Titled "Fuel," Mark Waid and Chris Sprouse's "S.H.I.E.L.D." #4 puts Susan Richards -- the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four -- in the field as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. In addition to being a fun adventure rife with insinuations of a storied, invisible past, "S.H.I.E.L.D." #4 makes a solid audition for this crew to take on a Sue Richards solo title should one ever become available.
Always keen to identify and emphasize connections across the Marvel Universe, Waid starts this issue with a chat between Sue and her brother, Johnny, the Human Torch. Johnny is going on about his modifications to an engine, which is less riveting to Sue than Phil Coulson's request for her presence. Waid fills the conversation between Coulson and Sue with comfort and familiarity, leaving no doubt the two have worked together before. From there, Waid sends Sue into the field and provides the readers with a story that puts the Invisible Woman's powers through some tests unlike any they've been used for previously.
Along the way, Waid utilizes Henri's, a department store, in much the same manner that the barbershop of yesteryear was used as the doorway to the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ever the student of the comics, Waid even throws in a surprise twist, drawing on the history of the Marvel Universe and Sue Richards' confidence.
Letterer Joe Caramagna has his work cut out for him despite the number of silent panels where the lack of verbiage speaks volumes. A look from Coulson or a smirk from the Invisible Woman tells readers exactly what they need to know and convey a sense of real people in real space reacting in a manner that is not overly dramatized serialization. Those silent panels are scattered throughout the book but, in the not-so-silent spots, Caramagna keeps the dialogue crisp and continues to illustrate his masterful command over the creative addition of emphasis to characters' speech patterns.
As previously mentioned, Sprouse packs the theoretical thousand words into every single image. In addition to gorgeous looking art, his work is filled with detail and dynamic storytelling, like showing readers the heads-up display Coulson and Sue view. Sprouse's mine is a believable mine and Sue's descent to the bottom is beautifully described. With Karl Story minimizing his interpretation of Sprouse's work by economically inking his pencils, the art is clean and sharp, giving colorist Almara plenty of space to work within. Additionally, and certainly not to be understated, Sprouse, Story and Almara deliver the best, most organic representation of Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson the Marvel Universe seen yet. Sprouse doesn't caricaturize Coulson nor does he slavish freeze-frame and trace stills, but he effectively captures Coulson's appearance and air and shares it with readers. I'm not sure what the intended artist rotation is for this comic, but I'd like to see Sprouse come back as often as possible.
"S.H.I.E.L.D." #4 is a solid addition to the series and a wonderfully constructed standalone tale. Waid, Sprouse, Story, Almara and Caramagna work well together and give readers everything a tie-in comic should be without bogging the narrative down in excessive backstory or grandiose explanation. We might not ever see Sue Richards suit up for S.H.I.E.L.D. on either the big screen or television but, with "S.H.I.E.L.D." #4, we've got an enjoyable adventure that has fun mashing up super powers and espionage as can only happen in the Marvel Universe.