Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': 'The Plots Still Defy Logic'

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ABC Jan 7 Steranko - P 2014
<p>Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ABC Jan 7 Steranko - P 2014</p>
In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that "The Magical Place" marks the show as "a 10-minute tale being stretched across a half-year of plotzed mini-ventures."

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.

Maybe it's just the winter chill, but the ritual of dropping a few backstory crumbs into every episode to keep that carrot dangling just isn't enough to rivet me -- and maybe discerning viewers -- to the cathode screen.

Enough, already! It's been a long ride. We've endured 11 hours -- half the season -- of ambiguous byplay and cul-de-sac innuendo, and, frankly, my patience has worn thinner than an Al Gore premise. It isn't like Coulson is Captain Kirk or even Captain Kangaroo! He doesn't even have a cloak or a cowl. His most distinguishing feature is a necktie, for God's sake (except in this segment, and I hardly recognized him without it!). Is the show dubbed Agents of SHIELD or The Inscrutable Adventures of Phil Coulson and His Killer Cravat?

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So, after months of nail-biting over whether Coulson is/was dead or alive, we were regaled with is-it-fact-or-is-it-fancy information extracted from the agent's brain by a sinister, Tim Burton-ish/Scissorhands-like lobotomizer. (Will I ever believe those ABC trailers again?)

The result: old news that Coulson was dead for days, in a neatly orchestrated, but obliquely uninvolving scene, a case of too little, too late or perhaps just too many lackluster characters practicing the predictable. Probably both.

By the show's end, we don't know any more about Coulson's mordant history than we did when we started -- except perhaps that Tahiti wasn't Tahiti after all.

So is he an LMD or a techno zombie or a reconstituted implant or an alien doppelganger? As Hillary Clinton says, "What difference does it make?" Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

The question arises: What is SHIELD? Is it a series about chasing down rogue superheroes? Is it the origin story of a new gang of SHIELD agents? Is it a contest to discover how long an audience can endure low-grade action without direction from its eye-patched top-kick? Is it a TV vanguard designed to promote theatrical film releases spotlighting characters who deign never to appear on the series? Or is it just an excuse to tell the Coulson story, a 10-minute tale being stretched across a half-year of plotzed mini-ventures?

I'm not suggesting audiences can't be cuddled and cajoled through an entire season with plot hooks, but personally the Coulson enigma is (at best) worth a possible three-part storyline; it's simply not compelling enough to warrant scraps dropped over a full season of 22 episodes.

The plots still defy logic: Does anyone really believe Skye could make the Rathman connection, but the SHIELD brain trust couldn't? Or why she impersonated May during that sequence? Or why didn't Dr. Streiten (during Coulson's seven operations) give him a higher threshold for pain to resist torture from enemy sadists? For that matter, why not implant a homing chip in his spine so he could always be located by his fellow agents?

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It may seem that I'm serving up sour grapes (as a few THR readers have suggested), but to be candid, there's nothing I'd like more than for SHIELD to be an over-the-rainbow hit -- for purely selfish reasons. I may be guilty for being too close to the subject, but I know what the series could be and should be -- a roller-coaster, hell ride of razor-sharp surprises, subtle double crosses and high-tech action. Shakespeare it ain't!

BTW: Did anyone feel that the presentation of this episode was more sophisticated than most others? Less basement-budget cathode and more big-screen cinematic -- better framing of subjects, lighting values, and sharper cutting? AOS never impressed me with its imagery. (ABC's Killer Women that followed was more polished than most recent flicks I've seen, riddled with handsome and even poetic visuals that made up for what it may have lacked in dramatic firepower.) Budget and scheduling are always considerations, but the AOS ensemble format lacks the kind of focus it needs to hit the target with striking satisfaction. Not all shows require a visual veneer, but SHIELD is a natural for a little "style over substance"; it's built into the spy-adventure genre like stripes on a zebra.

Ancient proverb: May saying "No!" is far more captivating than most other women saying "Yes!"

And, just to tip my hat to my mentor: Stan Lee has a "major" role in the AOS episode that's slated to run on Feb. 4 -- and I'm hoping it's not as Willie Lumpkin! Don't Yield! Back SHIELD, Smiley!