Friday, April 9, 2010

Chronic Review: S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1

S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1
Marvel Comics

Script: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Dustin Weaver
34 pages for $3.99

"And tomorrow is nothing but the promise of possibility."
- Leonid, S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1

This is a difficult comic to review. On the one hand, this book is a joy to read and fairly crackles with energy, and you find yourself eager to turn the pages to see the next incredible surprise buried in earth's previously untold Marvel history.

Hickman turns S.H.I.E.L.D from a formidable but geographically/chronologically limited government agency to an immortal, history-spanning global defense cabal. Imhotep prevents a Brood invasion, Zhang Heng battles a Celestial, and Galileo takes on Galactus. Are you kidding me??? Awesome. This issue contains more good ideas than most books carry in a year. On that hand, this is a superb comic book.

On the other hand, when I got done with S.H.I.E.L.D. # 1, it occurred to me that most of what I'd read was conceptually fantastic, but thin on visceral details. This is a promise, a literary check that hasn't been cashed yet. Granted, the check is written in a deliciously large amount. If this thing pays off, it's going to pay off on a Planetary/Preacher/Sandman type scale.

But to be clear again, it hasn't paid off yet. The idea of Galileo somehow preventing Galactus from turning our planet into lunch is no doubt interesting. And somehow, he got it done. But we have no idea how....the truly interesting bits are missing. In each case the concepts Hickman introduces demand interest, but the details are sketchy or non-existent.

Our gateway into this world is a character named Leonid. We meet this character in the 1950s, and he shares the same sense of overwhelming awe the readers are supposed to as the High Council of S.H.I.E.L.D. reveal some of the hidden layers of earth's history.

Leonid is also shrouded in mystery. He's clearly got some kind of super powers, even if their just sensory. His father is really an odd duck who goes by the handle "Night Machine", and looks like he orders his clothing from Rob Halford's closet. Again, it's all abstractly compelling, but there isn't anything to grab hold of yet emotionally.

Before I go on, let me be clear about something. I'm not complaining. This is a first issue, and so it's completely appropriate to set the table before the steak arrives. I get that. If the idea of a first issue is to introduce the principal players and elements in a manner that whets the readers appetite, well, Mr. Hickman just scored an A+ and then some.

What I'm saying is this: before I'm willing to call this a great issue or a great comic, I'm waiting to see if the check bounces. Me, I'm betting that Hickman has the funds in his account. He's going to flesh this out and show us how the High Council does business. Hell, it looks like we're going to find out how the world ends and mankind's true purpose in the universal scheme of things. Now that's entertainment!

I would consider this a can't-miss series based on the promise alone. Where did these immortals come from - are they even human? When the SHIELD agents pick up Leonid, why do they say "we know what you are" instead of something more appropriate like "we know who you are"? Agents Stark and Richards in 1956? Hmmmm. There's like....64 metric tons of fun stuff that Hickman could unpack out of this issue. Hickman revealed on Where Monsters Dwell that the series will take roughly 16 issues to complete. It feels like there's at least 100 issues worth of material to mine here. Like I said....I'd wager on Hickman to make it pay off.

I'm never that crazy about paying $3.99 for my books, but we got 34 pages plus a tiny little 2-page addendum, and that's a good value comparatively. If the series continues to be priced at $4 for 22 pages....I'm not sure what to do. I don't like rewarding gouging, but I don't know how I can avoid buying this story.

- Ryan

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