This week will see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. celebrate its 100th episode. A milestone episode like this traditionally offers a show to chance to look back and reflect on its past, to recognize everything it has achieved over the last few years, and to chart a course to the future. S.H.I.E.L.D. looks set to be making the most of that opportunity. The promos for its 100th episode have teased a lot of key friends and foes from the past, several of whom are actually dead. So far, the series seems to have offered few hints as to just how characters like Hive and Lash will return. It all seems so very mysterious.
Surprisingly, though, the latest episode - "All the Comforts of Home" - may have given an important clue. It introduced viewers to a S.H.I.E.L.D. character from back in the '70s, General Rick Stoner. Although Stoner is likely long since dead, it's possible S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to come face-to-face with his legacy.
This Page: What Is Project Backslide?
Why Has Agents Of SHIELD Introduced General Rick Stoner?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 has introduced General Rick Stoner as the man behind the Lighthouse. It seems that, back in the '60s and '70s, S.H.I.E.L.D. believed the world was facing an extinction-level event. They created a bunker, one that they thought was strong enough to actually survive the end of the world. Stoner planned to assemble Earth's best and brightest in the Lighthouse; they would ride out the so-called "Hydrogen Wave," and then return to the surface to reclaim their world.
In 1972, the Hydrogen Wave crisis was averted. But, mysteriously, Stoner didn't choose to use the Lighthouse; instead, he had it systematically erased from S.H.I.E.L.D. records. Even Fury's Toolbox, passed on to Coulson when he became Director, didn't contain any reference to the Lighthouse. Why did Stoner do this? What use is a potential sanctuary for humanity, one that has presumably cost a fortune to build, if nobody knows it exists?
These are intriguing questions, and they raise another difficult one; why has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the character of Rick Stoner in the first place?
Rick Stoner, Time Travel And Project Backslide
The reality is that Rick Stoner is a very deep cut in Marvel lore. In the comics, Stoner was actually Nick Fury's predecessor as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but has only ever appeared in one issue; a flashback sequence in 1994's Fury #1, which revealed he'd been assassinated by Hydra. Four years later, Marvel revisited the character, revealing that he'd survived the assassination attempt. Feeling abandoned by S.H.I.E.L.D., Stoner dedicated himself to rewriting history and became focused on Project Backslide. According to Fury, this was a S.H.I.E.L.D. attempt to master time-travel. Here's how he described it in Fury / Agent 13 #2:
"A top secret project that [Stoner] had launched durin' his run, attemptin' to create a working time-tunnel with energies siphoned from a home-made Cosmic Cube. A project I'd shut down years ago, when one too many good agents died tryin' to contain and control the Cube's impossible forces, leavin' nothin' behind but a failed, empty, pocket dimension. Or so I'd been led to believe."
Backslide was a failure. It didn't actually create a time-tunnel; instead, it created a pocket dimension, one that would be shaped by the fears and memories of anyone who entered it. Fury pursued Stoner into the Backslide dimension and became trapped there. When Stoner realized he hadn't actually traveled in time, he committed suicide, leaving Fury stranded and alone, playing war games with his own memories. Incredibly, Stoner himself didn't appear in the comic at all - bar as a skeleton in the dirt.