It might have the Marvel logo, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a superhero show and it should stop telling people it is. Conventionally speaking, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is unlike its superhero brethren —its third season, underway since last night, has made this clear (as if the last two seasons weren’t any indication). Accompanied by Heroes Reborn this fall, it’s not alone.
Consider the tropes of superheroes, which I previously brought up regarding Heroes Reborn. Secret identities, parallel lives, acceptance of newfound gifts as metaphor for adulthood, and maniacal super villains? S.H.I.E.L.D. and Heroes Reborn say nay to all of that. The two “superhero” shows owe more to The X-Files, James Bond, and The Tomorrow People than its own comic book roots.
In the second season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the Inhumans to the Marvel Universe, a sub-race of people who possess latent superhuman abilities originating from an alien gene. It was the show’s step towards the genre it had abstained from almost entirely in its first season, which was a spy thriller in a world that has Iron Man flying around. But in its third season the show has re-shifted to spy/action conventions that just so happen to have super-powered individuals. Its third season premiere, “Laws of Nature,” has the brainy Fitz acting like Jason Bourne in the Middle East, and Coulson is teased by the antagonist for acting like a Cold War spy.
And that’s fine, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t need to be Daredevil (also a Marvel series) or DC’s The Flash, which honor superhero traditions. In fact, traditional superheroes are crowding TV, so it’s just smart capitalism to be different.
The problem is these shows are still being sold like they aren’t different. Take their teaser trailers for example.
It’s nitpicking to pull apart single VO lines in a 30-second trailer, but the choice of words — “They built a team… to defend the world…” — are weirdly specific to the genre.
Heroes Reborn is incredibly guilty of this too. Its trailers ape superhero conventions, talking about “destiny” and “saving the world” when only one of them is doing any actual superheroing.
None of these are crimes. There’s nothing in their marketing these shows have to justify. But with a looming “superhero fatigue”, evidenced by Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man’s unspectacular box office and Fantastic Four’s total failure, these shows should rethink their marketing strategy if they wish to avoid blame for “too many superheroes” when they weren’t about them at all.
Superheroism is about saving the day for the greater good, after all. If the genre is to survive into tomorrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Heroes Reborn should learn from what they imitate.