Agents of Shield and Other Stuff.

shield59202134We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.

When did Men in Ties become sexy?

British experts, hot bone-breakers, and a dead guy: Whedon’s revenge for the cancellation of Angel.

A lot of influences went into Wearing the Cape, but mostly it happened because I was traumatized by Heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first season; it was Season 2 that killed it for me. After Season 1 I was expecting a breakout of public awareness of the existence of superhumans. I looked forward to sitting back and watching the world come to grips with the reality of superhumans, with all the political and social mess that was sure to follow. Costumed vigilantes and government-sponsored superheroes were just around the corner.

It didn’t go that way.

I revisit this painful memory because Agents of Shield, based on the first episode, looks to be a second chance to get it right. The Marvel Movie Universe (built up over the last seven movies) is unfolding with a pleasing degree of Conservation of Weirdness–all origins are explainable through Superscience and the only exception to that will probably be X-Men style mutation–and the world is changing/adapting in logical and interesting ways. Coulson’s team is one of those adaptations.

How was the first episode? Basic. Not great, not bad, probably all it could be with a single hour to get the team together and have a problem to solve (honestly, two hours would have been better, given the characters time to breath between clever quips, and allowed room for a more nuanced problem-plot). The second episode wasn’t much more involved: a team-building fight over a not-very-interesting MacGuffin that felt like lazy writing.

Part of the problem with being a writer is you lose some of your ability to sit back and just enjoy (or not enjoy) a show. If it drags or feels contrived, your writer’s mind starts spinning out It Could Have Gone This Way… chatter. I’ve learned to shut down my Inner Writer long enough to watch the show undistracted, but I pay for it afterwards.

So I love the basic premise, but think it could have been told lots better. How? I don’t know, how about suspense? Skye is on the trail of rumors of superhumans for her group, Rising Tide. She witnesses the lab explosion and Hooded Guy’s heroic superhuman save, tracks him, warns him, and then gets abducted. From here out POVs begin to multiply, but maintaining ambiguity as to what SHIELD’s intentions are towards her (and just what methods they are willing to use) until midway through the first hour when she meets Coulson–who her sources told her was dead. Coulson “drafts” her by convincing her Hooded Guy constitutes a serious danger, and she helps the team to save him.

In other words, the story they told but principally from Skye’s POV. The viewers would learn the territory the way she does, from the outside in.

Of course it couldn’t be done, because Coulson is the Main Character, not Skye. And this may kill the series. Why? Not because Clark Gregg doesn’t have the acting chops–he does, and Agent Coulson is a perfect example of the role meeting the actor; Clark is Phil Coulson. No, the problem is that Agent Coulson is like Lord Vetinari, the Patrician and benevolent (well, hyper-competent) tyrant of Ank-Morpork.

Vetinari is the ultimate Supporting Character; he Makes Things Happen.  Half the time by motivating others to make things happen so that he doesn’t have to. He’s fun to read, one of my favorite Diskworld characters, and he dominates every scene he is in. But he can’t be a Main Character (at least not without taking away his power or removing him from his power base). Agent Coulson isn’t a good Main Character for the same reason that Atlas didn’t work as MC in my first drafts of Wearing the Cape; he’s too good at what he does, too far along in his character’s meta-arc, not a good way into the world for the reader.

So, is Agents of Shield salvageable? Maybe. It took time for the long-running series Star Trek: The Next Generation to find its feet, and producers will give it more chance than Firefly got because of the movie and marketing tie-ins. And the premise and characters are good. But it’s not Whedon’s best work (compare it to Firefly and Dollhouse’s lead-in episodes).

Disclaimer: the above are the opinions of a four-book author with absolutely zero experience in script-writing for any visual medium.

Also, any bets as to whether SHIELD’s major enemy turns out to be Hydra? And Hydra turns out to be Rising Tide? After all, “if a head is cut off, two more will take its place,” sounds like the perfect metaphor for expansive crowd-sourcing…

Other Stuff.

So I’ve had my second comic convention, this time the Las Vegas Comic Expo. Not as big an event as the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, but a fun show. I was better prepared, with all my books and even some really nice prints of all Victoria Gavrilenko’s covers. I even met a couple of fans who I’d seen at the first convention (failed to recognize them both times–there’s a reason that I didn’t go into teaching after college). One attendee bought a copy of every book and cover print I had, on instructions from a friend in California. There was also a lot to see, including some great cosplay. Here’s my favorite:

Kitty PrideShe was looking for her dragon.

I sold several sets of books at the expo, and since this is where I meet the fans until I get picked up by a major publisher and start doing book-signing tours, I will continue to do comic conventions in the mountain and Pacific west. I’d like to do some of the big conventions back east, but for those I’d have to fly and ship my books, an expensive proposition. Someday.

So, back to writing. Everyone have a good October.


9 thoughts on “Agents of Shield and Other Stuff.

  1. Nice review! I’m not entirely sure I agree that Coulson can’t work as a main character – after all, Mal is very similar to Coulson (though not quite Vetinari) in terms of experience. Plus, with episode 2, he seems to be falling back into a “team dad” role, while the others are the main actors. Now, that “coming together as a team” was incredibly ham-handed, but I think there’s still promise – I still hope that Fitz-Simmons can spin together the kind of charm characters like Topher, Fred, Willow, or Kaylee had in Whedon’s previous shows. Ward and Skye really bore me, sadly, and while Melinda is very interesting, I grow quite impatient with slow reveals of the type that rarely deliver. (See also: my hatred for Dollhouse)

    Anyhoo – glad to hear the writing is going!

    1. True enough. However, Mal worked because, although he was an experienced soldier and captain, he spent most of his time fighting out of his depth, one step ahead of disaster–this made him the underdog. Again, I like the potential in the characters and I believe the show has a shot. We’ll see.

      1. Yes – it’s very hard to really judge a show after only two episodes. I mean – we all do it – we’d be overwhelmed by shows if we didn’t make the hard and fast evaluations – but sometimes it pays to hang on to a show. I know if I hadn’t stuck with Buffy past 16 episodes, I never would have made it to some of my favorite episodes in television ever. 🙂

        If I’m still trying to find reasons that the show is promising AFTER 16 episodes, though 🙂

  2. “When did Men in Ties become sexy?”

    Men in ties have always been sexy… suits were invented primarily to make men LOOK GOOD.

    If a man looks bad in a suit and tie, it’s because he’s got the wrong suit: it’s either the wrong size, badly tailored, or just a bad suit.

    There is absolutely no apparel that makes a man look as good as a suit. (And before someone says it: most uniforms are just variations on the traditional suit.)

    Now about the show:

    I don’t think Coulson is the star of the show at all. I think it’s Sky. Or at least that’s the way it shoudl be.

    I once heard that the essence of comedy is to put one normal person inside a group of weirdos. In Cheers, for example, Sam is mixed up with Diane, Coach, Woody, Carla, Fraiser, Cliff, Norm… all odd characters. Sam isn’t so much the star of the show as he is the audience’s viewpoint. He’s the one we relate to in order to relate to the rest of the characters.

    Sky needs to be that person. She’s got to be the one sane person mixed in with the crazies.

    As to the first few episodes being kind of unremarkable, I think Joss is doing his usual thing: he’s setting up a Big Conspiracy that he will reveal over the course of the season. Look at Dollhouse, for example: at first, it seems like basically an expensive whorehouse, but by the end of the first season, we realize that the show is really about this corporation that’s developing mind control so that they can take over the world.

    That’s the stuff Joss does so very well, and I think a vehicle like Agents of SHIELD will allow him to shine… as long as he gets through the first few network-mandated “getting familiar” episodes.

  3. Oh, and after tonight’s episode? I decided two things simultaneously.

    1. This episode has some meat. Joss Wheden hasn’t lost it.
    2. This show isn’t supposed to be deep. It’s supposed to be popcorn TV. You watch it for the fun time, not to be provoked in to actually thinking.

    That having been said… can anybody guess in which episode the thing will get stolen back out of the freezer and put to use in an evil madman’s bid to rule the world? Muahahahaha!!!

    1. Weren’t you paying attention? The hand? Obviously this is Graviton’s origin story; accidents of science are classic supervillain-generators.

  4. Yes, noticed the Graviton origin, goatee and all. Wonder if we will see the Thunderbolts?

    I have heard that it is not men in ties, it is men in bow ties.

  5. Possible spoiler/ my opinion on Coulson. He died in Avengers, and this is a Coulson clone. Also, I like the show, but, as someone said, it is popcorn television. I don’t think it will spawn huge followings or the kind of fan base that Firefly, Buffy, and others have, but it’s fun to watch while it’s here.

    1. A Life Model Decoy (or LMD for short) is a S.H.I.E.L.D.-designed robot that takes the form of a living person thus making a recreation of that person. The owner can see through, speak through, and control everything the Life Model Decoy does. Nick Fury’s Life Model Decoys are probably the most common in the Marvel Universe.
      It is designed to function as an exact body double for VIPs. Their design is such that they mimic the subject’s outer appearance (i.e., fingerprints, hair, all details of the skin), speech patterns, scent, iris and retina patterns, body language, thought patterns (to fool telepaths), and any other biological indicators. Aside from any invasive procedure or strong EMP, they are indistinguishable from the original.

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