Marvel Speculation: Who’s Behind the “Real” SHIELD?

Earlier tonight, Agents of SHIELD dropped one of the biggest bombshells of the series so far. Let’s speculate on what it might mean!

Spoilers Obviously

At the end of tonight’s episode (One of Us), we finally learned who Bobbi and Mack have been pulling double-agent duty for. Thankfully, they’re not bad guys, but they do seem to be working for someone who isn’t happy that Coulson is in charge.

Mack calls it the “real” SHIELD, formed from the ruins of the old organization, and they’ve got a fancy new logo to prove it. From the teaser for next week’s episode, we can also gather that Edward James Olmos’ character is a member, and that they aren’t big fans of Director Coulson and his team.

So here’s what we know so far:

  • They still consider themselves to be SHIELD, despite not being a part of Fury’s “official” team.
  • The organization was formed after the events of The Winter Soldier.
  • It’s well funded and they have the resources to get things done right under Coulson’s nose.
  • For some reason, they don’t like that Coulson is in charge.

So let’s see, who’s rich enough to fund an operation of this scale, wasn’t happy with the way SHIELD was being run, and thinks he can do everything better himself? Oh yeah, this guy:

tony stark narcissism

My theory is that in the aftermath of SHIELD’s civil war, Tony Stark covertly put together his vision of what SHIELD should’ve been. Here’s why I think so.

Maria Hill works for Stark Industries.

maria hill stark

At the end of The Winter Soldier, the recently unemployed Maria Hill went to interview for a position at Stark Industries. We know she got the job because she shows up later in Agents of SHIELD, where she specifically asks Coulson to join up with Stark. That’s a big red flag to me that Stark is recruiting former SHIELD agents. Why would he be? Why else besides putting together his own team.

Having the former Deputy Director of SHIELD on his crew would give Stark all of the insider knowledge and contacts he would need to put the organization back together. Insider knowledge like the existence of that “toolbox” that Fury gave to Coulson…

agents of shield mack scan toolbox coulson

Stark is no big fan of SHIELD’s methods.

Tony Stark and SHIELD have butted heads constantly since the day Phil Coulson walked into Stark’s life. Stark routinely criticizes the way Nick Fury runs his organization, and his distrust of them is one of the major plot points of The Avengers.

Stark’s suspicions would definitely have been validated after HYDRA’s presence was revealed in The Winter Soldier, so he has no reason to believe that Coulson’s SHIELD v.2.0 would turn out any better.

Also, remember when Mack blew up at Coulson for sacrificing lives at the Kree city? That’s the exact same attitude Tony Stark took in The Avengers after Coulson’s death. Mack and Stark clearly have similar misgivings about how the “old” SHIELD is run.

were not soldiers iron man 2 were not soldiers iron man

Time and time again, Stark has run up against SHIELD and the way that organization operates. Does Stark think he can do a better job? Clearly.

Stark has a reason not to trust Coulson.

Stark and Coulson never really got along, but they did have something of a begrudging respect for each other. So why would Stark be so hostile towards the idea that Coulson is in charge?

coulson v stark iron man 2

Well, simply put, there is no freakin’ way that Tony Stark still thinks Coulson is dead. Coulson is constantly appearing in public, he’s on the US Government’s radar, and he spoke face-to-face with Maria Hill. It’s no secret that he didn’t die on the Helicarrier.

That leaves two possibilities for me. Either Stark thinks that Coulson faked his own death, and lied to the Avengers to manipulate them; or he believes that whoever is running around as SHIELD director isn’t actually Phil Coulson. We’ve seen the extent of HYDRA’s ability to disguise their operatives, so it’s not a stretch to think that Stark would be suspicious of an alive-and-well Coulson.

In either case, Stark has plenty of reasons to not trust the guy.

Stark’s family is connected to SHIELD.

howard stark

We also can’t forget the fact that Howard Stark is one of the founding members of SHIELD. Tony and his dad have a complicated relationship, but it’s clear that he looks up to his father, and recognizes the contributions Howard made to the world.

Seeing his father’s legacy burned to the ground probably wouldn’t have sat well with Tony Stark, especially if he believes it’s due to Nick Fury’s carelessness. It’s hard to believe that Tony Stark, being the active problem-solver that he is, would’ve stood idly by while HYDRA took a dump on everything his father stood for.

I feel like he would’ve gotten to work on his own solution the moment he got word that Nick Fury and Steve Rogers were out of the picture.

Stark was Director of SHIELD in the comics during a very relevant story arc.

The comics aren’t exactly scripture in terms of movie canon, but they do offer some glimpses into the inspiration behind the MCU. Well in the comics, Tony Stark became the director of SHIELD for a good chunk of time… during the events of Civil War.

tony stark director of shield

That’s a big, big clue to me that whatever is happening on SHIELD right now is laying some of the foundation for Captain America 3. Between this and the botched Ultron project, there are plenty of reasons for why Steve Rogers would go up against his friend and teammate Tony Stark.

Where are SHIELD’s best agents?

black widow hawkeye

And let’s not forget two very big points: Hawkeye and Black Widow have both been MIA for extended periods of time, with Hawkeye missing since the events of The Avengers.

While Maria Hill got a little role in Agents of SHIELD, Hawkeye and Black Widow are completely absent. The two of them are arguably SHIELD’s top agents, so where the hell are they?

Well, we more or less know the answer, because we see both of them in the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers… in uniforms that Tony Stark designed (and headquartered in a Stark-owned building). We have more than enough reason to believe that Stark is basically bankrolling the Avengers at this point, so it’s not a stretch to take it one step further and wonder if Stark took measures to see SHIELD that is done his way too.

A Hawkeye cameo on Agents of SHIELD has been teased a few times now, and this would be an excellent way to lead in to that. After all, you would think that Coulson would’ve made every effort to recruit these guys… unless they’re off the grid for a very good reason; namely, working for Stark’s “real” SHIELD.


This is just a theory though, and there are more than a few alternate possibilities, such as:

  • In the comics, SWORD is a sister organization to SHIELD that focuses on interstellar threats. With all of the Kree stuff happening on Earth recently, their involvement would make sense. The big reason I don’t think it’s SWORD is that this organization sounds like it was founded after the events of The Winter Soldier, and SWORD has been around since the 1940s (as seen in Agent Carter).
  • STRIKE was a specialized SHIELD team led by Brock Rumlow, They were outed as traitors in The Winter Soldier, but that doesn’t necessarily means every single one of them was HYDRA. We don’t know how expansive the team was, so it’s possible that it was much bigger than Rumlow’s little crew. As a little bonus evidence, in the comics, Lance Hunter was a member of this group.
Something New
  • The MCU has definitely established itself as its own separate narrative, and its increasingly giving itself space to create new stories and characters that aren’t inspired by specific moments from the comics. So as with anything, there’s a pretty fair chance that whatever is going on with this “real” SHIELD, it’s something completely original to this universe.


  1. Pretty good theory! However, I’ve read “Civil War” before, and I doubt Stark to be the one who is in charge.
    Stark wouldn’t be the one all crazy HYDRA is still in S.H.E.I.L.D, I think that would be Steve Rogers (Captain America).

    Steve would know Coulson is still in charge, and he is against the government in Civil War. S.H.E.I.L.D is still with the government.
    Captain America wouldn’t trust Coulson because he just suddenly came back to life, he didn’t know about T.A.H.I.T.I. Plus, Stark hacked into S.H.E.I.L.D’s files remember? He would know about T.A.H.I.T.I. And, it’s not true stark doesn’t trust Coulson, since he felt the same as everyone else when he died.
    But, I can see where you’re coming from, and he does hire Villains because of the thunderbolts initiative. So, I partially believe you, i’m just confused how it’s stark. (and, the new s.h.e.i.l.d logo has an army uniform).

  2. That S.H.I.E.L.D. symbol looks a lot like the G.I. Joe symbol. And yes this is relevant as G.I. Joe was originally supposed to be Fury Force, led by Nick Fury Jr. and COBRA was originally HYDRA. “Prior to G.I. Joe’s relaunch in 1982, Larry Hama was developing an idea for a new comic book called Fury Force, which he was hoping would be an ongoing series for Marvel Comics. The original premise had the son of S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury assembling a team of elite commandos to battle neo-Nazi terrorists HYDRA”
    See also,manual

  3. Maria Hill was a level 9 agent and project T.A.H.I.T.I. was a level 9 clearance project. This means that she would be able to explain how Coulson was alive to Stark, and confirm that it was actually him.

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