Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s masterful Marvel title S.H.I.E.L.D. came to a close this week. The story started – in 2010 and relaunched in 2011 – at a time when Hickman and Weaver both had a bright future at the publisher and less material in development. When the publication of the issues grew more sporadic, the reputation of the series took a hit – so this week we are turning our attention to the ultra-dense, endlessly fascinating finale of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Dustin Weaver
Colored by Sonia Oback and Weaver
Lettered by Todd Klein
It is rare to see a Big Two publisher unleash a comic as ambitious as S.H.I.E.L.D..
Similar to nearly every comic written by Jonathan Hickman, putting the narrative pieces together to discern the plot for this final issue isn’t easy. Getting a story that asks questions and challenges the reader is exactly what fans should come to expect from S.H.I.E.L.D. which ceased publication after dropping fantastic cliffhangers and ideas all drawn by the incredible talent of Marvel star Dustin Weaver. This installment reads largely as an epilogue to the title with the final pulse-pounding final battle mostly taking place in the previous issue. Weaver still presents a rousing visual spectacle, as he’s learned a lot since he started working on the book long ago. And colorist Sonia Oback adds the final elements that propels this book towards greatness.
Weaver bends through a plane of existence to show just how crazy and corrupt Sir Isaac Newton has become. Getting an alternate reality version of history distorted through the lens of a Marvel comic is even weirder than you can possibly imagine. With material from creators like Hickman and Grant Morrison becoming scarce at the major publishers, it becomes clear why this story needed to continue publication in the first place.
This tale features people violently ripped into several different layers and a contains meditation on psychology. In other words, Hickman is asking a lot from Weaver in his script – but he comes through with incredible results. There are detailed double-page spreads filled with aliens, machines and pages obsessed mirror images. Even the final moments with Howard Stark connecting these ideas feature panels filled with machinery loaded with small, insignificant details, with details unwinding in layered vistas. Oback truly had her work cut out for her in the amount of detail jammed into every page and the intense psychological Jack Kirby clusters of magic to load with the proper hues.
If I could identify one individual fault with this issue it would be the lack of cohesion with the final motivations of Newton himself. His ideas seem to change too rapidly, even if Jonathan Hickman loops his character back around by the time the issue ends. It also would have been great to see one final, large-stakes action sequence really consume a large portion of the narrative here but last issue did a phenomenal job delivering on that department. It is interesting to see where Hickman starts to insert his point-of-view of history onto the character and this installment definitely brings a little of those aspects to the story especially with the final moments for his character.
Late in the story, Hickman and Weaver come together to recap the entire story up to this point. From here, the full scope and vision S.H.I.E.L.D. starts to come together from a genre perspective noting that everything that has happened before will happen again. This title’s blend of history, supernatural and superhero origins has made it like nothing else on store shelves. Hickman continues to find the smallest references to other Marvel creations to bring into the issue as he has with previous issues, showing off the Kree in one panel while continuing to maintain an emphasis on the lineage of the Stark and Richards families. Due to the huge scope of the story and the high level of ambition at work within the narrative, S.H.I.E.L.D. has never felt weighed down by odd references to other series. The focus and direction of the overall title only serves to further enrich these points.
When Hickman was at the top of his game dictating events of the larger Marvel Universe, he always fed certain ideas and ticks he kept coming back to. This issue makes a return to those otherworldly and high concept ideas and brings me to another time at Marvel about three years ago where there was a massive sense of experimentation with the line. I can only hope Hickman will one day make a formal return to the publisher and continue to develop and hone those ideas and find what kind of relationship they might be able to maintain with Marvel heroes.
The wide-eyed optimism present at the end of the work wonderfully smoothes out the darker elements of the series and makes the psychedelic elements of S.H.I.E.L.D. more accessible. Lately, I have noticed other creators trying to reach these same conclusions with a final page referencing a previous idea of mantra of the series, but the huge scale of this comic makes the payoff at the end of the issue actually feel worth it in general and more fulfilling than your average comic book.
I would be remiss in talking about this particular installment without referencing the full series and it’s place as an ending as Marvel is currently working on a collection of the series. This is the kind of reading experience perfect for a binge containing an ending which will keep you coming back and make sure you think the issue through. S.H.I.E.L.D. contained quite the slow-burn which is why seeing these final two issues complete the cycle and go back into a publication is a special project worthy of celebration.
Not enough people are reading or have read S.H.I.E.L.D. but now that the cycle is complete this series cannot earn a high enough recommendation for me. Hopefully in trade the tale will grow a stronger reputation and reader base. Few titles carry this level of ambition and have this amount of craft in each and every page. Fans of Dustin Weaver are going to love reading this title and seeing the progression of his work as an artist. Readers who are devoted to the work of Jonathan Hickman and curious to see what he can do with a more out there project from Marvel are going to have a great time. Those who are invested in icons of history are also undoubtedly going to find something as well. It is rare to see someone taking such a huge chance at the Big Two thus our celebration of the finale of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Final Verdict: BUY! The end of Hickman and Weaver’s Marvel masterwork will keep you guessing until the final page.
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics