Home » Columns, Comics, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Television, Top story

‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ destroys Deathlok

Posted by on February 6, 2014 – 10:09 am

Astonishing Tales

Even though the ABC television series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., has turned out to be clunkier than malfunctioning Mark-I armor, for the most part the missteps and overt awkwardness of the show has, fortunately, left the known Marvel universe relatively unscathed. That was until Tuesday night’s episode, “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, which gave us the first (small) screen appearance of Marvel’s forty year-old character, Deathlok.

If you had told me six months ago that the highly anticipated S.H.I.E.L.D. series would include Deathlok, I would have been ecstatic. But — after four months of the show’s sophomoric storylines — when it was revealed that the program’s Mike Peterson character (J. August Richards) would become the cybernetic soldier, I could only roll my eyes and pray that the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers would somehow find the mojo to pull this off. They didn’t.

The old school original Deathlok (the Demolisher, Luther Manning, from 1974’s Astonishing Tales #25) is one of my favorite Marvel characters. He was even on my top ten comic film wish list back in 2012, but I never could have imagined then that he would be brought to life as the bastardized version I saw on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tuesday night.

Astonishing Tales 31 DeathlokHere’s how the TV show has destroyed Deathlok and (probably) any chance we ever had of seeing the hero on the big screen:

  1. First off, I don’t believe for a minute that the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. writers had any idea where they were going with the Mike Peterson character. This entire series seems haphazardly slapped together and ill-conceived, with Peterson as the super-powered “hooded man”, saving kids from burning buildings one minute; to being part of an evil underground Project Centipede the next. In later episodes he’s assisting S.H.I.E.L.D., and then after an explosion nearly kills him he is transformed into Deathlok by the Cybertek organization. None of which has anything to do with the comic’s narrative except the names, “Deathlok” and “Cybertek”. (But now that I think about it, the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. series has little to do with the comics, other than capitalizing on the name and the popularity of The Avengers movie.)
  2. Deathlok has had a few different iterations in the Marvel universe: as Colonel Luther Manning (the original and best version); as John Kelly (who would later become the cyborg, Siege); and as Professor Michael Collins. With the later versions there are some extremely convoluted brain transference plotlines going on; so why add yet another player (i.e. Mike Peterson) to the mix and make things even more confusing? Answer: Because they didn’t know that Peterson was going to be Deathlok when they started down this path.
  3. In the Deathlok comics the main villain is Simon Ryker (or some time variation thereof, i.e. Harlan Ryker, Rebecca Ryker [who also becomes Deathlok at one point]), but on the TV show it’s some generic baddie called, “Ian Quinn”, oh, and the illusive “Clairvoyant”. Further evidence that TV’s Deathlok is an afterthought; otherwise why not use the Ryker name in connection with his creation?
  4. The “real” Deathlok is a badass mash-up of The Punisher, Nick Fury and the Six Million Dollar Man (Doug Moench’s Deathlok character was around a dozen years before Robocop was even a glimmer in Paul Verhoeven’s eye.) Former factory worker Peterson (Richards) just does not have the kind of persona that is needed for this character. (Nothing against factory workers.)
  5. Deathok is a Frankenstein’s monster of human and cybernetic parts, including an embedded computer brain. They’re at least part of the way there with the TV character, but I’m currently wondering what he is going to do with just one cybernetic leg. I guess he can always trip the bad guys.
  6. Deathlok communicates with his onboard computer brain (or as he calls it, “Puter”) and he doesn’t have to carry along a notepad to ask it questions (like, “Can I see my son?) Maybe this is going to be explored later on, but this first introduction to the character was L.A.M.E.

RichardsSo how would I do it differently? Glad you asked! Adhere to the source material and show a little reverence for it. Mike Peterson should have been called Luther Manning (or at least Michael Collins) to maintain the connection to his origins. He should have been a soldier wounded/killed in Afghanistan and brought back to life by a Halliburton like company that is tied to the military industrial complex. He should have the use of cybernetic appendages, but only a partial memory of his former life (wife and child.)

Forget S.H.I.E.L.D. and give Deathlok his own movie, suitably cast, where his character can properly come to life, instead of trying to blend him into the annoyingly teenybopper Skye, Fitz and Simmons melodrama of the TV show. And for the love of Odin, show a little respect to fans of the original character.

Ok, Rant complete. What do YOU think of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Deathlok? Let us know in the comments below!