Although on less of a high after last summer’s mega block-busters Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers, Joss Whedon is still going strong with the Buffy Season 9 comics and his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Meanwhile, his devotees are eagerly awaiting his upcoming television series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.(debuting this September), and greedily grabbing any details about the characters or plot. While we might not know much, we have already learned that the show will deal with the intricacies of managing superhero teams and the eponymous ultra-high tech inter-planetary security team of the Marvel Universe. Extrapolating from Joss Whedon’s other franchises, what can we expect from Agents?
*Warning: Some spoilers for older Whedon franchises below*
1. Strong Female Character(s)
Although not unproblematic as a trope and certainly reeking of 90s girl power nostalgia, Joss Whedon is a master of creating interesting, three dimensional, flawed, and ass-kicking female characters. Of course, Buffy is the proto-typical example of this, but basically every series of his has their own: From Winnifred Burkel and Cordelia Chase in Angel, to Echo in Dollhouse, to River in Firefly, to Kitty Pryde in his run of X-men. We already know that the upcoming series will feature Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Chloe Bennett as Skye, and Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jenna Simmons, and I get the feeling none of these women will be the damsel-in-distress types.
Scarlett Johanssen as Black Widow… Just one in a long line of kickass Whedon women
2. Lovecraftian Evil
In the Marvel Universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a law enforcement unit dealing with superhuman threats. And what is to say that some of these threats aren’t Elder Gods or Old Ones, plucked from the imagination of horror master H.P. Lovecraft? We know that Whedon has a penchant for ancient demons and chthonic powers (just look at Seasons 2-5 of Angel or the big bad of Cabin in the Woods), I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Cthulu or Yog-Sapha showed up.
3. Unpowered Angst
What is often interesting about series like Angel and Buffy is the way that the regular old humans without super-powers deal with apocalyptic threats and the inevitable inferiority complexes caused by their friends’ magical abilities. Xander Harris (from BtVS) is the archetype of this. How will our agents, some of whom I’d imagined are not gifted with things like super-strength or telekinesis, deal with saving the world and each other?
4. Fan Service, Fan Service, Fan Service
Will S.H.I.E.L.D. accidentally hire Wolfram and Hart to handle the litigation of one of their demonic clients? Will they use technology invented by the Rossum Corporation? Will the Cheese Man appear in a character’s dream? Will any mention be made of the Shrimp Dimension? Only certain cultists of the Whedon worlds will get these in-jokes, but I wouldn’t mind a nod or two to the more obscure entities in the Whedon-verse.
The Cheese Man
Despite the fact that Buffy was, ostensibly, a fantasy show, the series did an excellent job of provocatively mixing romance, comedy, science fiction, horror, teen drama, and soap opera. Oh, and one time there was a musical episode. Will the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents break out into song and dance? Probably not in the first season. But I’ll hold out hope.
6. Gay Character(s)
Non-stereotypical, non-villainous characters from all walks of life in the LGBTQ rainbow? Whedon’s got that down. Willow Rosenberg, of course, comes to mind immediately, but Whedon is also the creator of Inara Serra (from Firefly) a bi-sexual future-geisha, and Tara Maclay (Willow’s witchy girlfriend). In his comic books, Buffy herself has taken on a female lover, and later a young gay boy named Billy Lane becomes a homo-hero vampire hunter. While the Marvel Universe is slightly cagier about openly gay characters (Wiccan, Hulkling are fairly obscure) Whedon has never shied away from them. What queer torrid affairs will our agents find themselves in? And how will they be torn apart? Which brings us to our next prediction…
Willow & Tara
7. Happy Couple? Not for Long
No couple stays happy when Whedon is in charge. The aforementioned Tara and Willow were broken up by a stray bullet in the very same episode Tara got a spot in the show’s opening credits. The list of couples in Whedon’s writing that have been torn apart by fantastical circumstances is practically endless: Fred and Wes, Kitty and Colossus, Buffy and Angel, Cordelia and Angel, Victor and Sierra, Paul and Echo, etc… As we get to know our protagonists, let’s be aware that the second it seems like a couple is doing fine, they will be taken down.
8. Inter-office Evil
In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a shadowy organization that operates with systematic distrust and ubiquitous double crossing. What diabolical menace lurks in the shadows of this agency? Like Wolfram and Hart, Rossum, and the mysterious corporation running the terror-house of Cabin, sometimes it seems that the real evil of Whedon’s worlds are not demons and vampires, but bureaucracy itself.
9. Witty Banter
Snappy comebacks, powerful puns, sassy one-liners, and snippy dialogue are the real hallmark of a Whedon production. There are endless academic articles written on the grammatical structures of “Slayer-speak,” but let’s leave that to the experts.
10. Post-modern Self-Awareness
The real joy of Whedon’s work comes from the ways in which the characters know how absurd their journey’s are. The characters seem to “get” that they are in a TV show: Willow once made a comment that it seems like trouble always happens on Tuesdays, when the show used to air. They might as well be winking into the camera the whole time. If there isn’t a campy sensibility paired with late-capitalist ennui, I certainly won’t be watching S.H.I.E.L.D. for long.
Other comments have been made about the show’s special effects budget, and the interesting ways the characters will interact with other Marvel franchises, but I think we can bet that Whedon pulls through with his idiosyncratic style. Do you have any of your own predictions for the upcoming series?