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Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ successfully brings Marvel’s universe to TV

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Ming-Na Wen takes down one of the bad guys in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Three and a half stars

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC.

Thanks to the wonders of corporate synergy (specifically, the fact that Disney owns both ABC and Marvel), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can occupy a unique place in the TV landscape: It’s both a spinoff from and an integral part of the ongoing Marvel superhero cinematic universe, picking up directly from the events of The Avengers movie and feeding into the overall tapestry of the movies’ world. It also has to stand on its own as a TV series, which is a tough balancing act for co-creator Joss Whedon (writer and director of The Avengers) and his collaborators.

In the first episode, at least, they manage to pull it off. Co-written and directed by Whedon, it’s a fun, action-packed story that recalls both his Marvel work and his past TV creations, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. The biggest connection to the Marvel movies is Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), a government superhero liaison who appeared to die in The Avengers but has now returned to life (setting up one of the show’s ongoing mysteries). He joins a team of other human agents whose job is to track down and monitor emerging superbeings.

While Iron Man, Captain America and their cohorts will presumably operate in the background, S.H.I.E.L.D. has an entire comic-book universe to explore, and the first episode is full of references to elements from the Marvel movies. It’s also full of Whedon’s trademark wit and quirky characters, which is what will ultimately keep the show worth watching, whether familiar superheroes show their faces or not.

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