Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': It's All Over the Place

In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that what "The Well" lacked in "effusive originality and compelling characterizations, made up for it with cinematic framing, energetic editing, and a coherent narrative."
ABC; Courtesy of Subject
"Agents of SHIELD" (Inset: Jim Steranko)

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.

After all the relentless Thor: The Dark World piggyback hype to lure cathode connoisseurs to commit their 8pm time to this week’s Agents of SHIELD, I must confess disappointment that those bait-and-switch promises were as empty as a date who fails to show up after blowing a month’s salary for tickets to a Stones concert. Which is too bad because it was the season’s strongest, most aesthetic effort to date.

So, we’re all waiting for a lesson in unmitigated, bare-faced, runaway nepotism -- Chris Hemsworth to poke his perfect, bullet-helmeted continence into SHIELD headquarters -- only to hear he’s “off the grid!” Say what? It may be a budget mandate to not even run some frames from the trailer on the show, but, damn, it could and should be the stuff that SHIELD dreams are made of, a guaranteed audience pleaser. But off the grid? Don’t make me laugh! SHIELD has Thor’s shoe size, zip code, social security number, and the make and model of his Uru hammer!

TV RATINGS: 'Agents of SHIELD' Dips, 'New Girl' and 'Mindy' Improve 

Is anyone so off the grid they haven’t noticed a certain lack of unity in the tone and tenor of the comicbook-based series? Of course, showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (and associates) keep the show on an assembly-line leash, but the evidence is clearly in our faces: Agents of SHIELD is all over the place — and feels like it (half the show’s initial audience have already abandoned ship for that reason)!

"The Well," however, for all it lacked in effusive originality and compelling characterizations, made up for it with cinematic framing, energetic editing, and a coherent narrative — the stuff of basic entertainment. I lay much of that smart, savvy handling on former Enterprise First Officer-turned-director Jonathan Frakes (after all, he has often gone where no man has gone before!).

One of the key SHIELD concepts (evident in the first Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Marvel Comics outing and certainly during my tour with the series) pits outrageous techno-gizmos against villainous super powers, a point regularly ignored by the tele-version, but mercifully not in this episode. Plot and personality development were as neatly integrated (Ward’s childhood trauma revealed) as could be expected (but was the kid in the well his brother or not?), considering the gods-are-aliens theme — von Daniken eat your heart out! — and the race to find the Asgardian Staff.

I’ve already sanctioned the Mission: Impossible formula in a previous review, and the latest adventure proves the point. Another bonus was the minimization of — ARG! — long-winded, soul-searching dialogue. About the only stumble may have been Ward confessing he didn’t trust himself (frankly, the Berzerker staff provided him with the kind of raging edge that gave him some much-needed character) and Coulson trusting him more because of it. Did I get that right: The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true…?

Nonetheless, sometimes the gods — or aliens — are in our favor. Skye makes a pass at Ward, but he opts for May (it’s THE moment of the season: clean, wordless, cinematic). Maybe this guy’s smarter than we give him credit for!