Comic book superheroes die. It happens. Many get better. A few stay dead. And then there are the rare few who are almost designed to die and come back.
Once such character in that last category is Drax the Destroyer.
Thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Drax is a fairly recognizable character now. As portrayed by Dave Bautista, Drax the shirtless maniac who doesn’t understand metaphors and fights with a pair of daggers is a character that many moviegoers would probably assume is the original incarnation of Drax.
It’s also completely made up for that movie. Drax originally looked like this:
That’s some 70s cosmic finery, which makes sense, since Drax was originally part of the Marvel Cosmic scene of the 70s, when Jim Starlin was crafting the tales of Thanos, Captain Mar-vel, and Adam Warlock. Drax first appeared in the pages of Iron Man #55 in 1973, coming to assist Iron Man against some alien bad guys while on the hunt for Thanos, also appearing for the first time in that same issue.
Drax also wasn’t an alien. He was originally a human named Arthur Douglas. One day, while driving through the desert with his wife and daughter Heather, Thanos flies by. Thinking the humans have seen him, he causes the car to crash, killing Arthur and his wife. Daughter Heather would be adopted by Thanos’ father Mentor and raised on Titan, eventually becoming the bald, telepathic Avenger Moondragon, one of those heroes who come across as haughty, arrogant, and really unlikeable.
But, you know, Thanos is still out there, so the Titan god Kronos uses Arthur’s spirit and placed it into a powerful body whose sole purpose is to take down Thanos. As the new Destroyer, Drax has flight, colossal strength, energy projections, and can survive in the vacuum of space. Plus, he wears a lot of purple with a skull motif going on.
Here’s the thing: Drax has died on more than one occasion. Each time he comes back because, well, Thanos doesn’t die either. He doesn’t always come back right either. Around the time of Thanos acquiring the Infinity Gauntlet, Drax came back brain damaged, and since this was Marvel, that meant he adored episodes of ALF and referred to himself in the third person, while barely remembering his old life aside from the odd flash here and there, like how he used to be a musician that played the saxophone.
Drax’s complicated backstory may be why, during the short-lived Silver Surfer animated series, he was simply referred to as a robot that Mentor had built. Also, Thanos was Mentor’s brother, not his son, and Drax was basically a servant to Mentor.
It was in this brain-damaged incarnation that Drax joined the Infinity Watch, with each member being given a single Infinity Gem to watch over. Drax got the Power Gem, which he assumed was a jellybean and swallowed. Essentially, the gem made Drax stronger and stronger when his subconscious felt he needed to be stronger. Once in a while, something would cause him to cough up the gem and it would go to someone else. That was always trouble.
Worth noting: while most of the Infinity Watch hung out together on Monster Island and dealt with various cosmic threats, there was one exception. Adam Warlock, leader of the team and bearer of the Soul Gem, had given the other gems to Gamora (Time), Pip the Troll (Space), and Moondragon (Mind). But the Reality Gem was far too dangerous to use without the others, so Warlock gave it to a secret member who would both be hard to rob and be smart enough not to use it. Eventually, it was revealed that sixth member of the Watch was Thanos, so there was a period where Thanos and Drax were on the same team.
But then Drax died again, and came back almost immediately slimmer, smarter, and without the flight, energy projection, and probably a ton of the strength involved. This would be the look we all know and possibly love today. Now, he just wants Thanos dead all the time. During a period where Thanos was dead, Drax would join the new Guardians of the Galaxy under Star-Lord with most of his old Infinity Watch teammates.
Then Thanos came back. This period revealed the real problem is Drax is an avatar for life and Thanos is an avatar for death, so the two can’t get along. On an expedition to the Cancerverse, the two got to arguing and Thanos rather easily killed Drax.
Of course, Thanos and Star Lord also appeared to die in the Cancerverse. But they came back, eventually with an explanation. How did Drax come back to life? How does he ever? It’s, like, his thing.