Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - "We're not exactly a team..."

Joss Whedon just handed us some of the best (geeky) television you're likely to find...again.

I was going to start this post with "Marvel just handed you...", and then realized that Marvel actually has very little to do with this show. I'm reasonably sure you all now now what I'm talking about here, since a significantly large chunk of the world just finished watching the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. And yeah, it was frakking great. But yes, back to Marvel, and how little we can blame them for the sheer level of awesome on the screen. As we all know, everything Joss touches turns to gold: vampire slayers, Shakespeare, talking toys, you name it. This time, it isn't even just him. This show's credits include Jed Whedon, Jeph Loeb, Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch...big guns in the comics industry and brilliant creators every one. This show is going to survive because of the sheer creative force it has behind it. And because it's not DC...

I went there. I have innumerable issues with the way DC Comics is running things these days, and you can read my griping in previous posts. Not all their content is terrible; Jeff Lemire is writing a pretty damn solid Green Arrow storyline right now and giving that title the creative stability it was pining for ever since the reboot, and hell if I don't find myself loving Arrow in all it's artifical CW-ness. I'm a sucker for a Mike Grell homage. But DC has none of the brilliant consistency that Marvel has managed to weave through its properties, and the damage is ever so painfully visible. Marvel is seeing none of the massive conflict erupting over the canonical validity of Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, which has nothing to do with DC's monthly titles except having influenced a "new" (2008) way of drawing the Joker, and the more recent post-New 52 Man of Steel, making yet more costume changes to Big Blue. Kudos to Jeff Lemire for gradually bringing the Emerald Archer abstractly in line with Arrow, since that's pretty much the extent of DC's storytelling cohesion. If they were on top of their game to the same extent as Marvel, there would be a Wonder Woman movie in the works to complement Grant Morrison's upcoming graphic novel. We'll just keep dreaming...

With the immense success of The Avengers on the silver screen came the launch of the Marvel NOW! event, a regrouping of Marvel's properties into what Skye would call the "brave new world". In a genius move they canonized the events of that most recent blockbuster, moving fan-favourite Agent Phil Coulson off the screen and into the comics. He features in the Secret Avengers title, a good read, if you get the chance, with more than a passing resemblance to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. There are obvious differences, of course. The "brave new world" of Agents is new to the idea of superheroes, while the universe in the comics is anything but. I think I understand why this is so effective: Marvel is solving the long-standing issue of new readers in a way DC never considered. New readers approaching superhero comics have long faced a dilemma; with decades of back-issues piling up, where's a gal or a guy to start reading if he wants to get a handle on a character's backstory? Instead of taking their comics titles back to origin and retconning 70-odd years of story coughnewfiftytwocough, Marvel decided to tell their heroes' stories from the beginning on the silver screen and bring their comics to bear on a similar course. It's an elegant solution. In the words of Mike Peterson, it's no longer a disaster, "it's an origin story."

So, yeah. Coulson's back in action, there's a serious Iron Man 3 connection in play, and between the flying cars and witty banter this new show has enough Whedon-level awesome to keep me watching for...well, forever, really. It will be great fun to see how the show leads into the upcoming Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron feature films. As for comics, the show offers a great new jumping in point for those intrigued by the world of superheroes. So with beer in hand I applaud you, Joss Whedon. You've done it again.

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