There is always something beneath the surface.
Behind it all, behind the amazing
, the incredible
, the fantastic
and even the uncanny
, there exists dangers and threats that are rarely seen because they hide in the shadows or are too massive for most of the world to comprehend. Yet there is one organization that has taken it upon itself to safeguard the human race against the known and unknown. They are security, they are shelter... they are the SHIELD
S.H.I.E.L.D. is the source of most, if not all, of the Spy Fiction
in the Marvel Universe
. It is the nebulous espionage organization that for decades was known as the "House that Nick Fury
built". It first appeared in Strange Tales
#135 (August, 1965). The organization is a UN or sometimes United States backed paramilitary and intelligence organization, whose acronym originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division but was changed in the 1990s
to stand for Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe
, the acronym was defined as the "Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division".
There have been numerous series revolving around and featuring S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout the years, including long standing features in multiple Captain America
runs. In the 2010s, Jonathan Hickman began delving deeper into the organization's history; first in Secret Warriors
and then in two bimonthly S.H.I.E.L.D.
mini-series. Another S.H.I.E.L.D.
series will launch in 2014, essentially being an in-universe version of the first season of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
TV show with Agent Coulson leading a team to investigate whatever weird stuff S.H.I.E.L.D. needs investigating.
The current director is Daisy Johnson/Quake, with Maria Hill as acting director and her second in command. See also Nick Fury
and Agent 13
for two of its most prominent agents.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has also been a large part of several Marvel adaptations, including Spider-Man: The Animated Series
, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
and Ultimate Spider-Man
. S.H.I.E.L.D. features notably in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
as an important part of the series, being a recurring element in several movies and the focus of two TV spinoffs, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
and Agent Carter
. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
put a new twist on the organization within this continuity: S.H.I.E.L.D. turns out to have been infiltrated by HYDRA since its founding, and many of its agents have been Double Agents working to bring it down from the inside. At the end of the film, the organization falls and is disbanded, forcing the heroes to abandon it and start anew; with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the remaining agents' attempt to rebuild.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. organization provides examples of:
- Applied Phlebotinum
- Badass Normal: Most agents don't have superpowers but that doesn't stop them from being a force to be reckoned with in a world filled with mutants, gods, aliens, and super soldiers.
- Canon Immigrant: Agent Phil Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Cloak & Dagger
- Depending on the Writer: Their sense of integrity and competence can highly vary between the stories they are in (both comics and adaptations) as they can be a highly effective team against the forces of evil or a Lawful Stupid force that is more of a hindrance to other heroes than help. Sometimes, it simply depends on which agent you're dealing with.
- Fun with Acronyms: One of the most notorious examples of it. This extends to related organizations S.T.R.I.K.E.note , S.W.O.R.D.note , A.R.M.O.R.note , and H.A.M.M.E.R. (Notably, H.A.M.M.E.R.'s founder Norman Osborn came up with the acronym first and told an underling to figure out what it stands for).
- How about S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, which has gone through a few variatons?
- Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division from when it first appeared in 1965 through the end of The Eighties.
- Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate starting in 1991 when the organization was rebooted following the events of Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D..
- Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division in modern adaptations, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (The word "Homeland" having become in vogue since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11.)
Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for?
Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division
Maria Hill: What does that mean to you?
Agent Ward: It means someone really wanted our initials to spell S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Good Is Not Nice: They often like to go by this motto even in their more favorable depictions. Though of course whether the "Good" part has any credibility is Depending on the Writer.
- For example, references are made in the MCU to SHIELD conducting assassinations, it hires characters such as Black Widow and Hawkeye who are described directly as being killers, and has on occasion sanctioned the murder of civilians such as in the Marvel One-Shots episode "Item 47." All for the greater good, so they say. That said, however, given the revelations in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: The Winter Soldier that many SHIELD operatives are in fact working for HYDRA, the extent to which the trope actually applies in this continuity is uncertain.
- Government Agency of Fiction
- Hubcap Hovercraft: Their hovercars are often depicted as working this way.
- Jerk Ass: This appears to actually be a requirement if you want a job with this group. Averted in the movies, though, especially by Agent Coulson (who can be a jerk when he wants to be; he's just polite about it).
- MacGuffin: Has had many of them, one of the latest being the Human Machine in the new series
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: S.H.I.E.L.D. usually has one of these in the background pulling their strings, even when Nick Fury was in charge.
- Overly Long Name: The organization's full name in the comics has varied, but the movies present it as the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Iron Man used it as a Running Gag and, until the acronym was officially revealed at the end, a Stealth Pun.
- RedshirtArmy: despite the fact that they are sometimes shown as MenOfSherwood or even BadassArmy, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent usually serve just as victims to be easily killed by any villain. Any commander will not usually really care about the losses. It sometimes seems that they do not even care about casualties when they plan their actions. Many agents or soldiers are killed in large numbers for example on board of the Hellicarriers that seem to serve mostly just so they can fall down and kill all their crew. How S.H.I.E.L.D. HR department manages to recruit anyone is a mystery.
- Retcon: Technically, S.H.I.E.L.D. itself started with a retcon reviving WW2 hero Nick Fury to be both their top agent and partial creator. Secret Warriors and the 2010 series dived into the organization's history, adding a lot more (see below).
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Life Model Decoys
- State Sec: A good guy version of one: A spy / law enforcement agency with a Airborne Aircraft Carrier and other quasi-military elements.
- Spy Catsuit
- Spy Versus Spy
- Too Dumb to Live: They have had their moments, especially in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions when they tried to use Carnage and give it a lot more power and it worked as well as one would think it would.
- United Nations Is a Superpower: Inconsistent between this and being a United States force.
The 2010-2013 series provides examples of:
- Ancient Conspiracy
- Arc Words / Badass Creed: "This is not how the world ends".
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: This is pretty much the entire point of the 2010 series. Major characters include Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, Galileo, and Michelangelo as a god-like being.
- Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Fending off Galactus seems to require a massive human sacrifice. Although it should be noted that said sacrifices all basically knew the risks.
- Call Forward: It's not explicitly pointed out or obvious, but when Nathaniel Richards, Howard Stark and the Night Machine get sent forward in time, Richards keeps gazing at a statue in the distance. It's a statue of Immortus, who would later bring several alternate versions of himself together and force them to kill each other.
- Clock Punk: Leonardo's space suit, the machine used against Galactus
- Cyborg: Nikola Tesla
- The Everyman and Audience Surrogate: Leonid
- First Contact Math: The Star Child early on seems to communicate in only mathematical equations.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Implied with Newton
- Appears literal with Star Child after reading the Quiet Math, who being a Celestial makes a turn toward Mad God.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Leonid is half human half Deviant.
- Human Sacrifice: Apparently the cost of trying to make a new Earth, as might be needed if the world were to end.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: To appease the Vatican, the early appearance and defeat of Galactus is covered up by the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, thus erasing the events from "ever happening".
- Mind Screw: The symbology of the series gets really crazy at times... and that's before you find out that Tesla, Newton, Da Vinci and Michelangelo are main characters.
- The Omniscient: The Glowing Man aka Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti, who also plays The Chessmaster setting up a number of events in the 2011 series.
- Parental Substitute: Nikola Tesla
- Retcon: Jonathan Hickman made several additions to SHIELD's history through this series and his run on Secret Warriors before it. The first, from Secret Warriors, was that SHIELD has always been a secret division of the HYDRA organization and the premise of the 2010 series was that SHIELD or an organization which will one day become it has been around since ancient Egypt and had various of history's greatest minds as members.
- To tie these two retcons together a HYDRA agent in Secret Warriors refers to the organization as "the Spear", and SHIELD has the Brotherhood of the East represented by a spear, just as the Brotherhood of the West is represented by a shield.
- There's also Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark) and Nathaniel Richards (father of Reed Richards) as SHIELD agents.
- Major Marvel Universe threats show up long before they canonically ever noticed Earth, such as Ancient Egypt being attacked by the Brood, a Celestial in China, and friggin' Galactus showing up in Renaissance Italy.
- Science Hero: Leonardo da Vinci.
- Walking Spoiler: Most of the historical figures in the book if you try to describe them.