November 06, 2013 10:01am PT by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': What Happened to Guts and Glory?
Jim Steranko, one of the creators of the Nick Fury character, recaps Agents of SHIELD for THR's Heat Vision every week. Read more about the Marvel Comics artist in a Q&A here.
Bad timing! Wouldn't it have been appropriate -- with its creepy campfire-tale approach -- for the intro of this week's SHIELD episode to have run on Halloween?
The Boy Scout bit definitely had a strong Spielbergian flavor, but, to be candid, considering the worldwide scope of the former anti-espionage organization, one must pause to wonder if a villain or his counterpart is more irresistibly frightening when menacing a scout troop or something more epic in psychoaesthetic size and spectacle.
I'm no Joss Whedon, but I can see one of the firefighting team driving home on a dark freeway frenzied with heavy traffic. Our driver is beaded with thermal frustration and, judging by his feverish eyes, bothered by something more sinister! The scene plays to the Cinema of Speed -- dangerous tailgating trucks and hopped-up kids in expensive Euro sports cars -- traffic tangling toward the inevitable special effects smash-up. Low-angle shots of blinding headlights careening into the nightscape. Our driver stresses to the limit, cuts into the path of a speeding tractor-trailer. He accesses an emergency number on his cellphone, mouths an incongruous word: "Virus!" In the next long shot, he loses control of his vehicle -- and sets off a 40-car wreck that blazes an incendiary path straight into the Jaws of Hell. The carnage! The carnage!
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OK, I know we're on a cathode budget, but I'm just sayin' that ambience and context (especially visually) establish an atmosphere of pending tension, not to mention foreshadowing dramatic action yet to come. SHIELD (in its comicbook incarnation) has always been a muscular, visceral concept, not a cerebrally driven doctrine.
Even without Fury defiantly at its head (that budget again!), SHIELD is still built on bloodthirsty action, split-second surprises, and macho attitudes -- all ideological reflections of its eye-patched topkick. The fuse he pragmatically ignited decades ago should continue to burn unabated, not sputter into PC irrelevance and stereotypical complacency. Whatever happened to guts and glory?
Coulson, at the ep's end, finally showed some of the backbone that typifies the agency's aggressive attitude, in addition to spouting some expected exposition regarding his mysterious death and resurrection -- not to mention showing his sensitive side to the dying fireman (maybe a little too sensitive and a little too contrived, but at least it was brief). If only, when May said, "Take off your shirt," he'd have replied, "Take off yours first!" instead of, "Excuse me?"
It had to happen and F.Z.Z.T. gave the ep to the Bickersons, aka Fitz and Simmons, the two foreign agents with the unintelligible Irish accents -- but God, they're soooooo cute! (Unsolicited editorial reaction: When Jemma took a Brodie off the cargo hold into the cloudscape, I jumped up and yelled, "YES!")
The subsequent skydiving sequence was a natural (I used the concept myself during my Marvel SHIELD run), but I must admit that had I staged the rescue, I'd have employed Lola, the flying Corvette -- rolling it out the cargo bay, letting it nosedive toward Earth, then using its airborne capability to catch the girl before she landed in the drink.
Question of the Week: If SHIELD is one of America's top-secret security agencies, why do they spend so damn much effort advertising it on the sides of their vehicles?
Best Line of the Show: "Lose the ounce!"
And does anyone miss a SHIELD main-title theme? Where's Lalo Schifrin when we really need him?
Is-That-Who-I-Thought-It-Was Cameo Hell: Anyone notice the Capital One Quicksilver Cashback Card commercial that ran early in this week's SHIELD ep? I could swear ol' Nick Fury was moonlighting with another of his quickie appearances -- but what do I know?