The newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its one-hour premiere earlier this week, and it was a solid start to what I feel is a really promising show. A lot of people have already written up their reviews of the program itself, and I agree with most of the prominent positive reviews, so I’m not going to waste my time or yours by repeating what’s already been said. Instead, I want to look at where the show could possibly go, what they could pull in from the comics, and how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could change both the MCU and the comics universe as we know them.
This article will contain spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so if you’ve not seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, save this article for later.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts off by introducing us to our main cast, most of whom were created for the show. In fact, we’re only given two characters that we’ve already met. First is Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who appeared in The Avengers and has been in various Marvel comics since 2005. Second is Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was introduced in Iron Man and appeared in several other MCU films. It was made to look as if he’d been killed off in The Avengers, and we’re left to wonder if he was miraculously saved or miraculously resuscitated or… something else.
Coulson’s save is one of the big questions that executive producer and writer Joss Whedon poses for viewers in the pilot episode. It’s made clear early on that Coulson himself doesn’t know the details; he gives a vague story about being resuscitated after the Battle of New York and then recuperating in Tahiti, but we find out moments after he says it that there’s more to the story. Apparently Coulson himself doesn’t know what happened, and Hill is adamant that he can never find out about what really went on.
Naturally, the clear setup this early on in the show is almost an ironclad guarantee that it’ll come out into the open at some point later in the season. We aren’t given many clues as to what might have gone down, other than “not what Coulson thinks went down.” Did S.H.I.E.L.D. have to do something terrible to bring him back? Is he a clone? Does he only have a year extension on his life before he keels over again? It could be any or all of the above; it could be something entirely different. It’s Joss Whedon, though, so whatever the collective public is thinking, it’s probably not that.
I think a tie-in comic would be great for this show. It’s a place to explore things like this story; there are parts of it that we’re just not going to get the chance to see in the show, and having them as stories in the back-up comic would really add to the show’s mythos. Hill, for instance, is going to be a character whose appearances are few and far between; since Cobie Smulders is currently filming the last season of How I Met Your Mother, she’s not going to be around the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set all that often. Having an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tie-in comic that gives us more of her story, the role she plays in the organization, and what she knows about Coulson, would be a great addition. Of course, it could be tricky to balance the comic and the show – after all, you don’t want to make the general audience of the show have to purchase the comic to understand what’s going on – but I have faith that Marvel could pull it off. There’s also the possibility that Whedon himself would be willing and able to pen an arc, which would give it verisimilitude and a little bit of star power.
Even without a show-specific comic book (though that would be a really big missed opportunity), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could very easily be where new main continuity comic characters are created. Coulson himself was created for the movies, and he’s now a character in the comics as well; who’s to say that characters like Melinda May or Mike Peterson (who, okay, was technically already a character, but was revamped for the show) won’t become staples in the comics canon as well? Characters created specifically for the show would be great to have in the comics. Not only would it add to the universe as a whole, but it would be a crossing over point for people who enjoy the show and want to get into the comics, but don’t know where a good jumping-in point would be.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could also potentially be the launching ground for future Marvel movies. Before the pilot aired, there was talk that the character played by J. August Richards might be Luke Cage, who has yet to make an appearance in the movie universe. While this turned out not to be the case, it’s entirely possible that Marvel could use Cage and other well-known and much-loved comics characters in the series as time goes on. The public reaction to seeing such heroes on television could influence whether or not they’re added to the roster of future big-screen projects. It would be really easy to slip characters like Cage or Jessica Drew or Danny Rand into an episode, and from there, springboard into a Heroes for Hire movie (something I know that certain site contributors are really, really hoping for).
This is similar to the idea of the backdoor pilot that has become somewhat more common in television of late; one of the most prominent examples is NCIS, which had its pilot in season 8 of JAG, and later introduced its own spin-off series, NCIS: Los Angeles, though another backdoor pilot in its sixth season. There are rumors that DC’s popular show Arrow is going to introduce The Flash in season 2 and attempt to get a new series off the ground through a backdoor pilot, which will air in spring 2014. While the practice is common with television shows, it hasn’t really been used to catapult characters from there to the silver screen; the shared universe that exists between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though, means that any characters shown in the television series will therefore exist in the movie’s background universe, so it’s not too big a stretch to imagine a popular comic character doing well in the series and later being part of a big-screen project as well.
Maybe I’m just really reaching for a Young Avengers movie. It’s entirely possible that I am, but the idea still has merit.
One of the great things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it has a somewhat non-traditional cast. Yes, the series centers around Coulson, who is as generic a character type as they come (I love him, but a middle-aged white man in a suit isn’t anything we haven’t seen before) – but the main team has an equal split of men and women, which is still sadly remarkable, and there are characters of color represented as well (both Ming-Na Wen, who plays Melinda May, and Chloe Bennet, who plays Skye, are of Chinese descent). The pilot episode revolved around an African-American character who wasn’t portrayed as the bad guy, and the purpose of searching for Mike wasn’t to hunt him down and kill him, but to deliver medicine that would save his life. It was made clear in the end of the episode that Mike was going to recover, and there’s a possibility that he’ll end up on the team, at least as an adjunct if not a weekly star. I’m glad to see that there’s diversity, and I’m hoping that the cast will diversify even further as time goes on.
Either way, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is off to a good start. “Pilot” drew 12.1 million viewers and a 4.7 rating in the adults 18-47 category, which puts it in good position to be the top series premiere of the fall (data from zap2it). It’s definitely starting on a high note, and there’s enough setup for the show to run on for a while. Let’s hope Marvel keeps up the good work, so we can continue to have weekly doses of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to tide us over between the bigger movies.
Comments? Questions? Leave a reply! I’ll be happy to talk comics with you.