There are moments of brilliance and beauty in every issue of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” Unfortunately, they seem counterbalanced by moments of mediocrity and ugliness. Turn the page and see Leonardo da Vinci quietly apologizing to his robotic replacement, assuring it that he chose this and it is not a thief. Turn the page again and you have Sir Isaac Newton looking and acting like he stepped out of one of those unfortunate comics from the 1990s where everyone looked so ugly and absurd in their metallic clothes and harsh computer colors. That inability to find a stable quality level has plagued the book since its beginning and continues in its second volume, broaching the question: when will it live up to its potential?
A plot that has come into focus helps the comic. The war between Newton's and da Vinci’s factions of Shield culminates in a battle of motivations and hidden secrets between the two. The disconnect between the writing and art hits an odd peak on that page with Jonathan Hickman delivering forceful, poetic insight into both characters, while the layout and execution is muddled. At other times, the writing seems mundane and meandering, while Dustin Weaver reminds you just how wondrous pencil and ink can be on the page.
The opening sequence showcases Weaver’s command of fluid line work that manages to capture a realism in his characters without looking stiff. He seems to attempt depicting characters in different styles or with different line work techniques. Michelangelo is drawn in a softer, sketchier manner to go with his ‘golden god’ look, while da Vinci has a more intricate, realistic look, and Newton resembles a cheesy comic book villain. How much is deliberate and how much is the inconsistency that marks the art as a whole is hard to say. When some panels are drawn smoothly and look amazing while others look slapped together and feature line work that falls apart, it’s hard to gauge the intent exactly.
Hickman remains best at the small moments and ideas in this comic. The aforementioned panel where da Vinci whispers to his robotic duplicate or the interior confessions of da Vinci and Newton or the Celestial Child at the end of the issue, these small moments are where the comic really sings. On the larger level, it still seems aimless, hoping to provide a ‘bigger picture’ at some point.
“S.H.I.E.L.D.” remains an interesting book with enough quality to warrant reading every issue; it simply hasn’t lived up to the pre-release hype or the potential exhibited at its best. Too often, a brilliant page will be next to a lackluster one. This issue offered a little consistency thanks to its simple, direct plot, and that still wasn’t enough.