S.H.I.E.L.D. issue 1. Famous faces, secret histories (and why Reed Richards is a bit crap).
S.H.I.E.L.D. issue 1
by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver
This is another one of those quirky Marvel series that seems to be the only sort of Marvel Comics I’m attracted to these days. Gone are the days of keeping up with convoluted continuity and continual changing of the goalposts of a character’s history for me. I just haven’t either time or inclination anymore.
But I do still have a great love for the concept of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. – indeed, two of the Steranko covers from the absolute must buy series from the 60s (sadly sold out here) are framed above my desk.
And that’s where my problems begin with this series. I’ve got no idea whether this is some alternate universe type thing or whether it’s going to be accepted continuity for the Marvel Universe. But for me, S.H.I.E.L.D. is/was all about modern, hi-tech, super-spies and fantastical situations – life model decoys, helicarriers and flying cars. It started with Nick Fury after WWII. Not according to Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s new series it didn’t. It started way, way earlier and has actually been an all powerful protective force for the Earth in times of dire need for the last 4000 years.
In this introductory issue we get to explore just how important the secret organisation has been throughout the ages through the everyman eyes of young Leonid (although everyman is a little wrong, since Leonid’s obviously got not only powers but a long standing connection with S.H.I.E.L.D.).
(Leonid may not be the “everyman” he’s initially made out to be. And those men in brown are the daddies of Iron Man and Mr Fantastic – Hickman’s really going large on creating a sense of interconnected history isn’t he? From S.H.I.E.L.D. issue 1, published by Marvel Comics.)
Within a few pages the superspy organisation run by Nick Fury that I have a huge love for becomes a huge secret organisation, hidden in the immortal city underneath Rome, the “home of the undying ones …. the immortals … the High Council Of S.H.I.E.L.D“.
All of this immortal secret society stuff explains why this first issue sees us take a little trip through time to look at the moments where S.H.I.E.L.D. agents turned the tide against otherworldly foes; Imhotep defeating the Brood in Ancient Egypt, Zhang Heng facing off with a Celestial in Ancient China, Leonardo Da Vinci donning a flight suit and flying into a sun with (possibly?) a Pheonix force inside and (most contentiously of all) Galileo protecting Rome from the coming of Galactus. All of these famous names from history – they’re all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
(In fact I did find myself wondering at one point whether there was anyone, in the long history of scientific and literary endeavour across the centuries that hasn’t been a bloody agent of bloody S.H.I.E.L.D.)
(The real origin of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Imhotep and co versus the Brood. From S.H.I.E.L.D. issue 1, published by Marvel Comics.)
And therein lies the problem (or problems). The pitch for this must have been easy. Da Vinci and Galileo versus the worst enemies of the Marvel Universe. Cool. You can imagine Warren Ellis slapping himself in the face wondering why he didn’t come up with it.
But there is the little issue that does rather spoil my enjoyment of Marvel (and DC) for many years; is there any tiny moment in the Marvel Universe’s history that isn’t somehow connected to some other moment? There seems to be this obsession with making everything fit in one continuous storyline, everyone has to be important, every moment must count.
And then there’s the screwing with some of the greatest Marvel comics of all time. This mythical, ancient, and practically magical origin for S.H.I.E.L.D. rather undermines the brilliance of the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a modern super-spy outfit as I fell in love with it and, perhaps most importantly of all, it really devalues the work of Kirby and Lee in the Fantastic Four.
Because if Galileo managed to defeat Galactus, it does rather make Reed Richard’s victory over him in Fantastic Four 48-50 a bit of a letdown, as opposed to the absolute pinnacle of superheroing that it really deserves to be. The whole point of that FF story was that the FF succeeded where no one else had – defeating Galactus, essentially getting one over on God, was meant to be a first, meant to be amazing, and even then it was only done because the Watcher allowed Reed to cheat, giving him access to a weapon on Galactus’ own spaceship. Now it just becomes something that Galileo did nearly 500 years before, using technology from the 14th Century. Reed Richards, how crap is he?
(Look up in the sky, is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s super Da Vinci, off to battle the sun on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D. From S.H.I.E.L.D. issue 1, published by Marvel Comics.)
Dustin Weaver’s artwork is, on the whole, pretty bloody gorgeous in a standard superhero comic way all the way through. epic where it needs to be, down to earth where it needs as well. Sure, there is huge artistic license going on in the art (it’s 1495, Da Vinci is 43 in a time when that meant old – instead he’s a superheroic pretty boy) but there’s artistic license in the writing and the very concept so who’s to complain really?
However, despite all the problems I have with S.H.I.E.L.D. I still found myself enjoying it and it’s still a very good comic, purely on the simple cool factor of the over-arching idea. There’s much fun to be had playing spot the Marvel reference; Apocalypse, an ancient Moon Knight and maybe a few more make their appearance in the Brood scenes, Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark (Reed and Tony’s daddys) in the 50s scenes and I’m sure a few more that I didn’t recognise (add them in the comments please).
S.H.I.E.L.D. may be a daft concept, it may trample all over ideas that I (and many others I’m sure) have long held as the cornerstones of my enjoyment of Marvel Comics of old, but it’s a fun one and, although this first issue is nothing more than a setup, purely to introduce Leonid and get Da Vinci into the 1950s to somehow save the world yet again, it’s going to be something to keep an eye on. Worth a second look next issue to see how it develops (or maybe to see how else it can offend?).
Issue 2 of S.H.I.E.L.D. is due in June.