Who is J. August Richards playing in Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

James looks at the possible roles Angel's J. August Richards could be playing in the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot...

The first trailer for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was released a few days ago, and while it didn’t give too much away it did leave us with one particularly pressing question to chew on: Who is J. August Richards playing?

Richards (probably best known as Gunn from Joss Whedon’s Buffy spin-off Angel) hasn’t been granted the status of a serious regular – at least, not yet – but he has been confirmed as a major guest star in the pilot. Given that he’s clearly the only person in the trailer who is definitely manifesting superpowers, it’s safe to assume that he’ll be the subject of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s first investigation. But further than that, there’s also a good chance he’ll be playing someone from the established Marvel Universe.

Everyone associated with the show has been tight-lipped on whether that’s the case or not, but if ABC wants to demonstrate that yes, this show IS going to explore the Marvel Universe outside of the films, it’d make sense to put an established character front-and-centre in the first episode. And that makes Richards the most likely candidate. After all, as Coulson says in the trailer “That’s a superhero.”

So assuming he’s not an original creation, who could he be? We can’t help but speculate. To keep ourselves from having too wide a range of possibilities, we’ll stick to established African-American characters only, but other than that, everything’s on the table.

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Guess #1: Luke Cage (Power Man)

Bald(ish)? Check. Apparent superhuman durability? Check. Down to earth attitude? Check. Okay, he’s not as buff as Luke Cage, and he isn’t wearing the shirt, but he does appear to be a family man (even if his kid is older than Cage’s in the comics) and Luke Cage would certainly be capable of jumping out of a building and leaving the pavement more damaged than he is. Anyone who’s read an Avengers comic in the last ten years can’t help but want this to be true, if only so we can hear the words “Sweet Christmas” on screen.

There are two big problems with this theory, though. The first is that Luke Cage is quite clearly a character big enough to carry his own movie or TV show (if not alone, then alongside Iron Fist and/or Jessica Jones as Heroes for Hire) so it’s unlikely they’ll gamble the character on a task so small as accumulating audience brownie points for a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. And the second, much larger problem is that it’s already been officially denied. Rats.

Guess #2: Eli Bradley (Patriot)

In the comics, the African-American soldier Isaiah Bradley was used as a guinea pig during WW2 in attempts to recreate the Super Soldier formula that gave Captain America his powers. In the present day, his grandson Eli Bradley honours his grandfather by assuming the identity of Patriot, gaining powers after a blood transfusion from Isaiah imbues him with the same serum. In the comic world, Several Marvel editors and writers have confirmed that the reason Patriot was absent from the relaunch of his usual home series, Young Avengers, is that he’s “off the board”, which normally means there are specific plans for him elsewhere.

If Richards IS playing Patriot in the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, that would certainly explain why Marvel is keeping the character close to their chest at the moment. And although it’s a joke, Richards’ character does ask “I should carry a shield?” (Patriot carries a shield!) Of course, Richards is much older than Eli, so it’s also possible that he’s playing Josiah X, Isaiah’s son and Eli’s Uncle. Nothing we’ve seen so far openly contradicts either possibility, but the evidence in favour is circumstantial at best.

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Guess #3: Miles Morales (Ultimate Spider-Man)

Oh, how badly we want this to be true. As we all know, Spider-Man is off the board due to a licensing deal with Sony. But we don’t know all of the specifics of how that deal works. There’s a chance that it only refers to Peter Parker. Miles Morales, the second Ultimate Spider-Man, was created AFTER the Sony license was hammered out. Maybe Sony don’t have the rights to this incarnation of the character, which would free him for use in the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. Richards is first seen rescuing someone from a burning building, which is one of archetypical Spider-Man rescues. And what’s this thing on Richards’ arm? Is it a stretch to say it might be some kind of Chitauri-derived web-shooter?

Well, yeah, probably. But of all the choices this would be the coolest by far. Even if he can’t be Spider-Man, there’s a chance he might be Miles Morales using another superheroic identity. The recent “Spider-Men” crossover hinted that a version of Morales does exist in the “real” Marvel Universe, where he’d be older (i.e. not a teenager, i.e. look like Richards) so maybe this is that version of him. It’d be a bold move to debut Morales on TV – not least because of the phonecalls Disney’s lawyers would get from Sony – but as much as we want it to happen, we doubt that it will.

Guess #4: Elvin Daryl Haliday (Rage)

Discount the characters that might have a movie or their own TV show potentially in development and you’re left with a reasonably big barrel to scrape. One name that has recently floated to the top is Rage, a fairly obscure character who has nonetheless been a New Warrior and an Avenger, so he’s not entirely small-time (even if he does a terrible name and generic “exposed to chemicals” origin). Supporting evidence that Richards is playing Rage comes from Marvel’s ident.

Most of us know that the comics used in the Marvel ident tend to reflect the film they appear before (i.e. it’s exclusively Iron Man comics in the Marvel ident used before the Iron Man films) and eagle-eyed obsessives spotted a panel containing Rage in the S.H.I.E.L.D. trailer’s ident. Red herring, coincidence, or something more meaningful?

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Another supporting factor is that part of Rage’s origin involves him being artificially aged to look like he’s in his thirties – the same age Richards is now. It’s not the most interesting choice of character, admittedly, but we’re under no illusions that any Marvel TV series is going to have to cast the net far and wide when picking out guest stars.

Guess #5: Triathlon (Delroy Garrett)

Aside from the sheer awfulness of the character’s superhero name (and, for that matter, his costume) this actually wouldn’t be a bad choice. Triathlon has fairly generic powers – he’s as strong/fast/smart as three men – but that makes him easy to do on TV. And unlike the other characters on this list, he has super-speed, which is something the trailer shows Richards’ character using.

There’s also well-developed story around the character involving the “Triune Understanding” – a pseudo-religious cult for which he’s the poster-child. This would provide nice fodder for an ongoing story. We can actually see this working on TV, not least because he’s a hero with a built-in, story-centric expiration date, so you’re not going to end up with a situation where you have to explain where he is during Avengers 2. We’re well into the realm of pure speculation here, but as choices go it wouldn’t be a bad one at all.

Finally, here are a few of Marvel’s black superheroes who we’ve discarded as possible candidates for one reason or another:

Aegis: Powered by a magical breastplate, without which the name makes no sense. I didn’t see a breastplate.Black Panther: Whoever Richards is playing, he’s clearly a suburban guy. Plus T’Challa has his own film in some stage of development.The Falcon: Confirmed as appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so he’s off the table.War Machine: Already spoken for in the Iron Man franchise.Blade: The rights are probably back with Marvel by now, but there’s no way they cast Richards as a vampire hunter (again). Besides which, he can carry his own movie.White Tiger III: Let’s face it, Kaspar Cole might have been the third White Tiger, but he’s probably the least popular of them all. And there’s a prominent female White Tiger in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, brand synergy must be maintained.Cloak: Wrong power set. No cloak, for a start!Goliath: Again, the wrong powers. Goliath is a size-changer.Blue Marvel: It’s not impossible, but the character has so many powers just one appearance could blow the effects budget for the entire series.Charcoal: In legal limbo – and again, the wrong powers.Synch: Mutant characters belong to Fox (and who would he “sync” with?)Bishop: Again, off the table because he’s a mutant licensed to Fox.Night Thrasher: I didn’t see a skateboard in that trailer, did you?Brother Voodoo: No dreads = No Voodoo.Coal Tiger: Now you’re just being stupid.

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Thoughts? Opinions? Anyone we missed? Or are we barking up the wrong tree and Richards will be playing an entirely new character? Let us know what you think…

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