Saturday, September 29, 2012

SHIELD: Architects of Forever (comic)

Writer: Johnathan Hickman
Artist: Dustin Weaver
Collects: SHIELD #1-6

I actually finished this comic a month ago, but when it came time to review it I kept putting it off. I've had a hard time figuring out what my thoughts were. This comic is obviously the first part of a story, which makes it difficult to really come to a conclusion about whether it works or not.

The book uses history to weave an interesting tapestry, which is quite possibly its biggest strength. Most of histories greatest figures are shown as members of SHIELD, the protectors of the world; SHIELD is likewise retconned as an organization that was around long, long before Nick Fury was even a thought. A lot of visually interesting scenes abound.

Said moments are at least part of what makes this book engaging. There's something captivating about seeing Leonardo Da Vinci, time traveller extraordinaire, or having Galileo topple Galactus long before Reed Richards. In a medium that is at least half visual, having so many "cool" scenes to look at in your book goes a long way, especially when you have yet to reveal your hand by the end of the book.

The storytelling structure takes a bit of getting used to, though. Hickman uses a LOT of flashbacks that range from thousands of years to as little as five minutes ago. At least half of the first issue is done in flashback. While this provides the book with many of its standout images, it also has a habit of getting confusing.

For instance, here is at least one occasion where it's difficult to tell if a scene is supposed to take place in present day or recent past. Then it feels like the book is trying to get cute when two scenes see time going backwards in five minute increments. The moment I refer to in particular sees one scene set as "five minutes ago" from a scene with Nostradamus and the scene after it also set as "five minutes ago", leaving me to wonder if it was supposed to be five minutes ago from five minutes ago or if both events were meant to be happening simultaneously. It wouldn't be quite so bad if it didn't feel unnecessary.

But even with the books at times non-linear structure, there's a lot going on that feels important. Only trouble is, you're not sure if it is or not. The miniseries ends with a revelation, but it only pulls a couple threads together while leaving the majority hanging. Clearly, the book is meant to come together later on - which I assume will be the second half of the story - but for now the book leaves us with a lot of puzzle pieces I'm not sure we have the context to put together as of yet.

I think this is what makes the book awkward to review. The story feels like the sort that is meant to be taken in when its finished rather than judged by halves. On the other hand, it's perfectly legitimate to judge whether a series works for you based on what you've seen. It's a tough call.

One aspect that's easy to judge, however, is Dustin Weavers artwork. It's simply fantastic on a level you'll only find from the JH Williams III's of the comic world. Each page is packed with tons of detail and interesting things to see. The wonder evoked from many of the books coolest scenes might not have worked as well under another artist. His art makes SHIELD worth the purchase alone.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I wasn't entirely sure how to grade SHIELD, but I eventually settled on an eight. Everything could go wrong in the second part of the story, but for now there are enough strengths to this comic to make it worth the cash. Recommended.

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