Death is a minor annoyance in any superhero universe. Guys like Nick Fury and Jim Gordon get emotional sendoffs and then come back in the same fucking movie. The heroic "death" of Agent Coulson was supposed to be the entire reason the Avengers came together, then he got a whole spinoff TV show of his own. (The Avengers are apparently so bitter about this deception that they now refuse to even speak his name.) And those are side characters -- who was fooled for even the two minutes we were supposed to think Bruce Wayne was dead at the end of Dark Knight Rises? Or that Superman's supposed death in Dawn Of Justice would last through the prologue of the next movie?
Look, we get it. Even though real stakes are kind of important in storytelling, no child wants to buy an action figure set featuring Bruce Wayne joining his parents in Hell. But we've reached a point where screenwriters don't even try to pretend these characters are mortal, and the characters themselves seem to know it. That's how you end up with movies like Captian America: Civil War, wherein various elite marksmen, genetically enhanced super-soldiers, and a scarlet witch settle their differences with the most casual and glib battle in the history of violence. A bunch of children playing out that scene on a playground would feel it more.
It really does come off like Peter Parker knows he is safe not because he possesses the natural hand-to-hand combat abilities of an average spider, but because he knows there are action figures to sell. As for a character like the Hulk, the films make it clear he couldn't die even if he wanted to (as in he seriously wanted to, but couldn't). But ...
Let's Talk About The Time They Killed Hulk And He Fucking Stayed Dead
This, naturally, takes us to the 1977-1982 Incredible Hulk TV series. Before they could watch him star in big-budget movies every other year, this was how Hulk fans had to get their fix. Every episode saw David/Bruce Banner solve crimes, save lives, and inevitably turn into a rampaging rage monster, all while trudging toward finally getting his Hulkamania under control and clearing his name of murder. Fans connected with Banner's plight throughout the years, and hoped that he'd one day find a cure so he could enjoy a normal life, or at least stop having to replace his shirt every day. (Fun fact: The network changed his name from Bruce to David because Bruce used to be thought of as a stereotypically "gay" name, and they couldn't have that. We've come a long way, folks.)
All hopes for some kind of happy resolution for the beloved character were literally crushed in a 1990 TV movie called The Death Of The Incredible Hulk, a title that seems like it would have sucked most of the drama out of the proceedings. The movie climaxes with the Hulk pursuing some bad guys onto their plane, which eventually explodes and sends him hurtling down to Earth.
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
To the modern Hulk, that would be the equivalent of stubbing his toe on an inflatable mattress ...
... but back then, it was enough to do him in. Banner dies and the creators dodge a false advertising lawsuit.
It was a brave choice ... and one they didn't truly make. There were plans for another TV movie, The Revenge Of The Incredible Hulk, which would have brought Banner back to life, presumably with all of the cleverness of a lie from a guilty toddler. But it never happened, because of Death getting poor ratings and/or the declining health and eventual actual death of star Bill Bixby, depending on who you ask. Whatever the reason, Death was the end of the franchise, and TV Hulk became one of the very few superheroes to die and stay dead forever. All it took for them to make this courageous creative choice was the audience leaving and the star dying.
And Guess What? The Ending Works Perfectly.
The TV movie portrays David "My Name Means I Love Titties" Banner as tired, jaded, and sick of living on the run. When he dies, he tells the love interest who gave him a brief taste of normalcy that he feels free. He's a superhero who made the ultimate sacrifice to save the day, who did good things under terrible circumstances, and whose only reward is the satisfaction of having done it. It's the heroic sacrifice story arc that superhero movies never have the guts follow through on. Instead we get the tearjerker goodbye from Bruce Wayne, even though he knows he's going to eject before the bomb explodes and then go live in luxury with Catwoman while still getting remembered as a heroic Christ figure back home. What an asshole!
Likewise, TV Hulk's entire character arc would have been completely ruined by a shitty sequel in which he was brought back to life by a magical space jewel or whatever. You know, like the one the producers wanted to make when they thought there was still some profit to squeeze out of the brand. After all, Agent Coulson didn't come back to life for story reasons; Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. just needed a recognizable lead.
The first Captain America killed off Cap's pal Bucky to drive home the cost of war ...
... only for Winter Soldier to resurrect him as a villain ...
... so Civil War could turn him into a hero, because getting killed in World War II is a temporary inconvenience in the Marvel universe, like getting stuck in the DMV for an afternoon. Over on Netflix, the same thing that happened to Bucky is happening to Electra. Daredevil killed her so The Defenders could revive her as a villain so a future series can presumably turn her into a hero. And Groot's sacrifice in Guardians Of The Galaxy ...
... was rendered moot by the immediate appearance of Baby Groot, a miraculous postmortem birth granted by the sheer power of the merchandising opportunity.
The Deaths Will Come -- But For Reasons Having Nothing To Do With Story
At some point, Tony Stark will die in an Avengers movie. This will happen not because we've reached the natural point in that story arc at which the selfish jerk has to make the ultimate sacrifice (we reached that in Civil War, which was like ... six movies ago?), but because Robert Downey Jr. will decide he doesn't want to do it anymore. We don't know when that will be, considering he got paid $15 million for eight minutes of screen time in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and his Iron Man scenes are basically him hanging out in a studio with a camera pressed up to his face to simulate the view from inside the suit. If Samuel L.Jackson is still playing Nick "My Death Would Have Raised The HYDRA Stakes If Only It Had Been Real" Fury at age 68, who knows how long he can stretch this out?
So until that day comes, let's salute the series that did death right -- even if that wasn't the plan.
There are no sad endings on Markos' Twitter, just cool facts.
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