In fiction, nothing ever truly goes away. As the nostalgic wheel reaches another thirty-year rotation, old classics are dusted off, franchises get rebooted, and beloved characters find their way back from the dead. As Paul Gross might say, “You can’t keep horsemen in a cage,” which is why our contributors are recommending four oeuvres that exemplify the comeback.
Making a comeback 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. The title got a resurgence in recent years, with ports suddenly popping up for modern consoles along with a nostalgic sequel in 2009, aptly called Contra Rebirth. Whichever version you play, you’re ensured hours of entertainment, and if the game gets too hard, simply hit up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A at the title screen to get twenty-nine comebacks of your own.
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.
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 former partner Steve Rogers get killed, Bucky comes back to the fold and 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.
In bringing back the sidekick and putting him on the front lines, Ed Brubaker gives 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 late 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. Steve Rogers was too perfect, too much of an ideal. With Bucky throwing the shield, however, I found myself engrossed by a super-hero who, like most of us, is simply trying to make the best of things and not screw up.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Few movie franchises embody the comeback like Rocky, wherein every sequel devotes half the runtime to knocking our protagonist down just so he can return triumphant in the climax. Cynical viewers might be wondering how the man can beat the odds so many times and still find himself the underdog, but that’s kind of how life goes. Sylvester Stallone, who penned every instalment, injected a lot of his own experiences into the films, always staying true to two central conceits: boxing as a metaphor for hardship and Rocky as the manifestation of human resilience. Granted, the parable had worn thin by the time it started tackling issues like Cold War angst and, uh, corruption in sports advertisement. No one was surprised when the series seemingly died after five entries in 1990, but it turns out our hero had one more comeback in the tank.
Release thirty years after the original, Rocky Balboa sees our aging protagonist in a world that’s moved on without him: his beloved Adrian has passed away; his son (Milo Ventimiglia) acts like they don’t know each other; and the public at large speaks of him in the past tense. When offered a match against a young boxing star (Antonio Tarver) as part of some promotional stunt, Rocky decides to prove he’s still got fight left in him, both inside and outside the ring. I can think of no fitter conclusion to the Rocky saga than this final comeback, which not only distills the franchise’s core message but taps into a universal truth about life: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”