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DC Comics

8 Absolutely Ridiculous Ways Comic Book Characters have been Brought Back from the Dead

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DC Comics

By Scott Meslow

You may have read headlines recently, at websites like the New York Post or Rolling Stone, reporting that Batman's beloved sidekick Robin will be killed off in a comic book scheduled to hit shelves tomorrow. You may have even been sad about it. But never fear, Robin fans; in comic books, death is a well-traveled country, from whose bourn many travelers return. And indeed, comics writer Grant Morrison is already hedging on the Boy Wonder's death. "You can never say never in a comic book," says Morrison. "Batman will ultimately always have a partner." If the series does attempt to revive the fallen Robin, it will be in very good (or bad) company. Here, eight of the most ridiculous ways that comic book heroes have been brought back from the dead:

1. Bucky Barnes

The demise of Captain America sidekick Bucky Barnes was originally introduced via flashback, and Bucky's death was a vital part of Captain America's character. Our hero long struggled to deal with his guilt over failing to prevent the boy's death — guilt that turned out to be misplaced. More than four decades later, it was revealed that a brainwashed Bucky had been operating as a Soviet assassin called the Winter Soldier all along. Since his resurrection as the Winter Soldier, Bucky has actually been "killed off" and come back again, with his apparent death in 2011's "Fear Itself" arc later revealed to have been prevented by an injection of something called infinity formula. 

2. Jean Grey

The best arc in X-Men history saw fan-favorite Jean Grey (then called Marvel Girl) die twice — first, as she guided a spaceship containing the rest of the X-Men back to Earth, which exposed her to fatal levels of radiation but allowed her to be reborn as the exponentially more powerful "Phoenix"; and second in "Dark Phoenix," when the immensity of her power corrupted her, causing her to destroy an entire galaxy and then disintegrate herself in a moment of remorse. It was a deft, moving story about the consequences of even the noblest person having too much power — so of course, it was retconned six years later, when it was revealed that "Phoenix" was a separate identity, and that the real Jean Grey had been healing in a protective cocoon on the ocean floor all along.

3. The Flash (Barry Allen)

Much like Bucky Barnes, the death of the second superhero known as The Flash gets an asterisk, because it was revealed 23 years after his "death" that he never died at all. Allen stopped a galactic supervillain called the Anti-Monitor from destroying the Earth by creating a "speed vortex" — better known to us mortals as "running really fast" — that converted his body into pure energy. But even though his nephew, Wally West, picked up the Flash mantle in his stead, Allen came back into being after gestating for 23 years in a deus ex machine called the "Speed Force."

4. Robin (Jason Todd)

Though many comic book characters have come and gone, only Jason Todd — the second Boy Wonder to serve as Batman's sidekick — has been killed off at the behest of fans. In 1988, DC Comics held a telephone poll asking fans whether or not Todd should be killed off, and by a margin of less than 100 votes, fans said yes. Todd's brutal demise in 1988's "A Death in the Family," in which the Joker beat Todd with a crowbar and left him to die in an explosion, provided one of the most memorable moments in the history of Batman comics. But in 2005, when Superboy punched the universe so hard that it created shifts in the real world — an action that, perhaps not coincidentally, allowed writers to muck around with the comic's continuity as much as they wanted — Todd was brought back to life, and has subsequently served as both supervillain and superhero.

5. Superman

When news broke that DC Comics planned to kill off Superman after a climactic battle with Doomsday in 1992, it made international headlines — despite the fact that DC always intended to bring him back. Superman's death paved the way for the introduction of a series of proto-Supermen, including a teenaged clone called the Metropolis Kid, a cyborg called The Man of Tomorrow, and an armor-clad metalworker called The Man of Steel (later played by noted thespian Shaquille O'Neal in a 1997 film called Steel). After a brief tussle over which of the new heroes was the "true" new Superman, it was revealed that Superman was alive because his body had been placed in a machine/lazy plot device called a "regeneration matrix" at his Fortress of Solitude.

6. Robin (Stephanie Brown)

Yes, another Robin has also been killed off, though her time in the ground was a lot shorter than Jason Todd's. Stephanie Brown was originally introduced as the daughter of a Batman villain called the Cluemaster, but became a fan favorite as the Spoiler, a superheroine who eventually became the girlfriend of then-Robin Tim Drake. When Tim retired, Brown convinced Batman to let her become the next Robin, but her short-lived tenure ended when the villainous Black Mask tortured her in an attempt to learn more about Batman. Though Brown was shown dying from her injuries in a hospital bed with Batman at her side, it was revealed four years later that she had actually faked her death to prevent more villains from using her against Batman. Though she subsequently had a brief tenure as Batgirl, Brown hasn't appeared in recent comics, with no explanation as to her whereabouts. So for all we know, she's dead again.

7. Captain America (Steve Rogers)

Following the same model that made the "death" of Superman a mainstream story, Marvel killed off its own defender of the American Way in 2007 when Captain America was the target of an elaborate assassination scheme by the supervillain Red Skull. Ironically enough, it was Bucky who stepped in to take the seemingly deceased Rogers' place, but less than two years later, Marvel revealed that the gun used to "kill" Rogers actually caused him to become unstuck in space and time, briefly allowing Red Skull the use of his body before he regained full control and resumed his superheroic duties in the present.

8. Spider-Man

Given everything you just read about comic book character "deaths," you'd think fans would blow them off by now — but the seeming "death" of Spider-Man in December 2012, which was also reported in mainstream news outlets, was so polarizing that some Spider-Fans made actual death threats against writer Dan Slott. In the controversial issue, Peter Parker switched bodies with the villain Doctor Octopus for reasons too ridiculous to explain — and that's saying something given some of the far-out explanations above. After they pulled off the switcheroo, the cancer-ridden body of Doctor Octopus succumbed to disease before Parker could switch back. Parker was then revealed to be alive in the very next issuefighting with Doctor Octopus' psyche as they both attempted to control his body.

This is how comic books work, ladies and gentlemen — so don't mourn too hard for our dearly departed Robin.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.