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 S.H.I.E.L.D..
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 mini-series. Another series launched in December 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; this was later relaunched under the show's title of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
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.
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.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Jonathan Hickman's ancient version of SHIELD is constructed entirely from this trope.
- Breaking the Fellowship: Particularly in modern series, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a habit of getting dissolved whenever they screw up so badly or are corrupted too much to be effective. The first time had Fury dismantle the original gathering when a group of LMDs gained sentience and took over. The second time was caused by the fallout of Secret Invasion and the third due to the fallout of Secret Empire.
- Canon Immigrant:
- 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.
- Whether the organization is international, UN-funded or entirely American. Amusingly, their original name (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division) suggested that they were a division of the realworld S.H.A.P.E. (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe) and were thus NATObased, an option that seems to never come up in modern comics or adaptations.
- Elaborate Underground Base: They love these. In the earlier comics it was accessible through a special chair in a certain barbershop that would descend into the floor. Nowadays they tend to have a less dramatic base.
- 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 , and A.R.M.O.R.note . Parodied with H.A.M.M.E.R., which never had its meaning defined and characters in-universe made jokes that nobody knew what it stood for.
- How about S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, which has gone through a few variatons?
Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for?Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics DivisionMaria Hill: What does that mean to you?Agent Ward: It means someone really wanted our initials to spell S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division from when it first appeared in 1965 through the end of The '80s.
- 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.)
- Jack Kirby's original artwork had Nick Fury as "The Man Called D.E.A.T.H."note . When the artwork was eventually used for the 50th anniversary, The Man Called D.E.A.T.H. was instead the mysterious figure who recruited S.H.I.E.L.D. directors.note
- How about S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, which has gone through a few variatons?
- 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 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.
- Gadgeteer Genius: In the 60s SHIELD actually had an armorer named Boothroyd. Later on they got the Sidney "The Gaffe" Levine, who was retconned into being a former member of the WWII team Sky-Wolves. Somehow neither has appeared recently.
- Government Agency of Fiction
- Hubcap Hovercraft: Their hovercars are often depicted as working this way.
- Jerkass: 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.
- Redshirt Army: Despite the fact that they are sometimes shown as Men of Sherwood or even Badass Army, 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.
- 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).
- The first time S.H.I.E.L.D. appeared, Tony Stark was one of the founders, and among those who appointed Nick Fury as Director. The march of Comic-Book Time means this has been removed, and instead it's Howard Stark who helped found the organization's modern version.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Life Model Decoys
- State Sec: A (usually) 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.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: After Secret War, Nick Fury was ousted and Maria Hill took his place. Not that Nick has ever been what you'd call nice on a good day, but Hill immediately turns out to be far more confrontational than him (though exact levels of tyranny, again, depend on who's writing her).
- United Nations Is a Superpower: Inconsistent between this and being a United States force.
- The Worf Effect: A recurring sign of how dangerous a threat is that is takes down one of SHIELD's helicarriers. In Secret Invasion, Maria Hill gets fed up with this.Hill: I've had the exact same car since I was sixteen. The exact same car, never had a problem with it, but this thing falls out of the sky every other Thursday!