Thursday, December 15, 2016

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols Undermines The Familiar Agents!

The Good: Moments of artwork and banter
The Bad: Stale plot, Crowds the universe, Light on character development, Reworks fundamental relationships
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols illustrates the serious problem with working the familiar television-based Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the Marvel Comic Book Universe.

With Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on hiatus for a few weeks - the latest episode, "The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics," is reviewed here! - I figured that it was about time for me to look into the graphic novels featuring the characters from the show. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe's material is now dominated by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; characters like Phil Coulson and Melinda May have logged more hours on-screen in the MCU than Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America combined . . . in fact, the amount of time spent by the blockbuster film characters in creating and fleshing out the Marvel Cinematic Universe is comparatively minimal when one considers the volume of material generated by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. So, today I picked up Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols features the recognizable characters from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as Marvel Cinematic Universe renditions of Iron Man and Maria Hill. Oddly, Deathlok in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols is Henry Hayes, not the character portrayed by J. August Richards since the first episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. And also strange, given that Bobbi Morse is present in the narrative, Maria Hill is the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (not Coulson). Throughout reading Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols, I had to keep reminding myself that the book universe for Marvel Comics is different from the Cinematic Universe and that was made increasingly difficult by the renditions of the characters (who look like the actors who portray them on the show) and some of the banter.

Opening with the Defense Department being attacked by an Iron Man suit, Tony Stark visits Agent May to try to get things straightened out. Coulson is being interrogated by an A.I.M. splinter group, that may have been responsible for the attack. Stark gives Coulson the name Lola Daniels as potentially behind the hack and Coulson reveals that he was once engaged to her. While Coulson goes to interrogate Lola - and ends up in her bed - Simmons realizes that during the extraction mission, she was infected by a DNA bomb and might have only a month to live. Lola reveals that a quantum drive was stolen from the Pentagon with information on how to take down ever major superhero . . . and that Coulson was the one who developed the protocol!

Lola, it turns out, is a telepath and originally used Coulson to get inside his head, from which the Axiom protocols were developed. In Maripoor, the thief executes the Axiom protocol to kill Horus, the superhero defending Maripoor. The thief then arranges an auction of the drive and Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team has to find the location of the auction and prevent the sale of the stolen drive. To that end, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team hunts down Rick Jones, but they are waylaid by the New Avengers and have to survive attacks by heroes (including Hawkeye!) as well as the adversaries they are hunting!

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocolsis a weird little mess of a book, both on its own and in relation to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Not being bound by the licensing details that limit the Marvel Cinematic Universe allows Coulson to reference Rogue . . . and Wolverine pops up in the book. But in allowing the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to play in the full Marvel Universe becomes problematic even for the book on its own. Spider-man in the MCU is a teenage boy - so why Bobbi Morse would be dating him is a bit of a mystery. But with the spy team up against super heroes, mutants, villainous organizations like A.I.M. and, occasionally, other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols seriously undermines the familiar characters. Mack is not in the narrative and Coulson has special psi-blocks in his brain to prevent Lola from reading his mind. But he still has the classic car version of Lola, so it is hard to separate the book characters from the show characters. Regardless of the confusion, the familiar Agents are altered in their book form to be virtually impossible to take seriously as combating most of the threats they are faced with in the book.

On the character front, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols is largely lacking in character development. Coulson is given a backstory with Lola, but the characters seldom sound like they do on the show. And Fitz is just plain wrong in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols. Fitz and Simmons are almost never together in this volume and Fitz hits on May while training?! Come to think of it, Fitz is training to fight hand to hand in the field?! Daisy (as Quake) is very much in control of her powers with very few limitations upon them and May and Mockingbird are virtually interchangeable in the book.

On the plus side, the bulk of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols looks good. The colors are consistently vibrant and most of the characters look like they do in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, the artwork is not enough to justify Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Volume 1: The Coulson Protocols. The mission is stale, the cast is crowded and the spark that makes Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever worth tuning in to is virtually absent from this book.

For other Marvel comics graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
She-Hulk: Lady Liberators
Civil War: Marvel Universe
Daredevil: West-Case Scenario


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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