Disney is no slouch when it comes to corporate synergy, using ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to roll out the Marvel NOW! initiative, and dropping a copy of “Avengers Vs. X-Men” into its fairy-tale drama “Once Upon a Time” (which uses its share of Disney characters, including Jiminy Cricket and the named Dwarfs). However, that road goes both ways, with Marvel publishing graphic novels based on ABC’s “Castle” and, this fall, “Once Upon a Time.”
It stands to reason then that, following last week’s announcement that ABC has added Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” to its fall lineup, a companion comic series is in the works. And if Marvel doesn’t already have one in development, then what is it waiting for?
Although Marvel has published numerous tie-ins to its animated television properties, none of them has met with much success in the direct market; it’s a shortcoming also faced by DC Comics, which cancels and launches tie-in books with some regularity (mostly recently “Young Justice” and “Green Lantern: The Animated Series”). But DC has found success with comics like “Smallville Season 11,” a continuation of the long-running CW drama penned by one of the show’s writers, and “Arrow,” a companion to the network’s new breakout series, written by its creators Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg.
DC’s digital-first approach aside, it’s a general formula that Dark Horse introduced in 2007 with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight,” and IDW Publishing built upon with “Angel: After the Fall,” canonical continuations of cult TV series released with the involvement of the shows’ creator.
However, an “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” comic could have at least one thing DC’s “Arrow” doesn’t: Joss Whedon.
As “executive producer” of “Season Eight,” and writer of the first, fourth and final arcs, Whedon provided the series with a stamp of “legitimacy,” and a dose of star power, that previous Buffy comics didn’t enjoy. To fans, these weren’t just any stories about Buffy Summers and the Scooby Gang; these stories mattered. And for Dark Horse, it paid off.
There’s no reason a similar approach can’t also work for Marvel, and by extension ABC. Returning to Marvel’s comics line for the first time since the conclusion of his “Astonishing X-Men” run in 2008, Whedon could serve as showrunner of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” tie-in, an announcement that would garner the attention of the mainstream media, to say nothing of Marvel movie fans and devoted Whedonites. His guidance, and that of series co-creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, would also help to ensure a consistent tone between the television and comic-book versions of this S.H.I.E.L.D., this Agent Coulson and this Nick Fury, which, for all of their similarities to their Marvel Universe counterparts, are still different.
But as crucial as Whedon’s involvement might be, it’s the content that truly matters. And as he demonstrated with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight,” there are plenty of stories that simply can’t be told within the limits of a television budget. Judging by the full-length trailer, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will have high production values (would fans of “The Avengers” accept any less?), but imagine if there were no financial constraints: Want to crash the Helicarrier into the Atlantic Ocean? Fantastic, but prepare for five bottle episodes in a row to make up for the expense. In the comic, however, anything goes, all at the same price.
Want Chris Evans to appear in the midseason finale? Good luck with that; his multi-picture deal likely doesn’t cover any television work. But in the tie-in comic, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man — heck, even those superheroes whose film rights are held indefinitely by other studios — can come and go at the writers’ whims (although at some point, a parade of never-ending high-profile cameos would move the comic too far from the TV show).
After a succession of planned TV adaptations that have stalled (Guillermo del Toro and David Eick’s “Incredible Hulk” revival), been rejected (“AKA Jessica Jones,” “The Punisher”) or seemingly disappeared into thin air (“Mockingbird,” “Cloak & Dagger”), Marvel, ABC and ABC Studios need to establish a foothold with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and develop the hotly anticipated drama into a multi-platform juggernaut, complete with merchandising and licensing opportunities.
What better, cheaper and more appropriate place to start than with comics?