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The Impermanence of a Comic Book Death: A Reaction to Superhero TV’s Recent Character Deaths

Posted on the 18 May 2016 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

SPOILERS for Agents of SHIELD‘s season 3 finale, The Flash‘s “Invincible” (S2:E22) and Legends of Tomorrow‘s “Destiny” (S1:E15)

Remember when people used to argue that superhero TV shows needed to start killing off characters? Yeah, um, were those same people watching The Flash and Agents of SHIELD last night? Both shows devoted their final minutes to the sudden deaths of some significant characters. The difference is Agents of SHIELD did this in its season finale, and had been building up to this moment via a mid-season premiere flash forward. The Flash, on the other hand, did it in the penultimate episode of the season, and offered no advance warning, although if you’ve seen enough TV you could easily sense doom was a comin’ seeing as how everyone was just a wee bit too happy and conflict-free.

And, just like that, Hive (or least Grant Ward’s body) and Lincoln are dead on SHIELD, and The Flash‘s Henry Allen has gone from being an absentee father to being a dead one, thanks to Zoom ripping his heart out of his chest in front of his understandably horrified son.

Here’s how it all went down:

AGENTS OF SHIELD

Shield Dead Ward Lincoln Season 3 FinaleRecap from THR:

The agent formerly known as Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), who was killed by Coulson (Clark Gregg) halfway through this season only to be resurrected as the ancient Inhuman known as Hive (also Dalton), was trapped in the Quinjet explosion in space that Daisy (Chloe Bennet) saw in her vision in the midseason premiere. He had been trying to use a nuclear warhead to disperse the Inhuman virus across the globe, and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that would never happen. Despite Daisy trying to take on the vision for herself after all the hurt and destruction she caused her team while under Hive’s sway, Lincoln ended up stealing Yo-Yo’s (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) crucifix necklace from Daisy after getting shot. Knowing that he wouldn’t survive his wounds, he stowed away in the Quinjet and fried all the machinery using his powers, ensuring that Hive and the virus would be destroyed in space. It was a heroic death, and one that completely broke Daisy.

The Flash

Flash Dead Henry Allen So SadRecap from Vulture:

Given Zolomon’s belief that he and Barry are so similar, it was only a matter of time until he did something terribly drastic. If Barry can’t see their similarities, he’ll make him see. Zolomon speeds into Joe’s house, grasping a frightened Henry. Barry doesn’t even hesitate, speeding off after him. .

Barry follows Zolomon into his childhood home, but he is unable to convince him to let Henry go. In a tender speech, Henry tells Barry that he is proud of him. And then, in the same home where he lost his mother all those years ago, Barry watches Zolomon plunge his hand through Henry, killing him swiftly. Grant Gustin sells the heartache and fear in a agonizing way. Teddy Sears finally proves that he can play a great villain. It’s a emotional moment, a tragic loss, and a powerful way to set the stage for what should be an incredible season finale.

This comes after Arrow said goodbye to Laurel Lance last month and Legends of Tomorrow blew up Wentworth Miller’s scenery-chewing Captain Cold last week.

But they used to say saying that no one stays dead in comic books other than Uncle Ben, Bucky and Jason Todd, and then Bucky and Jason Todd were resurrected. The same principle now seems to apply to superhero TV.

Less than an hour after the premiere of the Legends episode which ended with Captain Cold’s demise Deadline broke the news that Miller has signed a unique contract making him a regular cast member in the Berlanti superhero universe but without being tied to a single show. Leonard Snart will now be free to jump from Flash to Arrow to Legends to, presumably, Supergirl. How will they resurrect him, though? I don’t know. I’m sure Rip Hunter will break yet another time travel rule or something.

As for Laurel, she was actually in The Flash‘s “Invincible” last night, albeit as an evil, alternate universe doppleganger who went by the name Black Siren. So, even as The Flash killed off one of its characters it was resurrecting one of Arrow‘s, and “Invincible” ended with Black Siren locked away in the STAR Labs answer to Guantanamo Bay meaning Katie Cassidy can easily come back next season for another guest spot or perhaps multiple episodes.

Over on the Marvel side of things, Agents of SHIELD obviously owes its entire existence to the improbable resurrection of someone Joss Whedon killed off in Avengers. Brett Dalton was more than happy to point that out to The Hollywood Reporter in a post-mortem interview in which he expressed his desire to return to the show at some point even though Grant Ward’s body should be all kinds of blown up at this point.

The showrunners, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, weren’t exactly definitively squashing Dalton’s hopes in their separate THR interview.

Maurissa: In the Marvel universe, it’s always a possibility that once someone’s dead, they may return. The very center of our show is founded upon that notion. But the character of Grant Ward has been with us since season one and we have evolved his character a number of times and we crushed his chest in and we brought him back which is just a testament to how we feel about the character as well as the actor. We did feel that perhaps in making him the full incarnation of evil or implying that is the most ultimate villain he could possibly be and to proceed beyond that, we feel that the story ran its course.

Whedon: We wanted to give him a fairly glorious, fireworks show of an ending. That’s where the ending for that came up. That being said, of course it’s the Marvel universe. Everything is fluid and we are such fans of the character and more importantly of Brett, so I’m sure there will be something [with him returning] in the future.

Much of that same language could have also been used in reference to Lincoln. They pulled the same trick as Captain America: The First Avenger (the would-be lovers saying their goodbyes over radio as the guy nobly sacrifices himself and has his final line to the girl cut-off), and brought Lincoln’s arc to an end (he finally found his purpose, said “I love you” to Skye for the first time). It was quite heartbreaking. We all know the TV rule, though – If we don’t actually see the on-screen death that means the writers have left themselves some wiggle room, however minor.

But even that doesn’t always mean anything. We saw Sara Lance’s death. Now, she co-anchors Legends of Tomorrow. Similarly, the Henry Allen we know has lost touch with his own heart (I hate when that happens), but The Flash has multiple universes to play with as well as Earth-2’s mysterious man in a mask to reveal in the season finale next week.

Maybe I’m just in denial (or there’s some interview with the producers/actors out there I don’t know about), but I’m not really moved by Henry’s death because I now assume his alt-universe doppleganger will turn out to be the man in the mask, and John Wesley Shipp will be sticking around.

However, I’m suddenly flashing back to the various superhero TV characters who have actually stayed dead in recent years, like Tommy on Arrow, Triplett on SHIELD, Barry’s mom on Flash, Peggy’s first season Agent Carter boss, etc. Sometimes, these people do actually stay dead, and don’t come back as a twin (remember Arrow‘s weird Shado twin?), clone or alt-universe doppleganger. It’s possible, then, that among the trio of most recently deceased (Henry Allen, Lincoln, Grant Ward, whose technically been dead for half a season) superhero TV characters none of them are coming back. My default setting with this type of material is to except some kind of improbable return, but could death suddenly have some semblance of permanence in these universes?


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