It's rare to see a series with a brilliant premise, a proven writer, and one of the best artists in the business, but SHIELD certainly fits the description. It's baffling to me, then, that my purchasing and reading the first six issues ensures that I won't be reading a seventh.
I realize there's probably a larger plan waiting in the wings for volume two, but SHIELD -- and a lot of Jonathan Hickman's Marvel work -- has suffered badly from an incredibly frustrating problem of, for lack of a better phrase, gratuitous narrative coyness. Readers are asked to make a sizable investment in a story that doles out small, unconnected bits of information for very long periods of time before any real payoffs occur.
There have been hints of this in Hickman's other work, like Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four, but in the SHIELD miniseries this problem occurs to a degree that find intolerable. This isn't a complete or coherent story, even when it's read in a sitting as a complete volume rather than as six discretely published issues. In other words, even the trade paperback version won't make much sense or work that well as a story.
On financial grounds alone, this is difficult to defend. Compare the story you get in six issues of SHIELD for what else you could buy at the same eighteen-dollar price -- a complete film on DVD, a complete novel, half a season of TV at iTunes -- and it starts to look like a cheat. Comics prices are bad all over, to be sure, but the techniques Hickman employs in this series mean the reader gets even less for the money than usual..
This was solicited as a complete story in size issues, a limited series of that length, and it isn't. I'm really not interested in subsidizing Hickman's experiment in long-form storytelling under those sorts somewhat deceptive circumstances. Additionally, Hickman's reusing storytelling tricks -- and quite gimmicky ones -- even within these six issues, in a way that's quite tiresome to me. How many issues have turned on revealing yet another historical figure to be some sort of superhuman mystery figure?
The first time, when it was Da Vinci, the trick was somewhat clever and fresh. But it's happened something like five or six times in five issues, with this last one being an especially clumsy use of the method with the reveal of the identity of the glowing fellow. (Michelangelo Buonaratti's unfortunate resemblance to the whining, co-dependent "God" from Preacher may be deliberate, but if so it's a rather silly in-joke.)
Additionally, I really don't feel that this story has benefitted much from being set in the Marvel Universe. Most of what's been interesting in it isn't the Marvel connection, but the mythology Hickman's creating around the "great man theory" figures from history. And now that the "great man" stuff is turning into a frankly silly attempt to pack in every historical figure Hickman admires or finds interesting, I'm less sure that plot makes much sense.
There is a nice idea at the core of this issue, I'll admit, when the expected conflict between the innovative Leonardo and the dogmatic Newton turns out to be a moot one, with both sides being wrong in some sense. But for most f the series, we're not really getting the stories to which these glimpses and moments allude. Instead, Hickman and Weaver serve up single images that allude to stories Hickman isn't bothering to narrate in any kind of fullness or depth.
Like so much of his Marvel work, this is less a story than the bullet point outline of something that might one day be fleshed out as a story. Hickman's ambitions for his stories tend to far outstrip his ability to tell them. For some people, the tantalizing glimpse of a bigger and better story lurking behind the one they'll actually get to read is a workable technique; for me, it's an artistic failing.
Add that to the practical concerns surrounding the marketing and cost of the story, and I really can't recommend this to anyone in good conscience. It's expensive for what it is: a batch of potentially clever and initially clever ideas that are very badly served by the techniques and format used to present them.