News broke last night that Joss Whedon’s long-rumored Avengers TV spinoff would focus on S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy government organization led by Nick Fury. ABC has already ordered a pilot for the series, which will be penned by Whedon and his family members/Dr. Horrible colleagues Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. No other information is currently available about the show, and Marvel would not disclose any further details when contacted by EW. Now, this is exciting news for many reasons. But a good comic-book geek is also a skeptical comic-book geek. Follow along with us as we track our 21-step reaction to the news about S.H.I.E.L.D.–The Series.
1. A new Joss Whedon TV show? Fantastic. I’m there. Love Firefly. Love Buffy. Haven’t watched Angel but everyone tells me it’s great. I even love Dollhouse, a flawed-but-wonderful TV show that most closely resembled a mash-up between the French New Wave and The A-Team.
2. But a new Joss Whedon TV show starring a popular brand of licensed characters? Hmmm. Well, I’m a little bit concerned that working within the boardroom-mandated boundaries of big corporate multimedia brands will hamstring Whedon’s creativity.
3. Then again, he did great with The Avengers, which is as big and corporate and multimedia and branded as they come. And the fact that the TV show has a built-in fanbase will make the pilot look even more appealing to ABC, which ended the 2011-2012 season in fourth place and could really use a hail-mary ambitious mass-appeal cray-cray TV show.
4. But does S.H.I.E.L.D. really have a built-in fanbase? Sure, the super-stealth law-enforcement agency has appeared in all the major Marvel movies, usually represented by Marvel mascot Nick Fury or Marvel batboy Phil Coulson. But the whole purpose of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the movies has been to tell the main characters what to do. Isn’t this like making a Charlie’s Angels spin-off called Charlie? Or making a Star Wars spin-off about Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma?
5. Also, not to be overlooked: S.H.I.E.L.D. is the worst thing about the Marvel movies, IMHO.
6. But the Jim Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. comic books were fun and frisky and totally weird, a gonzo combination of globe-trotting adventure, paranoid spy thriller, and colorful ’60s psychedelia. A TV show about that S.H.I.E.L.D. could make for a perfect combination of procedural action and serialized myth-making.
7. Actually, this TV show could make for an interesting spiritual sequel to Dollhouse. Both shows are about people who work for all-powerful semi-omniscient organizations.
8. Of course, on Dollhouse, that all-powerful semi-omniscient organization was the villain, not the hero.
9. But maybe that’s what will make S.H.I.E.L.D. so interesting. The most frustrating thing about Marvel’s linked-universe movies is that the moral stakes in each movie have always been extremely clear-cut. The villains are floridly evil: Evil Bald Corporate Jeff Bridges, Evil Nazi Red Skull, Evil Space Skeletons, Evil Russian Mickey Rourke. (Loki, a somewhat appealing character in Thor, got transformed into a glorified Bond henchman in Avengers.) A long-form TV show would give Whedon the opportunity to add some intriguing shadings to this new onscreen Marvelverse.
10. And it’s pretty clear that Whedon is much more skeptical about S.H.I.E.L.D. than Marvel Studios would like us to be. Just look at that alternate opening for Avengers. It feels like a completely different movie: A film where Nick Fury can’t trust his closest assistants, a film where the organization’s actions have serious real-world consequences. I’d watch a TV show about that.
11. Also, remember that moment in The Avengers when it turns out that the random computer guy is playing Galaga? That’s probably the first funny thing anyone has done with S.H.I.E.L.D. in decades.
12. However, not to be overlooked: Most spinoffs are terrible.
13. But Angel was a spinoff, and people loved Angel.
14. And I think it’s fair to say that Marvel Studios has the whole spinoff thing figured out.
15. But the comic-book industry experienced a serious crisis back in the ’90s when it went spinoff-crazy. That was an era when Marvel was just handing out solo limited series to every Avenger, no matter how minor or ridiculous. (Example A: Black Knight. Example B: U.S. Agent. Example C: Black Knight: Exodus.) Is the same thing going to play out now onscreen? Between a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show and three superhero sequels and a Guardians of the Galaxy franchise-kickstarter and Avengers 2, are we approaching Marvel critical mass?
16. The existence of a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show dramatically increases the possibility that Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson will be brought back from the dead, if only in flashbacks. I don’t typically support resurrection. But I do support Phil Coulson.
17. Clark Gregg doesn’t explicitly rule out a return!
18. Wonder how long it will be before Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D. beats Shawn Ryan’s The Shield as the number one google hit for “Shield TV Show.” I give it a month.
19. The S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show could be a fun way to soft-launch a bunch of lesser Marvel characters. Luke Cage. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Iron Fist. Machine Man. The Scarlet Witch. THE FREAKING VISION.
20. I trust the talent behind the project, and talent is the important thing. Like, the reboot of Battlestar Galactica didn’t look good on paper, and it wound up being a defining show of the last decade. Heck, Joss Whedon has made a career out of taking difficult conceits — teen-girl vampire killer, space western that is really western, a cast of characters who never play the same character each week — and making it work. And S.H.I.E.L.D. could continue his transformation from beloved cult auteur to beloved cult auteur who is also fantastically successful.
21. I wonder if Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma ever got together. They totally had a Roslin and Adama vibe.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
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The somber alternate ‘Avengers’ opening Joss Whedon wisely cut — VIDEO