In just less than two hours ABC will premiere the first episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” It is one of the most anticipated television series this season. Why? Well, besides being the television anchor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being helmed by entertainment wizard Joss Whedon, and just being so darned cool – well, join me after the jump, and I’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about S.H.I.E.L.D.
What Is S.H.I.E.L.D.?
So what does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for anyway? Well, now, that depends on who you ask, when you ask, and what your background on the source material. When I was first introduced to the organization in the pages of Avengers #115, they were an international law enforcement organization and sought to keep the Swordsman, former criminal turned Avenger, from touching down on British soil. A few issues later I was introduced to actual agents Nick Fury and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as they helped fight otherworldly monsters in the finale of the Avengers/Defenders war.
In this incarnation the S.H.I.E.L.D. stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division. Headed up by Nick Fury, who had fought in World War II alongside both Captain America and the Howling Commandos, and also possessed the Infinity Formula, which kept him young, this was the premium world protectorate in the Marvel Universe. What cops and governments couldn’t handle, and before you called in the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D. was on the job. They were in the background of most Marvel comics, handling tech and information, and sometimes other stuff – like fighting Godzilla on numerous occasions for instance.
The Steranko Years
S.H.I.E.L.D. really came to prominence under the skilled hands of writer/artist Jim Steranko. It had been established early on in Captain America stories that S.H.I.E.L.D. existed, and had not only Nick Fury on its team, but also others from the Howling Commandos like Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones.
In an age of acronyms and spy-mania, the feature was fairly successful, and the modern realism Steranko injected into it made it even more of an underground hit in the swinging sixties and seventies. These are some of the coolest stories of the time, you should check them out if you can.
The group not only battled the remnants of Nazis in Hydra, but also AIM, and the criminal organization Zodiac, whose member Scorpio was actually Fury’s own brother. In this time also all of the great spy contraptions first appeared – the Helicarriers, the flying cars, the Life Model Decoys, all that stuff that made espionage, and S.H.I.E.L.D., so cool.
The Bendis Era
All things must change however. After years of writers and editors getting their wires crossed and not knowing if S.H.I.E.L.D. was an international or an American organization, they threw in all the cards and started from scratch. Now the acronym was Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, and they were based on American soil. Now war could be waged against other nations rather than to save the world entire. As you can tell by my tone, it’s not a change I liked.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis made the icky feeling of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. quite clear in his miniseries Secret War, a prologue to his Avengers, as the organization sent superheroes undercover to Latveria on a not so straight forward mission. In the comics from that point on, S.H.I.E.L.D. was almost as untrustworthy and diabolical as the foes they previously fought like Hydra and AIM. And that’s how things stand in the current Marvel Universe, don’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D. Happily there’s more than one Marvel Universe these days.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
In the first Iron Man movie we are introduced to Agent Phil Coulson of (ready for another acronym?) Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, ably played by the likable Clark Gregg. He is trying constantly to get in to see Tony Stark throughout the film. Later in the first of many famous after-credits scenes, Samuel L. Jackson shows up to see Tony, also from S.H.I.E.L.D., announces himself as Nick Fury and invites him to join the Avengers Initiative.
From that moment on, Gregg and Jackson as Coulson and his superior Fury have appeared throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as representatives of S.H.I.E.L.D. We have met other agents along the way, including Maria Hill, and soon to be seen Sharon Carter in December’s Captain America The Winter Soldier. And now in tonight’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC, we’ll meet more members of the team.
Of course they will have to explain how Coulson is still walking around after dying in last summer’s Marvel’s The Avengers. I’m betting on LMD (Life Model Decoy) myself. See you later tonight.