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Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'Raw Confrontation'

The comics veteran writes that Marvel's "Avengers" spin-off continues to improve with "Nothing Personal," which delivered "the kind of high-action/fantasy stuff that lives up to the SHIELD title."

Agents of Shield Nothing Personal - H 2014
ABC
"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.

I’ve always had affection for those Warners Jimmy Cagney-Pat O’Brien flicks where their characters deliver lines at machine-gun velocity, and plot points materialize as rapidly as bingo numbers being called by John “Motormouth” Moschitta!

This week’s Agents of SHIELD ep reminded me of that synoptic technique because of its rapid -- and pragmatically satisfying -- pacing and the nifty, structural exposition that made almost every scene build squarely upon the previous one. The balance between action and sit-down scenes was effectively engaged, and, even more importantly, the tension between characters and even between shots (see, we have been paying attention) was handsomely articulated and maintained.

I may be in the minority (judging by the cutthroat mail after every review), but I’ve been grinding incessantly since the series debuted about its Dickensesque approach to character development. The problem is that Skye is no Oliver, and Coulson no Fagin -- and the result is low-grade soap opera that sent viewers scuttling to more entertaining corners of the cathode world.

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Nothing like pain to convince even the most know-it-all sensibility. Now, it appears the tactic has been transformed into raw confrontation between the major players, one resulting in authentic tension -- the element missing in almost all previous SHIELD segments.

Diehard fanboys who keep insisting that hour after hour of stultifying exposition is necessary for some future revelation can stew in their own skeezy prattle after seeing how it really works in Episode 20. Any decent writer knows how to do it. Bless my soul, it’s a Rising Tide mole!

Two things: I hope the series’ exec whizkids can make it happen every week -- and that the audience looking for comicbook-inspired entertainment will try another bite before the season ends a couple weeks from now. Here’s a few bites they missed:

Brett Dalton aggressively confirming he’s more than a slab of beefcake by dominating every scene in which he appeared, bringing AOS to life in a way it’s never been previously. His smartly-underplayed delivery -- such as in the diner passage -- affirmed he’s much more than the set dressing he was allowed to be in the previous 19 eps. What a waste!

Even though she had minimal screen time, Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill demanded a bigger, better, brawnier piece of the action. Give her an eyepatch and she’d steal the show!

Can’t forget the shot of May crawling out of Coulson’s grave like an outtake from a Tod Browning flick! Made my day!!!

And the 20-second outing with Lola the Corvette was worth the price of admission; that’s the kind of high-action/fantasy stuff that lives up to the SHIELD title.

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Biggest laff of the night: Coulson in hand-to-hand combat with battlefield vet Talbot -- and winning!

B.J.Britt’s Triplett also gets my vote as a character I’d like to see more of. Suggestion: If he could con Fitz and Simmons to waltz out of the Bus at 30,000 feet, I’d petition to give him star billing!

Sappiest Scene: Fitz asking Simmons if she’s Hydra -- and being relieved when she denies it. Har! Fitz gets the Dunce Award of the Year for thinking any enemy agent would reveal the truth just because he asked!

Final Wisdom: They keep saying SHIELD is dead! I say Fury is SHIELD -- and SHIELD is Fury!