Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': More Cohesive, But Not Enough Spectacle

In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "stripping the Marvel concept to its visual minimum makes little sense."
"Agents of SHIELD"; Jim Steranko   |   ABC
In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "stripping the Marvel concept to its visual minimum makes little sense."

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 a quartet of Agents of SHIELD adventures, all we know about the group is that they’re an investigative outfit trolling for global trouble like an international geek squad. You’d think with that kind of responsibility there would be at least a battalion (300 to 1,300) of SHIELD guardsmen on duty 24/7 because the world is a big place.

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I’m thinking somewhere there should be a shot resembling the opening office scene like that in King Vidor’s The Crowd or at least a snatch of deskscapes such as those in Orson Welles’ The Trial, giving us some confidence that a staff of seasoned guardians exists behind the acronym. Fact is, this SHIELD looks like it has maybe two agents with battle creds; the others are either trainees, technos, or wannabes -- truly an organization worthy of the Obama administration!

Once upon a time, SHIELD commanded a mighty Heli-Carrier, a kind of Aerial Airbase of the Stratosphere. Now, inflation has the team downsized to a flying Black Bus that has about as much inspirational intensity as a stinkbug (betcha thought I was gonna say a speech by Al Gore!).

In the Age of CGI Spectacle, stripping the Marvel concept to its visual minimum makes little sense, and significantly reduces its competitive rivalry with similar concepts -- some even within the Marvel Universe. The downsizing of SHIELD has not helped the series wow the pants off its audience, let alone establish its own credible persona. Now more than ever, it needs a visionary force like ol’ Nick Fury to establish its unmitigated domination in the covert world.

Nonetheless, spectacle was an aspect in this week’s "Eye Spy" ep opener, which featured a platoon of similarly dressed couriers (evoking Robert Palmer’s "Simply Irresistible" video) brandishing metal briefcases and face masks (wouldn’t it have been cool if they all wore V for Vendetta masks?). Oddly, almost no bystanders seemed aware of the masquerade parading through a busy terminal in midday or as they boarded a subway car. What the …?

The sequence was constructed to set up former SHIELD femme Amador as a rogue agent with an implant X-ray eye (during my Marvel Comics tour, I gave Nick Fury a similar device to defeat the insidious Yellow Claw). She is subsequently revealed as a pawn of the real culprits, although they are not cited (could they be the notorious Rising Tide? Again? Damn!). Her malevolent eye (did anyone think it looked suspiciously like a Marshall Arisman creation?) is subsequently removed by the Fitz & Simmons team (who claim to be no surgical whizzes, then a minute later, create medical history with a near-impossible operation on the spy eye, even though they’re too super-squirmy to use a hypodermic needle on the patient!).

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Making the protagonist a female -- and especially a black female -- was a compelling touch, as was having her rescued and redeemed by her mentor Coulson. SHIELD, however, is brought to its knees when Skye and the techdogs are on the trail of their quarry, who slams into them with a van. (Mother of Mercy! Are we to believe that’s the limit of SHIELD defense mechanisms? Hope Hydra never uses a slingshot with spitballs!)

The entry had an overall cohesion not previously in evidence but still lacked the kind of tension necessary to rank it with other cathode nail-biters. It did, however, bomb with a feeble pass at bathroom-break humor, using the word “penis” in the same way vaudevillians used the word “meatball” to get laffs 80 years ago.

What’s next? Maybe a joke about Samuel L. Jackson walking down the street with a German, a Jew, and a KKK potentate …

  • Jim Steranko