5 Things: What You Should Know About the Marvel Universe Before Watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“5 Things” is a weekly column in which a writer, group of writers, or contributors may offer 5 facts or opinions related to all things television. We invite you to contribute your thoughts by submitting your own “5 Things” or leaving comment. 

1. The Marvel Method and The Disney Way:

It’s important to see Marvel for what it truly is: a company. It’s been overpowered by Disney within the past year, and I’m surprised this hadn’t happened sooner, simply because of the similarities between the two companies’ work ethics. Stan Lee was known for injecting a more streamlined approach to comic making where roles were compartmentalized. This resulted in a boom during their Gold and Silver Ages (the latter responsible for popular characters like The X-Men and The Avengers). This ability to make tons of unique material efficiently created a flooding of the comic book market, taking out a lot of smaller competitors and some would say reducing incentive on Marvel’s part to create fresh material. Sounds like Disney, doesn’t it? So it’s no surprise that Disney would take this floundering company under its broad wing with a TV show to follow their lucrative Avengers franchise. When in doubt, commodify a concept people recognize into a budget-effective venture. Shows like this get shot all at once, released little by little, and are surrounded with tons of cross-media promotion. Marvel Method, meet the Disney Way!

2. Marvel = Aliens, Magic, and Everything Uncanny:

Marvel is responsible for one of the most complex superhero universes in American comics, a genetically-enhanced soap opera of time travel, inter-dimensional drama and plenty of metaphors for oppressed groups. Most publicity I’ve seen regarding the show, however, has pretty much ruled out heavy superhero involvement. I am thinking that AOS is going to follow a pretty familiar action/crime drama format with hopefully an X-Files-esque insertion of the occasional (hopefully well-done) special effect moment. Usually, however, the Marvel Universe is crawling with all things supernatural, and I’m a little skeptical to see how the universe is represented without as many of those spectacular elements, especially mutants! I’m really hoping that with the help of Joss Whedon the feeling of infinite possibilities I have when thinking about my favorite aspects of Marveldom are still alive with AOS.

3. Heroes Are People, Too!:

What distinguished Marvel from other comic book companies during its rise and its previous heydays was the neuroticism and vulnerability of its heroes In the Golden Age, Captain America, The Human Torch, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner were the first group of superheroes who didn’t necessarily want to join forces.  With the Silver Age came the X-Men, a group of mutants formed out of necessity in order to survive homo sapiens’ discrimination and violence, hopefully to eventually overcome it all together. Each X-Man dealt with the curse that came with their power in a more diversity-conscious way compared to Superman or Batman. Even Spiderman is a pensive fellow, constantly using his wit along with his powers to protect his fragile psyche from further guilt and worry. What I’m hoping is that this mentality translates to the heroes of S.H.I.E.L.D. From the looks of it we have not as much diversity as is ideal, but a few characters with more to them than at first meets the eye.

4. Agent Coulson, THE Secret Agent Man:

When it comes to strong characters, we all are hoping that Agent Phil Coulson fits the bill for AOS’s leading man. Even Joss Whedon’s use of him as a “gratuitous character death” could not stop him from coming back in black. Audiences definitely have a soft spot for this Captain America fanboy, and it’s easy to see why: he does whatever it takes not only for his job, but for the “little guy”, the powerless among the super-powered. He’s not afraid to sass Loki God of Chaos, even the sass master himself, Tony Stark. Unfortunately, his return “from the dead” in his normal human form means that he will not be returning as a synthezoid named The Vision (which means he won’t marry Scarlet Witch in the next movie, but a girl still has her fanfic.)

5. It’s Timely Times We Live In:

Not only is Marvel known for their sensitive treatment of internal character struggles, but they often create plots that incite a dialogue about contemporary social issues. Their messages may not always be subtle, but they are undoubtedly poignant. There was tension abroad during WWII, and Marvel put its heroes right in the middle of the action. X-Men emerged near the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, advocating for equality and hope. Hopefully larger issues of homeland security organizations are addressed in this upcoming show, as that would be an approach consistent with Marvel’s unique voice. This has everything to do with what Disney has the rights to show, as well as what kind of ideas they want to cherry-pick from the Marvel Universe that are “family friendly”, aka consistent with Disney values. I’ll hold on to some Marvel-quality idealism and hold out for some old-fashioned mores.

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