Welcome to VOCIFERY, my attempt to re-watch every piece of media in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – every movie, every television series, every one-shot, every web series, and every tie-in comic book, using the Wikipedia entry on the MCU as a guide, before the release of Avengers 4 in May 2019. Join me as I write my thoughts about what I’m seeing, as I see it!
Also, spoilers follow – if you’re worried about that kind of thing, view before reading.
Iron Man 2: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2010)
Captain America: First Vengeance (2011)
The idea of these prequel comics is simple: show the events leading up to what we see on the screen, providing a little more backstory about the characters and moments that we love (or, in the case of a prelude, are going to love).
Sometimes the prequels are done well; in cinema, Rupert Wyatt’s Apes films or Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class are examples of a prequel adding something of value to a story, even though both examples are prequels to films that left a lot of story to be told. TV’s Better Call Saul is an example, too.
Sometimes prequels can be bad – and usually it’s when the prequel tells a story nobody was asking for. Like the origin of the xenomorphs told in Prometheus and Covenant, the prequels to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Nobody wanted to know about the xenomorphs. And the fact that Scott spent two movies (and counting) on it shows just how much he misunderstands the success of the Alien franchise.
Most of the time, prequels are just very meh. Think about Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, or Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, or TV’s Gotham. They are all just … they’re fine. Each of them has some good moments. They can entertain. But they leave you with the sense that they didn’t really need to exist.
The pair of tie-in comics that were released between Iron Man 2 in 2010 and Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 definitely seem a bit meh. There are a few good moments. But I don’t know that any of them provided any valuable information that enhances my understanding of the films they tie in to.
Iron Man 2: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. tells three stories about the main agents we met in Iron Man 2 – SHIELD director Nick Fury, Agent Phil Coulson, and operative Natasha Romanoff – going about their day to day life as a vital cog in the humongous spy agency they work for.
We find Fury keeping tabs on Stark, with an eye to recruiting him to the Avenger Initiative, in a series of scenes in which Stark is taking out a Ten Rings cell; it is presumably set between Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Coulson, meanwhile, is shown testing out a new agent named Hendricks who – as best I can tell – doesn’t show up in the MCU ever again.
Romanoff’s story adds the least value of the three. We follow Black Widow as she is assigned the identity of Natalie Rushman, a notary working in Stark Industries’ legal department, then follow her as she visits the cafeteria, experiences some casual sexual harassment, and sabotages her boss to get in front of Stark (leading to her first scene in Iron Man 2).
All three don’t really tell us anything we need to know. It’s very much implied in both Iron Man movies that Fury is spying on Stark, and the Coulson and Black Widow stories are no more than bland.
Captain America: First Vengeance is a little more interesting. The series of books is ostensibly a series of flashbacks to events that take place before Captain America: The First Avenger begins – Rogers, as a child, saying goodbye to his mother and meeting Bucky; Schmidt pitching his ideas to the Fuhrer before the rise of Hydra; Howard Stark being recruited by Colonel Philips to join the Strategic Science Reserve (SSR).
All of these stories are framed by a Captain America mission to one of Schmidt’s bases in 1944, which – I think – places it between the second and third act of the film, after Cap becomes aware of Schmidt (now the Red Skull) and rescues Bucky, but before the fateful mission in the final act of the movie.
I guess the books are interesting inasmuch as they show just how Schmidt gets a foothold within the Third Reich; after bitter rejection by one of Hitler’s men, he finds himself recruited by Himmler and the SS, eventually setting up his mystical experiments within that portion of the Reich, with the help of Arnim Zola and an unwilling Erskine.
The story of Erskine is interesting too. For whatever reason, I don’t know that I was aware that he was directly responsible for turning Schmidt into the Red Skull, after a version of his super-soldier formula has a devastating side effect. His rescue by Howard Stark and an early version of Agent Thirteen, and his recruitment into the SSR as a traitor to the Fuhrer, leads into his finding Rogers and helping turn him into Captain America.
But, again, it doesn’t really justify its existence in any way. The key details about Schmidt and Erskine are explained within Captain America: The First Avenger. In many ways, the comics are just adding unnecessary word count to a story that will be told more succinctly on screen.
Neither comic was a terrible read. But I feel like I could’ve skipped both without missing much.