Longtime fans of Joss Whedon rejoiced when it was announced he’d been given the keys to the Avengers film franchise. Those same fans had just one question on their minds, “Who’s he gonna kill? Is Hawkeye a dead man walking? Or the Hulk? Or the Black Widow?”
For those who missed the “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” (which appears to be a lot of you), Joss Whedon does not play nice with his audience. I remember an agent telling me no showrunner was reading “Buffy” specs because “the show was too girly” and that “macho showrunners wanted to read something tougher.” I honestly didn’t know how to respond because “Buffy” was and is one of the most violent and brutal TV shows ever. The fight scenes were always blistering and someone died in every episode. We aren’t talking about Guest Corpse #238 on “CSI.” No, Joss Whedon made sure you got to know his victims before they were dispatched. Hurt more that way. And let’s not talk about the deaths of recurring characters. You could populate an entire show with the fan favorites he massacred. Joss Whedon made sure every death was dramatic and traumatic.
So Mark Ruffalo’s a goner right?
Well not so fast. Between “Firefly” and “Dollhouse,” Whedon mainly stuck to writing comic books and during his tenure on such titles as Astonishing X-Men and Runaways he was decidedly less lethal with his characters. There were still some deaths but they were minor side characters. In fact he’s best known for resurrecting a character during his Astonishing X-Men run. It was Whedon who brought back beloved X-Man Colossus.
So why the change? Deep in his heart Whedon is a contrarian. Everyone zigs, so he naturally has to zag. Killing off recurring characters isn’t done too often in series television especially when those characters are popular. Networks want to hold on to every last fan out there. Ever since “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight Returns” in the mid ’80s however comics have been on a different track. Death has been the order of the day in comic land. Way before Whedon came on the scene, things had gotten so bad it spawned the phrase Women in Refrigerators as a protest against the deaths of numerous (and mostly female) heroes and supporting characters. In a medium that valued life, Whedon reveled in death. In a business that was kill crazy, he broke out the extra life power ups.
There’s more evidence for Whedon’s contrary nature in the characters he let live. Like in every long running show, some characters were going to be mistakes. But unlike Nikki and Paolo on Lost, there were no coma inducing spiders to get rid of these showblockers. So while fan favorites Jenny Calendar, Tara, Anya, Wash, and Wesley all ended up taking dirt naps, nails-on-chalkboard characters like Riley, Dawn, Connor, and Simon not only survived but thrived. Whedon always likes to say he gives his audience what it needs rather than what it wants. I never realized I needed to roll my eyes that much.
So where does that leave Marvel’s premier super group?
Hard to say. On the surface you’d think this would be a no brainer. Most of these characters have their own movie franchises. Plus there’s the fact that Whedon is an unproven commodity as a mega budget director. His only other movie to date, “Serenity” was a mere $35 million. And it’s one thing to tell Amber Benson or Alan Tudyk that their character is biting the big one. They’d probably just smile and say “Great idea, Joss” or if they do bitch and moan about it, it doesn’t really matter. Having that conversation with Samuel L or ScarJo would probably require a bit more diplomacy.
But there’s another factor to think about, cost. These movies are some of the most expensive to produce. So if you’re planning on future solo movies for Captain America, Iron Man, Thor as well as more Avengers movies then it’s possible you’re committing yourself to spending over a billion dollars or more over the next several years. “X2” was an enormous hit with fans because it seemed to open the door for multiple X related movies. “X-Men Last Stand” slammed nearly all of those doors shut except for the “Wolverine” prequel. Plus there’s still a phobia of having too many super powered beings in one movie. They blame “Batman and Robin’s” failure on there being too many characters rather than on it being a lousy movie. So the executives in charge may be open to a few character deaths. They may even have them planned. You can imagine the internet rumors and buzz that would generate.
But will Whedon play along?