Page 45 Review by Stephen
Alert! Angry English Dad on the phone! Wall of words on its way!
"Good lord! Your mother and I are staggeringly disappointed by the mediocre path in life you seem to have chosen since you moved to the States! Party planner? A woman with your education? For God's sake, you were brilliant at university, which cost us a fortune, by the way - No, you're not grateful. Your brother and sister appreciated it! Maybe you should talk to them! What's that? I can't hear - Don't you dare hang up on me! I'll call you at "work" if I want to call you at "work"! You told me you blow up balloons and pitch canopies for a living! What urgent task can you not pull yourself away from?"
Poor Jemma! I've received several similar calls over the years, but I wasn't an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the middle of the mother of all firefights. That's the problem with cell phones.
Much comedy's been made over the years about the hidden life of spies, so secret that not even their spouses know what they're doing. I rather enjoyed James Cameron's 'True Lies'.
Lying to your loved ones is a common dilemma facing many a superhero too, as a young Ms Marvel is currently discovering in the family-centric, heart-of-gold escapades of MS MARVEL, a comic which we adore.
S.H.I.E.L.D. technician Jemma Simmons empathises and has a quiet word. Her history's familiar for spies, which is why I found Waid's diatribe above so well written. I found the following rather touching.
"S.H.I.E.L.D. recruited me when I was still at university. Due to the classified nature of my work, though - well - my dad and mum think I'm a corporate party planner. Explains all the travel, but doesn't make them proud, exactly."
"How long have you managed to - "
"Keep the secret? Years. It can be done, But before you file that away as good news, I'm afraid I fell compelled to add this: I love my parents. And I miss the days when they knew their daughter."
The central star of the series - as in the TV show - is Agent Coulson. He'd rather Ms Marvel hadn't gotten involved in that episode because she's far too young, but he can't help but admire her encyclopaedic knowledge of supervillain paraphernalia gleaned from writing meticulously researched superhero fan-fic. She is, dare I say it, a nerd; by which I mean someone who has what is widely regarded as a disproportionately obsessive interest in things so arcane and esoteric that no one in their supposedly right minds should give a chuff about. Please note: that does not include comics. Comics are for everyone!
Parenthetically it was just such knowledge which saved the day in Mark Millar & Tommy Lee Edwards' delightful MARVEL 1985, a surprisingly tender graphic novel for Mark Millar about a young boy which is emphatically not set in the Marvel Universe. That's its whole point. I recommend you take a quick gander.
Agent Coulson approves, however reluctantly, because he sees himself in her. His was a similar enthusiasm which he's since honed into his field's special skill. So shall we begin?
"It's fun when your hobby becomes your work."
It really is!
There Mark Waid speaks for himself, for S.H.I.E.L.D. Special Agent Phil Coulson and for me too. The key, once it's your job, is to stop treating it as your hobby and to apply your knowledge and affection into something professional, invaluable and accessible to all. That is exactly where all too many comic shops fall so lamentably short and where a fair few comics writers fail too. Not Mark Waid. His knowledge of superhero comics is virtually unparalleled and it all dovetails beautifully here.
In the opening flashbacks Agent Coulson is seen gathering superhero intel from almanacs then transcribing it onto index cards from the tender age of nine; seen aged nineteen analysing the information from television news coverage; updating it as a junior agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. at twenty-five; using it to save his sanity before being saved from solitary only last year, and then deploying it last night to clean up at poker! With a mind like that you could not only card-count but anticipate your superhero competitors' every move and motivation.
It is in the field, however, where it proves invaluable. At his disposal Agent Coulson has so many superhero power sets to call in as required for each specific threat. He's basically Miranda Zero from Warren Ellis' highly recommended none-superhero action-thriller GLOBAL FREQUENCY. He will have to improvise depending on who's already preoccupied with other repeat offenders or merely reroute those already in the field with a crafty slight-of-hand.
That is precisely what Coulson does in the opening scenario and the pay-off is so satisfying that you may squeal.
Let us be clear: this is a fully fledged superhero comic at the heart of the Marvel Universe not - as has been the case before - a satellite spy thriller or a time-travelling mind-melt. As such the first chapter comes with thrills-aplenty Carlos Pacheco art featuring so many of your favourite powerhouses attempting to contain the demon-strewn, multidimensional fallout of Asgard's Rainbow Bridge being shattered into portal-opening pieces.
In chapter two Humberto Ramos does a mean, lean and lanky Ms Marvel; chapter three sees the great Alan Davis on Spider-Man, roped in to act as a canary in a coalmine when Dr. Strange's mansion is made skew-whiff with magic; and Chris Sprouse is on hand for when Sue Storm receives a summons to a sale on at a department store and shown into a changing room which is anything but. Nice nod there to the old sequestered S.H.I.E.L.D. entrance via a barber's shop chair which used to descend through the floor. See? I know this stuff too!
Coming back to the strategic planning, Agent Coulson could do none of that in this comic if veteran writer Mark Waid didn't excel at precisely the same key skills: using his encyclopaedic knowledge of superheroes both past and present (always with his finger on the pulse of the present) then judging how to combine the most interesting and unused elements in the most intriguing new ways.
Please see Waid & Ross' exquisitely painted KINGDOM COME set in the future of the DC Universe when it's already gone horribly wrong and about to grow much, much worse.