By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dustin Weaver (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist)

The Story: Genius white men…and other sorry excuses for the state of the world!

The Review: In ordinary circumstances, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be the kind of title I’d fallen hopelessly in love with by now; it has fresh ideas, remarkable craft, rounded characters, and some gorgeous art.  Instead I find myself surprisingly nonplussed by the series.  I appreciate and respect the kind of story it wants to tell, but it just hasn’t done much to get me invested.

Maybe it’s the highly cerebral nature of the title.  The whole storyline so far, after all, deals with a literal war of ideas, the smartest people in history giving way to violence strictly to defend their principles, which, I suppose, if you’re going to war over anything, it might as well be your dearly held beliefs.  While the ideas at stake (determinism vs. fatalism, hope vs. resignation) do have a certain intellectual appeal, it’s no surprise they do little to capture your heart.

Then, too, the story has proceeded at a horrendously plodding pace.  Forget the fact they labeled this issue #2.  We all know this is really the eighth issue of the series, and considering this title launched June of last year, well—that rate isn’t great, to say the least.  And even had all eight issues been released on time, that doesn’t change the minimal advances the plot has made.

The first time I reviewed S.H.I.E.L.D. (half a year ago, if you can believe it), you had Newton and da Vinci duking it out in the Immortal City, with Leonid standing by.  Now, two chapters later (three, if you count the “infinity” issue), we’ve only just started our way to a resolution.  Hickman has filled the yawning gaps between important moments with a lot of expository, conceptual material, but again, it’s intriguing in an academic sort of way, but hardly engaging.

I suspect, however, that Hickman does expect to blow your mind with his ideas, and he may very well have succeeded—if you could understand what in blue blazes he’s talking about.  Not to rank on Hickman, but has this quality to his writing where at times you can’t tell if he’s being smart, pretentious, or purposely obscure.  Excessive capitalization has that ambiguous effect: “The Quiet Math,” for example, or, “…had attempted to Solve for Everything and succeeded!”

Yet for all the abstract threads going on here, the plot strikes you as kind of predictable.  You never have any doubt Newton, despite his genius or because of it, is the villain here, and once that suspiciously convenient Spirit-Truth Machine forces Newton to rave, “I have killed, and will kill again, and will race God to end man,” it’s a shoo-in which of the two prodigies Leonid will choose to believe in.  Da Vinci, by contrast, can’t fail to gain your sympathy: “I am alone.  I have never loved.  I have never allowed myself to love…I have sacrified everything.”  Poor guy!

No one breathes life into Hickman’s ideas like Weaver.  He really does give a celestial beauty to everything he draws, especially with Oback’s dreamy, major motion picture colors.  And then you have his inspired pages, like the depiction of the Well of the Elixer of Life, whose mandala-like appearance, with Oback’s sunset reds, gold, and indigos filling them, just takes your breath away, even before you notice the design work Weaver uses to weld it into the flow of action.

Conclusion: What should be one of the greatest titles on the stands turns out merely enjoyable.  To really take it to the level it aspires to, it needs to drop the humanities lessons in favor of just advancing the story.  Maybe it will do that next issue—two months from now.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Anyone else find it startling and a little funny to see Green Lantern stare at you from the inside cover of a Marvel title?

– Apparently, one thing the Celestial Star Child and I have in common—besides our godlike powers—is we both fly into homicidal rages over math.