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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: A Character Study

So it’s finally here! Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has arrived and happy days are here again. But how will all these new characters that we saw be received? What are they like? Are they any good compared to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or previous Joss Whedon shows? There’s only one way to find out. Time to over-analyse like only obsessive geeks can!

Making a welcome return to life, as only a character from a comic book universe can, is good old Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson. Having died in Avengers (in a scene that nearly made me cry before I remembered I’m British and snapped myself out of it), Phil turns out to have… not died. Yeah. It’s dismissed pretty quickly. Plus, kind of violating the “show don’t tell” rule here, Joss. It brings to mind a scene from The Simpsons: “Ralph! I thought you were dead!” “Nope”. In all fairness though, they do hint at some kind of conspiracy surrounding his miraculous return to life, so maybe we’ll find out more later.

Aside from that, the biggest concern I had was that Coulson has been a side character for four films now. Can the character hold the lead role in a TV series? Yes. Yes, he can. In spades. Coulson has had his share of moments throughout his previous appearances, but here he really stands out. He’s witty, he’s tough, he’s empathetic. I really like the scene near the end where he talks down J. August Richards‘ character, desperate to find a peaceful solution (Side note, Gunn is in the episode! Commence fanboy freakout!). The only criticism I can find about him is that he is never really vulnerable. He always seems on top of a situation and never worried. This comes close to dehumanising him a little. Maybe he could be a little freaked out by almost dying? Something? Still, we’re only on the first episode so there’s plenty of time for that.

Next, we’ve got Agent Grant Ward. Super spy and all round cool guy (Yes, I know that rhymes). When I first saw him I thought, “Oh, great. They’re not going to do anything interesting with this guy. Just another boring action hero.” But to the show’s credit, he seems quite interesting, showing a few moments of something Coulson could use: vulnerability. How so? Well, he doesn’t think of himself as a people person. Indeed, he finds it very difficult to be a team player. Normally, a sub par show would just leave it at that. “That’s the character” they’d say. But in the episode, we see that Ward is actually a bit insecure. He knows he isn’t a people person, but he doesn’t like that about himself. He’s one of those classic multi-layered characters that are typical of Joss Whedon. Strong personality but with weak points. And best of all, it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of his character. Definitely, he’s one to keep an eye on.

And then we have Agent Melinda May, ace pilot and an expert in weapons. And she is utterly, completely BORING! I can barely remember anything about her. She flies the plane, she’s not very friendly… and that’s about it. I was baffled. She’s a Joss Whedon character? What the hell? Nothing about her stands out at all? She can fight, sure, but so can most of the other characters. She flies their mobile headquarters but we never see her doing it. And these aren’t even character traits! These are just things she does. She has no depth, no likeability and no… just nothing! At least nothing I’ve seen. Hopefully she will develop over the series. I tell you what, she’d better! Or somebody at Marvel will be getting a strongly worded letter (Damn it, what’s with all the rhyming?).

Next up in the shooting gallery is Skye, a civilian recruit and computer expert who initially clashes with our heroes but soon joins forces with them. Now, here’s an interesting one. The character is one third superhero “groupie”, one third crusader for truth and justice and one third goofball. She’s a character for all to simply ENJOY. She is principled almost to a fault and manages to hold her own in a debate with the others over letting the public know about the world of superheroes. So much so, you might find yourself siding with her. But the best thing about her is that the character isn’t taken too seriously. I can tell that the writers wanted to have fun with her. She makes jokes regardless of how bad the situation is and endears herself to the audience very quickly. She’s also presented as a bit of a fangirl too boot, something which I hope they will use later on. Goddamn it, she’s just a very likeable, fun character. Picture a mix of all the good parts of Wash, Kaylee and Willow and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Up next on the chopping block are two characters who simply have to be talked about together, Agent Leo Fitz and Agent Jemma Simmons (Fitz-Simmons, geddit? Har har!) These two characters play off each other very well and are fun to watch. Fitz is a nervous Scottish tech specialist and Simmons is an English biology specialist. Both of them manage to have a unique personality and style and yet have a great synchronicity of character. Their back and forthiness (Yes, it’s a word! Shut up!) is perfect, with Simmons being an upbeat, excited at everything sort of person and Fitz being an anxious, geeky sort. Not only do they play off each other but they manage to have a few memorable spotlight moments themselves. Simmons gets all excited over dissecting an alien object and Fitz has fun with his seven robot drones named Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy (Seeing as how I am not a Disney fan, please excuse me while I vomit with rage). Again, these are two fun characters who will undoubtedly continue to impress.

agents-of-shield-reveals-new-photos-from-the-pilot[1]Side characters from the first episode include Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Ron Glass as Dr Streiten (Shepard Book! Resume fanboy freakout!) and J. August Richards as Mike Peterson, a down on his luck guy who acquires superpowers. First, let’s look at Maria Hill. Now, I have a problem with the Hill of the Cinematic Universe in that I don’t hate her. Um… maybe I should clarify. I don’t hate her but I feel like I should. I always hated the comic character as I felt she was one of those characters you love to hate. One that was technically of the side of good but did things that you hated. I feel like the opportunity for her to provide a bit of friction in the team, both in Avengers and here, was missed. Still she’s alright as a character and she plays well with Phil Coulson so I have no complaints. Dr Streiten seems like an interesting guy, having been hinted as knowing something about how Coulson can to be alive, but sadly the character’s screen time was limited so I can’t really say much. Looking forward to see more of him though!

And now, Mike Peterson. An ordinary guy who gets superpowers that, over the course of the episode, slowly goes insane. This character alone is worth watching the episode because of what he is going through. He loses his job, his wife and feels like he has been lied to his whole life. Near the end of the episode, after being confronted by Coulson, he rants about how everybody is promised that if they work hard and obey the law, they will have a place in the world. And he is angry at the fact that he did nothing wrong but his whole life fell apart. This is not just a great character moment, but also says a lot about the world we live in, specifically the “American Dream” and how we fit into it. Throughout the episode, as people call him a hero, he believes that those who don’t live up to his expectations, like his former boss, are villains that he has tofight, almost turning him into a villain himself. But he remains a sympathetic and complex character as he deals with the world around him and is a master stroke of characterisation. This is why Joss Whedon is one of the most clever writers of today and why I will continue to watch this show in the hope of seeing more characters like him.


What did YOU think of the characters in the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Did you think they’re as shiny as Captain America’s shield or about as lame as a sleeping Bruce Banner? Sound off in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter!

About the author

Scott Meridew