April 02, 2014 10:59am PT by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'Superbly Compelling'
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.
For the past 15 episodes, I've craved the "End of the Beginning" of the Agents of SHIELD series, and finally got my wish!
Candidly, I've tried to be the psychoaesthetic conscience for the characters and premise I helped create and evolve somewhere in the Mesolithic Marvel Era. My sole criteria has been to simply weigh the cathode presentation's entertainment value. Nothing more. Nothing less. And nothing personal.
That's why I'm laying odds that increasing ship-jumpers and diminishing ratings finally ignited a deep concern among the prime movers that their brainchild was becoming brain dead. The result: a no-holds-barred meeting with their field generals about recasting the show's trajectory -- or else! After all, exec producers Joss Whedon, Jeph Loeb, Joe Quesada, and Stan Lee are all world-class storytellers with track-record appeal. My money says they laid down the law against interminably entropic soap-opera chatter, ersatz scripts that do microscopically little to advance the narrative and narcoleptic characters who redundantly get in each other's way onscreen to justify their names on the credit scroll.
The result: an upgraded SHIELD chapter that sported fresh ambiance, fresh style, and, more importantly, fresh pacing. For example, the script was fertile with throwaway lines, but instead of holding the kind of self-conscious beat necessary for a Zach Galifianakis routine, they were delivered with conventional throwaway speed and effectiveness. Even the few intrapersonal dialogue exchanges lasted no longer than a chicken could hold its breath. The visual style was cleaner, more cinematic, and the editing significantly tighter. The bottom line was that for the first time since I've eyeballed the show, scenes actually rippled with tension. And AOS without tension is like Pez without a dispenser!
The Coulson-May standoff that climaxed the show could be deemed over the top (Clark Gregg's overstated delivery), but it nonetheless worked for me because I'm looking for conflict and confrontations in the SHIELD saga, not the kind of absurdly touchy-feely scenes that typified the previous offerings -- and made me reach for the Tums!
And while I'm on the subject, I'd have given up my Captain Midnight decoder ring for an appearance by Brad Dourif on the show -- and there he was, again proving why he's been No. 1 on my list of movie psychos for the past 20 years. Superbly compelling and bizarre!
Next, in case you're losing sleep over the possibility of May being the crew's rotten apple, relax! It just ain't so, Serpico! Five'll get you 10 that she's the onsite eyes of ol' Fury himself -- or maybe even Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce! Think about it, True Believers!
So, high credit to vet writer-producer Paul Zbyszewski and producer-director Bobby Roth (making his third AOS outing) for finding an entertaining, bravura groove that finally brings the concept to life. Question is: Can they -- or their doppelgangers -- do it again next week? Fingers crossed, I'm actually looking forward to it.