By Andrew Uys
S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever is another in a series of hits for Jonathan Hickman. From his earlier publications—The Nightly News, Pax Romana—to his acclaimed run on Fantastic Four, Hickman has become known as the thinking man's writer. His mini-series S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever certainly doesn't disappoint, with its deft weaving of Marvel continuity and scientific icons into a gripping storyline that exposes the 'secret' history of everyone's favourite fictitious espionage organization.
When this limited series first debuted, its use of Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark—fathers to Mister Fantastic and Iron Man, respectively—definitely drew fan attention. Its more mysterious characters, the Night Machine and his son Leonid, left a few people scratching their heads as to what this storyline was really about. Was S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever a ret-conned history of the organization prior to Nick Fury’s involvement? An alternate timeline and/or multiverse dimension that wasn't Earth-616 (the designation of Marvel's principal Earth)? And how did famous figures such as da Vinci, Galileo, and Isaac Newton factor into all of this?
Without revealing any spoilers, I can certainly attest to the quality of storytelling in a six-issue comic book that spans the course of human history, the breadth of space, and involves battling Galactus in the 16th century. Plus there is enough time-jumping to impress any Doctor Who fan. If you’ve read Hickman’s The Red Wing mini-series (2011) then you already know this gentleman can spin a serious time travel yarn.
This is a truly epic tale befitting the legendary status we have conveyed upon the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Telsa, and Hickman delivers with strong pacing and expertly delivered plot twists. Still, none of this would work without Dustin Weaver's fantastic artwork.
The pages of this graphic novel are sweeping vistas done in action-paced paneling. With clean lines and remarkable detailing, Dustin Weaver brings a great realism that evokes many of the changes in art that the Renaissance is famous for. The reader can almost feel the wonder and energy that these famous historical figures injected into the development of science and society pouring off every page.
While many comic books are written at a drawn-out pace to fill a graphic novel collection of the plot arc, S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever can only to be said to suffer from the reverse. With so many minute details and time jumps, the month-long lag between single issues did the storyline a disservice. In the graphic novel format I could easily jump between 'chapters,' and found the reading experience richer and far more rewarding. With that in mind, I've skipped picking up the follow-up S.H.I.E.L.D.: Human Machine in the single issue format, and instead am eagerly awaiting its graphic novel collection in November this year.
A great read, S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever really rewards those with a passion for history or secret societies. Hickman certainly draws on occult legend and esoteric lore to flesh out S.H.I.E.L.D.'s methodology, which adds another layer of richness to an already expertly told story. This storyline definitely runs with Arthur C. Clarke’s idea that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And the result is spectacular to witness.