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S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: Review

Apr 2010
Jonathan Hickman, Dustin Weaver

Story Name:

The unholy resurrection of Leonardo da Vinci

Review & Comments

4.5 stars

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 Review by (February 5, 2019)
The cover was actually *painted* by Gerald Parel.

This series is about the Shield (in later issues called the Brotherhood Of The Shield), not S.H.I.E.L.D., but we have started to see connections. It has been suggested that they couldn't call it Shield without the dots because that TM was owned by DC and/or Archie Comics.

Next issue will confirm that Stark and Richards are Howard and Nathaniel (fathers of Tony and Reed respectively). And it will become clear that the man dictating a S.H.I.E.L.D. document is Howard Stark, but this doesn't happen until v2 #2.
The Marvel Universe generally makes use of a sliding timescale where the Heroic Age starting with Fantastic Four #1 always began between 10 and 15 years ago, to stop characters getting undesirably old. But this plays havoc with connecting things to real dates.
The Marvel Chronology Project makes the assumption that all Nathaniel Richards apps occur after this series. And the only Howard Stark apps before this series are the ones firmly embedded in WWII or before. This will raise a specific chronology problem with a flashback in #5.
For now I can say that Stark guests in the pre-War Astonishing Tales: Dominic Fortune online mini-series. And during WWII he meets Captain America, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos in a backup tale in CA Annual #9, and he helps create the Arsenal robots near the end of the War in a flashback in Avengers An#9.

Next issue we'll sort-of learn that the head of the Council is Isaac Newton. But it won't be until #5 that we learn that Night Machine is Nikola Tesla.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a Renaissance polymath. But I understand he was in Milan in the period surrounding 1495, not Florence as depicted in the flashback here. However he had returned to Florence by 1503 for the 2nd part of his flashback.
Leonardo will feature in other flashbacks to his past during this title filling in details of the story. But he also appeared in 2 earlier Marvel tales. In Astonishing #54 (published by Atlas in 1956 coincidentally) a story has him dreaming of flying. And in the Watcher backup story to Iron Man in Tales Of Suspense #49 he's part of Earth history spied on by the alien Sneepers.
It appears in the main 1956 section of this issue as if he has just returned from his trip to the Sun in 1503, but later issues will say that he has time-travelled from then and hasn't actually been to the Sun yet.

Khasekhemwy *was* the last Pharaoh of the 2nd Dynasty, but it is considered that he reigned much earlier in the 27th Century BC than 2620. Imhotep was an advisor to Djoser, probably the 1st Pharaoh of the 3rd Dynasty, so it's not unreasonable to have a younger him fighting for Khasekhemwy. But Djoser's reign was also well before 2620 BC. I don't know why Hickman chose 2620, but I have seen it quoted as the end of the *3rd* Dynasty in at least 1 place. (All these dates are debatable.)
Imhotep is usually credited with designing the earliest pyramids for Djoser. Centuries after his death legends described him as a polymath and even a god, which makes him a fitting choice as the 1st of the Brotherhood Of The Shield.

Zhang Heng (78-139) was another polymath who was indeed serving at the Imperial Court at the Han Dynasty capital Luoyang in 114 AD as a mathematician/astronomer.

Galileo (1564-1642) was yet another polymath. As far as I know he didn't go to Rome before the 17th Century. In 1582 when his flashback is set he was at University in Pisa.


Synopsis / Summary / Plot

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 Synopsis by Rob Johnson
Our story opens in New York in 1953 as Leonid is walking home from High School. 2 men meet him and tell him to get into their car. His father always told him to expect such a thing so he obeys. In the car they say they know what he is so he can stop hiding it, and we see a universe of stars and galaxies show in his face.

The men fly Leonid to Rome and take him to an old door with a symbol in the stone above (which to us Marvelites looks somewhat similar to the emblem of S.H.I.E.L.D.). They are greeted by a man in armour and a cloak with a strange helmet that leaves his face uncovered and curves back from his head. (It reminds me of the head of Alien on backwards or the Vorlon from Babylon 5 or the Ultimate Universe Reed Richards/Maker.) They descend a quarter of a mile in a lift to an underground city which their guide calls the Immortal City, home of the immortals of the High Council Of The Shield. And Leonid is brought before the Council, all attired like his guide.

We see a flash of a man speaking into a clunky apparatus which is typing his words on paper headed S.H.I.E.L.D. with the S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem. He says "Everything begins with an idea."

But the leader of the Council says instead "Everything begins with an image." He relates how the Shield began in Egypt in 2620 BC when Pharaoh Khasekhemwy (wearing a less dramatic version of the Council's helmets) saw a great light in the sky which landed nearby and disgorged what we recognise as Brood aliens who killed him and ended the 2nd Dynasty. (Apart from the Brood this is somewhat historically correct.) The Brood were opposed and killed by an army (including a young En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse and a Knight Of Khonshu) led by a hero named Imhotep (not so accurate) with his spear and shield and the inspirational cry "This is not how the world ends!". The shield and its design have been passed down through the millennia as the symbol of the Shield.

The Shield protect humanity from dire threats which would stop them achieving their destiny. The Council ask Leonid if he knows 'the final fate of Man', which our boy says no-one can know. The Council members reel off what seems like a mantra:- The greater science, the quiet math, the silent truth, the hidden arts, the secret alchemy. And they tell Leonid he must become 1 of those who stand in the gap.

We now see another piece of history, this time 114 AD in Han Dynasty China. Zhang Heng (again a historical character) bears the Spear of Imhotep. He reminds his companion that the Spear resides in the East while the Shield is in the West. And the Spear may only be wood and metal but it is the *idea* of the Spear which is powerful. Nonetheless he leaves the Spear with the other man, saying "This is not how the world ends", while he ascends a very tall pagoda to converse with a female Celestial.

The Council say they are also Engineers Of Change, which leads to another historical scene. In Florence in 1495 Leonardo da Vinci's telescope detects a dark shape within the Sun. As a member of the Shield it is up to him to investigate. It takes him until 1503 to build a winged spacesuit. Meanwhile the Sun has grown weaker, but he also produces a golden ball which he says will save them all. He too says "This is not how the world ends" before seemingly flying off to the Sun.

The Council claim to be a driving force behind progress, to ensure the evolution and survival of man. Cut to Rome 1582 and Galileo Galilei who has built a machine to stop Galactus (and an unknown Herald), saying of course "This is not how the world ends". When I 1st read this issue I thought the Council were saying that they will continue to put off the end of mankind until they fail, and *that* will be the final fate of Man. But later we learn that actually they believe Man has a destined fate on a certain date, and it is up them to make sure mankind doesn't end before then.

And again they ask Leonid to join them.

3 years later he's still with them. Leonid remembers how his father, the Night Machine, used to visit him at twilight, but not since he moved here to the Immortal City. But now he appears in his dark costume crackling with energy, accompanied by his white pigeon. The man claims to have died and come back and is surprised to find his son here. Now he's come to destroy the place.

An alarm sounds and Night Machine comments that they're getting quicker at detecting him. He hurriedly takes Leonid to what the boy knows as Iter (the way), the door that can't be opened. But NM produces the key and sends his son up the stairs behind the door to what his bird says is "a higher calling"

Night Machine shuts the door and turns to face approaching guards. He deals with them with blasts of electricity. They are followed by the 2 men we met at the beginning, who he refers to as Agent Richards and Agent Stark. It turns out *they* were the authors of his previous death, and he invites them to try again. The 2 men have guns which appear to hover as disconnected pieces and he has his electricity. Battle commences.

Leonid hears the sounds of battle as he reaches the top of the winding staircase and finds himself in a planetarium with constellations picked out. But the dome splits and opens to reveal the real stars in the sky. And then Leonardo da Vinci lands before him in his spacesuit. The golden globe in his hand is now glowing with energy. He announces himself and tells the boy to wake everyone because he has brought "hope and the rescue of all things".

There is an addendum describing the Human Machine with a diagram, similar to but simpler than the Sephiroth of the Jewish Kabbalah, overlayed on Leonardo's journal page containing the Vitruvian Man drawing. It lists the elements as:-

Section 1, containing 1 circle, The Anchor described as:- The sacrifice. The man left behind. The builder.
Section 2, containing 1 circle, The Engine described as:- The drive. Total illumination. The agent of destiny.
Section 3, containing 3 circles, The Navigator described as:- What is, what has come before, and what will be. The last Caliphate.
Section 4, containing 1 circle, The Source described as:- The water in the well. The generator. Hope.
Section 5, containing 1 circle, The Mechanism described as:- The short end of all possibility. Practical application. The work.
(5 and 6 are on the same level.)
Section 6, containing 1 circle, The Conduit described as:- The change medium. The measurement of progress.
Section 7, containing 1 circle, The Path described as:- The death of chaos. The single portion. Tomorrow.

And section 4 is highlighted which may be related to Leonardo bringing Hope but more directly next issue Leonardo will refer to Leonid as the Source of the Machine and the Eternal Dynamo (generator?).

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> S.H.I.E.L.D.: Book info and issue index

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Dustin Weaver
Dustin Weaver
Christina Strain
Gerald Parel (Cover Penciler)
Gerald Parel (Cover Inker)
Gerald Parel (Cover Colorist)
Letterer: Todd Klein.
Editor: Nick Lowe. Editor-in-chief: Joe Quesada.


Listed in Alphabetical Order.

Brotherhood Of The Shield, Howard Stark, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Leonid, Nathaniel Richards, Night Machine (Nikola Tesla).