In fiction, death isn’t a final repose so much as a temporary state to get the audience talking. Take, for instance, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who’s set to star in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, even though he bit the big one in The Avengers (2012). As Paul Gross might say, “You can’t keep horsemen in a cage,” which is why our contributors have decided to recommend four oeuvres about returning from the dead.
Coming back from the dead is something quite trivial in the world of video games. A few seconds after your demise, you usually re-spawn, fresh as a daisy and ready to resume your adventure. Of course, if you run out of extra lives, it’s game over, man. However, in Contra, you can use the most famous code in gaming history to give yourself thirty lives and easily reach the end. Mind you, Konami’s classic eight-bit release remains a fan-favourite today for a lot more than the option to cheat.
Contra is a spectacular shoot ‘em up with fast action, great graphics, and a kick-ass soundtrack livened up by the incessant sound of your gunfire. However, it’s the perfectly responsive controls that make this game a gem: the ability to shoot in all directions, jump without delay, and fully command your character while he’s in the air. Whether you play the original version for the Nintendo Entertainment System (and Virtual Console) or the port for the Nintendo DS, you’re ensured hours of entertainment. If the game gets too hard, simply hit up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A at the title screen, and you can return from the dead twenty-nine times.
Hearts and Souls (1993)
When I think of an actor effectively returning from the dead, the first name to come through my mind is that of Robert Downey Jr, whose post-addiction career has been nothing short of miraculous, a true resurrection. It’s funny then that, prior to his almost career-ending legal issues, he made a few films about death, rebirth, and fate. Chances Are (1989) explored the idea of reincarnation, and Only You (1994) flirted with predestination, but my favourite to this day remains Heart and Souls (1993), which tells of the ghosts of four crash victims becoming tied to Thomas Riley, a boy born at the scene of the accident.
Decades pass, and the souls discover they have a limited time to resolve their pre-mortem issues, so they enlist Thomas (Robert Downey Jr), now an emotional wreck bent on protecting himself from abandonment. As these things go, the antics that follow help our hero regain his emotional footing, leading to the sort of resolution one can see coming about fifteen minutes in. Sure, the plot and the ghosts’ unresolved problems are pretty much textbook, but the dialogue is witty; Downey’s physical comedy is entertaining; and I’m left warm, fuzzy, and optimistic by the end, longing for a guardian soul or four of my own.
Captain America: The Death of Captain America (2007-2008)
Spoiler alert: this might be the plot of the next Captain America movie. It turns out that Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s plucky sidekick, survived the bomb dropped by the Red Skull to destroy America’s freedom. After shaking off some Russian brainwashing and watching his partner get killed, Bucky ends up taking up the mantle of Captain America in what, in my opinion, amounts to the most interesting run of the comic book series in over fifty years: The Death of Captain America.
By putting the sidekick on the front lines, Ed Brubaker brings us a man (not a super soldier) filled with self-doubt and remorse, trying as best as he can to live up to the ideals of his friend. This is the part I find the most riveting about The Death of Captain America. As a kid, I always though Captain America was pretty cool, with his shield bouncing all over the place to take out evil Nazis, but I never found the character relatable. He was too perfect, too much of an ideal. With Bucky throwing the shield, however, I found myself engrossed by a character who, like most of us, is simply trying to make the best of things and not screw up.
There are times when the universe smiles upon you. When Firefly first started airing back in September 2002, I was dead set against liking it. Joss Whedon had irked me with annoying developments on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I thought the whole idea of cowboys in outer space ought to be restricted to seventies anime. Then I watched “The Train Job” and loved every second of it. I tried to follow the show in the weeks that followed, but Fox and Major League Baseball did their best to thwart me at every turn: episodes were broadcast out of sequence; tied games kept taking over the timeslot; and finally the series was axed before ever getting a chance.
DVD sells were high, though, so, in 2005, against all hope, Browncoats got their wish in the form of Serenity, a full-length theatrical follow-up that captured all the greatness of the original. We finally got answers too, a glimpse at the long standing mysteries at which Firefly always hinted. I fault Whedon for predictably killing off cast members to make the audience care, his one big flaw as a screenwriter. Still, he makes up for it with some hard-hitting action, plenty of emotion, big scares, hilarious lines, and more than a few awesome character moments. For a brief moment, the show we all loved and missed came back from the dead. We kept flying, and the sky was not taken away from us.