Disney and the ABC network have teamed up to take what industry insiders call a calculated risk in producing the primetime action-drama Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s true that sci-fi and fantasy fare sometimes has trouble finding a broad enough audience to stay afloat in the ratings, but the series leverages some of the biggest names in entertainment and commands a premium time slot. Nevertheless, the show has struggled to keep the interest of its audience due to weak plotting, slow pacing, and scripts of inconsistent quality.
Focusing on the human side of the new world that has emerged following the Battle of New York (as depicted in The Avengers) theoretically has two palpable advantages beyond the obvious cultural cache. First, the scripts should have had an easier time finding an emotional center as otherwise hardened agents are forced to confront the confusion and fear of tackling unknown threats. Second, it’s frankly less expensive to make props of awesome-looking tech than it is to depict Blackheart tearing through the floor, surrounded by the flames of Hell. (As nice as it would be to see Apocalypse uppercut Galactus, that sort of setpiece just isn’t suited for primetime.)
Smallville demonstrated that superhero stories could work on the small screen as genuine drama aimed at a mature audience, while Alphas showed that such tales can still be exciting without drenching the viewers’ eyeballs in CGI. Combine the influences of these predecessors with Joss Whedon’s mandate for trademark snappy banter from his writer, brother Jed Whedon, and S.H.I.E.L.D. ought to have been a better show.
It’s fair to say that viewers still don’t know what to expect since Whedon and Disney are famously mum on spoilers. But a suggestion can be offered to keep the show out of the ditch – bring in more Marvel to S.H.I.E.L.D. This week’s (surprisingly uneventful) introduction of Victoria Hand, coupled with a stronger script than those of recent weeks, offered a whiff of promise. Still, there is no need to keep recognizable faces on a slow drip. There are obvious production problems in bringing in gods and aliens, but plenty of characters can still be transcribed from the comic page without busting the budget. Here are three great characters that have been unable to escape the gutters, yet deserve a tryout on the small screen due to solid backstories and manageable production values. Maybe one will make it into Avengers 5?
1. Luke Cage – A troubled youth who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Carl Lucas hid behind the moniker of Luke Cage after being paroled. Unfortunately, a condition of his release compelled participation in medical experiments that mutated him; fortunately, those mutations were limited to super-strength and nearly indestructible skin. A powered private detective who searches for the truth behind his betrayal and incarceration is a plotline that would stand alone as its own show. As it is, Luke Cage should be good for at least a couple of recurring spots on Agents. It’s notable that the opening of the first episode was a bit of a fake-out, as they introduced an Extremis user that seemed remarkably similar to Cage before he started glowing orange; obviously, he shouldn’t present a problem to portray.
2. Moon Knight – There has often been debates about whether Batman is driven or just crazy, but Moon Knight is crazy crazy. Marc Spector is just your ordinary, highly-trained military-veteran-turned-mercenary who was nearly killed during a confrontation at an archaeological dig of the temple of Egyptian moon god Khonshu. The entity appears and offers healing in exchange for a lifetime devoted to carrying out Khonshu’s vengeance. Yet the price becomes too steep and the Moon Knight goes completely insane, developing multiple personalities to protect his psyche from the acts he commits in the name of Khonshu. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to imagine Moon Knight as an unstable vigilante that the agents track down who then becomes an unstable ally in the face of a greater threat.
3. Black Panther – Twenty years in Hollywood preproduction limbo is enough for the leader of the Wakandan nation. The Black Panther deserves some live-action screen time, being a highly skilled combatant who also has access to advanced technology. T’Challa could easily make the rounds on Agents as a visiting diplomat with a secret agenda of protecting the insular country from enemies and allies that are distrusted alike.
These heroes have been long absent from mainstream media and it’s time to rectify that. They have interesting bios, a relatable balance of powers, and minimally ridiculous costumes. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still has the potential to be exciting no matter which dire
By Daniel Annear