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Stating first off, I do not have any background reading any of the comics, and am coming to the Avengers wholly from the knowledge presented in the various movies.

After seeing The Avengers, I kind of got the feeling that the members comprising the Avengers group felt ... almost disdain, I guess, for SHIELD, as an organization, and sort of simply tolerated SHIELD's influence as a necessary logistical evil, but would just as soon have moved away from working with SHIELD if they got the chance.

Was there such a relationship in the comics, or was this something just in the movie, or ?

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The Avenger's relationship to SHIELD or other government agencies varied depending on which Marvel Universe you were in. There are currently two, the primary comic universe #616 or the Cinematic/Ultimate Universe, #19999/#1610. But the general consensus was, government and its attendant agencies (SHIELD, SWORD, HAMMER) were never too fond of people with the power to alter the status quo or ignore the government, acting as if they were above the Law. This has played out in both Universes, particularly in the events of Superhuman Registration Act and the resulting Civil War.

In the Marvel Universe #616, the prime Marvel continuity, SHIELD and the Avengers, in their early careers did not have much of an overlap. SHIELD spent its time dealing with other covert or costumed agencies such as The Red Skull, Baron Strucker, HYDRA or AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics).

The Avengers had less to do with those threats except when a member of the Avengers was having to deal with those threats on their own. Captain America often had issues with HYDRA and the Red Skull so he and SHIELD had a relationship of sorts that was reasonably cordial. Indeed for a time, SHIELD and the Avengers even traded Stark technology, training and developed superheroes using technology from Project Pegasus. This golden age lasted up to the late 70's.

As the Avengers (in #616) grew more powerful, they would have occasional interactions with SHIELD, especially when the Hulk left the Avengers but overall the two agencies did not interact nearly as often as they appear to in the movie. There were plenty of other government agencies who felt completely empowered to harass, annoy, prosecute or otherwise become a burden to the Avengers.

The single man who was often the front man of that harassment was Henry Peter Gyrich, first appearance Avengers #165, 1977. I will not even begin to cover the agencies this man has worked with that have given the Avengers grief. Most of the Avengers during his time as government liaison to the Avengers had choice words they would use to describe him. For a long time (two decades our time, when you saw Gyrich, you knew nothing good could come from it.) He has worked for:

  • U.S. Superhuman Armed Forces Department
  • Commission on Superhuman Activities
  • Office of the Chief of Protocol
  • National Security Agency
  • National Security Council

to name just a few. Feel free to read up on the man in great detail at Wikipedia.

The Marvel continuity known as the Ultimate Marvel Universe (Earth #1610) resembles the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth #19999) far more closely and SHIELD is much more in the face of the Avengers, both in the front of the game, trying to control them, and in the covert sphere by making super-soldiers, super-weapons, and trying to manipulate metahumans at every opportunity.

In the Ultimate Universe, SHIELD does whatever it can to control the Avengers, with the same effect they have in the movie, fair to middling, depending on how the Avengers are feeling about SHIELD at the moment.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Ultimate Universe are also similar to Marvel's new Animated Universe (containing the Avengers and Spiderman) which also seems to be very close in tone and tenor as far as the relationship between metahumans and humans.

I think the goal for the writers was when they rewrote the Earth #19999/#1610 Universes was to start the Universe with SHIELD acting as the government's watchdog on the potential danger metahumans pose and guide, harness, control, contain or destroy those threats that cannot be reasoned with and which pose a threat to the human populace of Earth.

[EDIT] An interesting point was made by eidylon that in the Cinematic Universe (Earth #19999) SHIELD appears to be a tool used by the writers to bind the stories together, connecting the characters by their interactions with the enigmatic and often conflicted organization.

  • Minor nitpick: technically the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Earth #199999, separate from the Ultimate universe (#1610). – dlanod May 22 '12 at 22:51
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    Yes, I know they make the distinction. But so far I can't see the difference. I will make the note... I guess as the two Universe grow they will make them more divergent. (or not...) – Thaddeus Howze May 22 '12 at 23:05
  • Very in-depth answer. Thank you. Speaking to your last paragraph, the writers' intent ... at least with the movies, it kinda feels to me like they are sort of using SHIELD as the common thread to hang all the movies on and give them a sense of continuity without needing to necessarily mention or include other Avenger big names. Like I said tho, all I can speak to is the movies. :) – eidylon May 23 '12 at 1:03
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Modern 616 SHIELD isn't all that unlike the MCU's. It depends, to some extent, on who is in charge. The original (white) Nick Fury is an old friend of Captain America and more of a cigar-chomping, womanizing John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima character, is himself given virtual immortality by the Infinity Formula, and is more sympathetic to superheroes. Maria Hill, on the other hand, is very much opposed to the Avengers for quite a while. During the Civil War, she is one of the foremost enemies of the unregistered superheroes (including Cap and many others) and acts in an extremely brutal and unforgiving manner toward them. After Civil War and Cap's "assassination," though, Tony Stark becomes Director of SHIELD for a short time and she gradually befriends him. By the time Cap comes back, she's much less hardline-SHIELD and Cap actually appoints her as the overseer of a group of Avengers. It's also worth nothing that Cap's primary modern girlfriend, Sharon Carter, is a SHIELD agent for much of her comic tenure. Long story short: SHIELD's attitude toward the Avengers is very much dependent on who is acting Director and the surrounding climate, but the 616 variation isn't that far off, aside from Fury being a little more stoic.

(For the record, the MCU and the Ultimate universe are not the same. The MCU is something of a combination of 616 and Ultimates. The costumes and SHIELD's role (and Nick Fury) are certainly influenced by Ultimates, but the origins and, most importantly, personalities, are largely 616-based. MCU Cap is classic 60's 616 Cap and bears little resemblance to the extremely caustic Ultimate version. Thus far, the tone of the films is worlds away from the grit and darkness of Ultimates. There is much more 616 in the history/characterizations/mood of the film than there is Ultimates.)

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