Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Gotham: Are They Worth Another Look?

The Agents of SHIELD logo.

I was really excited about Agents of SHIELD when it premiered. The Avengers had just opened that summer and a series about SHIELD felt like a no-brainer. It seemed like the show would be about the Agents of SHIELD running around the more obscure corners of the Marvel universe (because they’re not gonna give them access to any of the major movie characters) dealing with threats and characters from the comic books. Having Phil Coulson (the SHIELD agent Loki seemingly killed at the end of the first Avengers film)as the central character was great because I liked him quite a bit at the time. He was intended to be a small supporting role in the first Iron Man movie and ended up being a vital figure in building the MCU.

Unfortunately that’s not really what we got. First of all, SHIELD is supposed to be the most elite covert government agency on the planet, and yet the agents on Coulson’s team were pretty damn incompetent. SHIELD agents should make Seal Team Six look like mall cops, not this sorry assortment of bumbling secret agents who sucked at their job.

There were three cardinal sins that Agents of SHIELD committed: one, if a Marvel Cinematic Universe television series doesn’t feature major characters like Captain America or any of the other Avengers, you better make the characters you have really, really fucking interesting. They weren’t. Two, the show was just plain boring. I found myself checking out after a few episodes. Sure I checked in here and there and the show definitely picked up at certain points. For example, after Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out, the show incorporated the HYDRA storyline that was central to that film to great effect. There were some really good twists and turns along way in the final part of the first season. Having Bill Paxton (R.I.P.) come in as the central villain certainly helped peak my interest. SHIELD vs. HYDRA, this show was finally starting to feel a little like a Marvel SHIELD comic book should.
Third and lastly, the show didn’t take advantage of Marvel characters and stories nearly enough.

The show continued to  struggle with these three major problems, uninteresting characters, the show being relatively boring, and not taking advantage of the Marvel Universe. I never expected them to have A-list of characters like Iron Man or the Hulk on the show, but there was no reason they couldn’t use more of the C-list heroes and villains of the Marvel universe. As Guardians of the Galaxy proved, you don’t need the most popular and well known Marvel characters to tell great stories. Marvel could make 100 movies and there would still be a lot of interesting characters and storylines that are minor enough for Agents of SHIELD to be allowed to use.

To my surprise, they finally started to do just that when the Inhumans became a central part of the show in the second season. Let me give you Inhumans 101: The Inhumans are race of beings who live secretly and separately from humanity in technologically advanced cities hidden in places like the Himalayas and the Moon. They’re humans who had their genetic make up tampered with thousands of years ago by an alien race called Kree. The central part of their culture was when every Inhuman came of age they would pass through a transformative gas called the Terrigen Mist. Once they pass through the mist they would enter a cocoon-like state and after a period of metamorphosis, emerge as something more than human and completely unique. Each Inhuman has their own unique power or ability. No two Inhumans are alike. Some look completely human, but have a superpower. Others couldn’t pass for human at all after the transformation, but still had some power or ability. The comics typically focus on their king Black Bolt and the rest of the royal family of Inhumans. As I finished writing all of that, I just realized how completely fucking ridiculous this all sounds, but believe me it’s kind of cool.

The Inhumans announcement poster.
To the credit of the show, they really took this concept and ran with it. They retconned Skye, one of their main characters who knew very little about her past and family, into Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake, an Inhuman with powerful seismic abilities. They introduced some notable new villains like Daredevil nemesis, Mr. Hyde and major Hulk villain, the Absorbing Man. The show still wasn’t perfect, but things were looking up.

A man looking at his own hand which is becoming crystal.

As it stands the X-Men characters, which are all mutants, are owned by Fox and even though they’re Marvel comic book characters they can’t appear in the MCU. The way Agents of SHIELD has handled the Inhumans is very similar to how mutants are handled in the X-Men films and comics. They are feared by the public and viewed as dangerous liabilities by the United States government. Of course, heroic people like Agent Coulson protected the good Inhumans and defended against the dangerous ones and the show improved because of it. However, it was with the most recent season that the show really came into its own in my opinion.
At the time of the season premiere, Doctor Strange was opening in just a few months. So to capitalize on the recognition that would come from the premiere of Doctor Strange, the show introduced what had been largely absent from the MCU at that point: the supernatural and magic. Using these new concepts as a jumping off poin, Agents of SHIELD introduced the most major Marvel character it’s ever used: Ghost Rider.

Ghost Rider with his skull on fire, standing in front of a car with the tires and engine on fire as well.

Ghost Rider is a very cool character, especially visually. There’s been a number of Ghost Riders over the years, but the version they chose to use is a man named Robbie Reyes. The basic concept of the Ghost Rider is, an individual sells their soul to the devil in exchange for something noble, like saving a life of a loved one. In this case saving the life of Robbie’s younger brother after a violent car wreck that Robbie feels responsible for. In return, their body becomes host to a demon that transforms it’s human host into a monster with a flaming skull for a head and demonic vehicle (usually a motorcycle or a muscle car) that catches on fire and displays other supernatural abilities. All with the purpose of hunting down supernatural bad guys. Robbie hunting down bad guys with a flaming skull and driving a demonic muscle car naturally gets SHIELD’s attention. I wouldn’t say I’m completely sold on the show, but a lot of what I saw of it I really liked. Especially the Ghost Rider stuff. It was really well executedand the special effects were phenomenal. I don’t think I’d goes far to actually recommend the show, but you could do a lot worse on a Tuesday night.

An Owl mask with the phrase "All Will Be Judged" above it. It's a Gotham announcement poster.

Now we come to Gotham, which of the two shows probably improved the most. Agents of SHIELD at its worst was never terrible, but Gotham reached some truly abysmal lows. The cast is excellent, but the writing was god awful. The series opens with the murder of the Waynes which introduced us to several of the main characters. The story kicks off with Det. Jim Gordon promising a traumatized Bruce Wayne that he’ll find the man who killed his parents and bring him to justice. Other central characters include Alfred, Harvey Bullock (who had never been shown in live action before for this show), The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman or at least versions of these characters before they become their more iconic incarnations. As I’m sure you can imagine there are a lot of lame jokes allusions to who these characters could would be eventually become. For example The Riddler’s real name is Edward Nygma and as the show opens he is the medical examiner for the Gotham city Police Department. Every time we see him he only speaks in riddles. You can imagine how quickly that gets old. I would say I gave up on Gotham about halfway through the first season. I checked in again during the final stretch of season two when I heard of that introduced Hugo Strange and one of my favorite new additions to the Batman mythology, The Court of Owls. I ended up regretting it. It was a poorly written set of episodes and when The Court of Owls was finally introduced, it was pretty underwhelming. The writing on this show was so bad, I’m not exaggerating when I say in one episode a character will be arrested for murder, but somehow they become mayor in the next episode. Sure, why not?

The Joker smeering blood across a mime's mouth to make a sad face.
For some reason I found myself watching the midseason finale of the current season, which is season three. The episode centered on Bruce Wayne, who is now a teenager and just beginning the path to becoming Batman. He doesn’t have a clear idea of what he wants to be, but he knows there’s a demon inside him that needs to be fed. It was also worth noting that at this point Bruce has had enough hand to hand combat training to be formidable in a fight. A character who calls himself “Jerome”, who may or may not be the man who becomes Joker, attempts to kidnap Bruce and involve him in a sick circus funhouse game without multiple lives on the line.

The joker standing in a hall of mirrors.

This is the first time we really see a Bruce Wayne that looks like the character we know from the comics. Something really clicked on the show seeing a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne fighting a Proto-Joker. It really worked and it was a surprisingly well written episode. So I found myself watching the first new episode when the show came back from its midseason break and I stuck with it through the rest of the season. While it’s certainly still silly and not always well written, the latter half of season three was the best show’s ever been.

The mime straddling an unconscious Joker in the hall of mirrors.
The season finale introduced Ra’s Al Ghul and the final scene saw a masked Bruce stopping a mugging, much like the one that ended in tragedy for him… and somehow it really worked. The final shot of the episode was Bruce standing on a desolate Gotham rooftop overlooking the city after he had saved that family and it was hard not to think how cool that was. Here’s the final scene:

I’m a long way away from saying that Gotham is a good show, but I’ll definitely be tuning into the season four premiere in the fall.

Agents of SHIELD and Gotham: These were two shows I’d completely written off and both hugely improved over the past year. Neither one of them have achieved the heights of Daredevil or The Flash, but they definitely caught my attention and I thought it was worth pointing out. Once again, I am NOT saying these are good shows, but considering the level of improvement and progress they’ve made I think it’s worth keeping an eye on them. Anyway, as always, thanks for reading.



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