Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 has just introduced viewers to a blast from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past. The latest episode, "All the Comforts of Home," saw the S.H.I.E.L.D. team successfully return to their own time. There, they found themselves welcomed by holograms of General Rick Stoner, a legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was responsible for having the Lighthouse constructed.
The character is certainly something of a deep cut. In Marvel lore, Stoner was the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. before Nick Fury. He's only appeared in flashback scenes, and his tenure ended when Hydra attempted to assassinate him. It seems that, in the MCU, Stoner was the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in the late '60s and early '70s. So how does General Stoner fit into the MCU history of S.H.I.E.L.D., and could he ever return?
Was Rick Stoner A Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D. In The MCU
According to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. was formed by Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and Chester Phillips in the 1940s. Until now, it had generally been believed that Carter was S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first director, and remained in position from the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. up till about the '90s. While that's still possible - Stoner doesn't introduce himself as a S.H.I.E.L.D. director in "All the Comforts of Home" - it now seems a little more unlikely.
It's true that the Agent Carter one-shot sees Peggy recruited to run S.H.I.E.L.D. However, that one-shot is generally viewed as non-canon; it claims to be set only a year after the end of World War II, directly contradicting the Agent Carter TV series. In reality, the one-shot was a proof of concept, one that laid the template for the series; it proved successful enough to become the basis for two seasons, but it doesn't seem to have been viewed as canon. So, while Peggy Carter was presumably important in the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's unlikely she was the first director. Instead, it seems more likely that the first director was Chester Phillips, who had previously run the SSR.
It's possible General Stoner was actually Phillips' successor, which could fit in quite easily as the length of his tenure is unknown. What's also unknown is whether or not Stoner met the same fate he did in the comics; targeted by Hydra when he became a threat. The Hydra of the MCU was a parasite hidden within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, and they have a history of taking out S.H.I.E.L.D. figures who almost uncovered their existence. It seems safe to assume that Stoner was then succeeded by Peggy Carter.
Could Stoner Appear In The Movies?
Marvel's Phase 3 movies are playing with the timeline like never before, and that means Rick Stoner could actually play a subtle role in the films. Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s, and it's doubtful Stoner was still director by that time. It's more likely that Peggy Carter (who is rumored to be in Captain Marvel) would be director at that time.
A more likely candidate is Avengers 4. This is almost certainly a time-travel film. While it's clear the film will revisit the Chitauri invasion, casting calls have also teased a wide range of other times - including the '60s. Stoner could conceivably be director of S.H.I.E.L.D. during some of the time-periods the movie will visit. It's not difficult to imagine Patrick Warburton making a brief cameo.
The movies and TV shows haven't really linked together directly since 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. Back in 2015, behind-the-scenes issues led to Marvel Studios being separated from the rest of the Marvel Entertainment group. However, there are signs that the relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment has improved again. Certainly, recent tie-in comics like Avengers: Infinity War Prelude were actually new (canon) content, rather than simply comic book adaptations based on the films. So this kind of subtle link is actually possible once again.
It's too soon to say for certain whether or not General Stoner will return. If he does, though, it's quite possible that the character could make the jump to Avengers 4 - especially with time-travel in the mix.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 continues next Friday March 9 with its 100th episode, “The Real Deal” at 9pm on ABC.