In less than a month, we're going to be seeing Joss Whedon's long-awaited return to television, with a show about S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy organization from the Marvel movies. But S.H.I.E.L.D. has already had a ton of unforgettable storylines in the comics. Here are 11 sagas that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could draw on.
This is one of the first ever S.H.I.E.L.D. storylines, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby himself. And it's mostly worth mentioning for the fact that it introduces S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ESP Squad, who are a whole squad of agents with mind-control powers. Tell me you wouldn't want to see a story arc around a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. psy-operatives.
I have a major soft spot for D.G. Chichester's stint writing Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early 1990s, and this long-running storyline is one of the better ones. It includes the rebirth of a Nazi supervillain, Baron Von Strucker — but you wouldn't necessarily need him to get to the core of this storyline, which is all about terrorists attacking a S.H.I.E.L.D. training facility using alien technology and killing over a thousand trainee agents. And meanwhile, some former KGB agents have gone freelance and are selling state secrets. This story introduces Cassandra Romulus, a superspy who wears bright green lipstick. Also, the 1990s S.H.I.E.L.D. series includes some great stuff about peace-loving aliens who have been mind controlled and turned into Nazis. And a cult leader who mind-controls people into joining his doomsday squad.
No, not the World War II squadron — but the team of supernatural monster types that work for S.H.I.E.L.D. in this short-lived 2006 comic book. The notion of S.H.I.E.L.D. gathering a bunch of odd characters as a second-string team in case the Avengers aren't available makes a certain amount of sense, and you could see how a team like that could get out of control or at least serve as uneasy allies for Phil Coulson's special team. The comics version of the team included a Frankenstein's-monster clone, an intelligent zombie, a mummy, and a werewolf/vampire hybrid woman. Mostly, it would be fun to see the human agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having to interact with some werewolf and zombie colleagues.
This 1995 miniseries is most notable for being written by the great Howard Chaykin, who also wrote and drew a few other S.H.I.E.L.D. comics. This particular storyline showcases a few nifty ideas: in particular, S.H.I.E.L.D. is hit with major funding cuts, causing the agency to cut corners just before things get hairy. And S.H.I.E.L.D. is forced to deal with a battle for control over a super-terrorist organization between a woman and her ex-husband, with the loser potentially setting off a small nuke in the middle of New York. I just like the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly having to look for change in the sofa cushions as everything breaks loose.
You know we're going to have to introduce Damage Control into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point — they're the organization from the comics who clean up all the disasters that superheroes cause with their massive fight scenes. And after watching The Avengers, it's pretty clear their help is going to be needed around here. In this storyline, Damage Control goes on strike and Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are called into mediate. You could easily replace Nick Fury with Phil Coulson — I would love to see him tackling a tricky labor dispute, using all the cunning and charm at his disposal to get the strikers back to work by any means necessary.
We know that Joss Whedon's obsessed with Kitty Pryde, so he's probably read this limited series. Obviously, Marvel doesn't have the rights to use Kitty Pryde at the moment — but they could use the idea of a superpowered specialist being brought in to deal with a computer virus attacking the Helicarrier, only to have the virus turn out to be a supervillain in disguise. Also, Marvel does have the rights to use She-Hulk, who had a great "She-Hulk, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." storyline where she hunts down superpowered threats for S.H.I.E.L.D., not too long ago. Just sayin'.
Although you might have to change its name to "Kaiju Squad," since they might not have the rights to Godzilla. Basically, when Godzilla comes ashore and starts trashing shit, a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D.agents are sent to track Godzilla and find a way to deal with him. And they basically follow Godzilla around, studying him and trying to figure out how to capture him, using super high tech equipment designed by Tony Stark. At one point, they build a giant robot to fight Godzilla (really!) and at another, they manage to shrink Godzilla down to tiny size — but then he escapes and re-embiggens. The TV show might not have the budget to show kaiju attacking the coast too often, but it would be kind of hilarious if there was one episode about this. Or if the Kaiju Squad just wandered through a few episodes, shaking their heads. "Yup. Still chasing that giant monster. Nope, haven't caught him yet."
Given that Joss Whedon actually created S.W.O.R.D. in the pages of Astonishing X-Men, it seems like a pretty sure bet that we might see it eventually. In a nutshell, S.W.O.R.D. is a counterpart to S.H.I.E.L.D. that focuses on responding to extraterrestrial threats. And relations between the two covert agencies are frequently difficult, with S.W.O.R.D. resorting to some extreme tactics that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't entirely hold with. You could see S.W.O.R.D. head Abigail Brand becoming an uneasy ally or foil of Phil Coulson or Maria Hill — and S.W.O.R.D. could also be used to tell some interesting stories about xenophobia and its unfortunate fallout. You could also use S.W.O.R.D. to segue into a story about H.A.M.M.E.R., the evil version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (See below.)
This bizarre storyline by superstar writer Jonathan Hickman and fantastic artist Dustin Weaver reveals that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for thousands of years, and at one point both Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton were S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Da Vinci and Newton become embroiled in a long-running battle over fate vs. free will, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. You probably couldn't do most of the crazy stuff in this comic on television — but some of the ideas could definitely make their way to the small screen. Besides that "fate vs. free will" thing, there's also the notion of S.H.I.E.L.D. having deep roots. And people faking their deaths and abandoning their families to devote their lives to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Not that Nick Fury is likely to show up much on this TV show — Samuel L. Jackson is kinda busy, after all. But you could replace Nick Fury with Phil Coulson, and this story could still work great. In a nutshell, S.H.I.E.L.D. turns against Nick Fury, and eventually we discover that the spy crew have been infiltrated by evil duplicates. Nick is forced to go on the run with a few select agents, and fight against his own organization. (There's a running theory that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is already based on this storyline, in which case we could see some of the fallout on the TV show.) If the show ever does the "SHIELD is taken over by evil and agents have to go rogue" storyline, they could also borrow heavily from the recent Secret Warriors arc, which is much the same thing except slightly more political. S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes the evil organization H.A.M.M.E.R.
The ultra-classic Jim Steranko storyline about a superspy who outsmarts, outmaneuvers and generally out-awesomes the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew. He keeps the agents on their toes, impersonating S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and setting deadly traps, while nobody is even able to find out who he is or why he has a vendetta against them. You could use this basic storyline as a jumping-off point for some great spy-vs-spy stuff, with a mysterious, unstoppable foe who keeps coming back. In general, the Steranko issues of Strange Tales and Fury's own comic are a goldmine of weird science fictional twists — for example, the gadgets that S.H.I.E.L.D. has access to include a cube that causes LSD-ish hallucinations in anyone in the vicinity, plus a pill that makes you invisible for just 60 seconds.