Credit: ABC
ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three

As of last week, “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” has officially come forward…and the question now is not which side is good, but rather, which side our agents will ultimately choose to support.

In this week’s episode, Bobbi, Mack and Gonzales made clear where they stand in a Hydra-exposed world—and it’s not with Coulson. But Coulson’s got a plan of his own…one that involves teaming up with Lance Hunter, who was last seen literally jumping ship after failing to agree to Gonzales and Bobbi’s reasoning.

To tease the conflict fans can expect to see in “Afterlife,” the team at Marvel TV turned to Eisner-award winning artist Dave Johnson for this week’s episode art. Johnson, well known for creating innovative illustrations for books at both Marvel and DC, has had a wide career that includes work as a letterer, writer, editor, penciller, and, of course, cover artist. His work on the noir Vertigo series 100 Bullets garnered him an Eisner in 2002, and he’s also worked with Marvel on Deadpool and Punisher.

Below, executive producer Jeff Bell breaks down what Johnson’s art teases about next week’s episode, and what we can expect to see when we meet the newest Inhuman, played by Luke Mitchell.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I love how this depicts the two opposing factions of S.H.I.E.L.D., and then stemming off of Coulson, where everyone’s allegiance lies. That was one of the first things I was really drawn to.

JEFF BELL: I just love that Dave Johnson draws Coulson as a super badass. He’s like, no nonsense, the guy in charge. I always liked his 100 Bullets covers, and it sort of brings that same kind of aloof agent figure to Coulson. He’s never had such a great jaw. [laughs]

I was going to say that along with the design of this art, Coulson’s expression was one of the first things that stuck out to me. Johnson has chosen to draw him very differently from other artists.

It reminds me of last season. There was one where they were out in the snow and Coulson was up top…

Right. But what this doesn’t say is that there’s a lot of humor in the episode. We’ve got Coulson and Hunter on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D., and we sort of saw them meeting up at the end of the last episode. It’s always hard when you’re picking what you’re going to put on the poster that you haven’t seen, and you’re trying to balance it between our different characters, and give everybody a little moment in the sun. It’s “where’s Skye? What’s happened with her?” And going to where she goes to meet the Inhuman world is another big piece of this puzzle. But when we were choosing what to put on this poster, the way it split the entire team felt like a good way to do that.

Fitz and Simmons are featured prominently on Coulson’s side, and there’s been a lot of focus lately on their different reactions to the events that have happened to the team. Does that get explored a little more?

With FitzSimmons, one of the things we’ve tried to do over the course of the year is split them up and bring them back together, and split them up and bring them back together. And they’ve really been on opposite sides of this whole alien thing, this whole, “can we trust Coulson?” “Are powered people okay?” And how they feel about Skye. And so they both have a hand in how this story plays out. It’s a way to sort of highlight the story their characters have been on for the last number of episodes, and for Fitz especially, who’s really not been out on missions since last year. Getting Fitz out and doing something different is fun. We’re getting into the home stretch here, the last few where everything sort of picks up momentum, and hopefully all our different threads come together in a surprising and magical and yet logical way.

I know he’s not technically represented in the poster, but because he’ll have a big part in this episode, can you talk a little bit about Luke Mitchell’s character and what meeting him will mean for Skye?

Meeting Luke’s character in the Inhuman world is just setting up a new dynamic. We’re taking her into a group with a whole bunch of different people. So far, we’ve seen that there’s a guy with no eyes, and there’s a woman who now is covered in thorns. And as in the X-Men world, there are a handful of people who look more like them, but a lot of them turn out to be just attractive people with powers. And we thought, “Hey, let’s have some of those as well!” [laughs] We were looking for a new character to come on, and Luke just really impressed us. He was a good actor, had a nice quality, and we felt he might be a good person to sort of usher Skye into this other world.

One other thing I wanted to note—it’s interesting how the shading on Coulson is darker on the S.H.I.E.L.D. side. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but my first thought was that maybe there’s some kind of darker agenda there. It’s not like Fury was always thinking of everyone’s best interests when he was Director…

It’s interesting, because on one hand, it feels like that’s a reflection of the blue. But you’re right, there’s sort of a darkness over there, and that half of his shirt’s a little bit darker.

And I think intentional or not, it ties back to what we saw in the last episode, where everyone thinks their views are the right ones. May doesn’t trust the new S.H.I.E.L.D., but the new S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t trust anyone on Coulson’s team, either.

That’s what we really strive to do. In 15, I think it helped explain why Bobbi and Mack and Gonzales feel the way they do, and sort of justifies everything that they’ve done. And though Coulson’s our protagonist and our leader on this show, you could see why people who weren’t part of that could see what he’s done and question it. And going forward from there, I do think everybody has a legitimate point of view. That’s what makes it fun. They’re all right in some way. So how we resolve that is…

Through lots of conflict.

There’s lots of conflict! Which tends to make pretty good storytelling, it turns out. [laughs]

“Afterlife” airs Tuesday, April 7 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Be sure to check in at EW to see the exclusive reveal of next week’s art for episode 17, “Melinda.” The art for “Afterlife” will go on sale on Friday, April 3 at as a $49.99 print (limited to 100 copies) at 12:30 a.m. PT.

More coverage from EW on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Art of Evolution:

Episode Recaps

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season Three
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.

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