Culture

Retro spy gear bodes well for future of 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'

Crave's Kelsey Adams gets ready for the new season of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." with a quick salute to the Howling Commandos' EMP joy buzzer and other old-school fun.

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Like the Sistine Chapel of vintage spy gear. Video screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

With season 2 of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." about to start again (September 23 in the US), I wanted to take a moment to look back at one of the coolest things about the end of season 1. No, not "Don't Fear the Reaper"; not the part with the nail gun; not even Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg in nerdigans doing cross-talk comedy. Since this is CNET, and SHIELD in the comics had a great tech loadout, I'm going with Agent Triplett's trunk of vintage Howling Commandos spy gear.

The Howling Commandos, as my Marvel-fan aunt has repeatedly explained to me, really belonged to Nick Fury, and while giving them to '40s Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a good way to keep them in the story, the timeline has meant we didn't get to see much of them.

Ending season 1 with this kind of loving callback to the comics was a nice contrast to that weird current of negativity in the show so far (questioning your premises can be good, but I kept doubting whether the writers liked SHIELD, or superheroes, at all). Seems like a good sign.

The EMP joy buzzer played a crucial role in the finale (understandably given the enemy side's cyborg component) and the laser cigarette, zip line, UHF pin, noisemaker, portable X-ray scanner and quarter walkie-talkie all showed up as well. I won't pretend I remembered every one of them, though: thank you, MCU wiki!

For a great look at SHIELD technology in the comic books, don't miss this post on Den of Geek. And if you're interested in the real-life spy tech of past eras, I hope you've checked out this gallery of the Insectothopter and other CIA gadgets. What's that era's style called, anyway; sliderulepunk?

In addition to giving Triplett bona fides as a Commando descendent -- and probably locking him down as a good guy, despite his employment history and being all creepy about Simmons -- the unboxing gave Coulson a chance to get excited about vintage tech and memorabilia, a carryover from his movie character at a time when his TV incarnation had been needing some consistency and life.

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Video screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

What's even better, though, is the way many of the gadgets seem to be tributes, not just to old-fashioned spy technology that really existed, but to the type of items you'd see advertised in the backs of comic books. Like X-ray specs and joke cigarettes.

Turning those murky ads for cheap, useless gizmos -- so intriguing to child readers -- into functional, powerful gadgets is like a "Galaxy Quest"-style tribute to that early fascination: "It's all real!" "I knew it!"

And who knows: with "Agent Carter" coming up during "S.H.I.E.L.D."'s midseason break, maybe we'll see these gadgets, or something like them, in action again. That would be almost as cool as the Transistorized Blast Gun.

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Is that a View-Master in the top row? Video screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET