Beginning life as a show tentatively tethered to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has grown into its own beast, weaving complex character arcs with exciting action. Though it’s continued to be inspired by the events of the various films, it has distanced itself and created its own little corner of the live-action Marvel world. Along the way, it’s also been bolder about pulling elements from the comic books into the storytelling, much to the show’s benefit
Season 4 of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been especially adept at this, highlighting both Ghost Rider(s) and Life Model Decoys. In between these bigger plots, however, it’s also given fans a deep cut from the page that serves as an ongoing connection to the MCU as a whole: Jeffrey Mace. Known alternately by the codename Patriot, Mace was first introduced as the mysterious new head of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s been clear from the start, however, that he was keeping something from his fellow spies. To help unpack this slow-burn storyline, let’s take a look at the Patriot’s secrets -- and how they connect him to the larger MCU.
Who is the Patriot?
A few months back, we took a deep dive into the comic book history of Jeffrey Mace and his alter-ego the Patriot, but it’s worth a refresher in light of recent events on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mace first appeared way back in 1941 during issue #4 of the Timely Comics book The Human Torch -- which focused on the android and future S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jim Hammond, not the Fantastic Four member. In the books, the Patriot was a superb athlete and combatant from Brooklyn inspired to don a star-spangled outfit after seeing Captain America.
The Patriot would go on to become one of Timely’s biggest hits, appearing in multiple Marvel Mystery Comics over the next two years. As the decades went by, Timely became Marvel and the Patriot fell by the wayside. The ‘60s, however, proved a time of renewed interest in superheroes following the resurrection of Captain America and the birth of comics’ Silver Age. To help explain how Cap had been having adventures after being frozen, Marvel posited that a number of men had taken up his mantle (along with Bucky’s). Mace, it turns out, was the third man to hold the shield, bringing his original inspiration full circle.
Like Steve Rogers, Mace would eventually return to comics with a number of World War II-set stories in the ‘70s, with his history and tenure as Captain America recently condensed and retold in 2010’s Captain America: Patriot. Outside of those appearances, however, Mace has never matched his original popularity, though the mantle of Patriot has lived on thanks to Young Avenger Eli Bradley, the grandson of former Super Soldier and Captain America Isaiah Bradley.
Jeffrey Mace, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel isn’t alone in borrowing characters from the comics and drastically reworking them for film and television, but they usually do so with reverence to their origin. The Jeffrey Mace we first encounter in ‘Meet the New Boss’, the second episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current season, is a good bit younger than his comic counterpart.
Rather than being a former costumed adventurer, Mace is simply an American hero and his deeds qualified him to take over for Coulson as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. As the season unfolded last year, Mace revealed he was an Inhuman with super strength and durability, and his enhanced status was one of the prerequisites Coulson asked for his replacement to have. There’s even a nod to his time as Captain America in the comics as Coulson says Rogers wasn’t available for the gig following the events of Civil War.
The series then revealed that Mace was present at the signing of the Sokovia Accords in Vienna, where he helped save the life of an attendee following the aftermath of the explosion that took King T’Chaka’s life. Thanks to the event, he had the public spotlight and faith of Brigadier General Talbot needed to be appointed the head of the spy organization.
His status and powers made him the perfect man to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. out of the shadows and help assuage the public’s distrust of Inhumans, both of which he leveraged when he came out in costume as Patriot following the defeat of Eli Morrow. Not only did the moment make him a full-fledged superhero, but his suit harkened back to his comic book costume (including the eagle across his chest, now representing S.H.I.E.L.D.) while fitting nicely into the more grounded world of the MCU.
The Patriot’s Secrets and MCU Connections
Mace’s alter ego and Inhuman powers weren’t the only thing he was hiding, however, as was learned in 'The Patriot'. As it turns out, Mace isn’t an Inhuman, but rather part of the long line of individuals augmented by some version of the Super Soldier Program in the MCU. Like in the comics, the program has gone through multiple iterations and is responsible for everyone from Wolverine to the Hulk. In the MCU, it has birthed the Red Skull, Deathlok, Abomination, the Extremis and Centipede projects, and the Winter Soldier by using some variation of Abraham Erskine’s original formula or notes.
Mace himself was part of Project: Patriot, conceived as a continuation of the program that made Captain America but using the formula concocted by Calvin Zabo that turned him into Mr. Hyde. Though the program worked out the darker kinks of Zabo’s formula, it still required Mace to regularly inject himself in order to maintain his powers. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was revealed shortly thereafter that even Mace’s heroic deeds in Vienna were a farce.
Rather than selflessly putting his life in danger to protect the innocent, he clumsily fell after having his vision obscured, landing in the perfect position when a photographer snapped the picture of him apparently shielding a bystander. Rather than fess up, Mace leaned into the lie and used it to not only become the Patriot, but the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. While this put him in the rarified company of Nick Fury and Coulson (and for a minute, Mack), it was all doomed to fail. Now that his secret has been revealed, Coulson is back in charge, but Mace has remained as the public face of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is maintaining his cover for the time being.
Marvel and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. took a lot of liberties with their interpretation of Jeffrey Mace, but it’s provided viewers with an exciting twist on the Patriot’s origins. Just like in the comics, the MCU has attempted to tie a number of superheroes and villains into the project that birthed Captain America. By having Mace actually be part of an offshoot of the project pioneered by a madman, it adds another tragic layer to his fictional history.
Though Mace lived a lie and used it to his advantage, he did so in an effort to be a hero and do some good. His passion for the rights of Inhumans is real, and there’s no denying he’s got the charisma to handle to politics of his position. While the reveal of his secrets will put him in the backseat of the story moving forward, there’s still of chance for Mace to seek redemption now that he’s putting his true skills to good use.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 continues with ‘BOOM’ on Tuesday, February 7 at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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