With Avengers: Endgame coming out this week, lets talk about character deaths. More specifically, when characters that have died, come back to life. We all know that in this movie, all of the dusted characters will return. If you don’t know that, you’re in denial. The original actors were most of the characters left, and they are the ones who want to leave the franchise. All the new, fun, interesting characters were dusted, so obviously they are coming back, to tell more stories. So knowing that these characters are coming back from the dead, let’s talk about that.
Stories have characters come back to life all of the time. But it’s not always as satisfying as you would think it to be. Superman has died 15+ times himself! So the constant reoccurrence of this theme becomes tiresome. I touched on this idea during the Stories Need Consequences article previously, but thought I would dive more into specifically when a character dies, and comes back to life.
Comics are of course notorious for this. “Nobody stays dead except Bucky, Uncle Ben, and Jason Todd.” Of course, since that saying was coined, all three characters found themselves resurrected (though for Uncle Ben it wasn’t permanent). The only other characters to have remained notably dead would be Thomas and Martha Wayne – unless you count Flashpoint. So there really isn’t anyone that has stayed dead in a comic.
When a character just comes back though, with nothing being different, just another Thursday, you feel cheated as an audience member. So what do you want from your revivals? Well, here’s what I want from mine.
Change of Mind
Dying takes a lot out of a person, usually their life, but not always. Like stated above, Bucky and Jason Todd were thought to be the only characters (along with Uncle Ben) who stay dead. And for a long time that was true. Jason Todd was gone for 17 years, and Bucky Barnes for 41! That’s not something to ignore. So when it was time for them to come back, the creators knew that something would have to be different. Of course, they both happened in 2005, and it was the same change, but that’s not the point.
Both of these characters were the young boy wonder to the superhuman that spearheaded their respective publishers. Captain America was part of Marvel before Stan Lee, or before it was even called Marvel! Batman is the reason the company today is called Detective Comics. These characters were big and tough, and needed a small child sidekick to appeal to younger audiences.
Jason Todd is killed after Joker literally beats him to death with a crowbar. This is seen in the Batman: A Death In The Family storyline. Later, Jason comes back to life (thanks to Superboy-Prime, long story). He is so angry at Batman for not killing the Joker after what the Joker did to him, that he decides to do what Batman never could. He becomes a vigilante who kills his villains. This is the same plot of the Batman: Arkham Knight storyline, but instead of becoming the Red Hood, he becomes the Knight.
Bucky on the other hand, also comes back as a super killer, but he was in World War II with Steve Rogers, so death was not new to his hand. Instead, he became an assassin brainwashed by communists during the Cold War.
Neither character is really who they were before. They have done things that can’t be taken back, and they don’t always wish that they could. These are different characters now.
There’s actually a really good animated movie called Batman: Under the Red Hood that tells the story of Jason Todd’s return phenomenally.
Change of Soul
In fantastical stories, there is often the existence of the supernatural, things beyond the explanation of science. In these instances, you can also have a change to a person via their soul.
In the show Supernatural, Sam Winchester returns from death (first of many, many times) without his very soul. His emotions, or love for his brother and others around him, are gone. He is physically the same, but he then goes on to do things that he would later regret. This shows that him dying was more than just a speedbump in the story. Unfortunately later on, death does become little more than a speedbump for the brothers to deal with.
Very different, however, is Benjen Stark from Game of Thrones, in which his mind is the same, but he is physically part white walker, not allowing him to go south of the Wall. His very humanity has been taken away from him, and it shows some of the first power of undeath, in a show where the undead become the primary antagonists.
Both of these are very serious changes that take away the characters ability to do things they previously would. These show that death is something to fear, no matter how you can fight it.
Change of Others
Sometimes the characters that have died aren’t the ones who change when they return, but others around them.
During the end of the second installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow gets eaten by the Kraken. So during the following film, his entire crew agrees to go into the afterlife (World’s End) and literally take him back to the land of the living. It’s the plot of the whole movie, and not only do we see the story without the main character, which is rare, but also Jack sees that he has in fact made a positive impact on others, which given his self awareness of how awful he can be sometimes, has made him less selfish in later films.
As longtime readers of this website know, Captain America is my role model. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America essential dies in 1945, but is brought back to life in 2011, when they thaw him out of the ice. During his next movie, Winter Soldier, we see that the conflict with him isn’t that he has changed since death, it’s that America and the world, has. He is a man with 1945 beliefs and morals, dealing with a post-9/11, Watergate, Vietnam, and more, America. Our country’s leadership has become cynical, and afraid. So how can Steve Rogers balance his deep seated patriotism, with his core philosophies?
These stories are almost It’s A Wonderful Life in showing characters what happens to those they trust, after they themselves are no longer around.
There Was Precedence
So many times, it seems like it’s after a character dies, but the story doesn’t end, that the writers attempt to shoehorn in a reason to bring them back, which a few of those above could be attributed to. However, there are a few amazing moments where, if you look closely, you can see that this is how it was planned all along.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, sees one of the most heart-wrenching moments in all of Star Trek history, the death of Spock, nearly in Kirk’s arms. The next movie, however, was all about bringing him back to life. Now while it might seem like the writers trying to fix a mistake they made, before his death, we see McCoy take Spocks Katra, or his soul, to bring it back to Vulcan, so Spock could make it to his chosen afterlife. But it’s inclusion in the story before the end of the movie proves that this specific piece of worldbuilding, wasn’t used in a poor attempt at a redo, but an intentional plot point.
My favorite bit of foreshadowing however, is in Harry Potter. During the Deathly Hallows, the Battle of Hogwarts is raging, and Harry goes to face Voldemort in the forest, and fails. The boy who lived, dies. Then after a trippy moment with Dead Dumbledore in the King’s Cross Station, Harry returns to his body, to truly defeat Voldemort. So many people saw/read that scene, and were disappointed in what seemed like a poor Deus Ex Machina, but in fact, if you look close enough, it was there all along. Harry was a horcrux. He lived with his awful aunt, uncle, and cousin who, after Harry spent less and less time with them, seemed not so awful anymore. When Ron has to carry a horcrux, he becomes angry and cruel to Harry and Hermoine. Being in close contact with a horcrux over an extended period of time takes something from a person, much in the same way of when Frodo carried the ring to Mordor. That was a planned part of the story. Otherwise, the Dursleys had no reason to be so upset all the time, nice house, nice jobs, nice school. It’s only because they had this darkness infesting their house.
These four reasons are the ones that I’m most willing to accept when a character returns from death. I don’t feel like any of them will be used this week with Endgame, except maybe Vision, but we’ll see how it goes.