Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'Can Anyone Tell Who's Doing What to Whom?'

In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "Tracks" was "my favorite of the series" … but only because of the Stan Lee cameo.
In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "Tracks" was "my favorite of the series" … but only because of the Stan Lee cameo.

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.

Okay, call me a sentimentalist, but this Agents of SHIELD episode will undoubtedly maintain its position as my favorite of the series because it cameoed my old boss whom, I believe, The New York Times once deemed the “Shakespeare of Second Avenue.”

Between his multitude of media interviews over the past 40-plus years, acting as creator-host to TV series such as Superheroes, and his numerous film cameos (now closing in on two dozen), Stan Lee has become a national celebrity. (Decades ago, when I was a raw SHIELD recruit, I told him he was the Walt Disney of the Comics Universe, which only got me a laugh, instead of a page-rate raise.)

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I was hoping he’d finally nailed a small, but pivotal role in the Cinematic World of Marvel, one that kept him onscreen for a few minutes and that drove the plot forward or at least embroidered the storyline a stitch or two. Hey, I can hope, can’t I? I mean who does Willy Lumpkin better than he does? But at least his cameo had a domino effect on the occupants of the railroad car.

And did you note that angry, thespian tone in his voice as he was admonishing Coulson? The last time I heard that (without the thespian bit) was when I delivered an unheard-of four-page spread — of a single image — to climax a nine-issue SHIELD storyline. So, I’m guessing it’s a helluva situation when the high point of an Agents of SHIELD adventure is Stan Lee’s 10-second appearance! Way to go, Smiley!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of "Tracks" was its (sort of) Rashomon multiple-viewpoint narrative. The least interesting aspect was the time-bomb bit, an embarrassing, nonvisual concept that had to be explained verbally. They should all take a lesson from Melinda May’s X-ray specs!

And speaking of May, my bubble almost burst when she proclaimed: “I hate undercover!” (Write your own punchline here.) I should be grateful for the small things, like her bondage bit in a wet leather catsuit or Fitz speaking American — hope springs eternal!

So, is it just me or can anyone tell who’s doing what to whom in the fight scenes? Personally, I’d rather be regaled with straight-up action-oriented choreography than Bourne-style quick-cutting in low-key sequences with dark environments (an AOS combat-scene trademark). It works for Bourne, but SHIELD ain’t no Bourne.

Don’t know about you, but I’m still feeling the vacuum from the empty space that once was Rising Tide. And Centipede. And now, Cybertek. C’mon, guys, enough is enough. Get to the third act before we become octogenarians!

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The Skye’s the Limit: The show’s producers have made Skye (still no last name!) too salient to the series to seriously bump her off (an event I would shell out a few bucks to witness!), so the weight of her gunshot wounds doesn’t mean much more than a scratch. Her story obviously has top priority on the Whedon family agenda, so she’ll be almost as good as new when we see her again, promise! Besides, it would have been far too courageous or outrageous for the AOS cathodemeisters to lose one of the team after all the laborious, 12-ep setup. As Sam Elliott likes to say, “No Guts! No Glory!”

However, the team’s shocked, crybaby response to Skye’s bloody condition was entirely too untenable for a squad of supersoldiers. Toy soldiers, yes! Hardcase SHIELD pros? No way in hell, guys! Stow the Kleenex!

Last but not least, the cybernetic leg spray-painted DEATHLOK, for all the world to take note? Now that’s what I call honesty in advertising, Bunky! And I remember when origin stories were the most compelling focus of heroic narratives. Okay, never mind, just call me a sentimentalist!

  • Jim Steranko