How Many Times Have The X-Men “Died?” [Featured]

Wolverine Autopsy

It’s old news now that Marvel Comics intends to kill the mutant hero Logan AKA Wolverine. Wolverine’s been one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes for a while and he’s basically the lead character of every X-Man movie, so his loss should have a tremendous impact. But will it? Comics are known for superheroes and villains seemingly dying only to return later, and the odds of resurrection seem to increase if you’re a mutant or in a book with an “X” in the title. There was this time when we saw Wolverine get stabbed through the stomach and then the autopsy revealed it wasn’t him but a shape-shifting alien who took his place while we weren’t looking. Oh, and that time Logan actually did die alongside his teammates in Dallas.

That having been said, here’s a quick list of some prime examples of false deaths and literal resurrections that have happened in the X-Men family of comics. To keep this from becoming a novel, we won’t include cases when time travel or the Infinity Gauntlet has been used to prevent a death from happening in the first place.

Professor Xavier Fakes Death

IT WAS A SHAPE-SHIFTER

Do you know how many times people in comics seem to die in explosions and then turn up alive? Sometimes that happens even when you find the body. During the days of the original X-Men roster, team mentor Professor Charles Xavier seemingly died in an explosion. Then it turned out it wasn’t him but Changeling, a shape-shifter and former foe he’d asked to stand-in for him while he worked on a secret project. Weird. This made Changeling technically the first X-Man to die in action and he actually hasn’t come back (although we’ve met Morph, a version of him from a parallel timeline).

Storm Death Plane Crash

FATAL CRASH

If you are in the X-Men, just avoid aircraft. John Proudstar AKA Thunderbird  joined the X-Men and died during his second mission when he forced down an enemy’s plane. Many years later, he was briefly resurrected by the villain Selene during the Necrosha story. Later still, he was temporarily released from the afterlife during the Chaos War crossover. Though he returned to death, Thunderbird mentioned the possibility of coming back yet again in the future.

Warren Worthington III AKA Angel was on a plane that blew up. His friends saw the explosion and watched the burning rubble crash to the ground, but later learned he’d been teleported to safety moments before the blast. He was recruited by the evil Apocalypse, who turned him into Archangel.

Not long after that, the strange villains Nanny and Orphan-Maker fought the X-Men and then tried to escape in their personal aircraft. Storm went after them and then her teammate Havok, dazed and confused, unleashed a power blast that destroyed the aircraft. The X-Men found Storm’s dead body in the rubble. As it turned out, Nanny and Orphan-Maker were prepared for Storm’s interference and faked her death with a Life Model Decoy, an incredibly high-tech and expensive android designed by Tony Stark. Wait, really? They happened to have a fake Storm corpse just in case Storm happened to be on their aircraft during a crash? Um, okay.

Anyway, the real Storm was alive and well and then Nanny de-aged her into an amnesiac child. She got better later and it’s honestly not even that weird when you consider how many times other X-characters have been de-aged into being children. Nah, that’s still pretty weird.

Sean Cassidy AKA Banshee served with the X-Men for years and was a mentor to the Generation X team. Some years after that, he was killed when the villain Vulcan piloted the X-Men’s Blackbird jet through him and into a passenger plane. The X-Men found Sean’s body in the wreckage of the plane. However, he was later temporarily revived a couple times during Necrosha and Chaos War. Even more recently, he was fully restored to life by the Apocalypse Twins, who also made him evil. That happens in comics.

Marrow Death

HEY! AN EXTRA POWER TO SAVE MY LIFE!

During an early mission with the original X-Force, Sam Guthrie AKA Cannonball was freaking impaled by the villain Sauron (a vampiric dinosaur-man, not the literal Lord of the Rings). He died instantly but revived moments later, his fatal wound healed. Cannonball learned he was an External, a rare type of mutant born with near-immortality. But years later it was said that this was a lie and he was just a normal, mortal mutant. So how did he survive getting impaled? We still don’t know.

Years later, we met Marrow, a mutant who could grow bones out of her body and tear them off to use as weapons. Yeah, it’s kinda gross. Anyway, for a time she was a terrorist and fought the X-Men. When her forces were defeated, she wired a bomb to her heart and told Storm to either yield or kill her. Pragmatically, Storm ripped out Marrow’s heart and wasn’t sorry about it. FATALITY! Storm tried to make a bad-ass statement afterward, but her phrasing was odd and the seriousness of the scene was undercut by the hilarious heart sound effect “SQUICK.”

Oh, but then Marrow survived anyway because it turned out her mutation also gave her two hearts and she only needed one. That’s real lucky, that. It’s like being a Time Lord but without the time travel or charm.

Apocalypse Cyclopse Merged

CYCLOPS AND APOCALYPSE BECOME: CYCLOPALYPSE

The villain En Sabah Nur (“The First One”) AKA Apocalypse is long lived, has molecular control over his body and uses advanced alien technology to recover from fatal wounds. Several times he’s been seemingly killed and then we see him months or years later rising from a technological sarcophagus, ready for more evil. But one of his deaths was odder than the others.

In the storyline “The Twelve,” Apocalypse realized his too-often resurrected body was wearing itself out and he needed to possess a whole new form. To stop him, Cyclops merged his own essence with the villain, seemingly killing them both. A merged being turned up alive later on, with Cyclops as the dominant factor and Apocalypse attempting to take control. The mutant warrior Cable then speared Apocalypse’s spirit with a psychically empowered weapon (I love comics), seemingly destroying the guy forever. Cyclops’ body returned to normal, though now he had a new perspective as he had seen the world through Apocalypse’s eyes.

Despite literally having his soul speared like a fish, Apocalypse turned up alive later on, in a new body. We were told that his technology is so good, he only needs one drop of his own blood to build a new body to inhabit. Wait, if that’s true, why did he have to go through all that trouble in “The Twelve”? Why not just build himself a brand new body to use for a few thousand more years? Huh.

X-Men Dallas Resurrection

MAGIC!

During a battle in Dallas, the X-Men learned that they could only stop the villain Adversary if they sacrificed their lives. They agreed and their bodies were converted into energy for a spell that imprisoned him away from Earth. Then Roma, daughter of Merlin, brought them all back to life as reward for their sacrifice. The X-Men who died during this story were: Dazzler, Longshot, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Psylocke, Rogue, Havok and ally (later enemy) Madelyne Pryor.

That’s not the last time literal magic brought someone back. Illyana Rasputin, young sister of Piotr Rasputin AKA Colossus, contracted the deadly Legacy Virus and developed cancer-like symptoms. Despite the best efforts of the X-Men, she died. Several years later, the demon lord Belasco used powerful magic to recreate Illyana as his servant/weapon.

Betsy Braddock AKA Psylocke first died fighting the Adversary, then resurrected minutes later. Years after that, the villain Sabretooth gutted her. The X-Men revived her with a magical healing elixir from the Crimson Dawn dimension. But two deaths isn’t enough. Much later, Psylocke died in battle and was buried on the grounds of her family estate only to wake up a year afterward. Betsy found out that her older brother Jamie resurrected her by reaching back in time and using quantum forces to prevent her spirit from entering the afterlife. Some writers basically use “quantum” stuff as a substitute for magic, so we’re totally counting this as magic.

Nightcrawler Pirate in Hell

The evil ninja organization the Hand (a group that inspired the Foot Clan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) has occasionally used magic to resurrect fallen enemies into mind-controlled warriors. They killed Wolverine, then brought him back evil. During that time he killed his fellow X-Man Northstar who in turn was resurrected by the Hand and also evil for a time. Those crazy ninjas! Obviously, both Northstar and Wolverine got better.

Kurt Wagner AKA Nightcrawler was probably the most Catholic of X-Men. A few years ago, he died while protecting the young mutant Hope Summers. Later, the X-Men journeyed into after-life realms and fought Nightcrawler’s evil father, Azazel, ruler of a Hell dimension. Nightcrawler’s spirit joined the fray, dressing up with a pirate motif. In the end, he left Heaven, sacrificing paradise and his soul to cut Azazel off from a lot of his power. It may sound hokey to have a character literally walk out of the after-life but hey, there were pirates in Heaven and the X-Men had cool hats and swords. That’s awesome.

Colossus Death

DRUGS

Warpath lived in the shadow of his brother Thunderbird, who died during his second mission. After many adventures with X-Force, Warpath was injected with a drug that caused a fatal heart attack. Fortunately, his teammates retrieved his soul and sent back to his body, so he resurrected just fine. SCIENCE! Wait . . . Wait, that’s not science at all!

Colossus met his end with a drug too (his second death since he died stopping the Adversary years before). Dr. Henry McCoy AKA Beast developed an anti-viral agent that would release into the atmosphere and destroy the deadly Legacy Virus wherever it was. But then he realized (through some strange reasoning that didn’t make much sense) you had to inject the drug into a mutant and have them use their powers, which would charge up and release the anti-virus but kill them in the process. Beast wanted to search for a better solution, but Colossus had seen the Legacy Virus kill his sister and decided enough people had already died. He injected himself and was dead moments later. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered.

A few years later, Joss Whedon wanted to use Colossus for his own X-Men story and Marvel said sure, that’s cool. So we learned that this evil alien named Ord had stolen Colossus’s body right after his death, replaced it with a duplicate body that was cremated in his place, and then used strange science to resurrect the armored mutant hero.

Genosha Destruction Magneto

IS MAGNETO IMMORTAL?

Magneto has made a habit of avoiding death. At one point, he was on board his orbital base Asteroid M when it largely blew up and then crashed to Earth. Months later, he turned up alive and we were told he’d been encased in a protective shell that was amazingly effective at protecting people from crashing to Earth from orbit while inside a big rock.

Years later, Magneto was on the island of Genosha when a ton of mutant-killing Sentinel robots laid the place to waste. We saw the master of magnetism (recently confined to a wheelchair thanks to an attack by Wolverine) look up from his personal quarters to see a Sentinel fist flying at him. A moment later, the building and everything inside was rubble and ash. But this was a fake-out. Magneto escaped the destruction and used the opportunity to assume a new identity and infiltrate the X-Men, calling himself Xorn and falsifying a new history for himself. The plan worked pretty and he revealed his true face when he was done hiding, but events led to his defeat and then an enraged Wolverine decapitated him.

Almost immediately after this, Marvel decided they didn’t want their most famous X-Men villain dead. So we were told a few months later that Xorn was not Magneto in disguise but actually just a guy named Xorn who had convinced himself that he was Magneto. The real master of magnetism had been living in seclusion ever since Genosha’s destruction (possibly even before).

madelyne pryor

THOSE CRAZY CLONES

After Jean Grey AKA Phoenix killed herself (we’ll get to that next), her love Scott Summers AKA Cyclops left the X-Men in mourning. He then met Madelyne Pryor, an Alaskan woman who was the spitting image of Jean. This haunted Scott and he wondered if his wife was reincarnated somehow. In the end, he realized she was a different person and came to love her for herself. They married and had a child, Nathan.

But then Marvel decided to bring back Jean, which meant Maddie had to go. She died during the Adversary battle in Dallas but was resurrected moments later along with the X-Men. A while later, it was revealed that she was actually a clone of Jean Grey with implanted memories. Her creator, Mr. Sinister, believed that the offspring of Jean and Scott would be the most powerful mutant, so Madelyne was created basically to be a replacement mom/incubator. This truth and an encounter with demonic forces led to a decline in sanity and Madelyne became the evil Goblyn Queen. After fighting the X-Men and their allies, she committed suicide in the hopes that her strange telepathic link with Jean Grey meant they would both die. But Jean was saved by the Phoenix Force.

So yeah. Bad character arc with not a great resolution. Rather than just let Madelyne fade away as a character whose story went horribly wrong, Marvel kept bringing her back time and time again. First, she was a psychic essence. Eventually, magic resurrected her as a physical woman at last. She’s still evil and plotting against the X-Men somewhere.

Of course, this isn’t the only clone-involved resurrection. In one would-be epic battle, Wolverine decided to finally take down his enemy Sabretooth and decapitated the villain. Sabretooth has a healing factor on par with Wolverine’s, but it seemed decapitation wasn’t something he could heal from (especially when it caused by a sword designed to negate this power). However, the baddie turned up alive a couple of years later and we were told that it was just a clone who had died.

Phoenix Creates Cocoon

THE WHOLE PHOENIX THING

The most famous case of resurrection in the X-Men (and arguably in superhero comics) concerns a lady named Jean Grey and her tenure as Phoenix. A founding member of the X-Men originally called Marvel Girl, Jean saved the entire team after an encounter with special Sentinels but was exposed to lethal levels of radiation in the process. She was burned alive but then instantly reborn as Phoenix, now wielding considerably magnified powers. So that’s one death, kind of.

The X-Men discovered that the Phoenix Force was a cosmic energy that sometimes chose people to wield its power as a guardian of life. Jean became the team powerhouse, but then the illusion-casting villain Mastermind corrupted her mind and set her down a dark path. As Dark Phoenix, Jean became drunk on power and abused it, absorbing a star and causing an inhabited world to die. The original intention by writer Chris Claremont was that Jean would realize her sins and give up her powers entirely, sacrificing part of her identity in order to protect others. But Marvel decided that since her actions had ended lives, redemption wasn’t enough; she needed to pay with her life. So instead, Jean decided that as long as she lived, she risked one day losing control of her motions and becoming Dark Phoenix again. She saw suicide as the only option and took it.

A few years later, Marvel decided to bring Jean back from the dead. To absolve her of her crimes, it was said that the Phoenix Force wasn’t an energy that joined with Jean but a cosmic entity that replaced her. Phoenix copied Jean’s body and mind, then placed the real one in suspended animation within a cocoon created to heal her radiation-damaged body. She joined the X-Men, went nuts and killed herself while the real Jean was asleep the whole time. Now Jean was out of the cocoon, awake and fully healed. Jean, naturally, had no memory of these events and had to be told about her double’s life and death. A later story had Jean absorb the memories of Phoenix. If you think about it though, readers, this story doesn’t absolve Jean since the Phoenix copied her personality and acted as she would have.

Claremont had never considered Phoenix to be a separate entity, so he wrote a flashback scene in X-Men Classics that changed the resurrection explanation a bit. We saw that Jean’s spirit joined with the Phoenix Force energy and then she created a new body for herself because her original form was still too damaged by radiation. Seeing there was still a spark of life in her damaged “shell,” Jean created the cocoon to heal it, deciding it would be a fail-safe for her in case things went wrong in the future. So Jean was indeed Phoenix and Dark Phoenix and when she committed suicide it caused her consciousness to rocket back to her original body. Later stories confirmed that Jean’s initial belief that Phoenix was a separate entity was due to denial and repression resulting from her traumatic experiences.

Jean Grey Final Death

During Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, Jean accepted her past actions as Phoenix and regained her cosmic power, now in full control. But not too long after that, new teammate Xorn revealed himself to be Magneto, big battles ensued, and then the villain killed Jean by giving her brain a targeted and powerful electro-magnetic blast (although it later turned out it wasn’t really Magneto, just a crazy guy actually named Xorn). After a follow-up story that took place in a possible future, we saw Jean’s soul join those of others who had wielded the Phoenix Force. She chose to venture off into an after-life realm rather than risk what would happen if she resurrected yet again. So that’s basically a third death (or second if you don’t count her original transformation into Phoenix).

The Phoenix Force attempted to come back in Jean’s form later but this didn’t work out and Marvel’s been pretty good about letting the character finally rest in peace. Except for the fact that time travel was recently used to bring teenage, pre-Phoenix Jean Grey forward into the present. So she’s kinda, sorta back until she’s either returned to the past or we discover that this Jean is actually from a parallel timeline and not the past of the mainstream Marvel Universe. Whatever.

Hey, maybe Wolverine will die just so he can come back as the new Phoenix later on. Wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen in the X-Men comics.

IN CONCLUSION

This list is by no means complete. That’s part of the point. It’s hard to get worried about Wolverine dying when he’s already literally died twice and this list includes just SOME of the examples of how little the concept of death means in X-Men comics. Then again, maybe it’s fine to Wolverine’s inevitable return as long as the story itself entertains us.

Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor and freelance writer who moonlights as a comic book historian and geek consultant. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.

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