Vol 1: Architects of Forever
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver
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"This is not how the world ends." (as a cool sounding quote that runs throughout this series - it was pretty hard to resist using as an opening line - sorry).
It's never really a good idea to build up things too much. Especially if part of the reason you enjoyed something so much is because you just kind of picked it up because there was nothing much else lying around. But - what the hell: if Jack Kirby and Grant Morrison somehow got together and had a baby: then that messed up cosmically-inclined baby (who would obviously be prone to shouting out things like: "Give me THE FOREVER BOTTLE with THE MILK OF ULTIMATE POWER so that I may taste it's SECRET INFINITE GOODNESS!"): that baby would be this book.
In the Marvel Universe (for those of you that don't know) S.H.I.E.L.D. is a cross between the the Navy SEALs and the C.I.A.: a clandestine military organisation that tends to get called in when the superheroes get a little out of their depth. Their most famous member is Nick Fury who's a slightly more bad-ass version of James Bond - and who most people on the planet will now know as Samuel L. Jackson wearing an eye-patch. I don't recall the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever much being discussed before - even tho it's managed to turn up in everything from Brian Micheal Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man to Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin. But Hickman and Weaver 's book aims to change all that - with a peek into the secret history of one of the foundation stones of the world of Marvel.
One of the clues that this isn't going to be a straight-forward tale of the early days of spy organisation finding it's feet and choosing who gets what codes names ("Mr Brown?") can be found in the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo used on the cover (I tried to find an image that gave a proper close-up - but gave up after I couldn't find one in 5 seconds): basically the dots have little orbits that cut thru the rest of the letters - which promises that things aren't going to be restricted to your standard, common-place, terrestrial affairs: tantalising this reader in particular with the hopes of something further afield and intergalactic. And the other clue is there where it says: "Jonathan Hickman."
One of the lucky few who's equally capable with words and pictures Hickman first came to people's attention with his series The Nightly News. A bold, strange comic with a fresh-take on how to combine words and pictures (I'm not even going to go into trying to describe it) The Nightly News felt like a shot of adrenaline popped straight into the reader's heart. His follow-ups since then have felt a little bit more - disappointing... There was stuff like Transhuman that started off well - but then slowly collapsed under the weight of it's set up - and his big mainstream breakthrough as the main writer on the Fantastic Four had him producing comics that had big epic science-fiction concepts that stretched the limits of the mind - before resolving themselves in a way that felt a little - meh.
So when I first saw this book and Hickman's name on the cover - I picked it up feeling that what I was about to read was going to decide (one way or the other) whether or not Hickman was going to be a writer to watch, follow and enjoy - or if he was just going to be the latest in a long, long line of promising young talent that falls into step with everything else until they're nothing more than a worthless hack.
By the first few pages - those kinds of questions evaporated from my mind. And all that was left was: "Wow!", "Oh my god!" and "That's amazing!"
The artwork by Dustin Weaver - who up until now I had never heard of - is like Dave Gibbons with a tiny hint of Chris Weston. All the framing all feels really tight and secure: like a church built on steel foundations that go 5 miles underground: and there's these gorgeous splash pages that hit you once or twice an issue that manage to inspire a righteous sense of awe and majesty. There's one in particular that I'm tempted to give away that takes place in a jungle that has such a great sense of depth and space and immenseness - that there was a part of me that wanted to rip the pages out and hang them on my wall - so that it could be the first thing I saw when I woke up in the morning.
If you like science-fiction and superheroes mixed with the epic and historical (and is there really anyone reading this who doesn't?) then S.H.I.E.L.D. is a must read. The best thing that Jonathan Hickman has written so far - it's also one of my favourite new books and left me content in a way that most things nowadays just don't seem to come close to.
Links: Sean T Collins Review of #1, Comics Alliance Article of Vol 1, Forces of Geek Review of Vol 1, Page45 Review of Vol 1, Mindless Ones Review of #1, 4thletter Article, The M0vie Blog Review.
Further reading: The Manhattan Projects, The Nightly News, Transhuman, The Red Wing, Marvel 1602, The Avengers: The New Avengers: Illuminati, Prophet.
All comments welcome.