How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
Following ABC’s literally explosive mid-season finale for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., executive producer Jeffrey Bell promised that the show’s future will feature more mainstay elements of the Marvel Universe. For a show rooted in arguably the most successful big screen superhero adaptations of all time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been remarkably restrained in exploiting its ties to the Marvel cinematic and comic book universes. Instead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has focused on building a strong foundation of original characters and concepts – ones that they’re starting to build on.
“The other thing that seems to be happening,” said Bell in an interview with CBR, “just based on the fact that what felt like standalone were in fact for us setting up a lot of different pieces of the puzzle, I think you’re going to feel more momentum from the stories, episode to episode.” Bell also revealed that this storytelling change will strengthen the show’s ties to Marvel.
“I would say, in general, I think fans will experience the episodes as being a bit more ‘Marvel,'” said Bell. “I mean that on several levels. I think we’re always looking to find characters either from the Marvel movie universe or the comic universe that fans would recognize. I think bringing the tension and suspense of the movies is something that we’re looking to do as our characters become more confident.”
With that in mind, here are five things Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can do to feel even more Marvel as they head into the second half of season one.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s episodic nature has been a big hurdle for Marvel fans to get past, and that’s because Marvel’s comics are serialized, continuous super hero epics. The phrase “to be continued” hadn’t appeared with such regularity in a comic book series until Stan Lee started using it every month in nearly every Marvel comic in the 1960s. One of Marvel’s many selling points in those early days was that every comic was part of a larger story, one that you dare not miss any part of. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has told ten standalone stories, with no obvious connective tissue between them. With the midseason finale, “The Bridge,” it looks like the show has a “To Be Continued” title card ready to roll.
Whereas DC Comics made a name for itself with larger than life powerhouses like Superman and Wonder Woman, Marvel found unprecedented success with underdog heroes like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. They were regularly outclassed by their villains and oftentimes let their personal problems get in the way. So far, the agents have been a little too good at their jobs. They have yet to face a threat strong enough to survive the end of an episode, and they still have the might of a giant, infinitely funded peacekeeping force backing them. What can’t they win against?
Thankfully, and we’re now heading into spoiler territory for “The Bridge,” that seems to be changing. At the episode’s end, the team has been thoroughly schooled by the antagonistic Centipede organization, which has Coulson in their custody. Without their leader holding them together, we might just see some of Marvel’s trademark teammate infighting happen, hopefully along with the team splitting from their all-powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. bosses.
More Marvel Characters
S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s kept the number of Marvel Comics cameos to a minimum, with just a handful (Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Jasper Sitwell, Victoria Hand) appearing in the first ten episodes. While this was wisely done to keep the focus on the series’ five all-new original characters, it’s time to level up. The Marvel films feel like Marvel films because they have Marvel characters in them; weeks pass without a single Marvel Comics-originated character appearing on S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, when characters like Mike Peterson and Akela Amadour are used instead of Marvel Comics analogues like Rage and Misty Knight, it feels forced. When it comes to comic book adaptations, nothing will be able to stop fans from searching for Easter eggs – and fans get mad when their baskets stay empty.
Explore the Universe
Just like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shied away from using Marvel Comics characters, they’ve also been reluctant to show us just what the rest of the Marvel Universe looks like on the small screen. We did get an episode built entirely around Thor’s Norse mythology, and they did introduce one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s trademark flying cars, but the rest of the episodes have taken us to real world locations and used original ideas. We’re getting Centipede instead of A.I.M., and the series has been reluctant to take us to Marvel-only locales like Wakanda, Madripoor or Transia. There are all sorts of artifacts and locations that make the Marvel Universe feel like the Marvel Universe, and S.H.I.E.L.D. should use some of them.
While this may sound odd coming after a paragraph imploring the series to use more far-fetched and fictional locations and doodads, but the importance of the realism Marvel brought to superhero comics cannot be denied. This is the comic book company that said that a masked superhero like Spider-Man couldn’t cash checks because the bank couldn’t verify his identity. Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. is a show starring a formerly homeless computer hacker with cover girl ready clothes and makeup. It’s a show set primarily in an airplane that houses six adults full-time – yet the plane is pristine and void of all the messiness that befalls every Real World house. It’s time for this show to start looking lived in.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has started pairing their characters off in interesting ways and exploring different dynamics, like Skye and Simmons’ friendship, as well as May and Ward’s friendship with benefits. Now it’s time for these relationships to get even more real, and it’s time for them to get real complicated. Judging by the midseason finale, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is close to becoming the Marvel Universe show fans wanted it to be from the beginning. Here’s hoping 2014 gives us a more Marvel-ous S.H.I.E.L.D.