Around this time, someone else returned briefly to St. Louis: Peter Keefe. He'd been diagnosed with rapidly metastasizing throat cancer, and had undergone chemotherapy. He and Ted Koplar had spoken on the phone a few times in recent years, but hadn't seen each other in more than a decade. They arranged a lunch at the creperie below the World Events office in Maryland Plaza.

Bob Koplar, who joined them, says it was a peaceful moment. "It was a really good thing."

Ted Koplar refers to their spat as a "misunderstanding on both sides," adding: "I have a lot of respect for Peter. He was a bright, colorful, unique individual."

Reebok sold out 25,000 pairs of these Black Lion sneaks.
Jennifer Silverberg
Reebok sold out 25,000 pairs of these Black Lion sneaks.

Peter Keefe died on May 27, 2010. He was 57. The New York Times ran a 400-word obituary, hailing him as creator of a show that "helped prepare the way for other Japanese-style animation in the United States."

Jeremy Corray, the creative director of Voltron, does not answer questions. He releases currents of language where sales pitches swirl into pop-culture standup. Six-foot-four and thin in business attire, he could pass for a frat brother. But this is a guy who "felt sick for a week" when Optimus Prime died on Transformers. Now, he's 33 years old and brand watchdog for Voltron.

"In many situations," he admits, "I'm just the fanboy that got let into the party."

On a recent August afternoon at World Events, he's pacing a tight line inside his office while on the phone with THQ, the company that's developing the first-ever Voltron video game. A few feet away, two young sons of another employee twitch in front of a flat screen as they play the prototype on an XBox. Corray watches as he negotiates.

"I know it's a big ask," he concedes into the phone, but he insists the game needs more blazing sword. Even if that means delaying the release date. It would be like playing Luke Skywalker and not being able to use a light saber, he says. Just not cool.

When it's time for the boys to leave, Corray curves his hand into a letter C and presents it to them. "Gimme Voltron claw," he says.

In 2010, Corray was invited out to Los Angeles to meet Todd Garfield, head writer of the new Nicktoons series Voltron Force. Garfield instructed him to bring along every Voltron idea he'd ever had. So Corray consulted a notebook of ideas he'd begun in grade school.

"I walked in there with 100 index cards," Corray recalls, "and we sat there and Tetris-ed this show together." In the show, a new generation of cadets — trained by some of the older pilots — fly updated lion ships and form a revamped Voltron.

Garfield, the head writer, snagged the gig specifically because he wasn't an obsessed fan, and therefore wouldn't be precious with the material. But Corray helped him hew close to the original's mythology.

"I call him my Voltron police," Garfield says.

When the first three episodes debuted on Nicktoons as a seamless trilogy in June, they set a network record as the highest-rated premiere for the key demographics, according to spokeswoman Maria Poulos. On all of TV, she adds, Voltron Force is already No. 2 with boys ages six to eleven.

After each episode airs, Corray logs into the online fan forums to gauge reaction.

"I read everything," he reports. "Everything. Good, bad, fugly, homicidal. I have to know what the view is in the nerd trenches...I shouldn't say 'nerd.' But it's coming from a nerd!"

Corray doesn't believe in fate, per se, but he did carve "Black Lion" into his Huffy bike while growing up in Carbondale, Illinois. Later, employed at his college's TV station, he pulled off a major coup by acquiring the entire Voltron series on three-quarter-inch tape and broadcasting it to hung-over kids on Saturday mornings.

Once out of college, he spent his very first paycheck on a reissued Voltron toy. When he interviewed at KPLR, he promised he would even be willing to pick up Voltron's dry cleaning to get a crack at the job.

These days, Corray's value to World Events is obvious. He recently took the toymakers at Mattel to task for coloring Hunk's uniform peach, rather than the original orange.

"You have to do it, so no geek can bust you," he says.

He's also vigilant of trademark conflicts. He's just learned, for instance, that R&B artist and jack-of-all-trades Tyrese dubbed his new music label "Voltron Recordz."

"I think we're just going to send the guy a friendly letter, trying to deputize him," Corray says. "I mean, he's a Voltron fan!"

Hip-hop's infatuation with Voltron goes back more than a decade. In the late '90s, after Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were both gunned down in the beef between the East and West coasts, Sprite ran a series of commercials to promote unity. Fat Joe, Common, Goodie Mob, Mack 10 and the revered DJ pioneer, Afrika Bambaataa, all played Voltron lion pilots, coming together in the end to smite an evil robeast.

Since then, rappers nationwide have given shout-outs to Voltron, from big dogs such as Eminem and Wu-Tang Clan down to T-Rock and Edan. Pharrell Williams and are reportedly Voltron devotees.

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