Even after just three appearances, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Jeffrey Mace (Jason O’Mara) has proven to be one of the more interesting characters that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has introduced across its four seasons: warm, charismatic, hokey, PR-obsessed, and - as revealed last night, harboring a few secrets. It’s clear that Jeffrey has quite the future on the show... but he also has a long history in the Marvel comic book canon.
As previously noted, Director Mace is based on a Marvel superhero who has been around for as long as Captain America himself, and even though the character has seen major changes in the adaptation process – par the course for the television series, as Quake can attest to – it's still worth getting to know the comic book version. After all, who knows what elements from the source material Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may dip into next?
From the Golden to the Bronze Age: The Patriot and Captain America
It’s no accident that, in last night’s “Lockup,” George Stephanopoulos introduces Jeffrey Mace as a “patriot” and a “hero” who stepped up during a crisis in which the United States of America (or, at least, some of its ambassadors) was attacked. In the comic books, the Patriot was introduced in 1941 as a small-time superhero who feels the call to action by the great war overseas. In this iteration of the character, Mace is a non-powered average Joe – a reporter working for the Daily Bugle (of Spider-Man fame) – who is inspired by Captain America to continue the fight against Nazi sympathizers or double-agents in New York City.
That was literally all there would be to the character for the next 30 years, until Marvel Comics decided to resurrect a number of its Golden Age-era heroes, starting with Cap himself in 1964 and eventually including Mace in ’76. The comics landscape was quite different in the Bronze Age, with the Avengers having been formed and entire new sets of characters, such as the Inhumans, having been introduced. The new generation of writers lost no time in retconning the Patriot’s connections to and legacy in this new world, establishing an even closer relationship with Captain America and his teenage sidekick, Bucky Barnes, and making Jeffrey the uncle to Incredible Hulk villain General Thaddeus Ross. They even added this little flourish: during World War II, the Patriot puts out the call (literally) for other like-minded citizens to join him on his anti-infiltrator crusade, which ultimately results in the formation of the Liberty Legion and Mace’s position as leader in it. They fight alongside Cap and Buck (who encouraged Jeffrey to create the street-level Avengers-esque group in the first place), helping to win the war effort.
All of this is just set dressing, however, for the character’s main narrative addition. Originally, Captain America continued his fight for truth, justice, and the American way until 1954, well after the end of the Second World War (and, even, the Korean War). In order to square this inconvenient fact with the newly-added backstory for Steve Rogers – that he was frozen upon the end of WWII and not resurrected until the early ‘60s – Marvel decided to have another character, William Naslund (formerly yet another minor superhero, the Spirit of ’76), don the suit and shield upon the specific request of President Harry Truman. This new Cap was likewise “revealed” to have been killed in ’46, leaving it to the Patriot to be the third and final Captain America, until he retired three years later to get married and settle back into his journalist roots. He eventually dies in 1983 from cancer, as an old man with a perpetually-young Steve Rogers at his side - a scene neatly appropriated for Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Inhuman and director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
An Inhuman (imbued with Luke Cage-esque powers of invulnerability and super-strength), a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and now a man with a dark secret (or two) to hide - Jason O’Mara’s version of Jeffrey Mace appears to be almost completely different from the original. And while it’s still too early, at this juncture, to tell whether that will, indeed, ultimately remain the case, there have nonetheless been a number of references, at the least, or parallels, at the most, to the Patriot’s comic-book roots.
Mace’s enrolment in and eventual command of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the perfect parallel to the Patriot’s membership in the Liberty Legion, fighting against insurgent threats (such as the Watchdogs) and even the occasional superpowered individual (in this case, the still-unexplained Ghost Rider). And his public persona as a patriotic public servant who stepped up to save lives during the United Nations bombing in Captain America: Civil War (another major crossover with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe) is a nice tip of the hat to the glorious Golden Age backstory that the character enjoys when he’s brought back into the comic-book continuity fold in the ‘70s. One could even argue that his replacing Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) as director is an homage to his taking Captain America’s place.
Of course, there are a lot of unknowns riddled into the MCU backstory, starting with when Mace became an Inhuman and a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent both, and ending with what role, if any, he really played in the Vienna bombing. Assuming that the picture shown in the episode is accurate – that is, that he really did assist in shielding innocent lives instead of, say, helping either Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) to enter or Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) to escape – the answer behind his lies would seem to be to curate a better public image and, thus, to help him move up the bureaucratic ladder. This would explain his seemingly never-ending obsession with public relations and cheesy corporate slogans, and it would present a darker spin on the truly heroic character from the comics.
Given Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s penchant for taking whatever new story beat may land its way and thoroughly incorporating it into its pre-existent narrative – such as, say, nabbing the Captain America films’ Hydra and making its very existence the byproduct of the ancient Inhumans – it’s safe to assume that this new Jeffrey Mace will somehow be connected to either this new, Darkhold-fueled magical realm or, even, Hydra itself. Hell – maybe he was part of the Winter Soldier program.
We should find out soon enough, as we’re now officially at the half-point of the show’s season 4.0.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with “The Good Samaritan” on Tuesday, November 1 at 10:00 pm on ABC.