“Agent of… S.H.I.E.L.D.: part one of six”
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Klaus Janson (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I’m starting to get a little bit bored of Mark Millar’s Wolverine. His first arc on the title saw a brainwashed Logan hack and slash his way through a good portion of the Marvel Universe in an attempt to convert as many heroes as possible to the cause of sinister ninja death cult The Hand, in order that they could launch an all-out assault on the President. What those issues lacked in brains, they made up for in action – and although the entire half-year of Wolverine issues could be reduced to a very simple, formulaic plot, it at least gave artist John Romita Jr. that chance to draw some cracking fight scenes which made for a cheaply thrilling read. However, the first issue of this latest arc slows the pace down considerably, giving the now-sedated Wolverine barely a moment to shine, and instead choosing to concentrate on the larger plot machinations around him. Fans of the character will be disappointed with such a scant appearance, and newcomers will be bowled over by the information that Millar tries to cram into this issue (perhaps to make up for the thinness of the six-issue plot which preceded it), with the result that none of it hangs together like a decent issue of a Wolverine-based comic should.
Millar opens the issue with some childhood backstory on über-villian du jour the Gorgon, a dense and cleverly-written sequence which is beautifully rendered by Romita Jr. and coloured in lush delicate autumn tones by Paul Mounts. It soon becomes a violent, bloody fight sequence which nevertheless shines with a real quiet beauty, and brings to mind such cinematic scenes as those found in the recent House of Flying Daggers. However, this early treat soon ends with Gorgon’s abrupt and shocking suicide (in order to show his commitment to his cause), and his rebirth into the Hand’s army of living dead is complete. It’s a standout scene for the issue - which sadly goes downhill from there. We look in on what the Gorgon is doing now, we see the X-Men come to terms with Northstar’s death last issue (and they behave in such an unreasonable and stupid way that they almost deserve to have him taken away and re-animated as an agent of evil), and we look in on a few street-level bad guys who have begun to be harvested for The Hand’s grand plan. The sequences are all well-rendered by Romita, but feel so palpably forced into the book for exposition purposes that they become a trial to read. If some of these plot developments had been introduced alongside the rogue-Wolverine plot threads of the last six months, the whole over-arching story could have had a lot more cohesive a feel: as it is, it feels like Millar is trying to cram in some plot to keep us happy whilst Wolverine is out for the count.
Speaking of Logan, his one brief appearance is the issue’s other high point, as he chews his way through a platoon of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Nick Fury before his conscience begins to kick in and the metaphorical rug is pulled from under his feet. I credit Millar with not taking the easy option and presenting a brand-spanking-new fully recovered Wolverine this issue, but it would have been nice to take the time to explore his damaged psyche a little more fully – this is his book, after all. Unfortunately, Logan’s appearance is curtailed by the arrival at the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier of a multitude of “converted” heroes and villains, in a giant splash page which should be a real show-stopper, but doesn’t pack quite the punch that it should. Maybe it’s the lack of detail, or the clunky, square style that can sometimes sap fluidity from Romita’s drawings; perhaps it’s the fact that so many of these figures are indistinct, generic-looking bad guys that it’s difficult to work up any emotion about them; or maybe it’s the silly jetpacks that work for some characters but just don’t jibe with others (Elektra is a prime example): either way, it feels like a flat moment when it should be the issue’s climax.
All things considered, the first part of “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a fairly average instalment which feels like it wants to be the build up to something epic and profound, but just doesn’t hang together well enough, or make enough impact with its big final scene to really generate any excitement for next issue. A shame, as I had hoped for something better after the guilty, simple fun that Millar’s first arc provided.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!