Nice to see that Ruth Negga who played Curtis’ doomed girlfriend Nicki in Misfits is not just still dealing with superpowers but has even been promoted to super-villainess in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actually, I’m wondering if she is supposed to be either Viper/Madame Hydra or an updated stand-in for the character. I half expected the final explosion to scar half of her face.
But can anybody tell me why every person of colour we see in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D who’s not Agent May or Nick Fury or Ron Glass is either an out-of-control superbeing or a villain or both. Once or twice is acceptable, but four out of five episodes so far had villains of colour and/or out-of-control superbeings of colour and that’s a definite pattern, made even more notable by the fact that five of the six main characters are white. A pattern that’s highly problematic. And while I would have expected that sort of thing from the likes of NCIS or NCIS LA (ever notice how every Asian to appear in either show is inevitably a villain?), I would have expected better from a Joss Whedon show, even though Whedon has had his share of race and gender fails in the past.
What is more, having just watched the pilot of the latest season (should be season 18, unless I got mixed up) of the long-running German action series Alarm für Cobra 11 – The Highway Cops I can’t help but notice how cheap US action shows like NCIS or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D look by comparison. Indeed, the truck/car chase on a deserted highway in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode with the gravity negating element immediately elicited the reaction “Well, Cobra 11 it’s not” from me, because on Alarm für Cobra 11 the highway would have been full, the truck and/or the escort cars would have caused a mass crash involving a fuel truck, a truck transporting crates of bottles, bricks or something else to spray messily all over the highway, a schoolbus full of singing nuns and about twenty-five cars plus at least one helicopter and a luxury car (Mercedes, BMW or rarely Porsche) to destroy. This is of course ironic, because Alarm für Cobra 11 was originally created as a replacement for US action shows like Knight Rider or The A-Team or Airwolf on which the TV station RTL had built its reputation and which the US suddenly stopped producing in the early 1990s. And here we are, almost twenty years later, and Alarm für Cobra 11 suddenly looks so much better than the sort of show it once was supposed to copy*. You can watch the show online here BTW. Only in German, but it’s not as if the dialogue is all that important anyway.
It’s also telling that more than twenty years after Nick Fury, back when he was still a white guy and not yet Samuel L. Jackson, told Wolverine that no, Sabretooth was not his Dad, regardless of what Sabretooth himself claimed, cause Nick Fury just had his people do a gene test (and no, I don’t care what subsequent comics said, to me Sabretooth will always be Logan’s biological father and Nick Fury is a bloody liar), S.H.I.E.L.D. is still lying about people’s families. Some things never change.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D also reminds me why I never particularly trusted or liked S.H.I.E.L.D in the comics. Because let’s face it, in the end S.H.I.E.L.D. are men in black types and no one ever likes or trusts men in black types (unless one of them is Will Smith) whether they are called S.H.I.E.L.D or S.T.R.I.K.E or W.H.O. or Black Air or UNIT or Torchwood or the Fringe Division or whatever the bad guys from The X-Files were called**. Because those super-secret anagram-happy organisations represent those parts of the government/transnational organisations that we suspect/know are hiding the truth from us, in this fictional case the truth about aliens, superbeings, magic and all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Sure, they may say that they only have the world’s best interests at heart, that they want to protect the world from harm. And we may like them for a while, particularly if they have a likable character as a front like Agent Phil Coulson or Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart or Captain Jack Harkness. And we may think that we, too, could be inducted into their secrets like Skye or Gwen Cooper or Jo Grant or Sarah Jane Smith or Olivia from Fringe (and isn’t it telling that it’s always a young woman). But in the end, the organisation usually reveals its true colours. And very few of those smart young female recruits have happy lives afterwards.
And of course it’s no accident that those organisations are always British or American or – when supposed to be international like S.H.I.E.L.D or UNIT – nonetheless dominated by Americans or Brits. They’re fictional stand-ins for the NSA or MI6 (I think one incarnation was actually called MI13) and no one likes or trusts those guys and with very good reason, too. I mean, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. basically gives us an NSA stand-in versus the Rising Tide, an Anonymous/Wikileaks stand-in and we’re supposed to sympathize with the former.
Again, this sharply brings home my main issue with the Avengersverse, a problem that transcends the (mostly rather good) movies and goes right back to the original comics, namely that S.H.I.E.L.D is the establishment and the Avengers are the establishment’s superteam. We have the representative of the military industrial complex (Iron Man), the symbol of American nationalism (Captain America), the hammer of cultural appropriation (Thor), the personification of everything that’s wrong with nuclear power (Hulk), the cliché objectified East European temptress who has slept with most of the Marvel Universe (Black Widow)*** and an NSA/CIA stand-in as their handler. Don’t get me wrong, the movies are enjoyable, the actors are great in their roles, the worst bits of Cold War racism have been purged and these are probably the best incarnations of the Avengers/Iron Man/Thor/S.H.I.E.L.D/Captain America we will ever see. But it doesn’t change what these characters originally stood for and still stand for and that’s not very pretty.
Though I’ll still watch Thor: The Dark World, if only because of this (“You just decapitated your grandfather” – brilliant), and probably Avengers 2.
*The writing still isn’t all that good, though. Alarm für Cobra 11 is formulaic brainless fun with lots of car crashes and explosions and a highly messy sense of continuity. Never mind that for all it’s fine stuntwork the most recent episode also committed character assassination on both André Fuchs and Andrea Gerkhan. And while I don’t much care about André 14 years after he left the show, I do care about Semir and Andrea.
**Actually, W.H.O is UNIT and both S.T.R.I.K.E. and Black Air are Torchwood by other names, while the bad guys from the X-Files are the Fringe Division.
***In fact, it’s a toss-up between Mystique and Black Widow for the dubious honour of “Has slept with the most Marvel characters of the opposite sex”. They both slept with Wolverine BTW, who is the undisputed winner of that title for the male Marvel characters.