Clearly intent on conquering all media with their successful franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2013 expanded to the small screen with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tied into multiple stories in the MCU, S.H.I.E.L.D. has featured cameos of characters from the Avengers, Thor, and Captain America films and addressed such issues as the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. based on the latest films released. Its current story arc seems to be leading into the upcoming Marvel film, Inhumans.
Promo poster for S.H.I.E.L.D. (c) Disney/Marvel
Premiering with a lot of fanfare and strong ratings, S.H.I.E.L.D. initially struggled to find its way dramatically. While many, including myself, were very excited about a TV spinoff for the MCU, particularly one starring fan-favorite character Agent Coulson and focusing on the super-secret agency which helps protect the Earth from its enemies, the show stumbled at first. It didn’t appear to connect to the larger MCU tapestry, nor provide truly engaging characters or plotlines – instead seeming like just another action-adventure show. By the time it recovered towards the end of its first season and began to find its own way, many viewers had already given up and stopped watching, and the ratings took a hit accordingly. However, the show is expected to continue as it is the flagship Marvel TV series and the fans who have stayed with the show are excited about its future direction.
In stark (ha!) contrast was the smaller-in-scope second attempt by Marvel and ABC. Spun off from her original appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter first showed what she could do in the Marvel One-Shot short film, Agent Carter. Seeing both the character and actress’ appeal, ABC commissioned a limited series that aired over the past few weeks: Marvel’s Agent Carter.
Promo poster for Agent Carter. (c) Disney/Marvel
Pitched as “Alias in the 1940’s”, Agent Carter did not prove to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the ratings were okay and there’s still some chance it could be picked up for a second series next year to once again fill in the time between new episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Personally, I loved Agent Carter and found it had all the charm, personality, character definition and engrossing storylines that were missing from the start of S.H.I.E.L.D. There were immediately people along with the lead that I could root for (Jarvis and Sousa especially) or against, plus some nice tie-ins to the MCU (hello, Howling Commandos and Howard Stark!). And I’m a sucker anyway for that era of adventure story – I never tire of re-watching The Rocketeer, The Phantom or Indiana Jones.
The comic book films that have always resonated strongest with me (Superman: The Movie, Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, etc.) are morality tales. They are not stories of superpowers, but the most human stories of all that we have told throughout history as tales of gods and monsters and now, superheroes and supervillains. They are the same sagas told through a different genre lens. Agent Carter is a very human tale of a very human woman who loved a very human man. Who was a superhero before he ever put on the suit. And so is she. And that’s why I loved it immediately.
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