Malta and The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Looking back at all the major sources of mainstream geek love, like comics, films and TV, one can feel the dominance of American productions become just overwhelming. The most famous heroes are American (I’m still waiting for the first non-American Green Lantern. No, Simon Baz doesn’t count) and their stories are either based in the USA, in some fictional land or don’t go further than the major European cities. So where is the rest of Europe and the world?  Where are the other corners of the world like Malta in this vast universe?

Agents of SHIELD Asset 1

I’m sure ‘Lethal Radiation doesn’t enter’ wasn’t what you meant to say
(Copyright Marvel and ABC Studios)

[While on the subject of geekdom and Malta, the Malta Comic Con, just four years young at this point, is on the way to putting the country on the geek map and/or inspire someone local to enter the geek-related entertainment industry on an international level.]

So you can imagine my surprise when the latest episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Asset (Episode 3), featured Malta as a backdrop. Well, technically speaking, it’s California, (and this week the panel at New York Comic Con boasted about the wish to shoot on-location in places like Paris and Stockholm), Valletta doesn’t have hills in its vicinity and Google Translate has struck again. But hey, Malta’s in the Marvel universe after all and was chosen for a reason, and here’s why.

That’s right . In the popular Marvel cinematic universe, Malta has “Stunning beaches, beautiful tax laws… and a deep-seated hatred of outside forces telling them what to do.”

The beaches and tax laws I’m fine with (and they’re a local reality too). But the fact remains that Malta is also a safe haven for international law-breakers such as villain Ian Quinn (played by David Conrad) because we hate being told what to do by the big bad international community. Ironically enough, we’re part of the EU and  even that is on Quinn’s presentation on authorities Malta tells to go hang: “You’ve always been a stubborn bastard,now you’ve found a place where the watchdogs can’t touch you“, Quinn is rightfully told.

Believe me, I hate dabbling in local politics. The larger mass of the population is unfortunately still parochial, ignorant and dominated by the us-and-them tribal mentality, which translates so well into local two-party politics. Discussions tend to be heated and escalate quickly, with little room for compromise. But in this case, I couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on the great meeting point of fiction and (political) reality.

Under the present government (elected last March), Malta’s increasingly become a daring redneck maverick in international politics, much like the dark days of the 1980s. I chuckled when we were introduced with the caption ‘The Republic of Malta’, much like the People’s Republic of China or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The emphasis on Republic is also something the new government has stressed in both title and attitude, much in the same vein of the examples I mentioned just above.

And it’s also a brilliant coincidence that the Prime Minister announced that Maltese passports will be for sale for a measly €650,000, which brings the possibility of someone like Quinn coming here to escape international justice all the more close to reality.

So does this episode just bring on doom and gloom as it foretells Malta’s probable near future? Well, yes, and no.

There’s also the fact that the episode also marks the origin of the Avengers villain Graviton, as Dr Franklin Hall (played by Ian Hart … better known as Prof Quirrell) falls into a lump of gravitonium which seemingly absorbs him (or does it?!). This means that one of the great villains of the Marvel universe – the first the Avengers face in the brilliant Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – and the first proper supervillain introduced in the series, was born in Malta. How cool is that?

Graviton and I, Made in Malta
(Copyright Marvel Animation and Disney)

So a tip of the hat to Joss and Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoens for their prophetic vision and for putting Malta on the Marvel universe map. You’ve made both serious political thinkers and Maltese geeks and fans proud.

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