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

The Story: The secret history of High Council member Isaac Newton is revealed along with tantalizing clues regarding the development and significance of the Five-Fold Understanding.

The Good: This comic is really being published, right? I mean, this isn’t some strange spectre of an old hashish dream come back to haunt me is it? I sincerely hope not, because this comic is a tour de force of staggering imagination, and I need to believe that there is a place in the mainstream industry for comics this unique. Taking a slight breather from last month’s cliffhanger, this issue takes a step back in time to reveal the secret history of Isaac Newton and his rise through, and possible corruption of, the ranks of Shield. Newton, who I assumed would be a hero without fault in this complex web of intrigue, is here revealed to be an intellectual of such astounding innovation and vision that he is all too willing to travel down dark and seemingly unholy roads in his quest to quench his thirst for new knowledge. Newton’s journey to the Deviant City of Ashomia was especially unsettling and reminded me of something I should have read in a good Lovecraft story. His time in Ashomia, coupled with whatever dark insecurities may have already existed within him, seem to have corrupted Newton and his leadership of Shield, but to what end? What is Newton doing with this ancient order that Da Vinci and the Night Machine feel they must destroy? Hickman plays his hand obscenely close to his sleeve, choosing to play the long con with this story and slowly reveal the plot to the reader.

It’s funny: I actually complained that Secret Avengers was trying to do the same thing with its plot, but here on SHIELD I find that same storytelling technique to be an asset and a virtue; Hickman succeeds in being able to slow down the pace of the story while still keeping it engaging and damn intriguing. How is it Newton, Galileo, Nostradamus, and Da Vinci are still alive (Besides the fact that they all seemingly reside in the Immortal City, which I still think doesn’t quite explain it…)? What is the significance of the Five-Fold Understanding to Shield’s machinations? And what, oh what the hell is Da Vinci doing challenging the cabal he was once a member of? Hickman is careful to reveal just enough of these storylines to make us want to come back every two months to get the next few, precious kernels of story, and it’s a testament to his skills as a writer that I love letting him string me along like this. Hickman makes me want to unravel this mystery one issue at a time, and it’s stories like this where that journey is worth the price of admission.

Of Weaver’s art, I can only say this: Goodgoddamnthismancandraw. Dustin’s art is a joy to behold, and is constantly refined and improved upon with every issue. And frankly, it’s terribly exciting to look at. Consider that haunting shot of 1,000 Shield operative channeling their life essence into a beam that created a new Earth and fed it to fucking Galactus, or the follow up money shot as said beam is rocketed into Galactus with the force of a thousand Hiroshimas? What of that creepy yet beautiful establishing shot of Ashomia, or the repugnant sight of him nailing a Deviant female like a virgin on prom night? Weaver’s captures these moments with intricacy and a kind of emotional intensity that pulls you in and refuses to let go. This books works damn hard for my money, and I rather like that.

The Not So Good: The only thing I will continue to fault this comic for is it’s despicable publishing schedule. This is the kind of book that needs to be released every month…at the least. I would ask for it every week, but shit, I know I’d just be greedy. But to release a comic of this complexity every other month exposes it to a danger of cancellation that is absolutely unwarranted and unnecessary. I think. Shit, I don’t know, maybe Hickman has it worked into his contract that Marvel have to release this book no matter what, whether they like it or not. I hope so, as that would be a delicious little ‘fuck you’ to the House of Mediocrity, but even if it’s not, this is still the kind of comic that NEEDS to be on our minds every single freaking month.

Conclusion: My requirements for a good comic are simple: I want to be entertained and I want to be challenged. A comic doesn’t have to do both thing to merit my approval, but that’s always encouraged. SHIELD does these things and more. I’ve never seen a book like this from Marvel, but I will fight like a madman to ensure its survival. This is complex, intelligent entertainment, and absolutely worth your time and money. Not to be missed!

Conclusion: A

-Tony Rakittke