No S.H.I.E.L.D. From Superheroes


Broadcast television networks have announced their bevy of shows ready for the fall. And from what I can see, it should be an interesting autumn.

Fox, for instance, is bringing back Jack Bauer and 24 for a limited 12-episode, miniseries-like run. (Alas, it won’t be called 12.) Fantasy-oriented geeks will be tempted by shows like Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and ABC’s Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (a spinoff from Once Upon A Time). Meanwhile, Michael J. Fox is making his TV comeback in a show titled, strangely enough, The Michael J. Fox Show. And comedian Robin Williams is teaming up with Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for CBS’ The Crazy Ones (which I initially thought was going to be an exposé on the Plugged In staff).

But the new show getting perhaps the most buzz is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., featuring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson. You know, the guy whom Loki supposedly killed in The Avengers. I gather from the trailer that this is no prequel.


Now, I’ve written a lot about superheroes over the last few years. I’ve discussed the spiritual significance of Iron Man’s ARC Reactor and the socio-political metaphors of Captain America. I may know as much about Batman as almost anyone who doesn’t own a replica cowl. I’m excited to see The Man of Steel and will even pay good money to see Aquaman on the big screen if and when a movie about him ever comes out. I like superheroes.

But I do wonder whether we may be hitting a saturation point with such stories.

Granted, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t look like it’s going full-on cape, here. I don’t think I saw any spandex in the trailer at all. But ABC obviously didn’t green-light this series in order to cater to the Mad Men or Breaking Bad crowd. No, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. caters to society’s fascination with superheroes—a fascination that’s been going strong for more than a decade now.

In just the six years I’ve been at Plugged In, I’ve seen movies featuring Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, the Green Lantern, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Watchmen and the X-Men. Films pinned to the superhero craze like The Incredibles, Megamind and Hancock could’ve filled whole Bat caves with cash. Superheroes have successfully trickled into television this century, too. The CW found success with its Superman series Smallville, and Arrow (featuring the Green Arrow) has put up some of that network’s best ratings.

While some may say the superhero genre is limited, I feel that these stories give us opportunity to explore big, important themes: What it means to be good. What it takes to be a hero. Overcoming suffering. Dealing with complex moral issues. The genre is a great crucible for not only exciting stories, but for larger-than-life examinations of the human condition—much as Westerns used to be.

Oh, yeah. About those Westerns.

For decades, the Western was the quintessential American movie. They were staggeringly popular and, had more of them been made in the age of the blockbuster, many would’ve been tentpole movies I would’ve been writing about on Movie Monday.

We don’t see Westerns much anymore. They’ve not disappeared entirely, as evidenced by the forthcoming reboot of The Lone Ranger, which is poised to give the genre a Johnny Depp-infused jolt of action over the 4th of July weekend. Even so, Westerns are definitely a more rare breed these days. Why? It seems as though the moviegoing public just got tired of ’em.

I wonder: Are superheroes eventually going to hit that same point of oversaturation? Are we going to start seeing a lagging interest in the cape-and-cowl crew?

For the most part, the movies coming to theaters are still pretty well made (and I’m talking entertainment value, here, not content). And maybe that’s the secret: As long as our superheroes entertain us, movies about them will continue to thrive.

But frankly, I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing a slowing of the superhero train. With all due respect to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I believe we can have too much of a good thing.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Kal El More than 1 year ago

--I will keep this simple. YAY FOR SUPER HEROES!!!! I have loved them since I was super little and that has never changed and probably never will. Therefore I don't see myself getting tired of these movies at all. I am excited for "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." and CAN'T WAIT for "Man Of Steel" (Supes is my favorite super hero of them all)!! For me the unusual thing is when I DON'T like and end up buying a super hero movie. I say keep bringing them on!! :-D

P.S. Finally some love for Aquaman! Right there with ya,  Paul!

Charity Bishop More than 1 year ago

I used to LOVE this comic book action film stuff but somewhere in the last couple of years I've gotten tired of it -- but I guess multiple viewings of ten seasons of Smallville will do that to a person. (I saw the trailer for the new Superman and went -- "ehhh... nah." I'll be curious to see if it bombs.)

This is the first I've heard of FOX's Sleepy Hollow. I got excited, then saw it was a modern story and lost some of my enthusiasm -- but after watching the trailer... it looks awesome. Guess we'll see!

Sean Cunningham More than 1 year ago

I found a lot to think about here. Honestly I don't think there is any pure apples to apples comparison here, but there are certainly strong parallels between the two styles of movies. More to the point about superhero movie saturation, I think that really lies in the hands of the studios. The general trend of those movies nowadays is towards bigger action and set pieces, often at the expense of story and character. Just look at the differences between the first Iron Man movie and its third sequel: the character development that made the original so appealing is all but gone by the third movie. Same goes for the Dark Knight trilogy to a degree. If superhero movies become more biff-bang-boom than engaging stories, and continue to arrive in theaters at the current rate (or even at an accelerated one), I do believe that will create an over-saturated market.

Just one final thought: Aquaman actually has some pretty compelling qualities that would make for a good movie. Really, any superhero does, but it's up to the producers to make that movie happen. Looking back to Iron Man, that character has been around for years and had a fairly large fan base, but it wasn't until someone made an awesome movie about him that his popularity really took off.

Jonathan Henry More than 1 year ago

The new Avengers series is by the team behind Ultimate Spider-Man, if I'm not mistaken. That show is pretty awful, so I don't have high hopes for this one. That said, the last Avengers show "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" was one of the best superhero shows in a while and it was canceled for this new one. Kind of a shame.

@syd The last Batman show "The Brave & The Bold" was kind of an action comedy and had a pretty good rendition of Aquaman. I recommend checking it out if you're looking for a fun superhero show.

syd collings More than 1 year ago

I think the new Superman movie is called 'Man of Steel', no 'The'. Also, Aquaman kinda sucks as a superhero, in my opinion. I love superheroes and I will continue to watch them as long as they continue to be well-made. I think the ABC show on S.H.I.E.L.D. is a bad idea and a blatant cash-grab. I saw the trailer and I was not impressed.

I think superheroes are popular because it appeals to everyone, home and abroad. Emphasis on 'abroad' because that is the current reality of the movie-making business. About 70% of worldwide grosses come from international markets, so studios have to be mindful of the appeal of their movies to overseas audience right from the beginning.

Westerns are too culturally specific and international audiences can't relate to them. So, making a Western is bad business. I don't like Westerns either, especially the drawling accent that makes the dialogue hard to follow. But, I did enjoy 2010's True Grit.