Agents of SHIELD now that we’ve seen Agent Carter

Agent Carter took a week off last week, and I’m assuming it was for the State of the Union address. Since Agent Carter is running as a mid-season show for Agents of SHIELD, I thought I would take a mid-season break from the one show to talk about the other in relation to the former… well, whatever, they make sense to compare to one another, right?

There are lots of comparisons that came to mind about the content of the show in the early days, or even before Agent Carter aired. Different eras, relationships to movies, these sorts of things – and I blogged some of my thoughts on that early on. Now that there’s been a few episodes of Agent Carter, the differences seem really stark (pun intended?). So let me look at a few features that I think really stand out between the two, now that they are both officially on the air and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

The Ensemble versus the Protagonist

It’s inherent in the name, I suppose, but Agents of SHIELD is not the story of one person, with no central hero. Sure, the original and ongoing draw to the show is Agent Phil Coulson, brought back from the dead to give us a known leader and a mystery plot – namely, how is he back from the dead?

But he is by no means the only character on the show, just the only known character. Around him he collected a group of agents, who fly the plane, fight the battles, solve the mysteries, hack the computers, solve the genomes (Gene’O’s?), and build the tech. It was not a small team, and they took a lot of time – as they probably needed to – introducing us to all of these agents (and new ones, over time). While Phil Coulson was ever-present, so were the rest of the team.

Agent Carter is much different from that. Sure, she’s not the only character running around, but she is the one we are focusing on. Her partner is not even a fellow agent, but a butler. And there are characters we are getting to know more about – especially Jarvis in the third episode – but not all of them.

For instance, she has some friends she has made outside of work, women who have also been neighbors or roommates. Well, one is dead and the others we might suspect of having nefarious intentions for their friendship – who can we trust? There are also her fellow SSR agents, but they exist to be contrasted with Peggy Carter, to be cliches and stereotypes and not all to be fleshed out and explored.

Sure, part of that is the 8-episode nature of the season: you can’t do it all in that time. But we have solid evidence that we aren’t going to get to know them all, as one of the agents was assassinated at the end of the third episode. That’s a number of friendlies killed in just three episodes – it’s a risky business being in that show! All we know is Agent Carter and Jarvis make it out at the end, everyone else is at risk!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beyond Agent Coulson, the real draw for Agents of SHIELD is its connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. These got better over time. There was a ho-hum episode after Thor: The Dark World was out in theaters, with a vague connection to Asgard. Then there was a far better episode with the Lady Sif, and the Asgardian Lorelei. I think this sort of cameo was the sort of thing audiences may have been expecting or wanting more of in the show, and this episode at least showed that it could be done, and done well!

Then the ball dropped with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The SHIELD focus in the movie bled into the show, and the last few episodes of the first season, airing after the movie started playing in theaters, were really incredible, giving a payoff for a lot of the ensemble-cast character development that they had spent so much time on. I think by the end pretty much all of the cast got to be heroes and found their way into our hearts – or at least, more than they had been before.

Season 2 has more seriously delved into the mystery of the Once and Future Phil Coulson, his death and return. After Guardians of the Galaxy, audiences at least knew more about the aliens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – even if the characters don’t know. So when it starts to turn out that maybe all these mysteries are alien in nature – and we might know who these aliens are and what they might be like! – it got pretty good. The mid-season break ended in some jaw-dropping turns of events, the implications of which have us wondering just how much this will all be a set-up for some of the upcoming Marvel movies – especially The Inhumans, who may need the most setup.

But here’s the thing: with all of that, I think it’s safe to say that Agents of SHIELD is best in the way that it relates to the larger universe. The events of the mid-season-2-finale were great and all, but the implications were better. The minutes of my wife Holly and I theorizing and guessing after the episode was done were a lot of fun, and worth keeping up with the show – but you can’t really say the show and its contents alone were what made us enjoy it so much.

Okay, that’s a lot about Agents of SHIELD. So let me keep my comment on Agent Carter here brief: it hasn’t been like that at all. The connections to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe have largely just been in the characters who come from it: Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, and Jarvis – known before just as a name and an A.I. named after him. There have been a lot of references to Captain America, largely just in the fact that Peggy and he were almost an item and now he’s gone. And that’s it – so the show is having to stand on its own, and not lean on the films for interest and intrigue.

So What Makes Good Television?

Oh man, what am I doing asking a big question like that? Well, I guess I mean that it is a show you can watch, and it’s good, and it entertains you. In and of itself. There are plenty of shows that people hang on to and watch for a variety of reasons – hoping it gets good again, wanting to know the answer to its mysteries, for love of an actor or actress or cast. If I were to try to define “good television” it would be something where it doesn’t have to rely on you “hanging on” – you just watch it and it’s good and stays there.

I think Agents of SHIELD has created a whole new category of reasons to hang on, because it really is an experiment in shared universe, between movies and film. Sure, there are shows based on movies, but generally as a re-telling – shows like Bates Motel or Fargo come to mind as recent examples. Sure, there are movies based on shows, both as re-tellings and often as end-notes, conclusions to the story or continuation. Star Trek movies seem like the best example of this. But Agents of SHIELD was a show set in the universe of the movies, not a re-telling, but a real-time continuation to keep you hyped and excited between movies.

As such, though, it does not stand on its own as “good television.” You can’t just pick up and watch an episode (or a season) of Agents of SHIELD and watch it and be like “hey that was all pretty great.” I don’t think that was ever going to be possible, but it’s an entirely new thing and as a fan, I am happy it exists and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s had rough patches and seemingly filler-episodes, but so have shows like Battlestar Galactica, which I followed all the way through its run.

By following an entirely different formula with Agent Carter, they have escaped that same new type of show that Agents of SHIELD belongs to. It’s a show following a movie (Captain America), but beyond that, it’s just a good, period-piece mystery show. It’s just good television. Not into comics? Not a problem, you can still get into Agent Carter. Okay, if you don’t like mystery shows or spy stuff like James Bond, maybe you won’t like Agent Carter. But no show is for everyone, right?

It’s a great mystery show so far, and if you haven’t been watching, there’s only 3 episodes to catch up on right now – out of only 8 this season! Not a lot to catch up on, so give it a chance! I’ll be back next Tuesday with my review of episode 4 – The Blitzkrieg Button!

Marvel’s New Captain America

Last week I reviewed the introduction of the new female Thor in the comics. I tried to focus on the comic, but that devolved rather a lot to talking about other comics. So this week, I don’t think I’m going to try again.

Cover to Captain America #25I’m going to review the introduction of the new Captain America, but the way that makes the most sense to me on how to do this is to compare it to the introduction of the new Thor. Both comics came out October 1 – so they meant for both things to be happening and news and exciting and interesting at once, and I think that also means that comparing them makes a lot of sense.

The other reason this is an interesting exercise is because the two are so different from one another. Both, as far as the news aspects go, are about a long-standing character being replaced, and at the same time increasing representation in comics. It’s a good goal, but the question exists as to whether it is a publicity stunt, or a long-term change.

So… what’s up with the new Captain America?

Wait, Captain America – Didn’t He Die?

Good catch, and yes, it made the news that a few years back, Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, died in the comics. The mantle of Captain America was taken up by his old friend and comrade, Bucky Barnes, only recently found to be alive. As, you know, the Winter Soldier.

The plot to the next Captain America film? Who knows! I hear new rumors flying.

But it’s hard to keep a dead comic hero down. In that spirit, Steve Rogers came back. Never really dead, he eventually ends up as Captain America again. One thing leading to another, more recently his Super Soldier Serum has been removed. Sure, he’s more than his super powers, but it also makes him age to his chronological age – old.

So he can’t do any supering. Again, not dead, so they could certainly solve this one and get him his powers back some day. That door is open. But what’d they do in the mean time?

General Geriatric! Crickets...

Continue reading

Marvel’s New Thor

Thor #1Last Wednesday, Marvel released the first comic with their new Thor – aptly named Thor #1. The interesting part of the new Thor, the news-worthy part that has been expected and announced in advance, is that the new Thor is a woman.

I don’t want to spend too much time debating the point on whether or not this is a good idea. I can understand the why. There’s been a general call for better representation in comics, and Marvel seems to (slowly perhaps) be responding. And I can also understand, from being a comics reader – introducing a new character, and getting people to like them, is hard.

Like the recent event – Infinity – which spawned a ton of new people with superpowers, as those with Inhuman genes were activated around the planet. How many characters do I expect to have come out of this that are going to last? One. Ms. Marvel.

So I wanted to give this new Thor a look. I want to look at this comic first as to whether it is a good starting point for a reader. Then I want to look at who this new Thor is – and then at what happens with the old Thor. Spoilers below for Thor #1! Also, lots of pictures. Sorry if you have a slow connection…

Was Thor #1 Accessible to a New Reader?

I will definitely say, I am not much of a Thor reader. I read a bit of Thor comics from the 80’s, for my LitFlix on Thor: The Dark World. I’ve also encountered the character in a few Avengers titles I’ve read in recent years – Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender, and Avengers by Jonathan Hickman. And I do have to say, I have particularly loved Hickman’s Thor:

From Infinity #4

From Infinity #4

From Avengers #24

From Avengers #24

But I haven’t been reading any of the new Thor comics, nor really the older ones, and the question as I was reading was really, would I keep reading? Did I know what was going on?

This comic starts with a problem stemming from the recent Marvel event, Original Sin, and Thor can no longer lift his hammer. The time therefore is ripe for someone else to be worthy, to lift it, and to have the power of Thor. I haven’t read Original Sin, and it doesn’t seem you need to have read it to really get it. It did make me a bit interested in what happened in Original Sin, though…

It then continued on by giving us a couple of villainous problems that could sure use Thor. One was the Frost Giants. The other was Malekith the Accursed. They successfully hit on the two main villains from the two Thor films, and this felt to me very much like they wanted to be accessible to people who have never read a Thor comic, but who probably have seen the movies.

Malekith

Then there’s family issues. Apparently, Odin has been gone from Asgard for a time, and Freya has been in charge. That’s cool. But now, Odin is back, and he seems to have brought a whole lot of desire for power and old-timey misogyny with him. And meanwhile, Freya doesn’t really think that she needs to step down. But Odin just kind of steamrolls past her. So where things have been in the comics with the two of them is set aside, and they’re in to a new dynamic – with characters we know from the movies again, as well.

So if you’ve seen the movies, I do think you can read this and have an idea what’s going on for the most part. However, it also felt like there was a lot tying it back to the comic history of Thor, so it’s not a perfect entry point I feel like. But it could be worse. Continue reading

How to Make a Comic Book Movie – Part 2

Last week I introduced some characteristics that make up a modern superhero or comic book movie. Winning strategies that you can see used again and again. I focused mainly on the idea of the origin story: something they tend to always go back to, every time they start up with another hero.

So they start with an origin story, and tend to pull it from a comic that includes the origin story… and more. Often with the origin in a flashback, or just as a part. Then, they tend to continue with the stories connected to this origin story – generally by sticking with the same comic writer.

Make enough comics movies, and you could make this one! I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/rewatching-x-men-the-last-stand/

Make enough comics movies, and you could make this one!
I used this on http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/rewatching-x-men-the-last-stand/

The reason for sticking with one writer makes a lot of sense: there’s decades of character development and history, based on countless writers and ideas of the characters. How do you adapt a character with that much baggage? By picking one vision of the character, and going with that.

However, once established in an origin story, they move on. Generally, these movies aren’t being made to tell us the origin story. They’re being made to have fun with the characters, as tends to happen in sequels. To include more, to tell more of the stories. To do more. To make a franchise, to bring the larger scope of the characters to life. Or, cynically, to make more money. But hey, all of these things are accomplished, so: here’s three more rules of making a comics movie!

Aim for Sequels – or a Franchise

I think it’s safe to say that just about every comic adaptation movie is shooting to make more than one movie. Part of the reason to tap into a known world, a known franchise, to deal with licensing this instead of something new, is that you can expect to be tapping into an existing fan base. This also aligns very neatly with the fact that so many comic adaptation movies are announced well in advance of release – you can already see them lining up for next year!

Of course, it’s easy to look at the big franchises and see this. And really, the success of The Avengers building off of Marvel Phase 1 can help explain why we’re seeing things like Days of Future Past tying together old-and-new X-Men movies, and then spin-off Spider-Man movies like Sinister Six and Venom. And why DC is working hard on finally actually getting a Justice League movie to the big screen. The franchises are only going to grow, until eventually one falters majorly.

Hopefully that’s not for a while.

But heck, look past the big name titles, and in recent years you still have Kick-Ass 2Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and more. Ghost Rider got a second movie, Blade got 3 movies, and even a movie like Daredevil got an Electra movie spin-off… Meaning I would not at all be surprised to see a Green Lantern 2, an R.I.P.D. 2, or a Hercules 2.

I find it important to note that many of those titles aren’t even directly based on comics! The movies went beyond the simple graphic novel it spun from, like 300: Rise of an Empire, which sounded terrible… maybe it would have helped to have had some source material to work from. But then you take Red 2, and it was great, even though the comic was really only related to the first film.

In short, expect a sequel at least when it comes to a comic adaptation movie. Usually they try to tie up most of the loose-ends and plot-lines in each movie, but still, there’s generally more to come. If done well, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Pick Multiple Villains

It happens so much of the time – a comic-book movie has two villains in it, or a villain and a maybe unrelated bad-guy organization. There’s rarely a team up, though of course Batman Forever exists to make that not true. But look at the movies before and after it: Catwoman and the Penguin in Batman Returns not working together, and Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane, not necessarily as a trio in Batman and Robin.

You have Loki and the Frost Giants in Thor, Loki and the Chitauri in The Avengers, and Loki and Malekith (and friends, like Kurse!) in Thor: The Dark World. You have whole rogues galleries the various Batman and Spider-Man movies, you have Magneto and the Brotherhood and other villains in the various X-Men movies – or say, for The Wolverine you have the Silver Samurai and Viper both.

I could go on with more and more examples, but let’s just look at the exceptions. Generally, when there’s only one villain, it’s an origin story. So you get the Fantastic Four with their origin story and them coming to terms with their powers, and then you fight Dr. Doom. You get the second movie, and now we have Doom, plus the Silver Surfer, and then Galactus. While the later Spider-Man movies have multiple villains, the first one (in both recent iterations) has only one villain. Tim Burton’s Batman just had the Joker, but I mentioned all those villains in the later films.

Sure there are a few outliers, but it seems like extra villains are often thrown in to fill the time that in other movies would be filled with the origin story. You sometimes get villains who really just feel like a throw-away, and are dealt with earlier in the movie, or are a gateway to getting to the “real” villain. Think of poor Sandman in Spider-Man 3: why was he really there? Filler, which is kind of a shame, because Venom could have used more time. Continue reading