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On Sunday, we got our first real look at ABC's new series "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
What is it?
The drama is Marvel's first foray into television since signing Joss Whedon to an exclusive deal. The three-year contract has him not only writing and directing "Avengers 2," but also acting as a consultant to the rapidly expanding Marvel onscreen universe. Whedon calls this "a superhero show that isn't about superheroes." Think "Item 47," the 11-minute short from the "Avengers" DVD featuring two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tracking down a discarded piece of Chitauri technology post-battle.
Watch a clip from "Item 47":
The name of the hourlong drama, originally known as "S.H.I.E.L.D.," was changed, possibly to avoid confusion with "The Shield" (featuring another Marvel alum, Michael Chiklis) and possibly because "Marvel Comics Presents Joss Whedon's Non-Super-Powered Men and Women of Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, Featuring Agent Coulson" doesn't fit in a TiVo listing.
Whedon co-wrote the pilot with brother Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who had all previously collaborated on the Fox show "Dollhouse" and the Web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."
Who's in it?
Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson: Speculation abounds as to how Coulson (last seen with a spear-sized hole in his chest) is making his return. Theories run from the obvious (Nick Fury faked his death) to the obscure (he's actually android character the Vision from the comics) to ones we just made up (it was all a dream, and he wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette).
Ming-Na ("E.R.," "Stargate Universe") as Agent Melinda May, ace pilot and weapons expert: Her skills acquired as video game icon Chun-Li in "Street Fighter" are clearly on display in the teaser.
Brett Dalton ("Army Wives") as Agent Grant Ward: A tough-as-nails agent who's a little short on people skills.
Chloe Bennet ("Nashville") as Skye: A civilian recruited for her computer hacking prowess.
Iain De Caestecker as weapons specialist Agent Leo Fitz and Elizabeth Henstridge as science whiz Agent Jemma Simmons: Both are recent imports from the U.K.
J. August Richards, who worked with Joss Whedon previously on "Angel": He has an unknown role in the pilot, though some speculate that he plays '70s superhero Power Man.
And, of course, everybody knows Lola.*
Where are the Avengers?
"S.H.I.E.L.D. has to work on its own," Whedon stresses. "It's got to be a show with characters you care about week to week, that if you've never seen a Marvel movie you can turn into." Translation: maybe in sweeps weeks.
How does the TV series fit into the rest of the Marvel universe?
As the failure of "Green Lantern" will attest, a superhero movie that loses touch with its human element is doomed to failure. With a new Thor movie due out later this year, followed by "Guardians of the Galaxy" in 2014 and "Avengers 2," featuring Thanos (and possibly the Infinity Gauntlet), it's going to take a lot to keep the franchise grounded. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have their work cut out for them.
There are plenty of questions for fans to ponder while we wait for the series debut later this year.
What is Rising Tide, and what's their connection to Skye, Iron Man, and the Hulk?
How deep into the Marvel universe will AoS go? With upwards of 2,000 different villains and superheroes under their banner, they're not likely to run out of weekly team-up ideas anytime soon. Speedball? Hydro-Man? Fin Fang Foom?
One of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s chief rivals in the comic books is H.Y.D.R.A., last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger." How soon before they (and Cap) put in an appearance for a little "spy versus spy" action?
Is this the start of a superhero boom or a superhero bust in television? "Arrow" is already a moderate success, as well as "Alphas" on cable. Will those numbers fuel new series or oversaturate the market?
If Joss Whedon can bring back Agent Coulson, maybe there's hope for Wash from "Firefly"?
* Kidding. Nobody knows Lola. Well, except that she's a 1958 C1 Corvette.