It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of Agents of SHIELD. I wanted to review the all-new SHIELD comic from Marvel based on the show’s characters for 2 reasons: 1) Writer Mark Waid is one of the best comic book writers of the last 25 years, and if he can’t infuse life into AoS, nobody can and 2) The Agent Carter interim offers a great chance for the SHIELD comic series to breathe ideas and new life into an inconsistent, if improving, TV series.
Right off the bat it’s clear that Waid’s approach to Phil Coulson, Clark Gregg’s resurrected Agent, is to hone in on Coulson’s status as a fan. The Avengers movie did a nice job of establishing Coulson as the everyman, with his Captain America trading card collection effectively serving as the catalyst for the Avengers team-up. It’s a facet of Coulson’s character that TV Agents of SHIELD has frequently eschewed in favor of his loyalty to SHIELD, and Waid’s right in identifying it’s absence is one of the glaring holes in the AoS infrastructure.
Coulson’s fandom is refreshing, if familiar (the “this character is just like you because he likes comics!” trope is all over comics, from Starman to Rick Jones’ girlfriend Marlo to Invincible…). There’s a particularly charming scene early where a SHIELD unit rescues Coulson from imprisonment and likely torture, only to find him reciting the names of all the X-Men.
Somewhat unfortunately, SHIELD quickly escalates from this insightful look into Phil Coulson into an all-out hell (or in this case, Asgard) on Earth brouhaha. It’s at this point that the differences between Agents of SHIELD (TV) and SHIELD (comics) become most apparent. In addition to his unit of familiar SHIELD agents (Fitz, Simmons, May) Coulson is in charge of a squad of Avengers and various powered heroes as they fight back the unleashed forces of Asgard.
It’s revealed that the Bifrost bridge has shattered, sending Heimdell (Stringer!!!!) crashing to Earth. A middle eastern warlord has taken possession of Heimdell’s all powerful sword and is wreaking havoc on the area before Coulson and his team reveal their big surprise: Agents Valkyrie and Black Knight!
Now this, more than anything, really had me vault into full “Why couldn’t Agents of SHIELD be like that!” mode. I understand the TV series is never going to be Avengers lite, and fans asking for the Hulk are obviously going to be disappointed. But a Black Knight and Valkyrie appearance? Why doesn’t stuff like that happen semi-regularly? And while there have been a handful of enjoyable Asgard episodes, SHIELD #1 paints such a beautiful “only in the Marvel Universe” scenario, that it’s disheartening to think how infrequently they occur on TV.
In many ways, though, I simply have to acknowledge that the comic book medium is better situated for unbridled imagination and tried and true Marvel U action. I’ll never let up hope that the TV show could learn a thing or two about integration into this universe, and SHIELD #1 allots for a few fun ideas.
Waid’s story largely works, but the art and coloring in this issue is extremely uneven. It’s frequently difficult to tell Agents apart, and there were several panels were I was pretty sure Coulson was talking but couldn’t really tell for sure with the art. Likewise, SHIELD #1 from Carlos Pacheco feels very “house” Marvel style, which isn’t surprising but perpetually disappointing when playing in the helicarrier that Steranko built.
Of finale note, SHIELD #1 is in a weird place in Marvel continuity, with Superior Iron Man armor, Thor (Lady style), and a seemingly post-Axis world. The issue is also out of sync with Agents of SHIELD TV continuity, presumably on purpose. For example, no Director Coulson (Director Hill), no Skye (not surprising), and Fitz seems to be perfectly healthy. So if you’re looking for a straight recreation of Agents of SHIELD TV on paper, this is more of a hybrid than replicate.