At least so far, season 2 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the best-received run of the series. In contrast to the slow-starting debut season and the often-cited lack of focus in the current episodes, season 2 was praised by fans and reviewers for a series of genuinely surprising twists and a strong, clear narrative-arc that answered two huge mysteries (“Why is Coulson alive?” and “What is Skye’s real identity?”) while simultaneously introducing The Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — even though their movie isn’t due out until 2019.
One of that season’s big mandates was to bring in more supporting characters from the comics, and with season 3 making its midseason return on March 8, now comes word that one season 2’s most popular guest villains will make a comeback for the occasion.
The Absorbing Man, a.k.a. Carl “Crusher” Creel, is set to make his return in ‘Bouncing Back,’ which picks up after the life and universe-altering events of ‘Maveth.’ Absorbing Man (Brian Patrick Wade) is a former boxer turned muscle-for-hire who is gifted with the superhuman ability to take on the physical properties of any material his skin touches — making him a favorite of comics fans, writers, and artists for the inventive action sequences his unique powers make possible. Fans of the Daredevil Netflix series will also note that he was the final opponent for Matt Murdock’s boxer father, apparently prior to getting his powers — which come from Loki in the comics but have not been given a definitive origin on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The question now hovering over Creel is whether or not he’ll be back as a friend or foe to S.H.I.E.L.D. when he makes his return, as much has changed regarding “gifted” individuals since the Agents first encountered him. Season 3 has chiefly seen the heroes grappling with a world-wide outbreak of unwitting Inhumans having their powers activated, with Coulson’s new underground relaunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. working to help (and possibly hire) the newly gifted while other forces see them as weapons to be controlled or even a threat to normal humans — and if that sounds suspiciously similar to X-Men to you, it’s supposed to.
It’s not known whether Creel is himself an Inhuman (most people don’t know until exposed to transformation-triggering Terrigen Mist), but if he is, it’s possible he’ll have to choose sides between S.H.I.E.L.D.’s under-construction Secret Warriors initiative or their evil counterparts in HYDRA. Season 3 of Agents (and, some believe, the eventual wrap-up of Agent Carter’s current adventures) has revealed the evil organization owes its true origins to a medieval death-cult worshiping a particularly dangerous Inhuman exiled to an alien world. That entity is now back on Earth inhabiting the body of an familiar face.
While season 3 has thus far failed to keep up the momentum the series achieved last season, the pieces do seem to be in place for a strong finish: Powerful new enemies, a redefined HYDRA, and The Absorbing Man all add welcome components to the formula. Marvel and ABC, at least, still appear bullish on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a franchise, though the “Inhuman problem” storyline has been heavily teased to tie-in with Captain America: Civil War’s superhuman-registration plot, and a spinoff series (Marvel’s Most Wanted) is currently in the works featuring the Mockingbird/Hunter action-couple. While not the strongest ratings draw in network primetime, the series is expected to be renewed for season 4 — which would bring its episode count to the point typically considered necessary for syndication.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns Tuesday, March 8 @9pm on ABC.