Monday, April 12, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 In Depth Review


We have been running the hype machine for a while, we even interviewed Jonathan Hickman and ran a spotlight on Dustin Weaver, and this past Wednesday, the first issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally came out. To say that us here at the Weekly Crisis have been looking forward to this book is a deep understatement, I personally have been salivating at all the little bits that were released in the run up to opening day. Now that I finally have read the book, and even though Ryan put it in his Power Rankings and I posted several scenes in the Moments of The Week, I wanted to do an in-depth review of the opening chapter of this series. So hit the jump to see my thoughts of the first issue.


S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

Written by Johnathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain

Pretty much everyone knows that this book stars historical characters entrenched in the super fiction of the Marvel universe, but what you might have missed is that the book's protagonist is actually a teenager from the 1950's named Leonid, who seems to have some strange cosmic powers (they manifest through his skin, which looks a lot like the third Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell). He seemingly leads a normal life until some agents collect him, knowing his true nature and take him to a hidden underground city in Rome (The Immortal City), where he is introduced to the High Council of the Shield, and he gets the spark notes version of the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. through the ages. This is where the previously mentioned historical characters come into play. We'll get to them later.

Leonid works as a leading character, as his confusion and awe is meant to reflect that of the people reading this book. We are all learning of these amazing and unbelievable stories at the same time as Leonid; when faced with impossible questions ("Do you know the final fate of man?"), he falters and is left wondering what the true meaning behind the words spoken around him really mean, just like the readers. In the end, there's a time jump of three years, and Leonid has made a home in the Immortal City (not to mention he seems to have more control of his powers) only for his journey to be brutally and violently interrupted by his father, The Night Machine, making a return to his life. He wears some kind of mechanical suit which seemingly allows him to wield strange and mysterious powers, and he is there to destroy the city and/or the organization where his son has found a home.


The Night Machine seems to be the antagonist in this book, as he seems to be the antithesis of everything that The Shield stands for: The Shield stands for the use of knowledge, technology and evolution for the betterment and progress of mankind, while The Night Machine seems to abusing the same things for the purpose of destruction and death; day and night, if you will. Weaver's design of the Night Machine is truly creepy and seems to hint that he is sickly losing his humanity (we can only see his nose and mouth, the only parts uncovered by his suit), he even mentions that he died and came back. He appears to have a long history with the organization, and knowledge beyond even their impressive standards.

As for the "past" sections of the book, we see how a list of influential figures from history as they battle and protect humanity against terrible threats from beyond. All of them happen to be polymaths and renaissance men, starting with Imhotep as he battles and drives back an invasion from the Brood in ancient Egypt (with the help from Apocalypse and the Egyptian Moon Knight), wielding a shield and spear that would become symbolic after his demise. This is where S.H.I.E.L.D. gets it's name, but as mentioned by another historical figure, Zhan Geng from the Chinese empire, the shield and the spear are separated from each other (because it would be too much power for someone to wield at once?). Speaking of Zhan Geng, he faces a Celestial, and seemingly drives him/her/it back with one of his poems.


We also see two other important figures from the Renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci, who flies off into space to deal with something that is consuming the sun (the Phoenix?) and Galileo Galilei, who must deal with a visit from Galactus and his herald. These figures are herald of change, both in a historical perspective and within the book itself: up until know, it seems that the agents of Shield relied on their battle prowess and possession of these seemingly magical spear and shields, but Da Vinci and Galileo rely on their inventions to drive back the dangers they must face. It's two sides of the same coin, but I thought it was an interesting shift in the book. The relation between magic and science is briefly hinted in the book, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more of it in the future, it is an interesting comparison and contrast that works perfectly in the Marvel universe.

Speaking of contrasts, the book is rife with it, both in Hickman's writing and in Weaver's art. The themes of darkness versus light, of the old versus the new, evolution versus stagnancy, and knowledge versus uncertainty pop up in pretty much every page, and not always spelled out for the readers. Hunting for these themes and recurring motifs is almost as fun as reading the book itself (as my review no doubt shows by now). The book is so tightly plotted and paced, that while it is incredibly heavy of subtext and hidden layers, it absorbs the reader and makes the book a fast read in the best possible way: you just want to keep learning more and more about this brave new world that Hickman and Weave have created. This book rewards multiple readings also because of all the little hidden Easter eggs that the creative team leaves behind: the aforementioned scene in Egypt, the possessions that Da Vinci has in his lab, and just who some of the agents of Shield in the "present time" are.


I already praised the creative team plenty, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the unsung hero in this book, colorist Christina Strain who does an incredibly job in distinguishing the scenes by subtle shift in the colors. The scenes set in the underground city have a blue and black tint throughout them, the Egypt scenes look yellow and sandy, the ones set in China have red hues and a metallic feel to everything, and the Renaissance pieces have a far more colorful and vivid feel to them.

It is also worth mentioning that I have seen some criticism on the book, most notably on certain historical inaccuracies, but unless you are paying really close attention you won't really notice it, and I didn't find it subtractive to the experience of reading this book. I have already written more than a thousand words on S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, and I honestly do not feel done with exploring all that the book has to offer. I haven't even touched on the recurring motif of flight, the repeating phrases such as "This is not how the world ends", or the short back up material offered at the end of the book. This book is truly a wonder, and it has my mind whirling with possibilities and ideas.

Verdict - Must Read. One of the best books to come out in a long time, S.H.I.E.L.D. is awe inspiring in it's scope and ambition. The creative team offers an incredibly good looking and smart book. Buy it, read it, put it down, think about it, and read it again, you will not be disappointed. I cannot recommend it enough, it has plenty to love and much to offer for all kinds of readers. The wait for the next issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be an incredibly long one, as it looks like the book is going to be shipping bimonthly, but that leaves more time for me to concoct speculation and mad theories.


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17 comments:

Dickey said...

Nice review. I agree that the bimonthly shipping will help increase the speculation, theories, and discussions surrounding the story. This title might be able to generate the level of commentary and anticipation I've seen in the blogosphere for Morrison's Batman RIP run.

Believe I may have been able to figure out something regarding the sun problem that Da Vinci was dealing with. I'm still clueless as to the villain he will be combating, but the gradual decreasing of the sun's intensity that Lorenzo de' Medici talks of may be connected to the Little Ice Age. It occurred from the 14th to the 19th centuries where the average global temp dropped a few degrees, some speculate that it was a temporary lowering of the sun's intensity that caused it. I could be totally off base with that connection, but hey, it's still fun.

Ivan said...

But the Night Machine sports such a cool mustache, he can't be evil!

Great review, it does a great job of leaving us wanting for more. Unfortunately, I'll probably only have a chance to check it in trades.

Anonymous said...

wat i didnt get was the appearance of Agents "Stark and Richards"

Daryll B. said...

Isn't it amazing how most comic book fans always crave new ideas within their universes but when they get something like this all they want to do is complain about continuity???

Granted I am a continuity buff myself but after being burned out by all the "big" events, I prefer this to get my mind going to all the infinite possibilities...

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anonymous: Those are probably the fathers of Reed Richards and Anthony Stark. Both are inventors of their own right.

Anonymous said...

Historical Inaccuracies? Really?

Anonymous said...

I think Hickman and Fraction are huge disciples of Morrison. I think that's a great thing--Density/metaphor and symbolism are the best elements of all fiction in my eyes.. I know I'll be supporting their work based on the quality they have shown so far. A few believe that Van lente might be cut from the Morrisonian cloth as well. Any thoughts on that? Do they mention Grant much in interviews?

Anonymous said...

Jason Aaron is a huge Morrison fan as well but you could kinda tell that if you read his Marvel work.

Jule said...

to me this could be the new comic of the year, i find it very interesting, i just hope that its not cancelled to soon...

I think that Night Machine its a Tony Stark gthat goes wrong in the future...

Anonymous said...

I was really dissapointed with the art, the inking really let the pencils down towards the end of teh book, and the coloring just didn't jump out at all for me. I think Weaver is an amazing artist, I've been a big fan for a while, but it did look rushed towards the end in my oppinion. Inking was the big problem though, tight and delicate to begin with, then loose, thick and sloppy by the end. And not entirely intentional I dont think.

Anonymous said...

I would like to go out on a limb as a 40 yr + veteran of comics and say that this is truly a must read as stated. This Shield book could be on par with Planetary (only utilizing the actual Marvel universe sans Jakita)Here's to a smashing 2nd issue. This is a website I only discovered late last year & already one of my faves.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Agents Stark and Richards are Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards, fathers of Iron Man and Mr Fantastic. You can see that Richards looks the same as in the flashbacks from Hickman's FF in Solve Everything.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anon #6: Haha, yeah I know Galactus didn't really visit 15th Century Italy. I saw some people commenting about some of the dates being off, or stuff like "Da Vinci" being a nickname that Leonardo was given after his time, not something he called himself. Just small stuff like that, that doesn't really affect the storytelling unless you are actively looking for it, or a major history buff.

@Anon #8: Yeah, Aaron is a huge Morrison fan, but what I like about him is that he isn't actively trying to replicate Morrison's ideas or story telling method. He just does his own thing, while still paying tribute to Morrison.

@Anon #11: Good call on the Planetary comparison! This book is a lot like the bastard child of Planetary and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (conceived while a documentary about polymaths was on the TV)

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