It's amazing how, in the right hands, a simple idea can turn into something fantastic. That's probably the best way to quickly sum up Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver's work on "S.H.I.E.L.D." #1, taking a concept of, "What if S.H.I.E.L.D. had always existed in the Marvel Universe?" and bringing it to places you'd never see coming.
Strictly as window dressing alone, "S.H.I.E.L.D." #1 delivers everything it promises. Brood invasions in ancient Egypt, Celestials in Han Dynasty era China, Galactus in 16th century Rome. Hickman's imagination is wide ranging and expansive, bringing all the elements of Marvel into different settings throughout the past and making them work. It's easy to immerse yourself in the images and ideas scattered throughout the book, looking for easter eggs like an immortal character fighting in the background of one scene set in the past.
And oh, the images. I'm not sure where Dustin Weaver's been hiding this sort of beautiful, expansive, overwhelming art, but it absolutely sells Hickman's script. From intricate telescopes in Leonardo da Vinci's Florence lab, to a Celestial standing next to a pagoda, the ridiculous and the sublime stand side by side in a lush, detailed art style. It's art that is so carefully drawn that Marvel's offering up a black and white edition for people who want to just stare at Weaver's pencils and inks, seeing everything that Weaver packed into the panels and pages. Personally, I prefer the full-color edition; Christina Strain's work meshes beautifully with Weaver's, selecting color palettes and effects for each setting with great care.
But, here's the thing. Everything I've described up until now? It's all window dressing for the main story set in the 1950s. Leonid, a young man with powers relating to the stars, is recruited to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and brought to the Immortal City beneath Rome. That's where the rest of this story lies, as we start to learn hints of the source of the organization's power, as well as Leonid and his father's connection to S.H.I.E.L.D. even before Leonid's recruitment. There are lots of little surprises in store for you, like the figures chasing after Leonid's father, or just why we're learning about all of these S.H.I.E.L.D. agents from the past. It's an imaginative, fun introduction to this new "S.H.I.E.L.D." series, and it's quite frankly the best issue #1 I've seen in a very long time. It will be hard for "S.H.I.E.L.D." to keep up this rush of newness and wonder and excitement throughout every issue, but for now I'm absolutely in love. This is a top-notch debut, and I wish all superhero comics were this good. Highly recommended.