Note on spoilers: This article was conceived of and researched before anyone involved saw “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” so there are no intentional spoilers here. We’re just asking questions.
With “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in theaters, we’re getting to the point in the Marvel1 Cinematic Universe (MCU) where the number of Avengers films planned over the next few years exceeds the number of films that some actors have left in their contracts.
Pretty soon — if it hasn’t started already — we’re probably going to have a couple of dead Avengers.
But fear not! If there’s one thing comic book fans have learned over the past 50-odd years of Avenging, it’s that death is fleeting. If you’ve signed on to the team,2 not only do you get fantastic health insurance, you also presumably get reality-warping friends to handle any “prematurely shuffled off this mortal coil” issues.
So how then do we define “death”? Normally that is pretty cut and dried, but we’re talking about comic books.3 Here are my criteria: A character is considered dead if:
- They are shown or directly implied to be killed
- And their allies and closest friends sincerely believe they are dead.
Let’s go through a few cases:
- If Iron Man fakes his death to chill out for a while but all his friends (and the reader) know he’s just kicking it somewhere, he didn’t die.
- If someone appears to die and everyone thinks they’re dead, but years later new writers decide the character who died was actually a Skrull (a shape-shifting alien) or a Life Model Decoy (a robot), then that character died.
- If Hulk is sent to the future and we follow his adventures there, he’s not dead.
- If a character is killed but then secretly hidden away in a stasis tube, they died.
- If all the Avengers are sent to a pocket dimension after seemingly being killed by Onslaught but we then we follow their adventures on Counter-Earth, they’re not dead.
- If someone’s consciousness was merged with, say, a killer robot or their alternate-dimension older self or Doc Ock — destroying them in the process — they died.
All of these things happened. Comics are weird.
Out of 173 listed Avengers, my analysis found that 69 had died at least one time after they joined the team.5 That’s about 40 percent of all people who have ever signed on to the team. Let’s put it this way: If you fall from four or five stories up, there’s a 50 percent chance you die. Getting a membership card in the Avengers is roughly like jumping off a four-story building.
What’s more, if you’re a fan of the MCU, nobody is safe. Of the nine Avengers we see on screen — Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision — every single one of them has died at least once in the course of their time Avenging in the comics. In fact, Hawkeye died twice!6
But the recovery rate? It is remarkable. Not only did all those top-tier Avengers get better after their first death, but so did most other heroes across the roster. Avenger life insurance is divine. Often literally.
I counted 89 total deaths — some unlucky Avengers7 are basically Meat Loaf with an E-ZPass — and on 57 occasions the individual made a comeback. Maybe they didn’t actually die and were secretly in the Microverse, or they stayed on Franklin Richards‘s or the Scarlet Witch‘s good side in life, or they were dragged back into Avenging by the Chaos King or the Grim Reaper, or perhaps a colleague made a deal with time travelers. Who knows!
But you can only tempt death so many times. There’s a 2-in-3 chance that a member of the Avengers returned from their first stint in the afterlife, but only a 50 percent chance they recovered from a second or third death.8
The MVP of the Earth-616 Marvel Universe Avengers has to be Jocasta — an android based on Janet van Dyne and built by Ultron — who has been destroyed five times and then recovered five times.
Given the Avengers’ 53 years in operation and overall mortality rate, fans of the comics can expect one current or former member to die every seven months or so, with a permanent death occurring once every 20 months.
Keep in mind this rate may very well increase in the next several months. Marvel Comics is in the throes of destroying and merging two of its universes, and, you know, generally speaking the annihilation of universes is accompanied by a few casualties.
If you watch the next couple movies — be it “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or the ominously named “Captain America: Civil War” — and see an Avenger bite it, remember: The Scarlet Witch is magic and tempestuous and can pull off a lot of weird shit.
Because in the end the only thing that can truly kill an Avenger is Marvel Studios not having the rights to the character or the performer portraying them.