By Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dustin Weaver (artist), Christina Strain (colorist)

Sturgeon’s Law states that ninety-percent of everything is crap. Books, movies, politicians, your mom’s cooking, and my love-making abilities.

Ninety percent of all of it: crap.

We’ll save my prowess in bed and your mom’s quiche for another day. For now, let’s talk about how this relates to comics. I won’t go so far as to say that nearly all comics are literally overpriced pieces of fecal matter, but I do think it’s safe to say that nearly all comics, and by default the industry that spawns them, perpetuate a necessary cycle of mediocrity. As I grow older, I tend to believe that the purpose of comics is increasingly less about telling great stories and delivering dynamic art than it is selling us the illusion of change one issue at a time.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like The Godfather wisely pointed out, “it’s nothing personal. It’s just business.” More to the point, this is a business that operates on razor thin margins; a business where it makes more financial sense to milk established brands like Avengers and X-Men for every penny possible than to risk investing in a new idea that might bomb and cost them much more money in the long run.

If you’ve made it this far in my review, you’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this, and you’d be right to do so. As it turns out, none of what I’ve just said has anything to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. Miraculously, this issue is the other kind of comic, the kind that exists in that rare ten percent of things that are anything but crap. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and assure you without hesitation that this is a damn fine comic, perhaps one of the finest Marvel has ever produced.

Breathtaking in its scope and ambition, S.H.I.E.L.D. tells the story of the history of the Marvel Universe in the centuries before it would become populated by super-powered individuals. It is also the story of an ancient, secret order of men who, possessing only the power of their minds and bodies, took it upon themselves to defend the planet from catastrophic threats like the Brood, Celestials, and even Galactus. Finally, S.H.I.E.L.D. is also the story of Leonid, a unique young man who in 1953 is invited into the organization, but harbors a dark lineage that may unravel the centuries of work S.H.I.E.L.D. has achieved.

Hickman, one of the most imaginative and visionary writers in the industry, has crafted in this one issue a genre-bending adventure that fuses pulp, history, space opera, and a healthy dose of conspiracy paranoia into an epic narrative that flirts with aspects of the Marvel Universe while still remaining a wholly unique reading experience. Special mention must be made of the artwork of Weaver and Strain, a dynamic pairing whose bold storytelling and lush embellishments energize every page with life and rich detail. Moments like the double splash page of Imhotep’s battle against the Brood are rousing examples of what this book is capable of giving readers, and I can’t wait to see what new mad ideas these two will bring to life next.

There is practically nothing I did not like about this book. Sure, the identities of the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents seemed a little forced and convenient, and there were a few scenes that seemed a bit too influenced by Assassin’s Creed 2, but these are minor gripes and easily overlooked. All in all, this was a staggering work of awe and wonder and the entire creative team is to be commended for their efforts. S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the most amazing comics I’ve read all year and I highly doubt that will change.

Until they release the next issue, that is.

Grade: A

-Tony Rakittke