Editor's Note: S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 7.
"The Unholy Resurrection of Leonardo da Vinci"
When Jonathan Hickman started writing for Marvel, the big question was whether the big ideas he showed in series like The Nightly News and Pax Romana would translate to corporate, shared-universe comics or if he would be watered down by editorial control. So far, the latter has been the case for the most part, although his run on Fantastic Four has shown some promise here and there. But this ambitious new series apparently seeks to rewrite the past of the Marvel universe, incorporating real-life historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, and the Egyptian Pharaoh Imhotep into the planet-defending organization of the title. It's a big, exciting concept, and it looks like Hickman might finally have figured out a way to reconcile never-ending plots and characters shared across multiple titles with the kind of crazy ideas that he loves, and that the more bizarre corners of the Marvel universe supports.
That seems to be the plan, anyway. This first issue is mostly dedicated to explaining the background of Hickman's revision of the longstanding super-spy agency. Turns out it's been around for much longer than we thought, starting as far back as a Brood invasion in 2620 BC, and stretching across the millennia to incorporate what promises to be all manner of famous names from history books, who take on larger-than-life forms here, constructing huge clockwork contraptions and confronting impossible-to-comprehend threats like a certain purple-skirted world-devourer. The main plot follows a man named Leonid in 1953, as he gets spirited away to the headquarters of a secret organization centered in a city hidden underneath Rome, learning about their past and being recruited to join their ranks. While we see some of that history, each incident of which sees a key figure facing a huge threat and stating "This is not how the world ends", there's also some other mystery involving Leonid and his father, signified by a star field that regularly fills the shadows on his face. What does this all mean? Eh, you'll have to wait until next month to find out.
That intrigue will probably be enough to bring readers back to find out what happens, but the deal isn't as fully cemented by the art as one would hope. Dustin Weaver certainly turns in some impressive designs, including an astonishing view of the underground city, a bevy of crazy costumes that all seem to involve giant helmets, and a ton of crazy technology from different eras. He also uses some interesting layouts, with the panel "gutters" often crossing each other and cutting through portions of the art; it's the kind of interesting design that Hickman brought to his own illustrated comics, kind of awkwardly wedded to a mainstream Marvel look. And that look is the awkward part; the character work is kind of stiff and uninspired, looking like fairly standard superhero art. It's the same style that Dale Eaglesham has brought to Hickman's Fantastic Four: impressive background visuals wedded to lackluster faces and figures.
One hopes that Hickman has a well-thought-out plan here, since every indication points to exciting and interesting secrets revealed, crazy sci-fi action, and mind-bending concepts like time travel and cosmic Marvel characters like Galactus and the Celestials. And, of course, it would be nice if he gets a chance to tell whatever story he has planned, rather than getting cancelled after four issues or so. But whatever the case, it's nice to see Marvel do something so interesting and offbeat, expanding their universe into the past as well as the future and setting one of their more imaginative writers loose to come up with whatever he can. It might not be perfect, but we can enjoy it as much as possible while itís here.
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