This was a big week for the small-screen spandex set. Three separate comic book series (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Flash, Arrow) wrapped for a long winter hiatus, and each mid-season finale dropped a bombshell with mass quantities of comic book significance.
As well they should. TV superheroes shouldn’t be relegated to the small-fry stuff that characterized Agents in its early episodes (drawing on weighty comic lore like stuff left over from Iron Man 3, stuff left over from The Avengers and a little-known, little-cared for mutant named Scorch). Bigger is better, and comic staples like the Inhumans, The Reverse Flash and the Lazarus Pits are size XXXXXXL.
But long are the days when you could make whatever Smallvilles or Blade: The Series and not worry about the larger ramifications. None of what we saw this week exists in a vacuum; even the CW’s output exists in the context of DC having two separate live-action expanded universes coexisting at the same time.
So let’s examine how this week’s winter finales might effect the superhero films of tomorrow.
Robbing The Flash (2018) Of All Its Villains
Of all the superheroes on the market right now, The Flash is in a singularly unique position- a position with overlap. No other hero will be featured at the forefront of a TV show and an unrelated movie at the same time. Come 2018, there will be two young white men in red suits named Barry Allen (according to THR anyway) who are not allowed to speak to or acknowledge each other in any way (this also depends on how Warners wants to play things – will the two Flashes fight an ugly media war or team up for some buddy-buddy cross-promotion?).
People are astute enough to figure out which Barry Allen is on TV and which one is at the movies. That’s not really the issue. The issue lies with the villains. By the time The Flash (movie) hits theaters (on either March 23 or July 27, 2018, given the current calendar) The Flash (TV show) will be at the tail end of its fourth season. And four seasons is about enough time to shine a spotlight on every essential supervillain in the Flash pantheon.
Halfway through season one and we’ve got one Big Bad for sure in the Reverse-Flash, and hints of two other Flash villains with stature enough to take on a a full-season arc: the Rogues and Gorilla Grodd. That’s three years right there, hypothetically speaking. Maybe throw in a Black Flash (perhaps a spotlight on Mirror Master or Abra Kadabra) to get us to 2018.
So what can a feature film Flash do? There’s sort of an unspoken rule that a superhero reboot should open with a villain who hasn’t been used recently (or, preferably, at all). Batman Begins and Ra’s al Ghul, The Amazing Spider-Man and the Lizard, Man of Steel picking General Zod and not Lex Luthor (who was on big screens just a few years before in Superman Returns). We do this because villains tend to be boxed into very small, specific arcs. We’ve had two cinematic Green Goblins, and both snatched up Spidey’s current love interest and dropped her off something tall. Two General Zods who came to Earth with Kryptonian invasion forces pinballed around Metropolis while fighting the Man of Steel.
Too much of the same thing in too small a window comes off like cold leftovers.
If all the good baddies are taken by the time The Flash is in theaters, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen may be forced into treading over Grant Gustin’s exact footsteps. Or left with two other, equally disenchanting options: drastically rejigger a classic villain (but not every nouveau villain can be Heath Ledger’s Joker, some will end up James Franco on a flying surfboard), or pick a C-lister who hasn’t had an entire season to himself on the CW.
Whatever happens, watching Warner Bros. navigate that minefield is going to be fascinating.
An Inhumans That Leans Heavily On In-Universe Lore
All these Marvel flicks might be linked through a nifty cinematic universe, but at the end of the day, they’re still just regular movies. And before you say yeah, no shit, allow me to clarify that a skosh.
Every Marvel movie benefits from having seen all the other Marvel movies… but you don’t have to see any of them to enjoy one on its own. Pick a Marvel, any Marvel, Phase One or Two, and it’ll be buoyed with just enough exposition to keep the newbies afloat during any larger MCU stuff. And obviously, it behooves you to see Iron Man before starting up Iron Man 2, but even then, you’ll probably survive.
Think of the MCU as many separate franchises linked with connective tissue. Every time Marvel adds a new movie, it’s another full franchise that works perfectly fine on its own. The only stuff borne strictly from the connective tissue is The Avengers, and The Avengers is so hugely audience-friendly that any Marvel virgin could (and did) flip for it.
The Inhumans might change that. Because the Inhumans are now a part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and thus will be a part of the MCU for three long years before The Inhumans is ever a thing. Three years of backstory and world-building, all directly tied to a single movie. And not necessarily isolated in Agents – maybe Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will end up being Inhumans themselves (thanks to Fox, they can’t very well be mutants, can they?) and end up plugging Age of Ultron full of Inhuman lingo.
Can you imagine if, before The Avengers came out in 2012, we had three full years of Avengers backstory slathered across a web of TV shows and movies? All stuff we theoretically needed to keep up with in order to fully enjoy the movie?
This is as though the Avengers had first formed on a TV series with good but not great ratings and quietly built up three years of Avengers lore – perhaps with other heroes besides Thor and Iron Man, but Avengers nonetheless – before bursting onto the big screen. How would that have altered The Avengers? Would we even have been able to follow The Avengers? How heavily would a film with that much buildup play on said buildup?
Who knows. However, unlike the Avengers, the Inhumans are bizarre and complicated and riddled with Game of Thrones-esque political backhandedness. Just the kind of thing that benefits from reams of in-universe lore. It’s unlikely, but if Marvel were ever to take the treacherous risk of leveraging one of their films on years of complex nerd stuff, it’d be The Inhumans.
Brutal, Unchallengeable Superhero Deaths
It hasn’t happened yet, but with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth all approaching the ends of their contracts (and the looming threat of Thanos), it’s bound to happen at some point. Headlining heroes must die. Unless Marvel (and DC, assuming they meet any level of success) wants to eternally recast every single character like a world of James Bonds.
And if the most recent Arrow is any indication, the filmmakers in charge of unplugging Cap’s vital signs will need to make it screamingly, painstakingly obvious. At the end of “The Climb,” Oliver Queen was punched in the throat, stabbed, full-on impaled, and then dropped limply off a mountain as his life and loved ones flashed before his eyes.
Afterwards, the CW aired a promo with the dialogue “Oliver Queen is dead.”
Most people watching seem to have taken the hint. But not all- a decent chunk of the recap-o-sphere saw that and thought: “Well, he’s the main character, so he’s still alive. Hope that sword impalement heals quickly.” Here’s the thing, though: Oliver Queen is dead. He has to be dead. Otherwise, Ra’s al Ghul casually mentioning (as he does in “The Climb”) that he hasn’t had a good duel in 67 years is a useless and strangely illogical red herring.
But if the Arrow is a cadaver, then a guy clearly no older than 45, talking about six decades the way you or I would describe six months, is an obvious reference to the Lazarus Pits (the DC Comics staple that give Ra’s his healthy, 500-year-old sheen). Thus, there exists a convenient way to bring Oliver back from the dead. Thus, it makes the most narrative sense for Oliver to be dead. Being brought from the brink of death just doesn’t have the same punch to it.
That people failed to comprehend that Oliver was dead (even without any knowledge of the Pits and despite Arrow tattooing that fact on its forehead in capital letters) reveals a problem we didn’t know we had. Namely, that when superheroes die, they have to die so convincingly that no one could possibly think otherwise. A superhero can’t die with any kind of a question mark hanging – he/she has to be dead dead. Oh my god! Green Lantern ate like 50 lbs of plastic explosives and now he’s been blown to pieces! I collected the pieces in this box- look!
That kind of dead.
We saw Nick Fury flatline on an operating table once, and look how permanent that was. (Answer: about as permanent as Groot sacrificing himself.)
And for that possible counterargument that a protagonist dying at the end of his movie is believable, but a protagonist dying halfway through his TV season is just not viable, an expanded universe stretches on so far into the future it might as well be seen as TV-like. And we should always be open to the possibility of a major character dying mid-movie or mid-contract (hey, it could happen).
At some point, all our favorite heroes may have to shuffle off this mortal coil. And when the time comes, it may have to happen with a bazooka (or four) to the face.