ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is this year’s most highly anticipated fall premiere. Cult-icon screenwriter and director Joss Whedon (who, full disclosure, is my master now) will bring his record-smashing take on the Marvel Universe to the small screen, where he has thrived in the past with cult hits like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.
Whedon tends to stick to a formula that works for him: put together an ensemble of misfits and outcasts and have them do battle in a sci-fi universe on the side of good.
Typically he falls into the role of “world-creator,” so it will be interesting to see how he continues to adapt to the already bulging mythology of the Marvel Universe. We know to expect a lot of new characters (though hopefully enough canonical references to feed the nerds) and very few Supers-sightings.
You may want to do some prep work before watching the premiere on September 24th. Here are five tasks to add to your to-do list as we count down the days (and hours and minutes) until the first episode:
1. Check out an official trailer
Marvel Entertainment released the first trailer for S.H.I.E.L.D in May. Right off the bat we can tell this show is going to be as sleek of the Marvel films and as action packed.
“We work the cases S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t classified; the strange; the unknown,” Agent Coulson says. The trailer also highlights some of the tensions we’ll see in the series: between the agents and superheroes, between agents and the public, and between the agents themselves.
The tagline for the show is simple: “Not all heroes are super.” It highlights what Whedon has been harping on in interviews since the project was announced: ordinary people will be the focus of the show, not the folks in tights and capes.
For more, check out Marvel Entertainment’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. YouTube channel, which has behind-the-scenes interviews and featurettes galore.
2. Grab a copy of Whedon’s interview with 'Entertainment Weekly'
Whedon’s 10-page interview in the August 30th issue of EW covers the director’s “past, present, and future”, with a focus on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While the entire interview is not available online, I highly recommend picking up a copy for the pictures of the incredibly attractive cast alone.
In the interview Whedon likens his new series to an episode in Buffy the Vampire Slayer called "The Zeppo," in which the story is told from the perspective of one of the least-significant supporting characters. Additionally, Whedon stirs up controversy by discussing possibly killing a major character in Avengers: Age of Ultron (he’s notorious for doing just that in his other series) and critiquing The Empire Strikes Back for its non-ending.
3. Review Marvel’s 'The Avengers'
If you were living under a rock during the summer of 2012 or just feeling a little bit rusty, it’s your lucky day: The Avengers is currently on Netflix and you should watch it now!
At Comic Con in San Diego Whedon revealed that the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be based on the change in the world because of the events in The Avengers; after that final fight scene the cat is pretty much out of the bag about superheroes and intergalactic villains.
Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, will have a lead role in the TV. show (I’m avoiding spoilers here but, “Holy continuity conundrum Batman!”) and Cobie Smulders has signed on for a recurring role as Agent Maria Hill (which may grow once How I Met Your Mother wraps).
Word on the street is none of the franchised superheroes will appear on the small screen, so while Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor are also on Netflix, it’s won’t be essential to know those plots to understand the action in S.H.I.E.L.D.
4. Watch Whedon’s 'Firefly' and 'Serenity'
Wondering how Whedon’s work translates from the big screen to the small screen? Well, Firefly and Serenity may hold some clues as to what we can expect.
Granted these two projects are very different from Whedon’s work on The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For one, the premise is an original Whedon creation (think cowboys in space). Second, while Avengers is the highest grossing film of all time, the movie Serenity only came into existence because super-fans (we’re called "Browncoats") rallied hard after Fox cancelled the fledgling series Firefly.
Still, watching Whedon’s work on the series Firefly and the movie Serenity will shed some insight in the way his style changes across the two platforms.
Whedon tends to develop an episodic formula for his series. Yes, some story arcs will span across a season, but he typically likes to have a single conflict and resolution in each episode. On Firefly this consisted of the “mission of the week”: the crew found a job and struggled but usually eventually succeeded in completing it. The same held true for Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the “monster of the week” format and Whedon’s most recent series Dollhouse with a “client of the week.”
If your time is limited, watch the series finale of Firefly, “Objects in Space,” and then skip directly to Serenity (both are available now on Netflix). For those with a little more time on their hands (millennials are facing an unemployment crisis after all), check out Whedon’s work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well; "Hush," "The Body," and "Once More With Feeling" are among the best episodes from the series.
5. Read Whedon’s 'Astonishing X-Men'
Whedon rebooted this X-Men series for Marvel in 2004; it went on to become one of their best-selling comics, winning the 2006 Eisner Award for "best continuing series."
In his first foray into the Marvel universe, Whedon showed he wanted to tell stories on his own terms by reincarnating Colossus, who had “died” only two years earlier, as well as inventing a mutant cure that was incorporated into the third X-Men movie. Whedon created new characters, including heroes like Amor and Blindfold, two strong female characters (which are Whedon’s MO); and villains like Ord.
Additionally, in Astonishing X-Men Whedon introduced S.W.O.R.D., a counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D. that focuses on extraterrestrial terrorist threats. Will the tension between the agencies become a part of Whedon’s plot for the TV show?
Whedon wrote the first 24 issues of the series, available now in Giant Size X-Men #1. If you’re interested in checking out more of Whedon’s work on Marvel comics, read his arc in the fan favorite Runaways, #25-30.