Getting a handle on “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and where it’s going is always a challenge. For a series that is taking the long view on the Marvel Universe, it spends much of its time focusing on the smaller moments that affect the characters. Big, sprawling wars are glossed over, while discussions of motivations are given a lot of attention. On the surface, not much happens in “S.H.I.E.L.D.” #4 and, yet, in focusing on the smaller moments, even using the same three pages (altered in each case) three times, gives the issue an easy, relaxed feeling. It’s a comic that celebrates and luxuriates in the wonders that it deals in.
Sir Isaac Newton has fled to the future to avoid judgment at the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the victors in the civil war must now go after him. They require the help of their Eastern counterpart, the Spear, in this task, despite that organization barely existing. The three brothers of Causality represent the three branches of time (what is, what was, and what will be) and with them as navigators of the Human Machine, the group winds up in three different possible futures simultaneously.
The three pages of them arriving in the future and being attacked by Newton are used each time with altered backgrounds and dialogue to reflect the changes in each time. It’s a grand concept that suits the book: simply following Newton to one future would be too mundane. As it stands, what happens with three possible futures is unknown and leaves the issue in an intriguing place. That none of the characters except Michelangelo seem aware of multiple futures adds to the intrigue.
Dustin Weaver’s work on this title has been illuminating and he continues to wow with detailed art in this issue. While the reused pages mean less work conceptually, he integrates the backgrounds and alters the characters in subtle ways so that it doesn’t look like a green screen has changed behind the characters. A two-page sequence showing the Human Machine moving through time allows Weaver to show some of the highlights of Marvel’s history along with some possible future events. These pages emphasize how good he could be on a ‘regular’ Marvel superhero title whenever “S.H.I.E.L.D.” ends.
The plot doesn’t advance a great deal in this issue, which is a little disappointing after an issue-long fight last issue. However, that’s balanced out to a degree in how things happen here. This isn’t a straight linear, cause and effect comic, and the storytelling reflects that. It applies some smart concepts to how it tells the story and, with three distinct timelines in this issue, what happens next is anyone’s guess.