Monday, September 26, 2016

Ghost Rider and Agents of SHIELD

So, if you haven't become aware yet, the current season of Agents of SHIELD features an iteration of the comic book character Ghost Rider.

For those not familiar with the Marvel Universe, Ghost Rider is in some ways like the Marvel version of the Green Lantern: he's had multiple iterations (different fictional people are "the Ghost Rider") each with different powers. Traditionally, he's a guy with a flaming skull for a head on a motorcycle, because he made a deal with the devil and now hunts evil for eternity or something similar.

However, recently Marvel moved him to being a guy with a flaming skull for a head in a muscle car because he died during street racing and is possessed by the ghost of his serial killer uncle, whose evil inclination he defies to be a vigilante.

As you can see from the trailer, the newest version of Ghost Rider is the one we're seeing in Agents of SHIELD.

I welcome the appearance of Ghost Rider, because I've been finding Agents of SHIELD becoming more and more stale.

To explain this I need to spoil some things. If you don't like spoilers, you should stop now. Below the horizontal line/blogger break I will spoil three seasons each of Agents of SHIELD and The Blacklist, as well as the ending to the Kurt Russell/James Spader film Stargate and probably some other things too because I'm on a roll.

Great. The reason that I think Ghost Rider is a good idea is, simply, that Ghost Rider has no connection to Hydra whatsoever, which means there's room to stop doing the same thing the show has been doing for three seasons.

To elaborate, I'm going to talk about The Blacklist. A lot.

So, recently, as you know, after I dropped Hannibal like a hot, beautifully-plated, gourmet meal of human flesh, I polished off the third season of The Blacklist on Netflix. Watching it this time, I realized that it was Agents of SHIELD for people who consider themselves "too grownup" for comic books; essentially watching Agents of SHIELD while pretending to watch NCIS.

Each show has a telegenic white woman slightly younger than the average age of the rest of the cast as the protagonist.

In the beginning of the show, she's seemingly plucked out of nowhere to go on fabulous secret adventures with a team of government agents. As the plot continues, and a conspiracy pulls the rug out from under them, these women find that they are actually children of destiny, whether it be discovering that she's actually the super-powered daughter of a life-sucking human-alien hybrid or the daughter of Russian sleeper agents still chased by her spy-turned-international crime lord father.

Aiding the protagonist is a woman of a different ethnicity who has extensive martial skills and a complicated love life:

And then there's the computer nerd with a crush on one of the other characters:

Finally, there's the older guy with a receding hairline who is both a father figure and an intensely intrusive puppet master for the protagonist:

Now, I'm not saying these shows are exactly the same; The Blacklist has stayed more episodic with "baddies of the week" than Agents of SHIELD, but both of them are still about the Young Woman of Destiny, her super-spy surrogate dad, and the various conspiracies that threaten them and the nation/world each season.

Which brings me to why Ghost Rider is such a great addition to Agents of Shield. Until now, Agents of SHIELD has gone to the same tentacled skull-filled well for conflict again and again.

Season One: All villains are part of Hydra, the evil organization with world domination aspirations.
Season Two: The villains are Hydra and a group of Inhumans led by Daisy Johnson/Quake's mom, who hates regular humans in part because Hydra vivisected her.
Season Three: Hydra, and then Hydra plus the Inhumans' evil demigod-king, who also happens to be the evil god-king of the cult that began Hydra. Like all part alien, part-human demigod kings, like Ra in Stargate, he proves to be quite susceptible to tactical nuclear weapons.
And James Spader's in this one, too! Coincidence...or CONSPIRACY?
Compare and contrast to The Blacklist:
Season One: Dealing with the shadowy plot of the man known only as "Berlin."
Season Two: Finishing off Berlin leads the globe-spanning shadow government known as "The Cabal" to try to end Reddington and Liz.
Season Three: Trying to get Liz out of trouble for murdering the United States Attorney General (to be honest, he was an arm of The Cabal, plus it was the only way to wipe that smug smile off his face), then dealing with the machinations of Alexander King.

As you can see, it's not always Hydra in The Blacklist.

I've been really disappointed with Agents of Shield in this regard, because it's not like Hydra's the only evil organization that SHIELD goes up against. As Marvel will point out to you, Nick Fury and the Agents of SHIELD have been taking on super-scientist super-villain group A.I.M. for a while:
A.I.M., in their snazzy outfits, trying to steal from SHIELD.
And A.I.M. even employed the Red Skull for a while (they're the ones who got him obsessed with the cosmic cube), so if the Agents of SHIELD writers couldn't resist throwing in a Hydra reference, there's that. Also A.I.M. made M.O.D.O.K., "Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing," and how can you resist a name like that?

Well, apparently the Agents of SHIELD writers could. It's been all Hydra, all the time.

Before Ghost Rider showed up, I was worried that this new season would find a new way to make Hydra show up everywhere, after two seasons with episodes where Phil Coulson ran operations shutting down major Hydra operations.

But now, there's something new! Something that is not Hydra or Inhumans! Which is great news for the show -- whatever happens next, it'll be something different than what came before. Even if it's not very good, it will at least be different, because, if I haven't driven it home for you before, Hydra is played out.

"But," you may say, "previously, Agents of SHIELD has made all of its weirdness super-science (or at least 'aliens') and Ghost Rider is supernatural! How is that supposed to work?"

It works because it works. Don't worry so much. Magic is part of the Marvel universe (e.g. Doctor Strange), and even super-science characters like Iron Man just sort of take it as a thing. It can be done. And I'd like to see them try.

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