By: Jonathan Hickman (writer).  Too many artists to list—check the review.

The Story: Nothing like a ton of meta-babble to get the juice squeezed out of your mind-grapes.

The Review: The first volume of S.H.I.E.L.D. came with a lot of hype and critical acclaim, which was mostly deserved, but somehow lost steam along the way.  You just can’t help feeling that despite the quantity of fascinating ideas Hickman has brought to the table, he hasn’t really fashioned them into a clear direction just yet.  This special issue of S.H.I.E.L.D., four shorts vaguely connected together, doesn’t do much to address that point.

“Colossus” has da Vinci telling yet another tale of a S.H.I.E.L.D. brother who saves the world.  It’s a cool idea, but an old one, and executed in an increasingly familiar formula: Archimedes, ancient Greek mathematician, uses his ingenuity to turn the Colossus of Rhodes into a mecha which can face the seemingly overwhelming cosmic force called the Sentry—“This is not how the world ends.”—end scene.  Nick Pitarra’s cartoony art sort of undersells the high stakes of the battle and plays up the corniness of the wide-eyed kids listening to the story.  Overall, it’s a predictable effort.

Hickman seems just as fond of highbrow innuendo as Grant Morrison, and the dialogue in “The Hidden Message” encapsulates that perfectly.  Check out what these mysterious hooded figures have to say: “The way in, the purpose, the way out…the time…the destination…do we dare go?”  The way in and out where?  What is the purpose/time/destination, etc.?  You don’t know.  The story exists merely to build the intrigue and show the almost martyred devotion of these people, whoever they are and whomever they serve.  Zachary Baldus has a painted style that makes for some pretty stiff action, but rather pretty, especially with the slightly monochrome colors.

The one short with some bearing on the running story in S.H.I.E.L.D. is “Life, the End of the World, and the Key,” which follows up the Night Machine after he gets brought back to life the first time around.  Michelangelo, his savior, informs him that he and his son Leonid are key to saving the Earth, and sends him to the end of the world, where he finds…three Mongolian-esque warriors in stasis tubes—which no doubt will be explained in mind-blowing fashion later.  Kevin Mellon’s sketchy style has traces of Francis Manapul, but less defined and messier.  Dan Brown’s colors looks a bit rushed and sloppy in such uneven lines.

These kinds of shorts aren’t really suited to tell finished stories, but can be very effective character pieces.  It’s no wonder then “The Apple” feels the strongest of all these features, as it delves into the intelligent psychoticism of Sir Isaac Newton.  Sure, it flies into the face of history as we know it by having Newton kill off illustrious names such as Blaise Pascal and John Locke with scholarly grisliness.  But you can’t deny Hickman sells this eighteenth century murder story with the help of Hernandez Walta’s great art, which suits the period very well.  Rough as his style looks, Walta brings some “killer” expressions to his characters—Newton looks nightmarishly deranged as he bludgeons Gottfried Leibniz to death.

Conclusion: There’s some fun stuff in here, though I wouldn’t go in expecting it to act as bridge between the two S.H.I.E.L.D. volumes.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – You know, for a genius, Gottfried Leibniz sure is an idiot when it comes to self-defense.  Come on, Newton’s about your size—you can take him.  Nerd on nerd, I say.

– Even though I’m rolling with this whole Newton-as-secret-society-mastermind thing, I can’t help recalling many biographies describing him as an insensible savant.  This is, after all, a man who once stared at the sun for hours to see how long he could take it (not long) and what would happen (he got pains in his eyes).