SHIELD seemed so cool at first. Well, that’s not strictly true. When Agent Phil Coulson sheepishly arrived in Iron Man, babbling about the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, he just seemed like one more nerd for Tony Stark to dunk on. But when Nick Fury showed up in Stark’s penthouse to talk about the Avengers Initiative for the first post-credit sequence of the MCU, it seemed like SHIELD operated in a world deeper and more secret than we had imagined.
To be sure, some moments in the MCU backed up that appearance. In The Avengers, we saw SHIELD’s massive underground bunker, in which it experimented on the Tesseract. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Project Insight gave SHIELD the ability to rain death from above on any target it chooses. Of course, The Winter Soldier also revealed that Hydra had infiltrated the organization, which ultimately led to its dismantling by Captain America and Black Widow. Agents of SHIELD followed Coulson’s splinter group as it tried to deal with threats unknown to the public, but spacefaring and time-travel adventures diminished their effectiveness.
In short, SHIELD has rarely been the vast spy network it was promised to be. At best, it has been a support system for the Avengers and other very public superheroes. At worst, it has been an organization that allows Hydra to continue its work. But the first trailer for Secret Invasion hints at not just a SHIELD revival, but a return to the MCU espionage it always could be.
Take a look below if you haven’t already!
Nick Fury and Forging SHIELD
Originally called the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage and Law-Enforcement Division, SHIELD was originally introduced in the pages of Marvel Comics via a Nick Fury story from Strange Tales #135 (1965). The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tale reimagined Fury from the hard-talking Sergeant who lead his Howling Commandos in Marvel’s war comics into a James Bond-style spy. Initially a fairly generic G-Man group, SHIELD became a superspy organization when visual stylist extraordinaire Jim Steranko brought a psychedelic pop art approach to the book, giving the organization its signature belt buckle and spandex look.
While SHIELD’s mission meant its agents regularly crossed paths with superheroes — heck, Tony Stark was already part of the organization in Strange Tales #135 — comic book Fury and his team always had their own agenda. One got the sense that SHIELD allowed superheroes to do their thing in public while they fought their own hidden battles. Whenever Fury, or a high-ranking agent like Dum Dum Dugan or Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, appeared to deal with Spider-Man or the X-Men, it always felt like the heroes only scratched the surface of the secret wars SHIELD waged against Hydra.
The MCU SHIELD has sometimes lived up to this comic book ideal. When Fury showed up in the Bartons’ barn in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or walked on the bridge of a spaceship in the post-credit sequence of Spider-Man: Far From Home, viewers got the sense that he was involved in a bigger plot than any other character realized. But those gestures have rarely come to fruition. Instead, SHIELD has regularly needed superheroes to deal with the threats they uncover, and few things are less secret than people in bright costumes having explosive fights in the sky.
Nothing in the comic book story of Secret Invasion offers an opportunity for the live-action SHIELD to change its approach. While SHIELD does get involved in the fight against the villanous Queen Veranke and the Skrulls she’s deployed on Earth, most of the Skrull agents take the place of superheroes or hero allies like Jarvis. And with Tony Stark serving as head of SHIELD at that time in continuity, the organization existed to back up the Avengers and other cape-wearing crusaders.
But the first trailer for Secret Invasion shows something very different. As soon as he beams back to Earth, Fury operates in secret. We see him reunite with Maria Hill in an inconspicuous pub, his stylish black leather look replaced by more mundane duds, a ratty jacket and a wool cap. We see Fury slink through the shadows and watch from the corners as he formulates his plan. Even when other agents show up, such as Black Panther ally Everett K. Ross, they follow suit, dressing in street clothes to blend in.
Emilia Clarke and the Skrulls
In other words, the trailer suggests a break from the superheroics that dominate the MCU and point toward a sci-fi spy story. A mysterious character played by Game of Thrones alumna Emilia Clarke, who is rumored to be the Veranke of the crossover adaptation, certainly doesn’t appear like her comic book counterpart — a queen who spouts religious rhetoric — but as a human who does not draw attention toward herself. Even the most flashy part of the trailer, when “good” Skrull Talos (Ben Mendelsohn in the character’s human form) confronts Rebel Skrull leader Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), only to see everyone else in the room change shape to resemble him, suggests sly spycraft instead of over-the-top battles.
Should the actual Disney+ series match the tone of the trailer, it will provide something the Marvel Cinematic Universe desperately needs. Not just a different type of story from the usual superhero fights that everyone expect, but also a proper spy organization working in the shadows superheroes miss — for better or for worse.
Secret Invasion comes to Disney+ in Spring 2023.