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MAY
7
3 MOS

'Agents of SHIELD': Jim Steranko Offers 7 Ways to Fix the Series

The comics veteran writes that with "Ragtag," Marvel's "Avengers" spinoff backslides with a "typically ho-hum" episode — and details how he'd reboot the series for season two.

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D Ragtag Episodic - H 2014
ABC/Kelsey McNeal
"Agents of SHIELD"

Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, recaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for THR's Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.

Is it just me or are the Agents of SHIELD story titles so mundane they make asphalt look like Halley’s Comet?

Maybe like "Ragtag," this week’s episode, those unmemorable, uninteresting titles are representative of those who decide how, what and why SHIELD does what it does. This week’s script, for example, was typically ho-hum and matched to perfection by limp, film-school direction. If nothing else, at least the series is consistent in those two respects.

Plot points we were awaiting for an entire season were tossed off like jabberwocky. Skye’s “parents” were Chinese monsters? Ward was an incorrigible juvenile delinquent? Garrett was betrayed by SHIELD and vowed to even the score after duct-taping his guts together and surviving?

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The First Law of Cinematic Drama is to show it, not say it, an axiom the AOS wranglers violate like clockwork! Can we really take them seriously? Imagine if they had visualized the above scenarios, shown us with traumatic impact those key turning points in the lives of their protagonists. Imagine!

Unfortunately, all you can do is imagine!

I imagined Bill Paxton took a dying lesson from Ian Holm or Lance Henriksen (think Alien) for the ep’s last act. Were those disguises he and May sported meant to be laughable or what? And how in hell did May get back into the fold? Wha …?

Anyway, regardless of the fact nobody asked me (even though I’m a charter architect of the SHIELD concept), I thought I’d take the occasion to offer a cross-section of changes/additions/deletions I’d make for season two if I were an AOS exec producer:

1. Terminate the plodding, Dickensian relationships (which play on AOS as low-grade, touchy-feely soap opera) and transform the series into an action-fantasy opera, riddled with the kind of disarming plot twists and narrative tension that materialized in last week’s ep.

2. Import a new fight coordinator, action director and film cutter because short clips of look-alike actors decked out in dark outfits in shadowy environments is simply chaotic filmmaking. Either figure it out and show us the moves or cut the scene and look for another job.

3. Spotlight an array of jaw-dropping, high-tech, special FX gadgets and props to be used imaginatively (like Lola the Corvette in the previous ep) and often (another SHIELD trademark).

4. Generate complete, intriguing, satisfying adventures (stories with beginnings, middles and authentic climaxes), yet still contribute to a greater developing drama.

5. Feature the Man with the Eyepatch in every segment: Briefly in person every six shows; on computer screen and cellphone transmission every other show; and with notes and messages ingeniously discovered by the cast on alternating eps. Samuel L. Jackson could shoot the works in a single afternoon -- and he’s desperately needed to set the tone and pace of the series!

6. Crash the bus! At best, it’s a clunky prop with a cool quotient of about -10. It may have been somewhat interesting in 1942, but today, it’s a yawn with its conventional lines and banana-with-wings design. As it is, it personifies the series' lack of imaginative imagery, one of the trademarks of SHIELD’s comic book origin and the unforgettable Jack Kirby tradition. If it were my gig, I’d design a hybrid between a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber and a Northrop XB-35 Flying Wing (still visually irresistible, which is why, for example, Ron Cobb created a Nazi version of it for Raiders of the Lost Ark).

7. And finally, I’d purge the entire cast and replace them with tech-aces who actually look like they could handle themselves in Clobberin’ Time situations. FitzSimmons couldn’t begin to duke it out with the Cowardly Lion -- even with one paw tied behind its back and standing on one foot! Coulson’s about as tough as a Pez dispenser. And Skye’s as lethal as an online virus created by a couple of kindergarten hackers doing their impression of Ben Stiller!

Problem is this crew (before the camera and behind it) doesn’t know anything about real street tough and, I’m guessing, have never been in a genuine brawl! Wish I could give them a tour of my old neighborhood where there were guys so dangerous and unpredictable, you couldn’t look them in the eyes -- because if they caught you, they’d take you apart a piece at a time, and without an erg of remorse.

That’s the kind of attorney I’d like defending me in court -- and the kind of soldier I’d like defending me if the country was under Hydra or al-Qaeda attack. I’d cast SHIELD with menacing muscle such as Michael Madsen, Danny Trejo, Lee Van Cleef, Leo Gordon, Jack Lambert, Al Lettieri, etc. Get my drift?

And I’d bring May back for a few highlight segments -- and possibly Ward, if, for example, he lost a limb in defense of his country and got a cool SHIELD replacement.

OK, Agents of SHIELD -- you have one last chance to convince us to spend any more Tuesday nights with you! Make the most of it!