Where exactly did Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons spend “4,722 Hours”? Believe it or not, it may have been an Agents of SHIELD crossover with Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
With the currently-airing third season, Marvel‘s Agents of SHIELD has been making a noticeable effort to up the stakes, introducing more familiar comic book characters like Lash and revealing that Chloe Bennett’s Skye was really Secret Warriors‘ Quake all along. Season three has even expanded the series’ scope to the MCU cosmos with last week’s full episode introduction to the mysterious alien world where Elizabeth Henstridge’s Jemma Simmons spent “4,722 Hours.” There have been a lot of interesting fan theories about what, exactly, that planet might be (Ego, the Living Planet seems to be one popular prediction), but we’ve got a new theory that argues that we may have actually seen an Agents of SHIELD episode inspired by, believe it or not, Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey!
As crazy as it may sound, 2001: A Space Odyssey actually has a significant connection to Marvel Comics history. Jack Kirby, one of the founding fathers of the Marvel Universe, left the House of Ideas for the Distinguished Competition in 1970. Whether or not Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s film and novel (both developed in tandem) had anything to do with Kirby’s departure is uncertain (although he did use the opportunity to create DC’s cosmic Fourth World characters), but 2001 definitely had something to do with Kirby’s return to Marvel six years later. Part of Jack Kirby’s agreement with Marvel was that he be allowed to adapt 2001 into comic book form. Mixing elements of both the novel and the film with his own iconic art style, Jack Kirby delivered in 1976 a oversized Treasury Edition that was quickly followed by a short-lived, ten-issue ongoing series.
Jack Kirby had an interesting approach to continuing the 2001 story. Issues would usually open with a character from ancient history (akin to the film’s prehistoric man sequence) and showcase their experience with the Monolith before flashing forward to that character’s descendant in the 21st century. The very first issue begins with a prehistoric man (called “Beast-Killer”) and concludes with the story of astronauts Woodrow Decker and Mason who are marooned, following their ship’s crash landing on a distant asteroid. It’s on that asteroid where they come across strange artifacts, subterranean caves, tentacle monsters and, eventually, a Monolith that teleports one of them beyond space itself.
Sound familiar? While some of those scenarios are, admittedly, science fiction tropes, “4,722 Hours” does offer more than a few direct correlations to the Jack Kirby comic book, including astronaut Will Daniels’ (same initials) note that he left the Earth as part of a 2001 mission.
Admittedly, there are a few discrepancies between the comic book and the episode, including the planet’s location. In the comic book, Decker has crashed between Mars and Jupiter. If the planet was that close on SHIELD, it seems like Simmons would have been able to tell from the stars and would have mentioned it.
Similarly, rocks weren’t exactly a good defense for the comic book version of the tentacle monster.
But maybe Simmons is just that much better with a rock!
Interestingly enough, Jack Kirby’s 2001 comic book series still has resonance in Marvel Universe today. It was in the eighth issue of the book that Jack Kirby introduced X-51, aka Machine Man! At first called Mister Machine, it was after his encounter with the 2001 Monolith that X-51 began on his path to the Marvel Universe. Machine Man was one of the final contributions Jack Kirby made to the Marvel Universe and the character even got an action figure released just this year!
Although it certainly makes sense that Agents of SHIELD would honor one of Jack Kirby’s more personal later works for Marvel, it is just as likely that these connections will be revealed as coincidence and that the series is heading in a different direction altogether.
As Arthur C. Clarke himself wrote in his introduction to 2001, “The truth, as always, will be far stranger.”
Regardless of where Agents of SHIELD winds up going with its story, it’s still a pretty neat notion that, in two different places in the Marvel Multiverse, astronauts in the year 2001 had such similar encounters with incredibly powerful Monoliths. What’s more, it wouldn’t be the only time this year that such a powerful force has actually transcended its own narrative.
“I just had a feeling that there was a connection between the evils of this world and the evils of all worlds,” said Joss Whedon earlier this year alongside the reveal that he snuck a Buffyverse reference into Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Do you think that Agents of SHIELD was actually referencing the Jack Kirby 2001 comics? Share your own theories about the mysterious planet in the comments below!