I watched the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last night. I watched it live. I suffered through commercials. I haven’t done that in more years than I can remember.
And I was not disappointed.
Let’s start with some naysaying.
I’ve read online criticism of the fact that Clark Gregg’s character, Agent Coulson, miraculously survived the Battle of New York to head up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Have these people ever read a comic book in their life?
Spider-Man has died. Captain America has died. Iron Man has died. Hawkeye has died. EVERYONE IN COMICS has died and come back. That’s what comics do. Over and over and over again. It doesn’t even necessarily provide dramatic tension any more. It’s more like, “how will the world go on without this character until they return, and how will the world react when they come back?” It’s just another story avenue.
Criticizing Marvel for bringing back Coulson is like criticizing Lord of the Rings for having too many Elves around. That’s kind of what the story IS. It’s an integral part of the world.
If you’re a Joss Whedon fan, AoS is going to be right up your alley. It’s got everything Whedonites love. Snappy dialogue. In-jokes. Nerd humor. Strong female characters. Ethnic diversity.
I tried to tweet every amazing one-liner from last night’s show, but there were too many to catch them all. The show was a brilliant mix of laugh-out-loud moments, dramatic tension, world building and poignant moments of heart. In a one-hour show (meaning about 42 minutes of content) Whedon has managed to introduce us to our characters (only two of whom are already known thanks to the Marvel films), make us care about them, and promise a future full of awesome adventures.
Of particular joy was the moment I spotted Ron Glass in the show. For those who aren’t pop culture obsessed, Glass played Shephard Book in Whedon’s Firefly.
Also, J August Richards was in the premiere, playing the “independent superhero” (as I think of him) the “Hooded Hero.” Richards played the character of Gunn on Angel.
I didn’t spot any other Whedon favorites in the show (other than Clark Gregg, obviously) but then again I’m not exactly an expert at piecing together actors with the various roles they’ve played. Feel free to chime in down below in the comments if there’s former Whedon stars that were also in AoS.
But the most exciting thing about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t “typical Whedon fare.” If it were, this would be “just another” show that I would love, but would ultimately pass as unremarkable.
No, the most exciting thing about the series to me is how it plays together with the rest of the Marvel universe.
The show overtly references the events of the Marvel films (specifically the Avengers, which of course was the film in which S.H.I.E.L.D. itself was most heavily featured). And it’s hard to believe that the show won’t have some sort of impact in the films (and vice versa). Now, some may say this is a bad thing. “Can’t I just watch the films and not have to pay attention to the show?” some will ask. Or, “Can’t I just enjoy the TV series without having to suffer through those boring popcorn action flicks?”
The answer is “Yes,” on both counts, with a caveat.
Marvel is doing the exact same thing with their movies (and now the show) that they have always done with their comics. Any series can be enjoyed on its own without viewing the others. You can watch the Thor movies and nothing else, and still enjoy them. You can watch the Iron Man series and have fun without even having to watch the Avengers.
But to get the full experience, you’ve gotta collect them all.
Marvel has always done this in their comics. I followed a massive four-part Marvel crossover extravaganza in the aughts that began with World War Hulk. That rolled into Civil War, then Secret Invasion. It went beyond that, but I kind of fell out of comics at that point. Now, of course, I desperately want to go back and read them all.
In each crossover event, there was a main through-line that was covered in a multi-part comic series all on its own. But the grand events that played out in the through-line were heavily featured in every individual character’s comic series. Civil War didn’t just happen in the Civil War comic series, it happened in X-Men, in Spider-Man, in the New Avengers, the Mighty Avengers and the Secret Avengers. It happened in Captain America, Wolverine and Iron Man. And it was epic. You could just stick with your normal fare and enjoy the story immensely. Or you could venture out into other series that you didn’t normally read to get the full picture of the conflict.
It’s fantastic marketing, obviously. But as a reader, it made my reading experience INCREDIBLE.
And now we’re going to get the same thing in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Or at least, that’s what it looks like and that’s what I’m hoping for.
Anyway, all of this stuff aside, what is most exciting about this is the ideas it gives US as storytellers (I mean me and you and anyone else who wants to make a living one day creating books or movies or whatever). Because this show is a glowing example that we can take the crossover lesson that comics have been trying to teach us for decades, and apply it to our own medium.
Why couldn’t you publish a book series that also had a little web series running off to the side? Nothing spectacular. Just little five-minute videos set in your world that have their own plot, their own storyline, and yet enhance the experience for people who are also reading your books.
It’s an exciting idea, and one that I want to try developing for my books (namely, Realm Keepers).
It will be difficult. Some people won’t know how to work in different mediums. Some won’t care, won’t want to make the attempt.
But for those of us who do, our eyes are now open to a whole new kind of storytelling.
And that’s an exciting idea.