Get the popcorn ready. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — a new show that takes place in the world of last year’s box-office smash The Avengers — will join ABC’s fall lineup. Continuing the story arc last visited in the Avengers movie, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) — yes, you read correctly — leads a small team of special agents who will investigate big cases and occasionally work with some of the world’s newest superheroes. All on a weekly basis.
Before you tune in, however, we insist upon a pre-ops briefing. The expansive world of Marvel Comics is as fun as it is confusing with new characters on every page and twice as many villains waiting to pounce in the next inked cel. Series creator Joss Whedon is wont to capitalize on this exhaustive mythology, so here are five things you need to know to start off sharp.
1. What is S.H.I.E.L.D.?
From Iron Man (2008):
Agent Phil Coulson: I’m Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Virginia ‘Pepper’ Potts: That’s quite a mouthful.
Agent Phil Coulson: I know. We’re working on it.
Led by Gen. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), S.H.I.E.L.D. is a covert agency of non-superheroes, affiliated with the United States government, who often deal with superhuman activity across the world. (In the comics, however, they’ve been linked with the United Nations, as well.) Although Fury serves as executive director, he reports to a mysterious 12-member council whose identities are unknown even to him.
A global operation with the most advanced technology at their disposal, S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps their eyes open everywhere. Its central headquarters is aboard the floating Helicarrier, as seen in The Avengers movie, with additional offices located in S.H.I.E.L.D. Central in New York City. Other intelligence hubs and key assets remain confidential, with only Fury knowing of their existence and locations.
It’s General Fury, however, who is responsible for uniting The Avengers, which includes Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
2. Who’s Agent Coulson?
For a while, Coulson was the glue that held together the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka the string of films produced by Marvel Studios (e.g. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) Portrayed by actor and director Clark Gregg, the quiet if not charmingly witty agent works alongside Fury and was instrumental in bringing together the Avengers. Although he wasn’t an original character in the comics, his popularity amongst the general fanbase has since made him part of the official Marvel universe, specifically with his appearances in Ultimate Spider-man. It should also be noted that Coulson owns an entire collection of rare, vintage Captain America trading cards.
3. But wait, wasn’t Coulson killed in The Avengers?
Whoa, spoiler alert much? Yes, Agent Coulson was killed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston, below) in The Avengers, an idea that director Joss Whedon — who’s killed a number of beloved characters in his TV shows and movies — originally conceived prior to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. As he told NBC, “I absolutely killed him — this was not percolating.”
Still, this is the Marvel universe, after all, a place that has brought back to life many a character presumed dead. (I’m looking at you, Magneto.) Coulson is no different, although his resurrection is a mystery that will unravel as the show’s mythos continues to evolve. At this year’s SXSW, Whedon teased fans about his secretive Lazarus pit, stating, “I’ll tell you guys this, Heimlich.”
Online speculation has dug deeper, of course. Screen Rant highlights one theory, provided by their own Deep Throat-esque source, that suggests Coulson’s death was a cover up used to unite the Avengers. They link this to a comment made by Gregg at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, who said: “It would be surprising to me if this was a world where there wasn’t some reckoning for the fact that it’d be … you know, some level of deception must have been perpetrated on the Avengers.”
In other words, we’ll see come Tuesday.
4. Are we going to see superheroes?
Yes. And no. Don’t tune in Tuesday night expecting to see Iron Man falling from the sky, or Captain America throwing his shield down for a coffee at headquarters. As Whedon insists, the show’s “about the peripheral people” or those “on the edges of the grand adventures.” That explains its call sheet of relative unknowns: black ops specialist Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), pilot and martial artist Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), computer expert Skye (Chloe Bennet), weapons expert Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and life scientist Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).
Outside of the regulars, Whedon has confirmed that The Avengers star Cobie Smulders (below) will reprise her Maria Hill role for the pilot, and that actor Ian Hart has signed on to play Dr. Franklin Hall, who comic book aficionados should recognize as the villainous Graviton. (FYI: In case the name’s lost on you, the guy does wonders with gravity.) What’s more, Samuel L. Jackson has also expressed interest in tagging along, even if it’s a minor vocal addition a la Charlie’s Angels.
5. How will the show tie in with the movies?
Since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists within the parameters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans should look out for various references that relate to events from the ensuing film franchises.
“It always starts with what’s best for the story – you never do an Easter egg for the sake of doing an Easter egg,” Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel’s television development, explained to NBC. “What we really try to do is just make sure that every single thing that’s in the script feels like it’s real, it’s grounded and that you don’t have to feel like you have to run to Wikipedia after you’ve seen an episode.”
In the same interview, references to Iron Man 3 and Johansson’s Black Widow (pictured) are confirmed for the series premiere. Though, these little nods will be used sparingly, as Whedon added, “We don’t want to hurt the movies at all.”
So, if you’ve been debating to finally stream Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger on Netflix, now might be a good time to clear your queue.