Agents of SHIELD is on a dramatic roll, now that they aren't actually agents of SHIELD. This episode gives us a true superpowered villain and reveals that Skye really is a Mary Sue!
By the way, the art up top is by Pascal Campion. It seems Marvel has been having artists create original prints for individual episodes in the current storyline. Check out pieces by Paolo Rivera and Mike "Deadly" Del Mundo.
The quality of these shows has really gone up since the basic infrastructure of SHIELD has gone down. Who knew?
Spoiler-light recap: Sitting tight in their secret Canadian fortress, the team tries to pick up some of the mess left behind Hydra's raid of the Fridge, unaware one of their own was the raider. Their convivial host tries to find out for himself who - if anyone - is the mole. Just as that story thread is reaching its apex, half the team heads out to defend the mysterious "cellist" from a deadly supervillain.
Excitement, adventure and really wild things!
From the very first scene, this episode spotlights an actual superpowered villain: Blackout! While most casual fans might be familiar with the more famous version of Blackout - the demon-spawned serial killer who terrorizes Ghost Rider and was recently terrorized by Spider-Man - this show actually shines a light on the original Blackout, Darkforce conduit Marcus Daniels. Darkforce, by the way, is one of the most powerful energies of the Marvel Universe - utilized by numerous heroes and villains (even some who don't realize they are accessing it). Interestingly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Blackout not only controls and accesses Darkforce (thanks to the same physics-experiment-gone-wrong origin as the comics), he can also drain the energy from living beings and even the kinetic energy of bullets.
While Blackout does his dirty deeds, radio pundits discuss any culpability President Mathew Ellis (last seen in Iron Man 3 and mentioned in Cap 2) might have for SHIELD's lack of oversight while questions linger over whether or not Hydra will return (little do they know...). Of course, this raises some interesting questions. SHIELD was nominally the enforcement arm of the World Security Council (which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the UN), and not a US agency. This kind of question comes up from time to time in the comics where a particularly storyline (like Dark Reign) implies that SHIELD is a US only agency, while other storylines (like Infinity Gauntlet) show it as an international agency.
Unaware yet of everything going on in the dark, Coulson has Skye make a list of potential threats for the team to track down, noting that series villain Ian Quinn is the least of their worries, as he's just a sociopath, not a full-blown psychopath. At least one potential threat is a suspect who disappears before people's eyes in Morocco. Here's hoping that means more villains in the show's future!
Goofy-yet-serious Agent Koenig puts Coulson's team under a Fury-made lie-detector, supposedly one strong enough to sniff out even the Black Widow's lies (as Agent Romanoff is once again namedropped). Little-known bit of comic book trivia: the original lie detector was invented by Dr. William Moulton Marston, the same man who created Wonder Woman. Of course, his story is weird enough on its own.
Thanks to a series of psychoanalytic non sequiturs from Koenig, trying to see what connections the team has to Project: Insight or Alexander Pierce (both from Cap 2), we learn:
- May's full name is Melinda Qiaolian May and she was married once. Once.
- Fitz has a living mother, but that's it. He also wants to be stranded on an island with Simmons.
- Simmons meanwhile, wants her own TARDIS. Ah, almost forgot to mention an important tidbit here: Doctor Who is (sort of) part of the Marvel Universe! Marvel published licensed DW comics back in the 80s, mostly in the UK, and several Marvel mainstays either premiered or guest starred in those issues, including Death's Head, Merlyn and Gatecrasher's Technet.
- Trip, we learn, is a legacy SHIELD member as his grandfather was one of the Howling Commandos. The Howling Commandos of the comics were Sgt. Nick Fury's most trusted yahoos, and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe they were Captain America's personal military unit. It's possible his grandfather was Gabe Jones - musician, soldier, spy and one-time SHIELD director - who was a friend of Koenig in the comics, but only time will tell.
- Koenig himself wishes he was descended from a Howling Commando, but in the comics, he was one! Also his brother used to call him Lightingfoot.
- Skye reveals that her legal name is Mary Sue Poots. Yes, Skye, the character so many viewers have complained is too much of a Mary Sue, is actually a Mary Sue. Even as she namedrops the cyberterrorist organization she was (formerly?) a part of (Rising Tide), Koenig clears her for a lanyard.
- Ward's real name is Grant Douglas Ward. He has two parents, a sister and two brothers. Although he doesn't tell Koenig this, he admits to Skye that his older brother forced him to torture his younger brother. Family bonding.
Despite irregularities in the test, Koenig trusts Ward and assigns him a lanyard too. Poor, poor Koenig. That's right, Hydra Ward kills the friendliest (and most trustworthy) SHIELD agent this show has featured. He will be missed.
Meanwhile in Portland, Coulson, Fitz-Simmons and Trip (whom Coulson is starting to trust) go to save Audrey Nathan, the cellist with the philharmonic who stole Phil's heart before Loki tore it out of him. Despite the crumbling of SHIELD and all its secrets, Coulson feels the need to keep his resurrection from Audrey, partly for her own protection, and partly out of the guilt he feels for having been away from her so long.
Daniels (Blackout) was obsessed with Audrey before Coulson captured him the first time, and since SHIELD was secretly upgrading Daniels' powers, now that he's escaped, she is the first person he seeks out. To stop him, Fitz rigs a stage lights to project gamma rays based on designs by Bruce Banner, adding that there's only a slight chance that could cause their target to get stronger. Luckily it goes off without a hitch as the heroes take Blackout out Ghostbusters-style. Coulson almost reveals himself to Audrey, but decides to let her live her own life.
Back at the secret Providence hideout in Canada,
Mary Sue Skye hacks into NSA satellites to find out what happened at the Fridge, and although the video footage doesn't tell her anything, the dead Koenig is a dead giveaway that Ward isn't what he seems. Rather than run screaming or try to fight a guy who can take out squadrons of soldiers by himself, she goes along with his ploys - with the two of them taking off to parts unknown in the Bus, with the 0-8-4 from Peru serving as the MacGuffin.
Sure, May could save her, but May quit the team, walking out with a military duffle bag over her shoulder. There's a long tradition at Marvel, especially among mutant teams, of walking silently away from the team while carrying a military-style duffel bag - usually followed by the character returning to the team a few issues later. In this case, May is picked up by her mother, a retired agent from an agency other than SHIELD. Her mom drove more than 500 miles (from Pennsylvania?) to pick May up, and brought information on "Maria," whom Mrs. Melinda's Mom always liked. This bodes not well for Maria Hill of Stark Industries.
This episode includes special thanks Carmine Infantino, co-creator of Blackout and probably the most important DC artist of the late 1950s. Although he passed away last year, he left behind an amazing legacy, as he redefined the look of superheroes for the Silver Age of Comics, starting with the Flash.
Blackout's other father, writer and editor Marv Wolfman, deserves a shout out as well. He is a great writer, and his ideas shaped the comics scene for much of the 80s, with impacts still being felt today as Teen Titans Go!is essentially an homage to his concepts.
Also thanked is Dick Ayers, who gets co-creator credit for Eric Koenig. Ayers was one of the most important people of the Marvel Age, sort of the Michael Collins to Stan and Jack's Buzz and Neil. Ayers inked a lot of Jack Kirby's most famous issues, and drew dozens of amazing comics on his own!
Kevin Garcia (also known by the nom de ordinateur KevinGarcia.com - I know what a shock) will be giving a presentation on the history of comic books at the South Texas Comic Con in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday. If anyone finds themselves out there this weekend, drop on by.