A first issue has one goal that should be placed above all others: hook the reader. It is your introduction to a new story and an invitation to come back for more. Despite floating a vaguely interesting premise, The Shield #1 never manages to find a hook. Writers Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig fail to construct a compelling plot or engaging characters and Drew Johnson never manages to make action or setting connect. The Shield #1 is a comic whose poor execution undermines any promise readers could hope to find for the second issue.
Christopher and Wendig structure the story around a mystery, the mystery being who their main character actually is. It opens on a scene in the Revolutionary War before leaping to the present, leaving readers questioning what exactly is happening. This isn’t terribly difficult to figure out and is clarified to some degree by the end of the issue, but it’s clarity is not the problem. It is so focused on disorienting the reader and engaging them with the mystery that it fails to ever question why they should care.
It could be reasonably assumed that character could drive a connection to the events of The Shield #1, but the cast of the comic is composed of a bland cypher, laughably goateed villain, and even more generic cop. The Shield herself is missing her identity and appears to have lost her personality as well. Throughout the issue she merely responds to actions around her, running away from bad guys and stopping crimes. The closest thing she has to depth is an overt willingness to punch anything that may be vaguely threatening. Her internal monologue lacks any nuance or voice, punched out like a silver age comics adventure. The villain of the piece also resembles something from this era of superhero comics, spouting lines that even Snidely Whiplash might cringe at.
If nothing else, The Shield’s propensity for violence lends itself to a fast paced comic filled with chases and fight scenes all set in the very scenic city of Washington, D.C. Yet neither the setting nor the action ever evokes any interest. The opening scene of The Shield #1 shows Johnson’s lack of sense for pacing. A two-page spread of The Shield infiltrating a British encampment and attacking soldiers allows panels of prowling through the camp to sprawl across great lengths of the page. Meanwhile, several panels of a knife fight are jammed into the bottom right corner, encouraging readers to move over the most exciting elements of the page much more quickly. The relationship between bodies in close combat scenarios and anatomical design of kicks and punches are often questionable as well.
Complaints about the use of D.C. as a setting may vary, but the geography being used in The Shield #1 displays a clear lack of research. Landmarks are peppered throughout the issue, but The Shield moves between distinct areas of the city with little concern for how they connect. Even given her immense strength, the speed with with she operates within the city is questionable. For an over-the-top fantasy, this might not prove so troubling, but Johnson presents these events with a gritty, semi-realistic tone that does not fit the world he is actually creating.
The end result isn’t a comic that is offensive or completely without merit. It simply lacks the ability to earnestly recommend itself as something worth continuing. While it’s entirely possible that any of its elements, from characters to setting, will be refined as the series continues, there’s nothing here to make us believe that will happen. The Shield #1 is a lackluster outing that is best left on the shelf.