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September 25 2013

(SPOILER) Jim Steranko reviews Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot for Hollywood Reporter. This will be a weekly feature with the legendary SHIELD comic creator.

There is also a intro interview with him here.

It'll be fun to watch him be won over by the show. It'll happen. Mark my words. :)
I hope you're right. Joss has made a lot of believers out of skeptics before. I agree with the essence of Steranko's criticisms though. But I think the show will get stronger once it finds itself.
...That felt like one of the most moronic, name-dropping look-at-me-with-my-criticy-knowledge-I'm-still-relevant-honest, superior things I have ever had the misfortune to read. Realistically a Fury cameo, voice alone, would probably have eaten the entire budget by itself.

All the women dressed the same? Oh, in their standard SHIELD agent uniforms? Imagine that. And I don't even want to go near the "PC" reference... Why feel the need to mention at all that the hero was non white unless you have an issue with it and think he should have been otherwise? Hmm..

The irony of mentioning Bond. Well, a product of the same era give or take... Bond has changed with the times. SHIELD needed to, too.

I find it deeply notable and disturbing that in a series where the cast was often referred to as being very generic good looking "white" people, he's managed to single out the one main "black" character and imply he could/should have been white.
[ edited by apollo11 on 2013-09-26 00:53 ]

[ edited by apollo11 on 2013-09-26 00:58 ]

[ edited by apollo11 on 2013-09-26 01:05 ]
Jim Steranko is one of the true giants in the history of comic books. He was a visionary. He is not, wherever you agree or disagree with him on this matter, one of the great critics out there, though. By a long shot. Its an opinion. His. Bless him for it, even when i disagree wholeheartily with him, wich i also do with Joss plenty of times. Ingmar Bergman thought Orson Welles was a bad actor and an overrated director. Its no shame. Still love you, Jim, and always will. :)
If only, at the episode's close, a well-meaning security guard who worked in the subway terminal would have shot and killed the Hooded Hero to really punch up the philosophical dichotomy between what he termed the "bad guy" and the "hero." Or would that kind of poetic irony been too over the top for a comic book-inspired TV series?

You heard it here first: Joss was criticized for not killing people.
"Could anyone understand the dialogue delivered by the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab team?"

Yes. With no trouble whatsoever.
Well, I admit I had to repeat a couple of times to get some of the Fitz Simmons dialogue. I assume that is part of their 'charm/characters', but if it advances plot, it is a bit difficult to get on first pass.
Yeah, perhaps I was being a bit glib - but I get frustrated with people who can't seem to handle anything but medium-slow pace generic midwestern USA accents. I'm from Australia & we get TV from the US & the UK (and local of course) so perhaps I'm disproportionately conditioned to those accents...

The only part I had trouble with was when they were mumbling to each other about what to do with Skye's voice recording, but I think that was *supposed* to be more or less unintelligible jargon.
Nice blatant racism, Steranko. I know how hard it must to be consider people of colour existing as superheroes.

Yes, it did strike me odd that he thought it was 'PC' that there should manage to be ONE major character on the show who was black? What? (Ron Glass was on too short a time to alter the point). I admit to being a little put off that no one on the regular cast is black, actually. I wish they would, for instance, make Ron Glass's character a bigger part of the show. And I hope they bring back J. August's character. And maybe have some black actors in significant roles in the future. I don't think I am being 'PC' in feeling this way. I've just been noticing a sad lack of diversity in certain things lately.
And as much as I appreciate Steranko as an artist, I found a lot of his other points rather dumb as well. Not I thought the show was flawless; I did not. But I'm not going to nit-pick because I always find it takes a few episodes to get into Whedon shows. Of course I understand that someone reviewing the first show is just reviewing the first show. But still, I don't think he saw the same episode I did.
Steranko to SHIELD: Get off my lawn.

Yes I can tell the women apart. Yes, I could understand the dialogue. Yes, I could tell what was happening in the fight scenes. And anyone who uses the term "P.C." un-ironically in any context other than personal computer loses me pretty fast.

ETA: Yes, I knew who to root for. Nobody is nobody. So, all of them.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2013-09-26 04:20 ]
Yeah, agree with much of the sentiment above. It all boiled down to: that's not how I would've written it, also I'm old and cranky about that. Now pardon me while I make remarks that seem somewhat old timely racist/sexist.
You heard it here first: Joss was criticized for not killing people.


This review is full of ick.
@Barzai: "I wish they would, for instance, make Ron Glass's character a bigger part of the show."

But he's clearly foreshadowed as being in on the secret that's the crux of the arc of the central character. All evidence suggests he DOES have an integral role in the story.

Saying he should have MORE screentime based entirely on his skin color, but while also ignoring that he's planted as being integral to the information behind Coulson's arc, is kinda casually racist. I agree with everyone here that diversity is important in media (especially in a Marvel series, where New York is the basis of the universe and in this show especially since it's international and all that), but I think you're pretty arbitrarily devaluing Ron Glass's potential character while, simultaneously, wanting to give him a role based on skin color and not any story context...since it seemed clear, at least to me, that wasn't the last we've seen of him and his only scene was directly involved with the ONLY plot point talked about with any meaningful length during press interviews.

It reminds me of when Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti's Young Justice premiered and everyone said it was sexist because there were no major female young heroes in the pilot episode, despite Miss Martian and Artemis being in all press material and their appearances being carefully structured, as everyone's was, to make the best out of their arc and purpose in the show. By the end of the show, it was praised for its portrayal of female characters (what a shocker).

It's wrong to count your chickens before they hatch, and to question Glass's character importance on a single episode of an entire serial arc. Likewise, it's worse to do this just on the basis of Glass's skin color.

Unless I missed something and there's confirmation Ron Glass is only showing up once, despite being Ron Glass and, thus, amazing. But basing perception of a single character's usage over an entire season (you DID, after all, say "show") based on one episode, and focusing on his skin color, strikes me as wrong.
But yeah. The review is basically terrible.
uhm, I'm not even a native English speaker and I understood Fitz and Simmons just fine. And Peterson was black, so? The character could have been any ethnicity, is he implying tokenism? It seems like a weird thing to say.

I wasn't blown away by the pilot by any means and I never really got the Coulson love but the only thing I agree with this review is that a cameo by SLJ would have been great. I bet it's going to happen at some point.
So much I disagree with in this... review? Opinion piece? Hackety-job? Curmudgeonly rant? but most of it's been said upthread.

Gotta note my disagreement with this:

"The pilot assumes the audience is cognizant of the Marvel Universe as it regales viewers with a salvo of references established previously in big-screen efforts."

Nope. Not true. The pilot had us all covered - from comic mavens to (basically) non-comic-y folk like me. In this Universe, I've read zero comics and watched the first Iron Man, and Joss' Avengers.

Sure, there were a handful of references I didn't get, but it just Made No Damn Nevermind (and that was also true of the two movies I saw) - it was like background talk that you know will get fleshed out during the course of the season, or served as, I dunno, local color, and didn't affect in any material way my understanding of what was going on, nor my appreciation of it...

I suspect it's not possible for this person, so deeply enmeshed in comics lore, to step outside and see it with the fresh eyes of a Comics Ignoramus like me, but I assure him, those few bits did not leave me wandering in the desert, searching hopelessly for All The Missing Lore.

It was a fun, accessible ride...

ETF: tyyyyyyyyyyppppppooooo

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2013-09-26 06:23 ]
This review seriously makes me wonder he's been iced out of the SHIELD comics or the production of the TV show somehow, and he's letting out his bitterness. (In a "Nyah, I could've done it better" sense.) Is there some background to this I don't know?
Eh, I actually agree with a lot of his points, though I maybe don't feel them as strongly as he does. The pilot definitely had its issues.

The comment about the Hooded Hero being black is beyond bizarre though. What is PC about casting a black actor here? Is he just saying making ANY hero black is being "PC."? Because if so, that's crazy racist. Seriously, am I missing something there?

And, yeah, nothing makes me roll my eyes harder than people saying they can't understand people with UK/foreign accents. It's not that hard. And even if it is hard for you, it has no place in a supposedly serious critique.
Steranko is notoriously cranky; following is a piece he wrote twelve years ago lambasting Garth Ennis and Amanda Palmer's graphic novel "The Pro."

It seems a bit odd to try to compare this SHIELD with the SHIELD of comics, particularly the ones Steranko created. They are two very different entities. The SHIELD of the comics was more of attempt to tap into the spy genre that was popular at the time, with Nick Fury being Marvel's answer to James Bond. The SHIELD of the movies is a government agency that watchdogs super-powered beings and was used as a plot device to bring the Avengers together.

As far as his criticisms of Agents of SHIELD, I can agree with some of them. The story did feel like it was all over the place, and many of the characters felt sort of indistinguishable. The "PC" remark, though, is sort of cringe-inducing.

I'm actually a big proponent of racially/ethnically diverse casts, if for no other reason than to make it easier to tell the characters apart. I have noticed that certain "looks" become fashionable and television casts are filled with them. Caucasian males, 25-35, of a certain build, with their brownish hair cut in a similar way. Caucasian female, 25-35, long hair, somewhere between blonde and dark brown, etc.

Look at a series like "Lost." In its pilot, it gave you fourteen lead characters to keep track of, and they all had their own individual "look." Watching the "Lost" pilot, I never got confused as to who was who, even though I had just met these characters.
I don't understand the usefulness of having a comic creator review a TV show to tell us how it's not like the comics, dad gum it.

TV shows are not comics. Movies are not comics. When will the media get that?

At least it's gotten to the point where they no longer put "SOCK! BOOM! POW!" in the headline of every article about a comics-based TV show.

[ edited by AndrewCrossett on 2013-09-26 14:14 ]
I just meant that 5 of the main 6 cast characters (those who have been promoted in the promotional materials) are white. Given that, I think the show could have done better with diversity in its cast of regulars. Ron Glass hasn't been one of the people promoted as a regular part of the team. But I apologize for making it sound like I only cared about filling a quota; Ron Glass is just a great actor. Thanks for pointing out that he will probably be back in connection with the Coulson mystery; I think you are probably right about that. Anyway, I apologize if I caused any offense, and I do appreciate your feedback.
Chloe Bennet is Chinese-American. She talked a bit about it here.
Even before he got to his "P.C.-ville" nonsense, I thought he was saying dumb things.

The women did not dress and look the same.

I had no problem following the early fight scene.

Skye did not tail the hooded hero for days, she tracked down where the centipede was being developed. That was the building that exploded.

They obviously did try to get information about Skye, since Coulson said that they tried to find out who she was and got nothing.

Those weren't "inscrutable, distracting moments," they were just instances of Steranko not paying attention.
Also, I agree the people saying that there should be more Ron Glass. I feel that way about every show on TV.
Can I use it, bix?
Clearly, Steranko is making a bigger point than just that the JAR character was black and thus PC. I say this because he also bemoaned the fact that there was no SLJ cameo as Nick Fury, who is equally a good guy. I am trying to parse what he might have meant. I think what he was saying is that, the Hooded Hero being black draws attention to itself; it is a "look at me the writer" moment. That makes it PC, if it was done to draw attention to itself. But that, of course, is me reading into his words.

My own take on the show when I watched it, as I noted on the thread for the show itself, was that I thought the female leads were all Hollywood bland and interchangeable. They are typical for shows on TV. No one overweight, no one not attractive. I think this is a viable point. And I also noted that I had no one to invest in- which is equal to him saying "Who do I root for?'

Yes, this is harsh. It was not a clear rejection of the show, and it is simply one man's opinion, which is all criticism ever really is. There will be both positive and negative reviews of the show, and we should just roll with it. After all, the reviews will not influence our own thoughts of the show, and there was hardly unanimity in our perceptions of what we saw. And I liked it, to be sure.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2013-09-26 19:41 ]
Thanks for the link, bix! After looking at that picture, I'm beginning to wonder if by "dressed the same" he meant "they're all wearing pants and shirts with sleeves and there wasn't anyone in a short skirt and spaghetti straps or skintight spandex." From everything else he says, I get the impression that he'd consider the latter more appropriate to the genre. (With perhaps one woman wearing the former, to appease the "PC" crowd.)

I personally quite liked the costuming.
So in order for the women to be distinguishable from each other, one of them needed to be fat or ugly? WTF?
to be fair, in that pic b!X linked Melinda and Skye are wearing very similar (if not the very same type of) boots. That's got to be confusing.
Simon, Thanks for the info about Chloe Bennet. I'll try to be more careful to get my facts straight in the future.
Thanks for that link, Simon -- I had no idea about her pop star past!
I suppose we'll have to wait a few seasons for the musical.

And the actors are all attractive. It's true. Unlike all those ugly folk on Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse...
I think what he was saying is that, the Hooded Hero being black draws attention to itself; it is a "look at me the writer" moment. That makes it PC, if it was done to draw attention to itself. But that, of course, is me reading into his words.

I guess, if there were any point in the show where it was even mentioned that the character was black, or it had any impact on anything except, y'know, the color of the character's skin.

Though we're also still at the point in media representations of minorities that I really, really wouldn't mind if a couple more writers tried to "draw attention to themselves" by including characters of color in their shows.
Darkness, well said. I can't help but feel disappointed at the comments on this thread. There seems to be a lot of hate directed at Jim Steranko, the man, for being critical and sharing his opinions, which he was hired to do by The Hollywood Reporter. I did not agree with a lot of what he wrote either but I would never make some of the baseless and damning accusations posted above.

Pacer, I found it ironic that you chose that particular article to highlight Steranko's crankiness . One of the credited creators of that series, The Pro, was omitted in your comment, Jimmy Palmiotti. When Palmiotti was just starting out in the business, he was having a rough time and was ready to quit comics all together. Ironically, it was Steranko that met him at a comic show and convinced him to stick it out.
"Clearly, Steranko is making a bigger point than just that the JAR character was black and thus PC."

I disagree. He offered no reason to think it was a PC move other than the fact that the actor was black. That means he saw a black man an instantly thought that there was no valid reason for the part to go to him.

The fact that Steranko has one particular black guy that he likes doesn't change anything. Samuel L. Jackson has been doing awesome, high profile work for decades. If that is what it takes to make Steranko feel like a character deserves even a one time appearance on a show, then he's holding the black actors to a much higher standard than the white actors.
I disagree. I do not think Steranko is racist, and I sincerely think he was trying, poorly, to make a larger point. He just did it so badly that it appears racist. But I also admit, and admitted, I could be wrong. At least, there has not been blow-back on his comment so far, except here so far as I can see.

IrrationalTV, you are putting words in my mouth I did not say. My point was that the characters are of a type- attractive, and typical for TV. I do think that it would serve the medium better to present women in all their forms, large and small, culturally attractive and not, black and white, Latin and Oriental. But it is nearly always culturally attractive, slender, white (here, not so much, but not black), and so on. In that sense, Firefly was more progressive, since it had both a hispanic-heritaged and a Black/Cuban woman. Both Ming Na and Chloe Bennett are part or mostly Oriental, but they still meet white cultural norms for attractiveness. Just saying.
He's not KKK racist, but he wandered into "embarrassing granpa" territory.

He's not just making a valid point badly. He had his reaction completely based on the character's skin color. Trying to come up with a reason for it after the fact won't change the fact that he looked at a black actor and immediately thought that there was no reason that actor was chosen other than to fill a quota.

There's no larger point to be made. The character actually works better black. The points made at the end of the show about gods vs men echo the class struggles in the real world, which goes back to the little black boy staring at a bunch of white action figures. Marvel made it's reputation on using super-powered allegories to take on social issues. If anything, this episode hit it too lightly by comparison to Marvel's history.

J August Richards is a great actor who did a great job. So we had a great actor in a role that made sense as a black man.

Calling that "PC" isn't making any larger point.
While I don't think Jim Steranko's racist, and I did agreed with the core elements of several of his points, his presentation of his viewpoint as part of the agreement with The Hollywood Reporter to do an episode-by-episode critical review of Agents of SHIELD came across a tad heavy-handed and constructed with less than wonderful analogies.

To me, he's trying to say that the only major role in the episode where the actor or actress is black - I loved Ron Glass as the SHIELD doc in on Coulson's secret but it was less than 5 minutes of screen time and we don't know if he will be in other episodes - was CENTIPEDE test subject Mike Peterson and he's of dubious sanity and morality by the end of the pilot due to the effects of the super-power source mismash he's wearing on his arm. Though I doubt any presence of Nick Fury would have really counter-balanced any possible perception of semi-subtle racism.

I think we should wait and see what comes of Episode 2's review to see if Steranko chooses to keep a certain kind of heading for his thoughts or not...better to give him enough rope to hang himself if it does turn out to be a series of semi-rants afloat via lifeboats of honest criticism.
BlueEyedBrigadier, that still doesn't make sense to me. In fact, the argument you are making -- the one major black guy role goes to the character who turns crazy and immoral -- makes MORE sense than the one he's making. But casting a black guy as a crazy person seems like the OPPOSITE of being stereotypically "PC," so I don't see how that can be his argument at all.
I think the PC stereotype was that of the black guy driven by poverty to do bad things. He also tried to elevate himself to the level of... a bunch of white (super)guys. And that character arc was very similar to what happened to Gunn in Angel.

I think it probably is unintentional, but still a bit awkward. If it had been another show, and a woman trying to elevate herself to the level of men, becoming crazy in the process, then being brought back to reason by a man, we would all have been up in arms about it.
I think JAR was hired because Joss knew he'd get it done. Simple as that.

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