In the first three issues of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jonathan Hickman primarily engaged in the task of exposition. Though it was delivered with a clever and entertaining flourish, his main focus in these opening installments was simply to orient readers to the complex world of secrets and history within which his story would unfold. First revealing the existence of the Shield, the clandestine protectors of humanity throughout the ages, Hickman then introduced us to his version of Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton, the two men who would battle for its soul.
Now that the stage is set, the clash between these two paragons of art and science begins to take center focus. With Da Vinci cast as a precursor to the modern day Marvel superhero, Newton stands in opposition as a ruthless and sinister villain. Caught in the middle is the Shield’s latest recruit, Leonid, who begins to discover the possible nature of the group’s treachery at his mentor Da Vinci’s prompting.
Those who grow easily frustrated with Hickman’s coy storytelling and obtuse concepts may be glad to see the plot of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally moving in a more unified direction. Of course, it’s unlikely that too many of that sort are actually reading this book and fans of its more cerebral aspects will still find plenty to chew on here. After all, the presence of a discernible conflict doesn’t necessarily require the exclusion of imaginative big ideas like “human machines” and “star children” (whatever those are).
Still, it must be acknowledged that there is a tension between this comic’s tendency to withhold information and its efforts to tell a story. Though the sneer on Newton’s face surely gives away his motives as sinister, we still know very little about what he’s trying to accomplish. And why has Hickman chosen to use Leonard Da Vinci and Isaac Newton in these dichotomous roles, anyway? Is it simply for the sake of novelty, or is there something specific being implied about the respective legacies of these two historical figures?
Regardless of how those unresolved questions weigh on your patience, there’s no denying that artist Dustin Weaver is absolutely thriving on the paradigm Hickman has set up. Though this series has been released on a less frequent than monthly basis, Weaver has put the extra time to good work, preparing himself for the various challenges handed to him. He is as equally capable of leading your eye down the page in progressive action sequences as he is at rendering a striking montage of major world events.
Not as enigmatic than many would claim it to be, neither has S.H.I.E.L.D. transformed into a mindless read overnight. While it may not have perfected the balance between generating dramatic tension and playing it close to the vest, there’s much more this book does right than it does wrong. It remains one of the most intelligent Marvel series on the stands.