Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'A Memorable Ride'

Agents of SHIELD 4/8 Still Cast - H 2014
Kelsey McNeal/ABC
In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "Turn! Turn! Turn!" "had more aggressive twists, turns and transfigurations than a barrel of pretzels."

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.

SHIELD turned the page -- or has the page turned SHIELD?

I ask because the latest episode had more aggressive twists, turns and transfigurations than a barrel of pretzels (a line I nicked from Sweet Smell of Success, which may have remotely influenced other films that remotely influenced the Agents of SHIELD crew — get my drift?).

It’s apparent now there are really two SHIELDs: Post-Winter Soldier and Can I Survive Another Tuesday Night With Coulson and Company?

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Of course, there are those who claim the previous 16 offerings over a half-year were simply to set up events to come. Don’t make me laugh! (Sorry, Virginia, the machinations of Centipede and associates don’t mean a damn thing beyond treading water in Cathodeville!) Director Michael Curtiz and screenwriter Ranald MacDougall established the infinitely complex (by comparison) scenario of Mildred Pierce in the first three projected minutes, just to cite one classic example of narrative treatment. Or for a TV nod: Perry Mason, Naked City or Route 66. Any decent scribe could summarize every essential chunk of AOS data and reiterate all the character relationships within two commercials -- and probably have enough time left over to throw in Moby Dick!

It’s obvious AOS misunderstood, misconceived and misfired for half a season. Can we forgive them? We’ve seen worse! Should we forgive them? That depends on how much heart and stomach you can afford -- but I’m a SHIELD fan from its dawning years, and intend to give the Man With the Eyepatch every consideration possible (even if he only appears twice in a season).

BTW: Was anyone else taken aback when, a minute after the shocker that Nick Fury was “dead,” his alter ego appeared on screen asking, “What’s in your wallet?” Timing is everything!

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I was concerned that last week’s bravura transformation was only a fluke, but it was apparent from the opening moments that the exec lineup’s new image-and-edit policy was in play. (I even wondered if opening with Blue Oyster Cult’s "Don't Fear the Reaper" was what Coulson was referring to when he later posited, “We’ll go in there and face the music, even if it is the Hydra theme song.”) Rim shot!

And I knew we were in for a memorable ride when Bill Paxton maneuvered his clunky transport plane like it was a Stealth fighter — and he was Clint Eastwood in Firefox mode. But that’s SHIELD quality, folks!

I may have mentioned previously that one of my personal trademark narrative devices is that nothing is ever what it seems to be, which I learned from such films as Suspicion, Sleuth, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. The device is perfect for AOS, which is why Coulson is/Coulson isn’t! May is/May isn’t! Hand is/Hand isn’t! worked so well in the latest ep. Everybody’s suspect and that’s what thrillers are made of! There is tension in conflict — and tension is the glue that holds all stories together.

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The series has been acutely transformed by a major overhaul: the style has changed (still having difficulty with black-garbed actors in dark fight scenes); the characters have changed (even laid-back Coulson curses now!); the execution has changed (except for that Ward-Skye recap “talk” scene); and the premise has changed (SHIELD’s last gasp). In the long run, those changes will make the difference between entertainment and entropy -- aka the difference between success and failure.  

Trivia Dept: It was interesting to note the ep wrapped with the Hydra symbol (skull surrounded by octopus tentacles), only because I created it in my first SHIELD tale for Marvel. (Hey, the international criminal cult desperately needed a cool, malevolent crest to put them on the map alongside SMERSH and SPECTRE, didn’t they?)

You’re probably wondering what I’m thinking about Hydra assassin Ward. I could tell you — in a single word -- but then, I’d have to kill you. As Coulson might say: “Sonuvabitch!”