Most big comics crossovers and story lines generally promise a death. Most of the time, the death is someone nobody really cares about. The death could be someone who rejoined the group after a sufficiently long absence, or some minor character, or someone no one really got around to liking anyway. Sometimes readers can even eliminate a few contenders by looking to see which characters have solo books that aren’t being canceled anytime soon. And sometimes the death is something even readers know won’t last very long, since the story itself seems to have set up a return somewhere along the line.
Then, occasionally, there’s a death that seems to come out of nowhere to a character people largely love, and in a way that just seems really cheap, with no clear path to return the character to the land of the living. One such death would be when Colossus was killed off in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.
The X-Men in and of themselves are a curious group. Despite becoming one of the most popular books Marvel publishes regularly, the original team was something of a flop and was even just reprinting old adventures at one point featuring the original team line-up of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman, Angel, Havoc, and Polaris. Beast probably got some love when he left to join the Avengers and became Wonder Man’s best friend. They were also probably the laziest of Stan Lee’s many origins, since he basically gave them whatever powers he wanted while shrugging and saying they were born that way.
Then in 1975, the team was revived with a mostly new line-up that would usher in the grand success that Marvel has been enjoying with their merry mutants ever since. Cyclops stayed, and Marvel Girl became Phoenix, but the rest of the team was brand new: Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Thunderbird, and Colossus. The team was truly international now, with only the Japanese Sunfire refusing to stick around after the initial mission.
It’s interesting to watch this team evolve, too. Wolverine was originally something of a joke who would charge into any fight head first and get knocked out almost immediately before Marvel finally decided he could use those pigstickers in his forearms to actually, you know, kill an opponent. Thunderbird was killed off instead of Wolverine on a first mission, mostly due to Canadian artist John Byrne saying Wolverine had to stay, and likewise because Thunderbird’s powers were somewhat redundant next to Colossus. Nightcrawler for a period had some camouflage powers that allowed him to more or less disappear in shadows. Storm slowly became the strong leader she is today. And then there was Colossus, Piotyr Rasputin, arguably the soul of the team, a sensitive young man from Russia who could turn into organic metal.
This team would stick around with various comings and goings (Banshee out, Kitty Pryde in) for many years. More mutants would crop up, but the core of Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus weren’t going anywhere. You know, aside from when Nightcrawler left to form Excalibur.
But then there was the Legacy Virus, a pathogen designed originally to only kill mutants. Sure, the virus keeps cropping up as a plot point, but basically it was to kill mutants and force characters like Beast and Moira MacTaggert to pull their hair out while Reed Richards apparently decided to do other things, because he doesn’t often appear in comic books with an “X” in their name, even though his son was technically a mutant that could have contracted the virus and died at any minute. This was the period, also, where most X-Men foes seemed to be massively powerful immortals that could shrug off whole teams of mutants, like Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, Exodus, Onslaught, and probably Magneto once Magneto realized he was immortal.
Most victims of the virus that actually died were either minor figures, or eventually found a way back. The rest were cured by the sacrifice of one mutant.
See, among the victims was young Illyana Rasputin, the younger sister of Colossus who sometimes is older than she ought to be and sometimes isn’t. Because comics. Full of grief, Colossus would quit the X-Men to join Magneto’s Acolytes, and eventually come back. There was a cure for the virus that Beast had set aside, for in order for it to work, a healthy mutant had to take the cure, use his or her mutant powers, and then die while the cure went airborne and, like, instantly cured all the sick mutants or something. Again, because comics. Beast figured his best course of action at that time was to play some hoops outside. I am not making that up.
But, because Colossus was so grief-stricken, and self-sacrifice was kind of his thing, he gave himself the cure, armored up and then back, and promptly died.
Fans didn’t take this very well. Colossus’ death seemed little better than a plot point.
Now, I will admit it is interesting that this death may have inadvertently led to another development. I got the chance to see a bit of Grant Morrison’s X-Men pitch for the first storyarc, and it mentions Colossus. But Piotr was dead, so Morrison must have looked around for a suitable replacement. That, I think, led to this:
So, no Colossus may have led to the concept of secondary mutations and Emma Frost having a diamond form.
But, getting back to my original point, the fans weren’t happy. Many creators these days are fans. So, when Joss Whedon started his Astonishing X-Men run, one of the first things he did was bring back Colossus. Colossus was found pretty much just hanging out in a closet and immediately jumped into action to save Kitty Pryde.
So, how did Colossus come back from the dead? You know, back in the day, I actually read those issues and my honest answer is I don’t remember. I could look it up, but I’m feeling lazy about that right now. I’m not even sure most fans care. They were just glad to have Colossus back.
That may be good enough an answer as any.
Oh, Illyana got better too, but that’s probably worth covering in a future column.