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Sometimes they come back

Omar Jeter

The Grim Reaper himself, the unavoidable, the inevitable, the one thing that is constantly linked to taxes that is guaranteed. Death at some point it claims us all…… unless your name is Optimus Prime or Jean Grey. Today I discuss how impactful or detrimental the death of a character is to a franchise and how even more detrimental it is if a character remains dead or miraculously returns to the land of the living.
In all forms of Storytelling death is the one thing that hits you in the feels, whether you see it coming or it is sudden, surprising and shocking. And like any writer, creator, director, producer, and most of all the fans realize in one way or another the death of a character changes the landscape forever…Or at least for a season or two. There have been times where the death of a character was so very impactful to a story that it made the franchise all the more better, there are also times where the death of a character completely kills a franchise, and then the very sudden emergency board meeting on whether to bring the character back due to declining sales or to leave them dead can be even more detrimental. Some of the above-mentioned refuse to reverse their decision as it conflicts with their vision of Where The Story Goes moving forward, others are willing to sacrifice their creative ideas for the sake of the almighty dollar and resurrect sales.
The first scenario being the death and return and death and return and death and return and so on of Optimus Prime. Voted on multiple websites as one of the greatest characters to come out of the ‘80s. Hasbro was seeing a money machine with the purchase of Transformers from the Japanese company Takara in 1982 and after a very successful cartoon line, tremendous Comic Book Sales, and the money-making juggernaut with action figures and merchandise, they made the inevitable leap to the big screen. They wanted to do something different but they also had an ulterior motive on how to conveniently if not eloquently introduce the new toys that were about to hit the Shelf, so in 1986 the full-length feature animated movie Transformers did something unprecedented, unexpected, and very unpopular. Within the span of 82 minutes they have managed to kill off almost every Transformer from the 1984 to 1986 toy line including the infamous scene of Optimus Prime being gunned down Gangland Style by his arch-nemesis Megatron, What followed was a 7-minute tear-jerking sequence of the mighty leader of the Autobots dying on an operating table but not before passing the torch to a new generation of Transformers. The backlash from this move was the size of a tidal wave a very negative tidal wave in which kids all over the world we’re so impacted by Prime’s death and parents completely outraged with the over-the-top violence and death scenes unexpected and what was at first advertised as a children’s movie that there were even reports of kids locking themselves in a closet due to depression and anger. Years later during the re-release of the movie on DVD, the producers and actors said it was simply a way of killing off the old toy line and introducing new products. Viewership of the cartoon dived drastically and action figure sales were an all-time low to the point where mid-production of season 3 the decision to bring back Optimus Prime was made. What followed was a hit parade of ups and downs for the fearless leader as he was killed and resurrected multiple times in the comic books, other incarnations of cartoons and even the Michael Bay Transformers franchise of movies.
In the following year, GI JOE was slated for a feature-length cartoon movie with the same dark tones, including a scene where Leader of the Joes, Duke was Killed by Serpantor, Emperor of Cobra, but the script was rewritten at the last minute due to parent-written hate mail over the transformers controversy, and poor box office sales.
One of the founding members of the X-Men Jean Grey otherwise known as Marvel girl faced similar circumstances and her constant Dead alive dilemma. In the late 70s, an X-Men storyline called The Phoenix Saga which is still considered to be one of the best moments of Marvel Comics hit the newsstands as Jean Grey’s psychic abilities reached unfathomable Heights do to a dormant entity inside of her called The Phoenix Force. At first, using her Newfound powers for the greater good she was later brainwashed by a villainous society called the hellfire club which poisoned the Phoenix and left Jean Grey wanting to use her powers for malevolent use. Knowing that if she was to continue on this path it would mean the ultimate destruction of the universe she asked her lover Cyclops to make the ultimate sacrifice and Destroy her. Due to other unforeseen circumstances and just as her namesake describes the Phoenix Rose From the Ashes and was resurrected over and over and over and over and over again throughout the years in comic book form, in the hit 1990s cartoon, and ultimately in the X-Men movie franchise. Although in the comic books no one is ever truly dead so there was a bit of an expectation of her return.
In 1992 DC Comics was getting tired of their goody-two-shoes passe reputation of good guys versus bad guys with a very predictable ending to almost every storyline in every book and circulation at the time so they decided to kill off one of their greatest creations. The news of this decision was so big that it was the first time comic books made the 10 o’clock News on multiple channels throughout the world. It was the storyline we all wanted but until then we thought it would never happen. The Death of Superman was upon us. Metropolis was Under Siege from a monstrous, unrelenting, unfeeling mountain of Brute Force known as Doomsday. There was no negotiating, there was no thought process, there was only death and destruction on his mind. And one of the few cases where knowing what was ultimately going to happen did not ruin the story or kill sales but rather heightened it on multiple fronts. Sales of the issue (Superman #75) reached epic Heights grossing over 23 million dollars and considered to be one of the top-selling books of all time. The storylines that followed including Funeral For a Friend, a world without Superman, and then the inevitable reign of the Superman which led to the Return of Superman followed not surprising to the masses. Overtime the book plummeted and sales just as quickly as it Rose.
The Disney/Marvel Dream creation of Avengers, which took 10years to tell a universe-wide story about the Infinity Gauntlet, led to the very surprising death of Tony Stark, The Iron Man…..a bold move on their parts to kill the most popular character in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) was rewarded with a standing ovation in every theater across the globe, celebrating the brave sacrifice of the golden avenger and to conclude a decade long story arc!
There are some instances where a character is killed, has a dramatic impact but then is quickly Resurrected which takes away even more so because of the very short honeymoon. Of which the character was deceased and was not given time to properly settle in the heads of the viewer or reader. The return of Jon Snow in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones is a prime example of this. Most would consider this to be a borderline waste of time because his death was not impactful due to the hastened Resurrection that followed.
Now on the other end of that pendulum is the very unexpected and seemingly permanent demise of Rick Grimes in the hit AMC Television epic The Walking Dead. This was one of those decisions that the company refused to budge on and with the sudden announcement from actor Andrew Lincoln that he was leaving the show his death was somewhat foreseen but until witnessed was considered a hoax or propaganda to boost ratings and views. Without giving away too many spoilers his character Still Remains permanently deceased. some would say the future of the show is on life support due to this move.
They say the only thing you cannot avoid in life is death and taxes, and this may be true unless your ratings are slipping and then death might take a holiday and bring back some of your beloved characters.

oajeter45@gmail.com

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