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.

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Captain America The Winter Soldier Movie Review

winter-soldier-70s-poster-paolo-riveraI started collecting comic books when I was 12-years-old. The thing that intrigued me most about Marvel Comics was the concept of a shared universe. The TV shows and movies I watched and the books I read all took place in their own little self-contained universes. No matter what happened on the A-Team, they were never going to end up in Hazzard County. So when I realized that the stuff happening in an issue of Uncanny X-Men had a direct impact on what was happening in X-Factor, I got a bit giddy. The idea of telling separate stories that interconnected and built on each other was just a fantastic concept to me. I would read my Marvel Comics and think to myself, “If only they made movies like this….”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the comic book movie I’ve wanted to see since I was twelve years old. If you’ve never seen a Marvel movie and you see this, you’ll want to see the others. If you’ve watched every single piece of Marvel cinema so far, you’ll geek out at the level of detail they’ve thrown into this movie.

While previous Marvel movies have had some loose connective tissue between them, this is the first to fully embrace the continuity and use it to build a better story. The way that The Winter Soldier blends characters from Iron Man 2 and Avengers in with characters from the first Captain America and all new characters is so seamless that you almost have to watch it twice to notice.

It helps that they’ve developed a cast that so fully inhabits their characters that you never doubt for a moment who they are. Chris Evans is Captain America. He plays him with equal parts strength and aw-shucks-boyscout. In one of the opening scenes he takes out about a dozen armed guys all on his own with the just the use of his shield and it just works. And yet for all of his heroics, he maintains that man-out-of-time persona that makes him so an intriguing character.

While Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has been popping up since the first Iron Man movie, it’s not until The Winter Soldier that we really get to see how much of a bad ass Nick Fury is. There’s a car chase sequence early on where Fury gets to be every bit the hero all of the much more colorful superheroes have been in previous movies.

Similarly, Scarlet Johansen probably gets more screen time in The Winter Soldier than she did in The Avengers and she certainly gets to flesh out her character a bit more. The chemistry between her and Chris Evans’ Cap works perfectly. They’ve got nothing in common except their goals, but their mutual respect helps them build the sort of trust that only soldiers really understand.

Speaking of soldiers, the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson as the Middle East War vet turned superhero known as Falcon is pitch perfect. The friendship that grows between him and Cap feels authentic from the beginning.

I can’t say too much about the guy who play the title character of the Winter Soldier without getting into spoiler territory, but he’s one of the more inspired villains we’ve seen so far in Marvel’s cinematic universe.

As if this weren’t enough, somehow they managed to get Robert Redford to play Alexander Pierce. In this Pierce plays the control-freak Secretary of State which is a far cry from the fiercely loyal bureaucrat from the comic books, but that’s fine. I’m not someone who feels the movies have to always echo the comic books. Personally, I’m enjoying the differences.

I wasn’t sure about the idea of having Joe & Anthony Russo direct The Winter Soldier. They’re primarily known as sit-com directors and have never done anything like this before, but they pulled it off spectacularly. There’s even a small moment that fans of Community will love. Rumor has it these guys are signing on for Cap 3 and I can only hope that’s true.

Captain America The Winter Soldier is the most confident Marvel Studios movie made yet and definitely the most entertaining. This movie is proof you can do a great Marvel movie without Robert Downey Jr. The most exciting thing for me is how the events in this movie have no choice but to directly tie into the small screen as Agents of SHIELD can’t possibly be the same after the events of The Winter Soldier. The fact that Marvel is so willing to put all of this continuity together just shows exactly how good they’ve become at doing this. Next up for Marvel Studios is their most ambitious film yet; Guardians of the Galaxy. It will be the first movie they’ve done with no big name actors, and no recognizable heroes or villains. But given their track record, I have every intention of seeing it opening weekend.

–          Jack Cameron

31 Days of Comics Challenge Day 14: Comic You Love That You’ll Never Read Again

Untold_Tales_of_Spider-Man_18This one was a genuine challenge because one of my favorite things to do is reread comic book stories I’ve read many times before. This is because I’m a big fan of long form storytelling and interesting continuity. So today’s comic is the Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Untold Tales takes place during the early days of Amazing Spider-Man despite coming out in the late 1990s. This is something that happens on a fairly regular basis in comics. (Just today it was announced that there’s going to be a new mini-series that takes place between Amazing Spider-Man #1 & #2.) These pieces of retroactive continuity or ‘retcons’ are commonplace.

What set Untold Tales of Spider-Man apart was writer Kurt Busiek’s flawless plotting. Untold Tales takes place between early issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Reading them together they flow easily despite the fact that they were written 30 years apart. It’s an attention to detail rarely implemented in retcons.

As for why I’ll never read it again, it’s simply a matter of me having way too many other things to read. While I really enjoyed the weaving of modern stories with classic stories, I don’t have any real reason to reread them, but I did thoroughly enjoy them when I did.

For more on the 31 Days of Comics Challenge Click Here.

Tomorrow: A Comic That Makes You Smile

– Jack Cameron