If You Watch The Movies But Don’t Read The Comics, You’re Missing Out

spider-man“Spider-Man isn’t a super-hero. He’s just a kid who got his powers in an accident on a field trip.”

“No. He’s earned his place as a super-hero. He’s saved lives. He fights crime. And he uses his powers to do it.”

“Still, I mean he shoots webs and swings around and that’s about it. He’d probably be dead without his spidey-sense. You know what  would make Spider-Man scary? If he shot spiders instead of webs out of his web shooters. Criminals wouldn’t fuck with that.”

The above conversation didn’t take place in a local comic book shop. The two people talking weren’t nerds. They were high school cheerleaders on the bus I was on yesterday. If I had a time machine and could talk to the me in high school and tell him that about twenty years from now the conversations you have with your comic book friends will be the conversations cheerleaders are having I would have called future me crazy and questioned the wisdom of the guy who played Chaplin being Iron Man.

People who haven’t been collecting comic books for the last twenty-five years might not be aware of this but up until this century, if you knew something about super-heroes, you weren’t likely to be a high school cheerleader. Also, if you wanted to watch a movie based on a Marvel Comic, they looked like this.

Comic book characters aren’t only cool, they’re cooler than they’ve ever been. And it’s not just a passing fad. Both Disney’s Marvel and Warner Brothers’ DC Comics have movies planned all the way through the year 2020 with top tier talent involved. This year’s top selling movie has almost made a billion dollars worldwide and it’s a movie with Rocket Raccoon and Groot the walking tree. We are in comic book geek nirvana right now.

Characters that originated in comic books have gone mainstream. Marvel’s series of movies are literally the most successful movie franchise in history. Millions of people are tuning in weekly to TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Gotham. And yet, if I asked ten of these people what they think about the Red Onslaught or Future’s End, at least nine of them wouldn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about.

Let me put it another way, while I’m absolutely as excited as anyone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is talking about Infinity Gems and Thanos and making a lot of moves that look like there’s going to be some big battle between all of the heroes and Thanos on the big screen, I also already read The Infinity Gauntlet when I was in high school back in 1992.

Since then I’ve read hundreds of stories every bit as good as any Marvel film and a quite a few that are better than any superhero movie ever made.

The reason for this is that there’s a good amount of creative freedom when it comes to comic books. That’s because it doesn’t cost $200,000,000 to make a comic book so the Powers That Be aren’t so afraid you’ll screw something up since they can always fix it next issue if you do.

Maybe you’re not sure that you’d like comics or you don’t want to spend any money to find out. That’s fine. Take a moment and check out Astro City #1/2. It’s literally one of my all time favorite comics. It’s an eight-page story available on from Amazon. And it’s FREE.

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Astro-City-1996-2000-Kurt-Busiek-ebook/dp/B00EKN0IMI

If you’re already sold on comics and want to know how to be part of the cool kids table and where to start, might I suggest Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run. It’s modern. The art is amazing. And when Netflix comes out with their Daredevil TV series next year, you can know what standards you’re expecting out of it.

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Agents of SHIELD Part 2

CLARK GREGGThis is the second in my two part review of the first season so far of Marvel’s Agent’s of SHIELD television show. If you just watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and want to get caught up, this is the place. Tonight on ABC they’re airing episode 17 again along with 18. So don’t read 17 if you’re going to watch it. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

S01E11 “The Magical Place”

Since the beginning of the series when someone asks where Coulson went when he died, the word was he went to Tahiti. And whenever he hears that word, he says, “It’s a magical place.” The audience and Coulson’s captors want to know the truth behind that statement. Edison Po tortures Coulson to get it but when he fails to get any information, the Clairvoyant kills him remotely leaving Raina in charge. Raina convinces Coulson to use a device to retrieve his memories because he’s just as interested in finding out what happened as they are. He sees flashes of Dr. Streiten using robots to work on Coulson’s brain while Coulson begs to die. Meanwhile, Victoria Hand and SHIELD work to rescue Coulson. After his rescue, Coulson confronts Dr. Streiten who admits Coulson was dead for days and that he’d lost his will to live until they manipulated his brain with false memories. It’s also revealed that Michael Peterson is alive and implanted with an eye device though he’s lost his leg and sustained other injuries.

This was a great follow up to The Bridge and finally partially answered the big question of the series. How did Coulson who died in The Avengers come back to life? We also learn that apparently the Clairvoyant doesn’t know everything because they know nothing when it comes to Coulson’s resurrection.

 

S01E12 “Seeds”

With the team back together, they go to a SHIELD training facility where a machine is being used to freeze people. Fitz befriends a cadet there named Donnie who reminds him of himself. After helping Donnie out, Fitz finds that Donnie and his friend Seth are creating a giant version of the ice machine in an effort to get the attention of Ian Quinn. Meanwhile, Coulson and May follow a lead on Skye’s origin finding out that 24 years earlier, a SHIELD agent died protecting Skye who was considered an Object of Unknown Origin. Back at the Academy, Donnie and Seth turn on the machine causing all sorts of havoc. A lightning bolt hits the machine and the SHIELD team is able to shut it down, but Seth is killed. Donnie is taken to the holding facility called the Sandbox and secretly now has ice powers. Later Coulson makes a call threatening Quinn. Quinn responds by mentioning that the Clairvoyant says ‘Hello’.

This episode was a combination of ‘anomaly of the week’ and continuing the ongoing plots and it works well. We get the return of Quinn and the revelation that he’s working for the Clairvoyant. We also get another piece of the puzzle when it comes to Skye. And we get yet another villain who gains superpowers and may become a problem later.

 

S01E13 “T.R.A.C.K.S.”

Hot on the trail of Quinn and the Clairvoyant, the SHIELD team infiltrate a train carrying something Quinn wants but are instantly found out thanks to a double cross from their contact named Russo. May kills Russo and the team ends up at one of Quinn’s mansions. In the basement Skye finds Michael Peterson alive in a stasis chamber. Peterson is outfitted with an artificial leg. The leg says ‘Deathlok’ on it. Quinn asks Peterson to prove his loyalty by killing Skye but he refuses. Quinn shoots Skye twice and leaves. The team save Skye by putting her in the stasis chamber to keep her alive. Peterson manages to escape, but Quinn is captured.

This was a major episode for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones is the word ‘Deathlok’. Deathlok is a well known Marvel cyborg. Agents of SHIELD finally has its first Marvel hero. It’s also another episode where a team member is in peril and stays that way through the end of the episode.

 

S01E14 “T.A.H.I.T.I.”

The team arrives at a SHIELD medical facility but they’re only able to stabilize Skye. They realize that the only thing that will save Skye is whatever saved Coulson. They find that Coulson was taken to a place called the ‘Guest House’. Agent John Garrett and Antoine Triplet arrive to take custody of Quinn, but Coulson won’t let him go until Skye is safe. Garret and Triplet join the team as they infiltrate the Guest House facility. They find the drug Skye needs. Fitz brings it back while Coulson further investigates the facility and finds that the drug is derived from a dead blue alien corpse. Unfortunately the place is rigged to implode and Coulson doesn’t get any more time. He races back to stop them from injecting Skye but he’s too late. They’ve injected her and it works. In the final scene of the episode we see someone called Lorelei take mental control of a newlywed man and drive off with him.

The arrival of Bill Paxton as Agent Garrett is a welcome addition to the show. He’s got a genial world-weariness that we expect of a veteran field agent and really seems more like how I thought much of Coulson’s team should have been when the show began. The revelation of the blue-skinned alien source for the miracle drug is a complete surprise though the immediate destruction of all evidence was a little to X-Files-like for my tastes. Still, this episode effectively uses what has come before and moves the plot forward in a big way.

 

S01E15 “Yes Men”

It turns out Lorelei is from Asgard and has the power to sway men just by talking to them. Lorelei soon hooks up with a biker gang and puts them all under her sway. Meanwhile the SHIELD team investigates energy fluctuations consistent with the arrival of an Asgardian. They quickly run into Lady Sif last seen in Thor The Dark World. She is in pursuit of the escaped Lorelei and joins up with Coulson and the others. They catch up to Lorelei at the biker bar but she enchants Ward who leaves with her to Las Vegas where they hook up. The team follows them to Vegas but when they raid Lorelei’s hotel room they discover that with Ward’s help, she’s taken over the Bus. After a brief battle including May and Ward fighting, the team retakes the Bus and Sif returns to Asgard with Lorelei. Later, Coulson tells the freshly healed Skye about the origins of the drug in her system. May gets on a direct line phone and tells someone “Coulson knows.”

This was another episode that brought things in the right direction. Having a secondary character from a recent movie helps increase the interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and adding the intrigue of May secretly reporting to someone else keeps us guessing as to what’s really going on.

 

S01E16 “The End of the Beginning”

After briefly being attacked by Deathlok, Triplet and Garrett arrive with Agent Hand, Agent Blake, and Agent Sitwell on the Bus. Coulson explains that they are going to split into two-person teams and pursue various leads on the Clairvoyant. Coulson grants Skye official SHIELD agent status and has her split the teams. Sitwell is sent away to a tanker in the Indian Ocean at the last minute. Triplet and Simmons stay at the Hub where Simmons is hoping to use their equipment to secretly analyze Skye’s blood. Following their lead, May and Blake are attacked by Deathlok. Blake is seriously injured, but plants a tracker on Deathlok. After the attack, the team decide that Thomas Nash, the supposedly catatonic man May and Blake were coming to see must be the Clairvoyant. They use the tracker and go to an abandoned horse track where Deathlok escapes but they find Nash in a hospital bed speaking to them through computer screens in the room. When he threatens to kill Skye, Ward shoots and kills him. Later Coulson realizes that maybe Nash was not the Clairvoyant. He confronts Ward who denies everything. Meanwhile when Fitz tries to create a secret line to Simmons, he happens upon May’s secret line. Skye tells Coulson about this just as May confronts and tries to shoot Fitz. Before she can do anything more Coulson pulls a gun on her. Then the Bus suddenly changes course and we find that Agent Hand back at the Hub is ordering that everyone on board be killed except for Coulson.

This was arguably the best episode of the series so far, incorporating nearly every character introduced so far in a plot that moves the Clairvoyant story ahead in a big way. There’s also the small nod to Captain America: Winter Soldier when Sitwell is sent to the ship where we find him in the opening minutes of the movie. The Clairvoyant’s identity is still up in the air and Agent May’s loyalty is entirely uncertain. At this point, a show that’s been doing done-in-one, mostly predictable episodes for most of the season is suddenly firing on all cylinders.

 

S01E17 “Turn, Turn, Turn”

In an episode that aired only four days after Captain America: Winter Soldier premiered, everything changes. Garrett joins up with the team on the hijacked Bus after being attacked by drones. Skye discovers a code and deciphers hit learning of the Hydra infiltration of SHIELD. The Bus lands but the team escapes into The Hub before Hand’s people can take them. At this point, Coulson is convinced that Hand is the Clairvoyant. Meanwhile Hand confronts Simmons and Triplet and orders them to swear allegiance to Hydra. When they refuse, she reveals that she believes Coulson is Hydra. Garrett insists to Coulson that they must kill Hand. Coulson notices a slip up on Garrett’s part and realizes that Garrett was the Clairvoyant all along. After a brief battle Garrett is captured. They learn that elsewhere, Nick Fury is believed to be dead and Captain America stopped a Hydra plot. Ward offers to join Hand in taking Garrett to their holding facility the Fridge. On the way there, Ward kills the guards and Hand as it turns out he was working for Garrett all along.

As far as I know, no television show has ever so directly tied into a movie that just came out in theaters. This episode was so much a part of what happened in Winter Soldier that it wouldn’t be out of place on the Winter Soldier DVD. It’s also an episode with a bunch of huge shockers including the identity of the Clairvoyant, the death of Agent Hand and a seeming betrayal by a founding member of the team. Personally, I’m hoping the betrayal is real and not a double-agent sort of thing. This is also the first episode that mentions SHIELD’s classic enemy, Hydra. It must have been frustrating as hell to be handed this show and been told they couldn’t mention Hydra for the first sixteen episodes.

Summary
As the show winds up its first season, there are all sorts of unknowns, not the least of which is whether or not it will be picked up for a second season. After what was admittedly a slow start, Agents of SHIELD seems to have found its footing and isn’t content to just sit there. Here’s hoping the remaining episodes continue the uptick in quality.

–       Jack Cameron

Agents of SHIELD Part 1

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season OneIn just a few short years, Marvel has done the unthinkable and created an entire ‘universe’ of characters that spans multiple movie franchises and televisions shows. Marvel’s first attempt at a television show is Agents of SHIELD. What I’m going to do in this article is basically bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened on the show, where we are now, and why I believe it’s one of the most underrated shows on television. In other words, if you watched Captain America 2 and now want to get into a show that heading into the home stretch of its first season, this will catch you up.

Before I get into the individual episodes, I’m going to talk about what the creators of this show had to deal with from the outset:

The Good:
They had the advantage of being a spin off from one of the most successful movies of all time. The Avengers was seen by pretty much everyone. It made over a billion dollars and cost hundreds of millions to make using some of the top talent and special effects in the business. They also had hundreds of thousands of comic book fans.

The Bad:
Television works on much smaller scales and much smaller budgets. Even if they wanted to, they didn’t have the kind of money necessary to have super-powered craziness with huge explosions every week. While they might have a built in audience thanks to the Marvel movies, much of that audience has an unrealistic expectation of the level of special effects that are possible in a television show. Similarly, there are a ton of comic book fans who want to see comic book characters every week and quite a few of them are tied up in licensing or being used in other upcoming movies.

Don’t get me wrong. Agents of SHIELD had its problems starting out that could have been avoided, but the creators also assumed that their viewers would stick around for the whole season to see how things played out. Those of us who have are glad we did.

The Episodes:

S01E01 “Pilot”

In the opening episode we get Agent Coulson who was last seen dead in the Avengers back among the living and running a team that consists of tech geniuses, Leo Fitz and Gemma Simmons (aka FitzSimmons), field agent, Grant Ward, and pilot and secret badass Melinda May. Their first assignment together is going after a hacker group called Rising Tide and investigating a guy named Mike Peterson using some cobbled together technology that gives him superpowers. This was done to him by a group called Project Centipede. Mike is warned by a hacker named Skye that SHIELD is coming for them. Skye is part of Rising Tide. Skye is detained by SHIELD and becomes a reluctant recruit after they save Peterson’s life.

As pilot episodes go, they effectively created some mysteries. (How is Coulson back from the dead? Who and what is Centipede?) And they managed to mention the Extremis technology used in the recently released Iron Man 3. But the introduction of the team members was a bit bland and none of the characters besides Coulson seemed very interesting. Also, the super-powered guy just seemed to be some guy and not a known comic book character.

 

S01E02 “0-8-4”

In the second episode, the team flies to Peru where they meet up with another team led by an old ally of Coulson’s. They track down an “084” or Object of Unknown Origin. In this case it ends up being an old Hydra weapon. Coulson’s ally betrays them and the team use their various talents to outsmart or otherwise beat the other team and gain possession of the object. Later, Skye reports to a member of Rising Tide that she’s infiltrated the SHIELD team. Samuel L. Jackson makes a quick cameo as SHIELD director Nick Fury and warns Coulson about Skye and complains about damage to the plane.

The second episode basically established what an average episode of Agents of SHIELD would be. SHIELD team goes somewhere to investigate something remotely related to something in a previous Marvel Movie, hijinks ensue, SHIELD teams wins. It’s also the first episode where we get a good look at their flying base. Unfortunately, the ‘bus’ as they call it has all the intrigue and style of an actual city bus. This is not the Millennium Falcon.

 

S01E03 “The Asset”

The third episode starts out with some fun as a Dr. Franklin Hall is kidnapped by his former business partner Ian Quinn by using technology that defies gravity. Vehicles go flying and it’s the most interesting special effect so far. The team ends up using Skye to infiltrate a shady party being thrown by Quinn. When they finally get to Hall, they find out he allowed himself to be kidnapped so he could destroy the device Quinn is creating. When Coulson tries to stop him because of the danger, Hall falls into the device. SHIELD puts the device into secure storage without knowing that Hall is still trapped within it.

For comic book fans this was a somewhat interesting episode as Franklin Hall is better known as the super-villain Graviton. And things are certainly set up here for Hall to return as Graviton at another time, but again, it’s not as if Graviton is an A-List villain and technically he didn’t even really appear in this episode.

 

S01E04 “Eye Spy”

This episode had a woman known as Akela who was perpetrating seemingly impossible heists. The team catches up with her and find that she has an eye implant that is giving her orders and has a bomb that will go off if she disobeys. FitzSimmons put together some tech to mimic it and send Ward out to do the job while they work on removing Akela’s bomb. Meanwhile Coulson tries to catch up to the guy behind the orders. Unfortunately, it turns out his lead has an eye bomb of his own and dies before anything can be revealed. They successfully save Akela but remain in the dark on who was behind the plot.

This episode introduces the threat of a new Big Bad. It helps that seemingly anyone might end up with the eye implant but again, long-time comic book fans who have been waiting for a Marvel comic television show were likely annoyed by a plot that seemingly has nothing to do with comic book stuff.

 

S01E05 “Girl In The Flower Dress”

In Hong Kong, a guy with flame powers shows them to a girl in flower dress named Raina. Raina kidnaps him. SHIELD investigates and soon discovers that Raina’s people learned about this guy through Rising Tide. They pick up an old flame of Skye’s named Miles who happens to be another member of Rising Tide. Not trusting either of them, they are both brought to the bus in handcuffs. They raid the Centipede complex where flame guy (now calling himself Scorch) is located. Raina escapes. As soon as Scorch is freed, he attacks the SHIELD agents and they’re forced to kill him. Later, Skye tells Coulson that the whole reason she joined Rising Tide was to find more information on SHIELD so she could find what happened to her missing parents. Meanwhile Raina visits a man named Edison Po in prison and asks him to contact ‘the Clairvoyant’.

While the villain in this was a bit dull, this episode was the first to mention the Big Bad of the series, a mysterious individual known as ‘the Clairvoyant’. It also gave us a central mystery of Skye’s character and her desire to find her parents. So much of these early episodes involved planting seeds. The thing with planting seeds is that it’s not as interesting as what happens afterward. Many of the criticisms of this show have to do with lacking the patience to wait for the long-form storytelling to reveal itself. These aren’t done-in-one episodes. They’re building something.

 

S01E06 “F.Z.Z.T.”

The team investigates a series of strange deaths that turn out to be caused by an alien virus from one of the Chitauri helmets from the Battle of New York. Simmons gets infected with the virus. Coulson disobeys a direct order in order to save here and though a cure works, she almost jumps from the Bus to save the rest of the team not knowing the cure worked. Later Coulson talks with Agent May about his recent physical which showed nothing wrong. He insists he feels different. She tells him that’s only natural given his seeming death.

While putting one of the team members in legitimate danger is a plus, the fact that the team member was out of legitimate danger by the end of the episode lessens the impact. And at this point, the thin reference to the Avengers movie is just that. While it’s nice that they included Agent Blake who was last seen in the “Item 47” Marvel One Shot on the Avengers DVD, it’s not a very good tie in to the rest of the Marvel Universe. The only thing of importance that happens in this episode is that Coulson disobeys a direct order. This is a first and a possible indication of the differences between who he is and who he was before his death.

 

S01E07 “The Hub”

The team arrives at a base called The Hub. We meet Victoria Hand, the director of the Hub. She sends Fitz & Ward on a mission to stop something called the Overkill device. Skye and Simmons try to find out more about the mission and Skye ends up knocking out Agent Sitwell when he catches her hacking into the system. They soon discover there is no extraction plan for Fitz & Ward. They tell Coulson and after a brief confrontation with Hand, they go and rescue Fitz & Ward who successfully stop the Overkill device. Meanwhile Coulson manages to get some information about Skye. She was apparently brought to an orphanage by a young SHIELD agent. He asks May to look further into it. Coulson tries to find out more about his own recovery but finds his access is denied.

This is the first appearance of Agent Hand and the first appearance in the series of Agent Sitwell who was also in Avengers. The episode also helps reestablish the fact that while the team is often on their own, they belong to a much larger organization that they answer to. However, it also reminds us that SHIELD isn’t always the most noble of organizations. While it’s nice to have some progress on the Skye’s parents thing, it’s also not that strong of a plotline. And then there’s the big question of how Coulson came back from the dead. This is basically the biggest mystery of the series and seven episodes in we feel about as frustrated as Coulson himself on the lack of progress on this storyline.

 

S01E08 “The Well”

In a direct tie-in to the recent movie, Thor: The Dark World the team deal with the aftermath of those events in London and go after a hate group that has come into possession of something called an Asgardian Berserker Staff. Whoever wields it becomes consumed with rage. The team gets help from an expert named Dr. Randolf who turns out to be an Asgardian himself. When Ward touches the staff he finds himself consumed with rage and memories of his abusive brother. The team manages to recover the staff and after everything, Ward and May hook up.

They heavily advertised this as a tie-in to the Thor sequel but as tie-ins go, it was a fairly weak one. Not one character from Thor showed up and really this was just mopping up the fallout from the action packed movie. When one of the big hooks of the show is how it’s connected to this larger universe, it was a bit of a letdown. The sudden relationship between May & Ward seems kind of extraneous and there perhaps simply because there was no sex in the show.

 

S01E09 “Repairs”

The team investigate a woman named Hannah who they believe has telekinesis. They soon discover that it’s actually the work of a guy named Tobias who is stuck between Earth and another realm. He’s trying to protect Hannah but the results seem to consistently be violent. Tobias defeats Agent Ward but is talked down by Agent May causing him to disappear into the unknown realm and leave Hannah alone.

There isn’t much to say about this episode. If someone were to point to one episode that justifies some of the disdain some people have for the show, it’d be this one. For the most part, it’s an entirely forgettable episode with nothing of any real interest happening.

 

S01E10 “The Bridge”

Coulson recruits Mike Peterson onto the team, giving the team their first super-powered member after Edison Po is broken out of prison by enhanced Centipede soldiers. The team walks into an ambush and soon find that the Centipede soldiers also have the eye implants they encountered earlier. Raina and others become interested in Peterson because it seems his enhancements have stabilized. They kidnap his son and offer to exchange him for Peterson. The exchange happens on a bridge where it’s revealed that they actually want Coulson. Peterson tries to stop it but it’s too late. The resulting explosion seemingly kills him and Raina gets away with Coulson. Raina tells Coulson they simply want to know how he came back to life.

This was the last episode before winter break and the first cliffhanger episode of the series. It was also a marked improvement from previous episodes. The abduction of agent Coulson makes for powerful drama as he was most of the force behind his team. This was the episode where strings from previous episodes start to matter.

Next Up: In Tuesday’s post I’ll talk about the remaining episodes up to last week’s tie-in with Captain America 2.