Wingmen Back from the Dead!
Happy Easter, WingNuts! In honor of the holiday, we present a list of Wing Commander characters who (intentionally or--often--otherwise) came back from the dead! (Presented in the spirit of good humor rather than sacrilege.) Please note that for our sanity we are not including ‘killable’ wingmen; the character needs to have (supposedly) died as part of a story. Interestingly, that makes for MOST of the always-killable Tiger’s Claw wingmen anyway… but an honorary mention to Angel, Spirit, Jazz and Doomsday who died but once (and in the last case not yet at all.)
If you aren’t familiar with Vance Richards, don’t worry: he’s one of the Wing Commander novel series’ major characters who never moved over to the games. We first meet him in Fleet Action where we learn he is a mythical figure responsible for the Confederation’s intelligence work. He reappears in several books and also stars in Action Stations, where we see his early days as a fighter pilot. In False Colors, Richards seems to finally meet his end when his flagship is destroyed in battle:
There was dead silence in CIC as they watched Xenophon's last fight, helpless to intervene, helpless to do anything but watch as Ragark's fighters swept in and hammered the light cruiser. They had thrown up a heavy jamming field around her, too, so they couldn't even raise Forbes or Richards to speak to the men one last time.
A touching end! The problem? As book seven, False Colors may have been the last Wing Commander novel that Baen published, but it wasn’t the last one in the timeline. The fifth book, the adaptation of The Price of Freedom, took place a year later (in 2673) and had already featured another appearance by Admiral Richards. Oops! Guess he had a top secret plan to escape? Not a stretch in his case, at least! (The Admiral was also scripted to appear in the single player storyline for Wing Commander Arena at one point, though it was cut midway through development.)
It came to an end far more quickly than Bondarevsky's fight with the two Kilrathi cruisers had. One moment Xenophon was still alive, lashing out at any craft impudent enough to approach too close. The next minute…nothing. The ship was just gone.
And with it, one of Tolwyn's best friends. Admiral Vance Richards had been a good man, for all his faults, and Tolwyn would always remember him as a man of principle and honor. He had a flash memory of before the war, when they were both newly minted young gentlemen and together they had gone on their first mission.
"God's speed, Vance," he whispered.
Joseph “Knight” Khumalo of the 58th Fighter Wing, one of the original game’s main wingmen… and apparently no one’s favorite, as even his talking heads end up telling the story of how other pilots are spreading rumors that he’s a cat lover. Knight is also the less significant of two of the original wingmen that were killed ‘too early’ in the Wing Commander movie. The movie tells the story of Blair’s arrival on the Tiger’s Claw and takes place shortly before the events of the original game… so these two pilots that seem to die must have somehow survived! In the movie, Knight is flying a Broadsword during the mid-film strike on a suspected Kilrathi convoy. His bomber is shot down during a torpedo run (something well familiar to anyone who ever played Special Operations 1) against a Kirathi dreadnaught and he is not seen or mentioned again.
… except, of course, that he later appears in the Wing Commander I & II Ultimate Strategy Guide, Wing Commander I, both Secret Missions and the novel Freedom Flight. We don’t know the rest of the story yet, but we can safely say he must have ejected or otherwise survived the blast and been recovered later. (Pilgrim Stars, which takes place immediately after the film, mentions only that “we lost Knight” in a list of characters that includes both those killed and those transferred to other squadrons.)
The real question seems to be: did Knight then survive the loss of the Tiger’s Claw? He appears on Blair’s list of characters killed by Jazz in the Gwynedd losing series… but so do Hunter and Iceman, who were already known to have survived (see entry below, just apparently not by Blair.) He does not appear with the survivors in the Ultimate Strategy Guide, though, and his ‘story’ in Secret Missions 2 seems to be intentionally ironic: he chooses to stay onboard and fight the Kilrathi instead of accepting a transfer to train new pilots. Knight’s ultimate fate is really one worse than death: he’s a character no one really cared what happened to.
Hunter & Iceman
As mentioned for Knight, Hunter and Iceman were treated as dead in Wing Commander II. The game makes it pretty clear who is intended to be the ‘last’ survivors of the Tiger’s Claw, and in the losing endgame series actually calls out Knight, Iceman, Hunter and others (and it further makes clear that Maniac IS still alive.) Later stories, however, would need both characters. In 1992, Hunter was resurrected with the implied (and later stated in Fleet Action and the Kilrahti Saga Manual) story that he was away from the Tiger’s Claw because of the events of Freedom Flight. Iceman, on the other hand, had a dual-resurrection: he’s mentioned seemingly in error among the Tiger’s Claw survivors who land on the Austin in the official guide (the dialogue seems to be intended for Angel.) But many years later, his survival was confirmed when it became necessary that he father a son, Lance Casey, who would star in Wing Commander Prophecy. Because of how the backstory works out, he had to have survived K’Tithrak Mang for that to happen. And speaking of K’Tithrak Mang...
… in this minor reference, Shotglass seems to have survived the loss of the Tiger’s Claw! The unidentified author of Voices of War (Jacorski?) claims that he owns an item that Shotglass gave him, emphasis ours, “AFTER K’Tithrak Mang.” That could be one of two times: after the Tiger’s Claw attempted to destroy K’Tithrak Mang in 2656 or after the Concordia finally did in 2667. Either way, Shotglass seems to have somehow survived the carrier’s destruction! Did any characters we know actually die there?
Maniac & Vagabond
In adapting Wing Commander III into a novel, Andrew Keith first followed the game’s mechanics exactly. In his first draft, he killed Flint, Maniac and Vagabond during the attack run on Kilrah. In the game, every pilot is killable at this point and (see the entry for Stalker) no one you bring with you can survive the last mission. Andrew chose Maniac and Vagabond, so they’re dead, right? Wrong, Origin said. Knowing they hoped to bring both back for Wing Commander IV (then in pre-production) they asked him to go back and add a small chance of survival for each. But not for Flint! Sorry, Flint. Here’s how they played out:
In that moment, the second Darket engaged. He didn't have to look at the damage control panel to know that he was losing armor around his reactor. Desperately, Vagabond tried to dodge, but the controls were sluggish.
He broke comm silence. "I can't shake him! I'm going up." And just before the Darket fired again, he managed to add a final plea. "Don't give up, Colonel. You've got to take them down . . . for all of us who didn't make it!"
He slammed the switch to trigger his ejection system, praying he wasn't already too late.
"Shields are failing," he said as he released the missiles, his voice almost matter of fact now. "Looks like you're on your own now, Colonel. For what its worth, I'm proud I flew with you . . .''
And then his fighter was gone, too, an expanding cloud of flame and smoke and whirling debris. Blair thought he caught a glimpse of the Excalibur's escape pod boosting clear of the explosion, straining to reach orbital velocity, but he wasn't sure. And even if Maniac had somehow managed to survive that blast, he wouldn't be playing any further part in this battle.
Blair was alone.
Marjakh nar Kurutak, aka Stalker, was the Strakha ace in Wing Commander III. As the ship choice and callsign would suggest, Stalker is a silent killer who hones in on his prey using his invisible fighter before decloaking to pounce… the perfect tactic for a space cat! You meet Stalker in combat in the optional Alcor 3 mission, as he leads an attack on the TCS Victory while you are busy hunting Hobbes.
… and then again in the game’s ultimate mission, Kilrah 3 where he appears alongside five other Strakha to prevent you from reaching Prince Thrakhath and the planet. And if you and your wingmen can somehow kill those six ships… he appears again! And again, and again and again until all of your wingmen have been shot down. Why? The final sequence of the game requires you be alone (ground missions had pre-rendered cutscenes which showed a single fighter entering/escaping the atmosphere) and so the designers simply threw the game’s toughest ace at your wingmen over and over until they die (even if you had previously killed him at Alcor!) Was this the true end of Stalker? Nope, see the next entry...
Pretty Much Every Kilrathi Ace
During the production of Wing Commander Arena, the team asked us for a list of familiar Wing Commander callsigns for humans and Kilrathi. Unfortunately, they did not explain that it was to populate a list of random NPCs who you could fight in some of the game’s modes. When I put together Star*Soldier to go with the game, I took on the task of eliminating most of the familiar characters, generally by giving them a different first and last name. I opted to keep a number of familiar Kilrathi aces, though, even though they were killable in the game. And even included two of their bios in the ‘top ten’ section of the magazine. For the record, the aces that somehow survived to 2701 are…
- Dakhath “Deathstroke” nar Caxki
- Kur “Human-Killer” nar Tr’K H’hra
- Marjakh “Stalker” nar Kur’u’tak
- Bhuk “Bloodmist” nar Hhallas
- Najji “Fireclaw” Ragitagha
- Kramm “Deathfang” nar Caxki
- Bhurak “Starkiller” nar Caxki
(And before you mention it, you CAN shoot down Deathfang in the 3DO port of Wing Commander III!)
Everyone at the Vacuum Breather’s Bar
Not a continuity error or an intentional story change… we just can’t help but notice that everyone who arrives at Windward in Fleet Action thinks that everyone else had died. Guess this is a common problem in the Wing Commander universe? First Hunter and Vanderman (a previously unknown Tiger’s Claw pilot) have this conversation...
"Vanderman from Tiger's Claw, isn't it?" Ian asked, and the old pilot sitting across from him on the other side of the aisle nodded and shook his hand.
"Hell, I thought you bought it when the Claw got it," Vanderman asked.
"I got transferred off on a two week furlough the day before she got hit," Ian replied, a flicker of sadness crossing his features at the mention of his old ship.
"Luck of the draw I guess," Ian mused, "if it hadn't been for the furlough I'd have died with the rest of my friends.
"But what about you," he asked, forcing a smile, "I saw you go down over Draga just before we pulled out."
"I ejected and made it down to the surface, mostly in one piece. Stranded for a couple of years," Vanderman said, "kind of wild and woolly down there, with the carnivores and such."
Then Paladin arrives and it starts all over again!:
"Paladin, damn me, I thought you got killed," Ian shouted, coming to his feet and running up to embrace his old friend.
"As usual, laddie, the reports of my death are a bit premature."
The group roared with delight as the old pilot came up to stand by Tolwyn.
"How the hell did you get out of that last scrape?" Ian asked. "They said you were reported long overdue and presumed dead. Hell, man, you owe me a drink 'cause I bought a round at the Vacuum Breathers in your honor. Old Gallagher even gilded your mug."
Ivar Chu McDaniel (and Friends)
The Confederation Handbook develops a great mythos for the Pilgrim religion introduced by the Wing Commander movie, which involves the founder of the religion, Ivar Chu McDaniel, and a crew of colonists disappearing into the unknown early in humanity’s colonization efforts. It’s a great retcon in general because the meat of it is actually based on the 1997 Wing Commander Universe map included with Prophecy… which features a system called McDaniel’s World near several ‘holy’-sounding stars: Faith, Promise and so on. The Handbook took that slight implication and turned it into the Pilgrim backstory! So the church’s founder, Ivar Chu McDaniel was believed lost in a drive malfunction… until the final movie novel, Pilgrim Truth, where we learn that he and his followers have traveled far away from the galaxy thanks to a still-unidentified alien intelligence! Huh.
Time to talk about someone who never existed. They say that the valiant taste death but once… but the sad truth is that Bosman, originally introduced as a wingman in Wing Commander I, has now died twice and possibly as many as three times. In the Wing Commander movie, we learn that Blair and Maniac have arrived on the Tiger’s Claw as replacements for pilots recently killed in the Vega Sector including Bossman. Blair makes the faux-pas of sitting in Boss’s former fighter and the rest is history. Of course, that story is problematic on the surface: how the heck do you recover the fighter of a pilot who died in space? The Confederation Handbook adds a little backstory, but certainly leaves open the idea that he might have been taken by the Kilrathi.
Whatever happened, Bossman was still alive in Wing Commander I and actually has a scripted death in Secret Missions 2 which is important to a lot of character development in Vengeance of the Kilrathi. As in the movie, Angel is deeply affected by his death (and blames herself) and it serves as a prelude to her reaction to Spirit’s loss. (The second potential death happens in Super Wing Commander, which retells much of Secret Missions 2 from a different perspective. Whether they’re the same mission or not is up for debate!)
You knew he was coming! In early 2681, Commodore Christopher Blair boarded the final tower to allow Lieutenant Casey and the other Midway pilots a chance to destroy the Kilrah wormhole gate. Blair attempted to escape to his ship but was attacked by a Nephilim Warlord. The gate was soon destroyed and he was presumed dead. The Confederation held a memorial service and mourned their greatest hero… and Wing Commander fans immediately began to debate.
Did the Warlord kill him? Had the shield tower fallen through the gate, leaving him stranded in alien space? Did he make it back to his Hercules somehow? There was no good answer. Some of the game’s developers would go on to say the plan was to bring him back in a sequel… others deny that entirely (including the artist who rendered the scene thought to imply the shield tower might have survived.) The few later additions to the canon, such as Star*Soldier, would sidestep the issue entirely and later unfinished sequels would choose wildly different directions (up to and including a Privateer Online pitch that involved a universe full of evil Blair clones.)
But the answer finally came with the 2011 online publication of the unreleased Wing Commander movie novel, Pilgrim Truth! Towards the end of the story, young Blair flashes forward to see that the Confederation will someday be attacked by alien-allied Pilgrims:
As Blair turned to catch up with Paladin, he suddenly found himself staring in a mirror. His hair had thinned and grown white. Age spots dotted his wizened forehead. His shoulders slumped and his chest sagged. The mirror shattered, and the pieces hurled back across a scarred and blackened landscape that he recognized as Washington D.C., Earth. Pilgrim fighters and bombers streaked overhead, dropping unceasing salvos. Fires raged. Pillars of smoke supported a dusty blanket of sky.
A hand slid across his neck, and he found his mother standing beside him on a mountain of rubble. “You won’t be able to stop this, Christopher. Nor will you remember this vision until the day it comes to pass. You’ll have your life to live. And one day, people will think that you’re dead. But you won’t be. You’ll live to see this. And I want you to know that it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault…”
That’s bad news for Washington DC, but good news for Wing Commander fans who want Maverick to have further adventures. Here’s hoping we can tuned for Wing Commander: Resurrection!
That wraps up our list! Can you think of any other Wing Commander characters brought back from the dead? Let us know in the comments!