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

The Story: Who says Renaissance men can’t kick butt?  Sir Isaac Newton and Leonarda da Vinci can—and they’re ready to rumble!

The Review: Secret societies are nothing new to the world of fiction.  Writers have been entranced with them since time knows when, whether with the ones rumored to exist (e.g. the Illuminati and Free Masons) or ones they made up themselves—perfect example: the Arcadians in the currently running Freedom Fighters.  There’s a lot of appeal to a specially-select group seeing beyond the reach of ordinary people and manipulating events to their obscure goals.

Hickman plays on this concept to the extreme by literally connecting all the lights of humanity to an organization determined to preserve humanity.  Then he takes it one step further by injecting a healthy dose of anachronistic science fiction, some intriguing philosophical theories, and a bunch of classic, cosmic Marvel characters.  With a premise so loaded with good material, and woven together so well by Hickman’s plotting, S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t be anything other than extraordinary.

What really sells the ongoing conflict between Newton and da Vinci is how their different schools of thoughts are truly impossible to compromise.  Besides that, their philosophies are so grand-standing, they surpass pettiness or prejudice, making the bitter violence between them seem that much more worthwhile.  These men don’t fight over ridiculous ideals; their fight has the whole question of human nature at stake.  Many wars of ideas in comics have a clear “side” you want to land on.  This one does not.

Besides the intellectual-turned-physical divide within the Brotherhood of the Shield, Hickman wisely keeps the action pumping by maintaining dangers from the outside.  He grounds the title by using Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark as analogues of the more familiar Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man.  Their chase after Night Machine falls under more comfortable comics territory: blaster guns, time travel, confrontations with villains, the whole deal.  It keeps your heart racing while your brain processes the more cerebral stuff over on the Newton versus da Vinci storyline.

One missing element has been the intersection of these plots, but with the Forever Man, who turns out central to all the events we’ve seen so far, announcing his team-up with Leonid, Hickman’s sure to address this soon.  This issue happens to be a turning point for both storylines, letting the characters regroup and take a breath before the final confrontation takes place.  There’s still plenty of lively action, but plot-wise, nothing really advances.

Weaver brings a lot of great mechanical and architectural detail to his art, which is perfect since the script calls for all sorts of high-tech gadgetry in the middle of classical or retro settings.  His character designs are also top-notch.  Let’s face it—Leo da Vinci will never look as ruggedly handsome as he does in this series.  The dynamic paneling style also keeps the energy levels high throughout the issue.  Sometimes Strain’s almost blinding colors obscure the details of Weaver’s lines, but mostly she brings a sense of awe to the more fantastic scenes of the story.

Conclusion: It’s certainly an ambitious comic, with a lot of grand, far-reaching ideas.  It’s not clear what place this title will end up having in the Marvel canon, but regardless, a lot of great sci-fi fun.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Sheesh.  What with R.E.B.E.L.S. and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, I’m just covering all the period-intensive titles, aren’t I?  Any others?  Bring them on, I say!

– Honestly, if I have to pick a side, I’m gonna go with Newton.  When you hear news stories of people choking to death from not removing the toothpick from their sandwich, it’s hard not to see humanity as inherently limited.

– Weaver is really skirting the line of revealing Forever Man’s privates—just another degree to the left, and we’d be in full-frontal city.