Romantic comedies usually always end before things get messy. Before love actually requires much work, before her adorable idiosyncrasies become grating habits, before life gets real life-y. Action movies usually always end right after things get messy. After London is obliterated by a pulsating thermonuclear ray from a Decepticon, after James Bond leads a car chase through Paris that knocks over the Eiffel Tower, after—in the case of Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers— New York City falls under alien attack, and a team of superpowered superpeople reveal themselves to save the day. We never really know what happens after action movies, except for a couple of lines of expository dialogue in the inevitable sequel.
But Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a brand new thing: A TV show spin-off that takes place in the wreckage of the blockbuster movie. The world knows about the demigod Thor now. The world knows about the half-mutant Hulk. The world knows about the cryogenically frozen Captain America, and his super shield. Now what?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is what.
Agent Coulson, who is alive and well, thank you very much, has assembled an espionage team to track down people with superpowers and contain them/help them/keep them from blowing up anymore major cities. The most campy comics say there are two kinds of people with powers: superheroes and supervillains, but Whedon taught us a different philosophy a long time ago. “Yes, it’s terribly simple,” said Giles. “The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.” To which Buffy replied: “Liar.”
So, it’s no surprise that our “bad guy” in the pilot is a complicated fella named Mike Peterson (Gunn from Angel!), a factory worker who is down on his luck and just trying to make ends meet for him and his son. By the time we meet him, he’s already become someone’s grand superheroic experiment. He’s got a gadget attached to his arm that is pumping him up with pretty much all superpowers combined: super-speed, super-strength, super-courage. He uses it to rescue a woman from a burning building and then things get real weird real fast because all the superjuice amps him up to a place where he’s so enraged he’s in danger of literally exploding.