By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 20, 2013 at 11:21PM
The tagline says it all for ABC's "Marvels's Agents of SHIELD," which sneaked the pilot Friday at Comic-Con: "Not all heroes are super." In fact, creator Joss Whedon, who directed the pilot, suggested that this rag-tag group of agents without super powers represent the Marvel universe on a much more human scale. Like their mentor, the resurrected Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, who stars in Whedon's summer arthouse hit, "Much Ado About Nothing"), they investigate the bizarre occurrences that connect The Avengers to ordinary people. (Whedon showed up as the capper for Saturday's Marvel panel, with a brief teaser of "The Avengers" sequel, now called "Age of Ultron." The crowd roared.)
"I feel like society is increasingly polarized and increasingly divided between people who have everything and people who have nothing," Whedon proclaimed. "Economically and even on a psychological level, people are feeling left behind and [here's] somebody who represents the underdog. Now obviously an underdog that works for a secret agency that's tracking everything you're doing. But that actually allows us to deal with that as well and all the things that are going on around the world. We don't want to trivialize it -- we don't want to solve the NSA. But you can bring up this feeling we have of disenfranchisement or paranoia, very justifiable things that are going on in society."
Within the framework of Marvel, you could call it superhero envy. And with SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division), Whedon's concocted another of his signature band of social misfits who, like The Avengers, have to figure out how to blend together as a team: Espionage vet Grant Ward (Brett Dalton); kick-ass pilot Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen); engineer Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker); biochemist Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Heinstridge); and computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet).
Whedon added that the biggest problem is not stepping on Marvel's plans for "The Avengers," the third highest grossing movie of all time, which can be confusing with their strategy of phases. "I've got 44 chances to make this less exciting," he quipped. "I have to make sure that I don't overstep. At the same time, it's such a different mandate."
As for bringing back the beloved Couson from the dead after his emotional demise in "The Avengers," Whedon reminded us that one of his first jobs was to bring Ripley back from the dead in the "Alien" franchise.
But for the affable Gregg, he couldn't be happier to return as Coulson, who has quite the fan following. "His snarky humor and bureaucratic efficiency has such a human context and now he's passing the torch to a new generation," Gregg commented. "What I find compelling about the show is that this guy has seen stuff that would turn your hair white."
Gregg noted that every writer has added a new direction for Coulson. "Who am I now? Now he has a new version of himself. But he questions everything [about what happened to him]. What happens here is that it connects to the Marvel universe and vice versa."