest Night, J’onn was selected by the cosmic White Entity of life as one of twelve formerly deceased individuals to be restored to life as part of a larger intricate plan to rebalance the scales between life and death. Two others appear in this list.
Death to Rebirth: 671 Days (1 Year, 10 Months, 2 Days)
Death: Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40, March 1st, 2006
Cause: Sacrifice to Elder Sea Gods
Rebirth: Blackest Night #8, March 31st, 2010
Cause: The White Entity
The aftermath of Infinite Crisis brought us the mystery of “One Year Later,” a time skip which presented a multitude of mysteries in the DC Universe which would only be revealed in due time. In Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40, we learn that for the past year, Arthur Curry has been missing and presumed dead. A new Aquaman, Arthur Joseph Curry, takes the place of his predecessor, whom we eventually learn offered his own life to ancient gods of the sea in order to save just a few imperiled lives from the underwater community of Sub Diego. Over the next few years, a number of red herrings and fakeouts would falsely herald the original Aquaman’s return, though in truth he had been reincarnated as a monstrous elder god himself—the Dweller of the Depths. At the conclusion of Blackest Night, however, Arthur returned as another of the dozen chosen for resurrection by the White Entity.
Death to Rebirth: 1,491 Days (4 Years, 30 Days)
Death: Green Arrow #101, August 3rd, 1995
Cause: Airplane Explosion
Rebirth: Green Arrow #1, February 28th, 2001
Cause: The Spectre
I’ll be honest, Green Arrow’s death is my personal favorite of all the ones we’re talking about today. After embedding himself in an ecoterrorist group called the Eden Corps, Oliver Queen finds himself trapped in a plane with a bomb meant to destroy Metropolis. At the last minute, though, Superman arrives to present Oliver with a tough choice: he can go down with the plane, or he could possibly live another day, but lose his bow arm which had been pinned in the ruckus. A bowman through and through, Oliver made a typically bullheaded decision of going 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 perks of picking up a new role as the Spectre after his own death. Oliver would have to go on a whole new quest to repair his own soul, which had been fractured in the shuffle, but a resurrection is a resurrection.
Death to Rebirth: 2,036 Days (5 Years, 6 Months, 25 Days)
Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders)
Death: Blackest Night #1, July 15th, 2009
Cause: Black Lantern Sue Dibny
Rebirth: Dark Days: The Forge #1, June 14th, 2017
Cause: Continuity Reboot
Hawkgirl is the only hero we’re looking at who never strictly came back to life—at least, not as we knew her. Prophesied to die when she confessed her love to Hawkman, this complex life in the reincarnation chain of Hawkwoman did exactly that when she was killed moments after by the undead Sue Dibny, the wife of the also undead Elongated Man. At the conclusion 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 previous incarnation, Shiera. Kendra Saunders would remain deceased for the entirety of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe, and sit out the New 52 era as an alternate denizen of Earth-2. A couple of cosmic reshuffles later, Kendra Saunders returned once more in the lead-up to Dark Nights: Metal—from where she would assume a central role in the Justice League until this very day.
Death to Rebirth: 2,891 Days (7 Years, 10 Months, 30 Days)
Looking at what we have so far, we can average a resurrection rate based on our heroes’ past experiences with death of 1,211 days…or 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days. Farewell, heroes—perhaps we’ll meet again in 2025.
Untouched by Death (So Far)
That 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 curious case, in that growing pains between eras of continuity have compounded 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 for any significant amount of time, but her mother has spent years either mystically melded into her daughter, or deceased 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 merely believed to be dead after an attack by the Wizard.
Unlike many of his fellow Corpsmen, John Stewart has yet to experience death. His predecessor, however, is another story. Hal Jordan spent September 25th, 1996 through February 16th, 2005 in his post-mortem career as the Spectre, between The Final Night #4 and Green Lantern: Rebirth #4—a death which lasted 3,066 days, or 8 years, 4 months, and 22 days, eclipsing even Hawkgirl’s rebirth rate. Barry Allen was dead even longer, from Crisis on Infinite Earths to Final Crisis, but neither are currently on the League, so Barry and Hal both fall outside of our test group.
Our final Justice Leaguer to consider is Zatanna, who has also never died. The same can’t be said for her father, however. 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 count this out as a statistical outlier, except for one thing. The very entity which killed Zatara is the one which the entire Justice League, and the DC Universe as a whole, now faces: The Great Darkness.
Now returned for the first time since Swamp Thing temporarily staved it off 36 years ago, there’s no telling whether anyone who crosses it might befall the same very permanent fate of Zatara himself. We’ll just have to place our faith in Earth’s heroes from the Darkness to come…that is, whoever survives.
Justice League #75 by Joshua Williamson, Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about TV, 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 Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.