WARNING: spoilers for Agents of SHIELD season four, episode 13, “BOOM”
The twin major events of this week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD are actually linked: the death of new recurring villain Senator Ellen Nadeer (Parminder Nagra) and the transformation of other minor pain-in-the-neck Terrence Shockley (John Pyper-Ferguson) from low-level thug to high-powered Inhuman. The two developments are, of course, meant to be saturated with not a little dose of irony, given that both individuals were dedicated to hate-mongering and the outright liquidation of a goodly part of the global population; it is precisely that hatred and that violence that ended both of their lives, albeit one ending is literal and the other more figurative.
But they also allowed yet another piece of the comic book source material to be imported into SHIELD’s ever-growing canon, pulling showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen’s favorite trick of unmasking a pre-existent member of the cast as actually being a character from the comics (such as the reveal that Agent Daisy Johnson [Chloe Bennet] is none other than the superhero Quake). In this particular case, Mr. Shockley’s surprise comic book connection is an intriguingly major one, perhaps portending much to happen for his character as we approach the home stretch of the season.
Meet the Supervillain Nitro
In the Marvel Comic Universe, Nitro starts off life as Robert Hunter, a retired electrical engineer who becomes abducted by aliens – the Kree, specifically, who were still interested in having superpowered humans as their agents – and, as a result of their experimentations on him, gains the ability to make himself explode. Oh, yeah – he can also reintegrate himself at will, reassembling his various molecules from his post-detonation gaseous state.
After he outlives his usefulness to the Kree, Nitro goes on to become something of a professional baddie to a number of Marvel superheroes, ranging from Spider-Man to Iron Man, who waste no time in finding various ways to counteract the scoundrel’s explosive tendencies: Captain Mar-Vell (yet another Kree agent who ends up siding with humanity over his alien brethren) captures half of Robert Hunter’s gaseous remains in a container, preventing him from reconstituting himself, while Tony Stark picks up on a high-frequency signal that he emits before each explosion. By duplicating this sound, Iron Man is able to force his adversary to detonate on command, which he triggers over and over again in order to weaken Hunter down into a suitably pliant state.
How the MCU changes the character
Obviously, Agents of SHIELD has changed a number of specifics regarding Nitro, from his civilian name to his occupation to his sociopolitical leanings. But the biggest alternation is, by far, his inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ever-growing Inhumans family, which has become one of the show’s most-repeated adaptation tricks; everyone from Quake to SHIELD Director Jeffrey Mace (Jason O’Mara), who is better known as the Patriot in the comics, has had some relation to the human-alien hybrid race, reinforcing its importance in the grand scheme of the shared universe – well, on the television side, at least. This not only allows a certain consistency for the show and its various narrative meanderings – Ghost Rider, the Sokovia Accords, and Life Model Decoys have all been anchored by the mythology’s fundamental preoccupation with the Inhumans – it also helps to set up ABC’s upcoming (spinoff?) series this fall.
The fundamentals of Nitro, however, are all present on the small screen, not the least of which is the methodology our protagonists discover in attempting to manipulate Shockley’s explosive powers in order to wear him down. While there is no guarantee that the character will be able to stick it out for the remaining nine episodes of the season – SHIELD has the tendency to kill off most, if not all, of that year’s recurring characters before moving on to the next season – we should nonetheless expect to see more snippets like this lifted from the page and applied to his MCU counterpart. Might he be finally taken out of the picture by having a titanium steel cylinder be placed around him as he erupts, causing him to rocket off into orbit?
Speaking of which…
Terrence Shockley’s possible future
The singular storyline that Nitro has come to be associated with – and known for – would have to be the comics’ version of Civil War: in that event’s opening sequence, a group of young superheroes known as the New Warriors decide to film, reality television-style, their taking down of a number of baddies, which just so happens to include Nitro. After being pummeled both physically and verbally, the enraged Robert Hunter decides to let loose, causing an explosion that takes out several hundred individuals, including all those in a nearby elementary school and most of the New Warriors themselves.
Should Agents of SHIELD wish to take a darker turn with its characters and its overarching narrative both – something which it has occasionally been known to do, such as when Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) opted to execute Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) with his bare (mechanical) hands – using the basic contours of this particular comic book scene would be right up the showrunners’ alley. While the chaos and fallout that it would cause couldn’t, by definition, be able to match either the literary or cinematic version of Civil War, it could nonetheless furnish a new direction for the finale or the fifth season, and it would be the logical follow-up to this year’s earlier explorations of vigilante Quake or last year’s global “outbreak” of Inhuman transformations.
It would also continue to make John Pyper-Ferguson’s version of Nitro that much more dramatically interesting, something which is now more of a necessity than ever before, given Senator Nadeer’s death and the rather bland unmasking of the Watchdogs’ Superior.
Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.
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