The second episode of SHIELD's second season is here, but where are the Marvel Universe connections? Let's take a deeper look.
This episode focused a lot on the new guys, giving Lance and Mack a bit of spotlight, but other than wrapping up last week's cliffhangers, not a lot happened here. That's a shame after last week's fairly strong start. Still, not a bad episode, just not amazing.
Also missing: new art. This is the first episode in a while not to have "cover art." Marvel, these promo posters were great! Keep 'em up! If nothing else, have something cool to promote the Agent Carter series everyone is excited about.
The Spoiler-Light Recap: The woman on the bike was May, and she's hot on Creel's trail. Unfortunately the Absorbing Man already plowed through some of SHIELD's agents and took off with the MacGuffin. Now it's a race against time as Hydra, the military, the remnants of SHIELD and whoever the mysterious Gifted-people are all look for Creel before whatever he has can kill others!
We get as much confirmation as you could expect that Hartley and Idaho are dead when Coulson asks if May is "absolutely sure." She brushes the doubt off - because if anything is sure about comics, it's that dead is dead. Right? Yeah... about that... Marvel.com has a whole page dedicated to characters that didn't stay dead. About ten years ago Marvel Powers that Be decided to stop letting death be a revolving door for heroes and villains. There was even a whole mini-series in which Thanos "fixed" the broken universe so that death couldn't be so easily circumvented. They were so serious about it that when Psylocke died as part of a storyline, in which she was supposed to return later, the edict stood - she stayed dead. At least for a few years. Then characters started being brought back left-and-right. There was even ANOTHER mini-series that offered a new loophole that would allow more random resurrections. Coulson, of all people, knows death doesn't have to be forever.
Lance Hunter gets the most out of this episode as viewers learn he was a lieutenant with the British Special Air Service, had operations in Sierra Leon three years ago, Basra in 2008 and was involved with something called Operation Panther's Claw (it's too much to hope...) and that he had a "psychotic ex-wife," but that he "met a girl" and became a mercenary, becoming close with Izzy and her sister Jane. Except he'd rather be called a "private military contractor," not a "mercenary." That calls to mind Death's Head, a Marvel bounty hunter who hates being called a bounty hunter. He prefers "Freelance Peacekeeping Agent," yes? Talbot offers Lance a chance to betray Coulson, so Lance asks for Izzy to get a proper burial (no mention of Idaho - he must not have been nice) and $2 million. He later admits some of that to Coulson, and asks for the money Coulson owes him (plus Izzy and Idaho's cut). Seems so obvious that he's being set up to look greedy that he can't really be greed, except that he does shoot May, Skye and Trip (with a non-lethal ICER), apparently planning to betray them for money. In the end Izzy gets her funeral and Lance gets short-changed, but Coulson keeps the traitor on anyway. That was nice of him.
Speaking of, Brig. Gen. Talbot claims to not be as interested in Coulson as he lets on, but that the operation is being funded by a "senator with very deep pockets." Could it be Senator Ward from the comics? Obviously this guy wasn't a major character, but considering Ward's family has been compared to the Kennedy's and that he's SHIELD and Hydra connections would be a family embarrassment, it's possible.
A bit of new info on the Playground: it's near an evergreen-covered mountain (or a big hill?) and Keonig leaves from time to time on business. Oh, and they have dozens of loyal red shirts - I'm sorry, I mean former SHIELD agents - taking over the daily tasks of keeping the non-existent agency running. Only a handful of them are capable field agents, but Coulson has dissolved the concept of "levels," so in theory at least, everyone has a chance to be part of the big leagues. Secret mountain bases are no new thing to speculative fiction, of course, but there have been a few prominent ones in Marvel Comics. Notably, various incarnations of the Thunderbolts - a team rumored to be Hollywood-bound - have set up shop inside a fake or hollowed out mountain. Mount Charteris was the secret base of multiple groups over the years, going from one-time X-Men threat the Factor Three to the Thunerbolts, to the Redeemers.
Inside the Playground, Coulson is still keeping his own secrets closely guarded. He uses the Toolbox (first seen in last season's finale) to go through above top secret files on Agent Carter, the Obelisk and others, even telling the program's AI to "keep an eye out" on the stuff. The AI doesn't respond, but one wonders if he doesn't have his own JARVIS-type operating system, ala the Iron Man movies. Most interesting about the Symbols though, is that Coulson has "episodes" every so often when he is compelled to carve the alien hieroglyphics on walls. May knows, and documents everything. The image above comes from the episode "The Magical Place."
We also get a bit more of Mack, the team's new mechanic. Only having met Fitz since the latter's mental break, Mack takes care of Fitz and believes in him, whereas Fitz's old friends all pity him. Mack becomes Fitz's hands as Mack can fix anything with instructions, and Fitz needs someone to help him think. He also calls Fitz "Turbo." Wonder if that will stick. The two of them go through old files referencing the DWARFs (used throughout the series), Gravitonium, Donnie's ice machine and other devices. Together they create a more compact version of the Overkill Device to neutralize the Absorbing Man. Oh, and another of Fitz's inventions, the Mouse Hole, is used by Lance early in the episode to get out of a wrecked truck.
For his part, Fitz seems well aware of now tenuous his grasp of reality is. When he talks to "Simmons" he talks to the voice in his head as if she were actually there. When confronted about it by Mack, he clearly knows Simmons is not there, but allows his own delusion to continue anyway. Interesting.
Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, suffered some ill effects from the Obelisk as well, as he wasn't able to absorb it and accidentally became a Typhoid Mary passing the petrifying infection on to others before Coulson could take him down with Fitz and Mack's Overkill Device. Interestingly, Creel's Hydra handler is able to calm him down before Coulson captures him by saying "compliance will be rewarded." A trigger phrase, perhaps, that controls his powers? "TAHITI" was previously used as a trigger word that prompted Coulson's false memories and his response phrase, "it's a magical place."
Also interested in Creel: last season's villain, Raina. She seems a lot more subdued this time (and is more interesting for it), and is still a big fan of any Gifteds, but she is definitely not working for Hydra. She tempts Creel with some carbyne to absorb (a real-world material), then steals the Obelisk from under the noses of SHIELD and Hydra. At the prompting of Skye's father, she touches the Obelisk and remarkably activates it without dying. Oh, and Skye's father is called "the Doctor" in promotional materials. He's obviously not the Doctor, but it is fun to realize that Doctor Who was an important part of the Marvel Universe. He's the reason Death's Head isn't a giant anymore, he first battled Excalibur villains Technet (under a different name), lent Reed Richards some technology and pals around with Merlyn, protector of the multiverse.
That's right, I fit two Death's Head references into one unrelated post - that's good, yes?
This episode adds thanks to Lance Hunter's creators Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe, and Alphonso Mackenzie creators Bob Harras and Paul Neary.
Artist Herb Trimpe has a long history at Marvel, though today he's probably best known for co-creating a little Canadian character you might've heard of: The Wolverine.
Gary Friedrich's also been involved with a number of prominent Marvel characters over the years, most notably the Ghost Rider (both the Old West and Johnny Blaze versions). Although there had been some legal issues about that recently, Marvel and Friedrich eventually settled out of court.
Bob Harras was one of the most influential editors at Marvel Comics for years, helping guide the company during the halcyon days of the 1990s when every "first issue collector's item" could sell a million issues. Since then he's moved on the Marvel's Distinguished Competition, so he's still a major player in comics.
Paul Neary came to prominence in when Marvel UK was putting out some of its most critically acclaimed stuff, and came across the pond to help create some major Marvel characters, like USAgent, Flag Smasher, Madcap (Deadpool's crazier half) and the Slug - who can forget the Slug! (Okay, so maybe the Slug isn't a major character, but he's fun anyway.) Neary is still an amazing artist today.