Agents of SHIELD, which debuted last night, was co-created by Joss Whedon and he scripted the pilot episode, just as The Avengers film was written by him, though it was also directed by him. We can expect the series to have a hell of a lot in common with the film, particularly in premise and time-line. However, the events of Agents of SHIELD do seem to take place after the events of Iron Man 3, which raises some continuity questions as well as thematic ones.
[*Totally full of spoilers for Agents of SHIELD, The Avengers,and Iron Man 3!]
The context of Agents of SHIELD in its first episode, at least, feels strangely more like Iron Man 3 than The Avengers, despite the fact that IM3 was written by Shane Black and Drew Pearce and directed by Black. Some of the resonant similarities include plotline and characterization that's all about aftermath to the Battle of New York, the presence of unstable Extremis technology, the use of side-stories featuring "ordinary" people, the focus on "world peace" rather than a particular major threat, and a pervasively militaristic atmosphere. Some of this may be due to the chronology issue, but it does make you wonder if IM3 had more of an influence than expected on how Marvel heroes are brought to TV.
Aftermaths are the rule of the day in the new show, and pursuing the psychological impacts thereof. Agent Coulson seems fine, even happy, but the hints are more than obvious that the trauma he's been through is bigger than he even knows and his lack of knowledge is somewhat delaying the inevitable. He's a ticking time-bomb on his own internal psychological crash regarding what happened in New York. Grant Ward's speeches to Coulson and Skye are actually quite revealing about his mindset; he sees that they exist now in a "different world" and he's running point to catch up on behalf of the world. He may not seem to be psychologically on the edge, and it would have been quite simple for the plot to reveal no insights into his own traumas other than mentioning his "family". But instead we get his time under truth serum and some glimpses of his mental landscape laid bare for humorous effect. And he's just as vulnerable as everyone else really.
Other characters reveal symptoms of struggle and mental confusion following events in New York and related life events, from Melinda May leaving the field to Skye who has, for some reason, previously erased her own existence. And these people are all on one team like a recovery group. It remains to be seen if that'll be therapeutic for them or just exacerbate their unresolved issues.
This is like Iron Man 3 because the film chooses to follow Tony Stark's spiral and rock-bottom panic-attack meltdown following the Battle of New York. Not only that but the approach in both IM3 and the TV show is up close and personal on the human element. Neither the film nor the show have a massive cast of characters, instead preferring to put central figures under the lens for us to study and consider. Add to that the fact that Tony travels among average Joes in IM3 as part of his journey and re-humanization, and that consequently the plot follows the lives of more ordinary people for a time, and you have a very similar feel to the Agents of SHIELD pilot that spends so much time on the life, perspective, and struggle of unwitting superhero Mike Peterson.
There are other more formal correspondences between IM3 and the show pilot, too. There's the Extremis-based plotline which is in some ways a nice surprise, binding together the Marvel universe in terms of rogue technology's impact rather than glossing over it between related storylines. There are nods to other films and comics in the show, but Extremis becomes a major part of the Peterson plot, though it does beg the question of how Tony manages to heal Pepper of Extremis tech at the end of IM3 and why he hasn't provided that solution to SHIELD by this point. Other formal considerations are that IM3, due to its plot, is a more militaristic Marvel film than many. There's lots of shooting, government involvement, and in many ways Tony Stark, on his own feels like an "agent" of SHIELD in IM3 carrying out an important mission. The show is going to naturally feel similar in focusing on field agents, working in a team, taking on high-profile threats to "world peace" just as Tony took on the Mandarin and Extremis threats.
But shouldn't The Avengers have also felt like a SHIELD film? Now that we know what a SHIELD show is like, it's easier to conceive of what a SHIELD film could have been like. There are extreme resonances between The Avengers and the show, but they are more noticeable on the macro level. The heroes in The Avengers are a team, but a superpowered team facing all the same dynamics of a SHIELD team of "normals" but in their own way. There's the banter and the conflict. But it could be that it's impossible for The Avengers to feel too much like Agents of SHIELD simply because the show is post-trauma and clean-up, like Iron Man 3, which seems to be a firm, highly influential division in the stories Marvel is telling now. The trailer for Thor: The Dark World airing during the commercials for Agents of SHIELD in the US confirmed this as Thor attempted to explain to Jane why he hadn't come to see her on his last earth journey. He tries to explain the magnitude of the situation to Jane, but she gets it, somewhat, because they now have a shared trauma. That'll be a world in recovery too. And it's a different world after The Avengers, particularly for the Agents of SHIELD.
Hannah Means-Shannon is senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.