Phil Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they’ve become an important part of Marvel’s comic book universe as well. Under the guidance of writer Mark Guggenheim – no stranger to television and film himself – and artist German Peralta, Coulson’s branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. are becoming the go-to agents for the Marvel Universe.
In turning them into Marvel’s premiere super-spies, Guggenheim is ready to take Coulson’s team to locales as exotic as A.I.M. Island and Madripoor, firmly entrenching them as the first line of defense for Marvel’s heroes – that is, until Civil War II turns everything the Marvel Universe on its ear.
With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 coming out this week, Newsarama talked to Marc Guggenheim about getting the keys to S.H.I.E.L.D. -- and Lola.
Newsarama: Even though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. features characters from the TV show like Agent Coulson, Agent May, Fitz, and Simmons, it’s deeply entrenched in Marvel comic book continuity. How do these character fit into the broader tapestry of the Marvel Universe?
Marc Guggenheim: This version of the S.H.I.E.L.D. concept is inspired by the television show. So while we use versions of the same characters from the show, I put my own spin on each of them. I’m just trying to take advantage of the things the comic book medium offers, and the fact that this series is set in the actual Marvel universe as opposed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the TV show, they have very understandable limitations so they can’t have Captain America or Iron Man drop in because Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. aren’t available. That’s not a limitation of comics – in fact, the lack of that limitation is an advantage. I’ve made a very concerted effort to use that.
Nrama: S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a big part of Marvel continuity since the 1960’s. Nick Fury was really one of the earliest Marvel heroes. Do you plan to explore the deeper history of S.H.I.E.L.D. and where the new agency fits into that?
Guggenheim: A little bit. The series is very forward-looking. I kind of intentionally don’t plan to spend a lot of time looking backwards. That said, starting with #5 we’ll start to get some glimpses into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s past. So we’ll see some of that, but generally speaking, the vast majority of the series is more forward looking.
Nrama: You mentioned being able to bring in characters like Iron Man and Captain America as advantages of the comic book format. Without the budgetary restrictions of television, you’re also able to explore more of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s super spy angle. How do you plan to capitalize on that?
Guggenheim: My mission statement for this series is to kind of do Mission: Impossible or James Bond, but set in the Marvel Universe. So one of the key elements of that concept is being to travel around to exotic locales. But instead of Los Angeles or Paris, the exotic locales are selected from all over the Marvel Universe. So this will kind of be a travelogue of the Marvel Universe.
That’s one of those things you can do in comic books that you can’t do on a television budget. I tried to make the setpieces as big and unique as possible. In #3, there’s a big plane-to-plane action sequence that would be very difficult to pull off in another medium.
Nrama: Let’s talk about those exotic locations. What big Marvel Universe spots will we see the agents visit?
Guggenheim: We’re gonna be visiting the former A.I.M. Island, we’re gonna visit Madripoor, which is one of my favorite Marvel locations. I just scripted a page a page today that takes place in Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen. We’re gonna go to Shanghai. We’ve been to the remains of Project Pegasus. So we’re hopping around all over the place, which is one of the most fun parts of the series.
Nrama: You mentioned your personal take on the characters of the series. Who do you feel the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are as characters, and how do they relate to each other?
Guggenheim: Coulson is the straw that stirs the drink. He’s the glue that holds the team together. He’s at the center of the narrative, particularly of the first arc. I sort of drafted off of Mark Waid’s take in the previous S.H.I.E.L.D. series. In my mind, Coulson is kind of the ultimate Marvel Universe fanboy. My experience in comics and television gives me insight into how Coulson feels getting the chance to work next to Tony Stark and Spider-Man.
Simmons is very similar to television, incredibly intelligent, and incredibly bright. My version is a little bit more angry nerd. I really enjoy writing him, and I feel like he’s got the most potential to be a breakout character. We’ve seen that his allegiances are a little bit in question, and that’s a great deal of fun. Melinda May is probably the closest to her television incarnation. I love writing ass kicking woman, and Melinda is such a strong presence, and so capable. It’s fun to put her in situations where she has to kick butt.
When it comes to Bobbi Morse, what you have to understand about Mockingbird is we’re using the comic book version of Mockingbird, which has much more history and much more of a presence in the Marvel Universe, which I’m trying to honor. It’s fun to insert this Marvel character with a team of Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.
We’ve got some other characters pulled directly from comic books like Mockingbird. We’re using the Henry Hayes version of Deathlok from his latest series. It’s Daisy Johnson – not Skye, but Daisy Johnson from Secret Warriors. I’ve always been a fan of the Deathlok concept and it’s been fun to write one-liners for him. He’s such a cool visual.
Nrama: Playing off of that, Coulson is the leader of this group. Is he now the go-to guy when people Marvel characters want to interact with S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Guggenheim: I think so. Coulson and his team are their own special unit of S.H.I.E.L.D. So while other members of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have interactions with the Marvel Universe, Coulson and his team are sort of off doing their own thing. So the nature of their interactions are very different. So while Nick Fury and Maria Hill are interacting with the heroes, our team is placed in kind of a protective role. They’re helping the heroes, as opposed to the other way around. They are placed in a position where they have to save the heroes, which changes up the dynamic a little bit.
Nrama: We got a little bit into Coulson and his team’s mission in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. One of the things that’s going on is this anti-superhero contingency plan by the Department of Defense. What’s Coulson’s connection to that?
Guggenheim: First of all, one of the things I’m introducing into the book is this antagonism between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Department of Defense, which is a branch of the U.S. military. I was sort of interested in the politics of these two organizations and intrigued by the notion that they don’t get along so well. So the Department of Defense has sort of weaponized Coulson’s love of superheroes. Coulson, being the ultimate Marvel fan, has often asked “Who’s stronger? How could this guy beat this other guy?” so Coulson can’t keep his brain from going to, “Well, if I had to beat Captain America, I could do this…” So what started out as a thought experiment in his own head is now out there running rampant in the wild. And it’s up to Coulson’s team to get that genie back in the bottle.
Nrama: So the follow up question is, does Coulson have a definitive answer to questions like who is stronger, Hulk or Thor?
Guggenheim: He definitely does. Fortunately, he’s not on Twitter so he doesn’t have to deal with the backlash that would come when he inevitably voiced those opinions.
Nrama: S.H.I.E.L.D. was obviously a huge part of the original Civil War. How is Civil War II going to affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Guggenheim: Last week I sent my editors my pitch for how to fit Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into Civil War II. I’d like it to have a pretty tight connection. We haven’t really had a chance to discuss the pitch yet, but I do want it to be pretty closely connected. I got my start at Marvel doing a Civil War tie-in, so I have a great deal of affection for the concept and I’m excited to revisit it.
The point of these big status quo changes is to create even more opportunities for story, so I really want Civil War II to have a profound effect on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and kind of upend the title. We’ve got some cool stuff planned.