There's no formula to creating a successful character. Otherwise, our self-published novel Wolverine Skywalker Of The Clan MacLeod And The Philosopher's Skynet would have sold more than five copies. But every once in a while, someone will come up with a character which captures the imagination of millions worldwide ... only to say, "You know what would be cool? Killing their ass."
Yet, whether it's through persistence, greed, circumstance, or plain dumb luck, some iconic characters have managed to survive their own creators' best attempts to waste them.
7 As Far As Joss Whedon Is Concerned, The Avengers' Agent Coulson Is Still Dead
Let's face it, death is laughably cheap in the superhero genre. If a beloved and lucrative character "dies" in the comics, it's only a question of whether it will turn out the corpse was a doppelganger or if they'll have to invent some pseudoscience to justify resurrection (like the time Spider-Man posthumously gave birth to himself, as one does). It's a quick way to insert some emotional drama that can easily be taken back later. So when SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson "died" in The Avengers, it's easy to assume that writer/director Joss Whedon always intended to bring him back in a sequel. You know, even though his death serves as the entire motivation for the heroes through the film's climax and is kind of the central tipping point of the plot.
And sure enough, ABC quickly announced it was launching the TV series spinoff Agents Of SHIELD, starring Agent Coulson -- complete with a convoluted and half-explained resurrection.
"It was a surgical, memory-planting thingamajig. Don't worry about it."
But what many don't know is that the people in charge of the Marvel TV spinoffs and the people who make the film franchises are not the same people -- they're two different divisions of a huge company, which is itself owned by an even huger company. You'll note, for instance, that Coulson hasn't turned up in any of the 58 or so Marvel films that have been made since The Avengers. That's because, according to Whedon, not only was Coulson supposed to stay dead, but in the universe of the films, he still is. Here's the quote:
"[T]he Coulson thing was, I think, a little anomalous just because that really came from the television division, which is sort of considered to be its own subsection of the Marvel universe. As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead ... But I have to say, watching the first one with my kids ... and watching Coulson die but [thinking], 'Yeah, but I know that he kind of isn't,' it did take some of the punch out of it for me ... I think it's disingenuous to say we're going to fight this great battle, but there's not going to be any loss. So my feeling in these situations with Marvel is that if somebody has to be placed on the altar and sacrificed, I'll let you guys decide if they stay there."
"Sweet, he's 100 percent cool with it. Call Clark's agent!"
"That's not exactly what I ..."
Whedon later said the comments came off as meaner than he intended, that he thinks the show is great, etc. (He directed the pilot. It's not like he went and tried to burn down the set in a fit of rage or anything.) Still, this is a great lesson for any aspiring writers or creative types: If you're doing work on somebody else's franchise, you are not getting final say over where the story goes.
No matter how much creative control he's given over the movies he writes/directs, Whedon is working for a multi-billion-dollar corporation using characters which span dozens of product lines. If the next Avengers film begins with Tony Stark sitting bolt upright in bed and realizing that all of the events of Age Of Ultron were nothing but a very vivid nightmare ("Pepper, I had the robot dream again!") there's not a damned thing Whedon can do about it.
6J.J. Abrams Wanted Poe Dameron To Die At The Beginning Of The Force Awakens
The same way the original Star Wars trilogy had Luke, Leia, and Han Solo, and the prequels had Obi-Wan, Padme, and a mannequin with a frowny face drawn on it with a sharpie, one of the first things the new movies did was establish a new threesome of young characters we're supposed to root for: Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. Poe is a smartass Resistance pilot, and considering that like 60 percent of all fan art produced about The Force Awakens includes him, it's safe to say that he's been a big hit with the audience.
And 90 percent of said fan art shows him making out with either of his two co-stars in this photo.
However, remember when Poe's ship crashes into the desert and it looks like he died? Yeah, originally there was no "looks like" -- he flat-out got killed in the first act. Which makes sense when you remember that this movie was directed by J.J. Abrams, who's been wanting to do pull this trick since the producers didn't let him kill Jack in the first episode of Lost. This is like if Han got killed in the cantina scene in the first Star Wars, or if Harry Potter started with Hermione suffocating after Hagrid accidentally sits on her.
"And then Cinderella steps on a landmine and BLOWS THE FUCK UP! Holy shit! Well, pleasant dreams, honey."
What saved Poe was the fact that Oscar Isaac, the actor who plays him, tends to die in movies a lot, and he wasn't stoked about doing it again. When he met Abrams to talk about the character, Isaac made it clear that he was disappointed about lasting about as much as Indiana Jones' Peruvian sidekick in Raiders -- which inspired Abrams to rejiggle the script at the last minute and spare him. So in the final film, you wind up with this weird thing where Poe stays dead for about an hour of runtime, then shows up again, quipping and doing a series of cool things that don't really impact the plot in any way. If they'd cast someone different, he'd presumably have remained a corpse that whole time.
Then again, this guy could probably make rotting in a casket look cool.