Comics don’t stay in comics. For better or worse, most comics are produced in the hopes they will lead to films, cartoons, action figures, video games, backpacks, beach towels and bubble baths. Extra Medium is my weekly column about all these things and more.
With Breaking Bad coming to an end, I was convinced that would also be the end of any regular TV watching for me. My cable package doesn’t even include Comedy Central. I get most of my television shows from Netflix streaming or DVDs.
But now we’ve got Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I haven’t been impressed with a lot of the recent live-action comic book stuff. I never got into Smallville. Everyone tells me The Walking Dead is a great show. I believe every word, but I don’t like zombies. When people eat other people, I go elsewhere. And I gave Arrow four episodes before I decided I had way too many books I hadn’t read yet. Do I need to talk about Heroes? I don’t need to talk about Heroes.
But since I’m an old school Marvel Geek, and since I’ve enjoyed enough of Marvel Studio’s efforts that after the release of the Avengers DVD I hosted a 12-hour marathon of all the Marvel Studios films in order of release, I had to give S.H.I.E.L.D. a chance.
SPOILER WARNING: This column has them. I consider your hiney warned!
My initial reactions:
12. RON GLASS AS DR. STREITEN
That’s what I yelled when he walked on screen. “Book! Hey, it’s Book!”
Yes, I’m aware his real name is Ron Glass. Shepherd Book was his character’s name in Firefly and Serenity. I don’t remember if they even say this new character’s name in the Pilot, but according to IMDB, his name is Dr. Streiten.
I don’t know from which county’s phone book they pulled that name, but if they’re going to have him return to the show on a regular basis, Joss Whedon needs to turn on his usually well-oiled memorable-name-creation machine, because until then he’s nobody but Book to me.
11. CHLOE BENNET AS SKYE
Bennet took a while to win me over, and to be honest I don’t know if I’m completely won. As a longtime Whedon fan, I sometimes get a little frustrated when I meet a new character in a new franchise who feels so thoroughly like a Whedon type. The snarky, fast-talking young woman whose insecurities just fall out of her mouth is a type Whedon has a lot of practice with and sometimes I find it a little tough to swallow. And her dramatic voice-over during the Lone-Gunmen-esque Internet broadcasts made me want to barf.
But her “Okay, once,” response to Ward’s cosplayer jab scored a lot of points. I’m not a fan yet, but she might grow on me.
10. THE RISING TIDE
Speaking of Skye, I’m a little confused about this Rising Tide thing. Was it only Skye, or is she part of a larger organization?
Also, I kept thinking of the song from the last Killers album.
9. MING-NA WEN AS MELINDA MAY
I’m not sure how I feel about May yet. She’s got a little shroud-of-mystery going on that I like. But her tough, gritty, been there/done that veneer doesn’t impress me. It reminds me of perhaps my least favorite of Firefly‘s characters: Gina Torres as the warrior woman Zoë. I simply never bought that grittiness. Maybe Wen will do a better job selling it.
8. NEEDS MORE HULK
I know they’re targeting a general audience with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I can’t help but want, hunt for, and expect more connections to the cinematic Marvel Universe and/or the comics. A coworker told me he kept trying to figure out what already established superhero J. August Richards would turn out to be, and that he was disappointed when he wound up being someone completely new. Likewise – based solely on Skye’s references to Mike Peterson’s “hood” in their coffee shop conversation – I found myself looking up the secret identity of The Hood, a popular Marvel supervillain Brian K. Vaughan created, to see if the names matched (they didn’t).
It makes absolute sense that S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s creators would minimize the connections to the broader Marvel Universe. Not only are they trying to win over people who don’t know that universe, but since S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in the same continuity as the Marvel Studios stuff, anything they do with an established hero or villain in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will necessarily limit what future makers of Marvel films can do with them.
Still, I can’t help it. Give me a cameo or two. Or bring in someone nobody will ever use for a Marvel Studios flick. Howard the Duck. D-Man. The Stuntmaster. The Shroud. Captain Ultra. Is anyone going to do a Captain Ultra movie? No. Give us Captain Ultra.
7. RACIAL DIVERSITY AND KICKS TO THE GROIN
And I liked how earlier, when Peterson was dragging Skye through Union Station, Skye saw a group of young men, apparently assumed they were hard-asses because of their dress and race, kicked one in the groin, and called him a bitch; all in an attempt to set them against the superpowerful and mentally unstable Mike Peterson who was minutes away from literally exploding. For all she knew, after she ran away, Peterson would have dismembered them with his bare hands. In fact, considering what he does put them through, it’s tough to imagine they all survived without a trip to the ICU.
Racial diversity and open minds! Yay!
Ever since Iron Man 2, when S.H.I.E.L.D. started coming out of the shadows, I’ve been waiting for the sideways-tires flying cars that graced so many covers of Strange Tales. I cheered when Lola lifted off the ground.
I wish they’d found a way to work in Coulson turning to Skye and saying, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
5. MARIA HILL
I usually don’t notice or care about minute physical details, but for some reason Cobie Smulder’s longer hair as Maria Hill bothered me. Compared to that short, not-quite-boyish style she sported in Avengers, it just seems so loose and casual. Almost like she’s gotten lazy or apathetic. I keep thinking of Katie Sackhoff as Starbuck in the later seasons of Battlestar Galactica.
Again, nothing about this is worse than the fact that I care.
4. COULSON DRUGGING WARD
But while I’ve never been in the military or anything like it, I’ve gotten the impression that in order to perform as a soldier, you need to be able to depend on the guys around you. No, S.H.I.E.L.D. ain’t the Marines. Still, for a guy in a paramilitary organization to drug a fellow agent without his permission, and then to leave him alone in a room with an outsider who expresses nothing but hostility towards you, I don’t know. That’s messed up. At the very least, I felt like Ward’s reaction should have been stronger.
3. THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE
It took me a minute to realize she wasn’t talking about Gump. She was confusing J. August Richards with another shaven-head African American actor who, like Richards, enjoyed a lot of exposure from an earlier Joss Whedon enterprise. Leonard Roberts played the covert operative Forrest in Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while Richards was a regular cast member on Angel, a spin-off of Buffy.
As I already pointed out, Roberts and Richards are both African American men with hairless noggins, and both found early success in Whedon vehicles. On S.H.I.E.L.D., Richards plays a super powered man who can’t find a job and who’s raising a young son who appears a little mature for his age (saying no to an action figure? Dude!). And on Heroes, Roberts played a super powered man who couldn’t find a job and who was raising a young son who appeared a little mature for his age (and he could talk to toasters).
If Richards and Roberts ever meet in real life, the result will be not unlike the Quickening. One of them will probably have to cut off the other’s head.
2. THE ENDING
Whedon has become a master at messing with our expectations. The dialogue between Coulson and Peterson was just too corny; you knew something bad was coming. But once the gunshot came, having it come from a nonlethal weapon mentioned earlier in the show was at least a little brilliant.
Agent Coulson is Marvel’s closest parallel to DC’s Harley Quinn; i.e. a character who appeared in adaptations before the comics and proved so popular, h/she couldn’t be kept out of the funnybooks. As such, Gregg’s story is inspiring. He said yes to a small role in Iron Man and I doubt he realized that he would become so popular that he’d star in most of the pre-Avengers Marvel Studios flicks (excepting Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger), and prove so beloved he would enjoy the perk usually reserved for the guys in capes: resurrection after certain death.
But I don’t know. Now we’re going to know his story. We’re going to get to know him and see what he cares about. I don’t know if I want that. I liked the deadpan guy who detonated plastique on a locked door as casually as you or I might throw a file in a cabinet or shove paper in a printer’s spent tray. I don’t want to see that guy angry and see him cry and hear anecdotes about his crappy childhood. I want to see him walk casually out from the shadows, treat a thunder-tossing god or a mystic killer automaton with the same cool composure with which he would treat a panicked Pepper Potts, and then I want to see him go away until the next movie.
I want to be proven wrong. Joss Whedon proved me wrong about whether or not Avengers could work. I want to see him prove that what worked in small doses can work in bigger ones. We’ll see.