Jim Steranko on 'Agents of SHIELD': Series Has Found 'Mutant-Hunting Groove'

In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that the show has "settled into a pragmatic, if sometimes predictable comfort zone."
"Agents of SHIELD" (Inset: Jim Steranko)   |   ABC/Justin Lubin; Courtesy of Subject
In his THR recap, the comics veteran writes that the show has "settled into a pragmatic, if sometimes predictable comfort zone."

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.

Scorch (who gets this year's Emmy for the Worst Super Character Moniker) called it when he said, "It's growing on me!"

Not to suggest Agents of SHIELD is breaking down my entertainment standards or even my level of tolerance, but we may be discovering a compromise between what I imagined the series could be and what I'll settle for. That said, this week's entry hit most of the appropriate beats and even sweetened the experience with a few surprises: Chan's burned hands, Dr. Debbie's explosive exit, and May's sudden appearance at the lover's tryst — not to mention the justifiable resolution of Scorch's short, unhappy career. (If only somewhere along the way, he'd have shouted: "Scorch THIS!")

'AGENTS OF SHIELD' RECAP: 4 Things We Learned From 'Girl With the Flower Dress'

While some ongoing irritations continue (dark scenes that obscure vital action, SHIELD's impossibly Lilliputian staff, the lack of Marvel super-guest cameos), the show seems to have found its mutant-hunting groove (reminding us somewhat of the original Outer Limits, in which one special effect dominated every week's visuals). The sometimes-manic, sometimes-plodding quality of the previous eps has settled into a pragmatic, if sometimes predictable comfort zone.

So, after five weeks of weighing SHIELD pros and cons, it may be time to take a strong, subjective look at the series' fundamental elements, starting at the top. I've never understood why viewers championed Clark Gregg's portrayal of Coulson, which always seemed more milquetoast than macho, not exactly a battle cry for America's top-secret, bottom-line organization. Get my drift?

Why, for example, must Coulson wear a tie to define his character? Can't he be the chief by simply brandishing his attitude — or, better yet, do it just with his eyes? Obviously, Gregg's Coulson has the bearing of a funeral director, and one about as dangerous as a Cabbage Patch doll. I never believe him in action scenes, throwing punches and brandishing weapons, just because the script calls for it. Behind the desk, maybe. Behind the lines, no.

When I charted Marvel's course for SHIELD, I gave Fury my attitude and my tailor, but I scribed his dialogue hearing the menacing timbre and voice patterns of Charles McGraw (Narrow Margin), a writer's shortcut that put the two-fisted WWII vet on what I hoped was a recognizable level of pseudo-cinematic authenticity.

Gregg reminds me somewhat of Robert Vaughn, the man in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series. His well-tailored, cold-fish approach played well against the warm charm of David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin, aka the "fifth Beatle." Gregg, however, has no Beatle to play off, and his limited byplay off the other SHIELD agents is too casually lightweight to hit the bulls eye. Everybody just "Yes, sir's" him because the script demands it, not his demeanor or authority. And that undercuts his — and the series' — effectiveness.

FILM REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World

Maybe I've just viewed too many Burt Lancaster flicks, but I expect a degree of physicality in my action heroes — and Gregg falls as far from the William Smith/Charles Bronson/Leo Gordon/Danny Trejo/Lee Van Cleef tree as can be imagined. OK, he doesn't look the part. But he's an actor, and what vexes me is that he doesn't act the part of a man with a dangerous edge. (For an example of what I'm getting at, check out Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire.) Just because he's no tough guy, doesn't mean he shouldn't act like one. If Edward G. Robinson could do it, so can Gregg. And while I'm at it, I vote for a couple of battle scars across his jawline — or maybe just a Kirk Douglas cleft in his chin.

"The Girl in the Flower Dress" delivered enough premise, pace, and patter to get its audience through a mellow hour — and set the bar higher for the rest of the season. The international settings provided the illusion of scope, and the subtitles used during the foreign-language sequences were another nifty touch. Now, if only someone had the vision to subtitle the Fitz and Simmons dialogue!

Twitter: @iamsteranko

  • Jim Steranko