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Superhero-sized expectations for Marvel series

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Clark Gregg (left), Brett Dalton and Cobie Smulders (below) star in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premières Sept. 24 on ABC and CTV.

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Clark Gregg (left), Brett Dalton and Cobie Smulders (below) star in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premières Sept. 24 on ABC and CTV.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It didn't exactly require a Level 7 security clearance, but being at ABC's presentation during the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour did involve a burly guard examining press-tour credentials, and finally getting a glimpse of the first episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly did have an aura of super-top-secret sharing to it.

The pilot of the new ABC action drama had been kept tightly under wraps long after previews of all of this fall's other new shows had been released to the media, and last weekend's limited-access screening came with all sorts of warnings about spoilers and secrecy and never, ever, EVER doing anything as sneaky and despicable as trying to record and rebroadcast any of the video or audio.

Whether the hour-long première merited that level of spoiler-averse paranoia probably depended on how deeply immersed in comic-book fan-boy (or -girl) culture each person in the preview-screening room was; for some in attendance, the long-awaited look at the pilot was a very, very big deal, indeed. The temptation to blog-blurt must have been overwhelming.

The view here, however, is that for the more casual observer, the first episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an entertaining, action-packed, wryly funny introduction to a series that could go a long way toward establishing a new home for the Marvel Comics brand that has done so well in recent years in feature-film adaptations.

Leading the effort to bring Marvel to the small screen is Joss Whedon, once the most beloved of TV creatures as producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, and more recently a huge presence in big-screen features as the director of Marvel's The Avengers, one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

Given his familiarity with the Marvel playbook, he's the perfect person to manage this big-to-small-screen mutation. And among Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s large roster of executive producers is Jed Whedon, Joss's younger brother and a collaborator on filmic explorations since both were kids growing up in L.A.

Jed Whedon's wife and show-business partner, Maurissa Tancharoen, is also an executive producer. All three previously worked together on the wildly popular online musical-comedy series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which starred Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion.

"We started working together when I was a kid and he was a bigger kid," said Jed, who is 10 years younger than Joss. "We would make home movies, and I was the star of them. I was eight. And he would tell me what to say, and I would be hilarious.

"So we had worked together a lot, and then the first real thing that we worked together on -- Marissa and I -- with him was Dr. Horrible, which was the same thing, you know. It was us making up stuff and laughing at each other's jokes and putting stuff together, and then we shot it... and, you know, when it's at its best, it feels exactly the same as it used to. It's a pleasure."

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premières Sept. 24 on ABC and CTV, picks up where the big-screen Avengers movie left off -- in the aftermath of the Battle of New York, a fight between a band of superheroes and a marauding alien force that made the public aware superhumans and aliens are among us.

The worldwide protection agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) has assembled a team of highly skilled -- but not necessarily super-powered -- agents to manage an emerging array of threats that includes a shadowy force called The Rising Tide. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who apparently escaped death in what appeared to be an ugly demise in The Avengers, has returned to lead the team.

Joss Whedon said there will be many elements of crossover between the TV series and the big-screen Marvel ventures, but was quick to insist Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be much more than a promotional vehicle aimed at buoying the big-screen features' box-office returns.

"The important thing is it's a fun opportunity (to cross over), but it's not the reason behind the show," he told TV critics gathered in Los Angeles during ABC's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour. "We don't want just to be an Easter egg farm (for the movies). We want people to come back because of these people (in the cast) and not because of some connection to the movie universe. This show has to work for people who aren't going to see those movies and haven't seen them before."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2013 C3

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Updated on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 8:44 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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