Three creators have come to define the concept of Marvel’s greatest peacekeeping organization. These creators set the tone and established the world of SHIELD, and to this day, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, and Stan Lee’s work define the organization’s history. Kirby in particular, created all the gadgets, gizmos, and tropes that defined the idea while Steranko took Kirby’s ideas and turned up the volume, creating something never seen before in comics in the late ’60s, a Bondian, superhero, pop art mod hybrid that set a trajectory that SHIELD would remain on for decades.
With that in mind, there were some other creators that took the helm of SHIELD in later years that also are worthy of mention in the SHIELD hall of fame. So without further ado, Den of Geek pays homage to the greatest SHIELD series of yesteryear.
The Lee and Kirby era begins! (1965)
Strange Tales #135-153
After Nick Fury took over the co-feature of Strange Tales from the Human Torch, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made with the world building, weaving their magic on the world of Marvel espionage in the same grand fashion they did with superheroics and cosmic opera. In the very first issue of their run, Lee and Kirby introduced the world to HYDRA, a concept which has gone on to inform decades of comics and an entire year’s worth of Marvel media.
Kirby introduced Fury and SHIELD’s high tech gizmos and gave the feature a boundless energy. The series also featured the debut of villainous mainstays like the Fixer and Mentallo, reestablished heroic agents Dum Dum Dugan and Agents of SHIELD’s Agent Triplett’s granddad Gabriel Jones. It was James Bond filtered through Kirby’s unique sense of rhythm and design and it set the standard for everything that would follow. Other great artists like Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and John Severin leant their eye to the series when Kirby needed time off to work on his 30,000 other books, but it was the King who designed everything that fans would come to relate to Nick Fury and SHIELD, a sensibility that still prevails on movies and television.
In issue #151, Kirby was joined by inks by Jim Steranko (and if that’s not the greatest art team in Marvel history, we would like to hear what is), and history was made.
He only needs one name…Steranko!
Strange Tales #154 -168 (1967-1968), Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD 1,2,3,5 (1968)
It’s hard to imagine a run so industry defining was confined to four single issues and fourteen co-features in Strange Tales, but there you have it. During this brief run, Steranko introduced SHIELD mainstays Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine; a femme fatale agent that almost set the page on fire. Steranko brushed the dust off the late Golden Age Yellow Claw and seamlessly integrated them into the modern Marvel Universe.
Steranko’s SHIELD was a Bond movie without a budget, a comic that redefined the medium with every successive panel. This is not hyperbole; Steranko brought a fresh pop culture sensibility to mainstream comics and broke established boundaries of the medium. Kirby established the tone, but Steranko brought SHIELD to places undreamed of. There were many great SHIELD stories and creators like Barry Windsor Smith, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, and Frank Springer and but after Steranko departed the book, none quite achieved the stratospheric creative success as the legendary Jim Steranko.
Assignment: The Infinity Formula
Marvel Spotlight #31 (1976)by Jim Starlin and Howard Chaykin
After Nick Fury’s first title ended, the next time Nick and his crew were given their own solo feature was in the must read Marvel Spotlight #31 by the awesome creative team of writer Jim Starlin and artist Howard Chaykin. In a story entitled “Assignment: The Infinity Formula,” Starlin established that Nick Fury and the surviving members of the Howling Commandos were given the experimental Infinity Formula during World War II, which explained why they were still alive and vital in the modern era. The single issue failed to spinoff Fury and the Agents into a new series like other Marvel Spotlight protagonists such as Ghost Rider, Red Wolf, and Son of Satan had, but it did established a status quo for Fury and SHIELD that still stands.
The story set the characters as contemporaries to Captain America and gave them a great warrior out of time vibe, all fantastically rendered by Chaykin, whose modern gritty style was perfect for the spy action of SHIELD. It would also not be the last time Chaykin would be a creative force behind SHIELD. According to a 2011 interview with Starlin that took place at the Miami Comic Con, Stan Lee had such a negative reaction to the story that he ordered the story never be referenced again, which is odd because the Infinity Formula would become a key element to Nick Fury and the surviving Commandos in the decades to come.
Nick Fury/Wolverine: The Scorpio Connection (1989)
by Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin
With this graphic novel, written by the late Archie Goodwin and drawn by Chaykin, Nick Fury and the older agents were characterized as weary warriors plagued by a life time of brutal war.This new character status would define them for the next few decades as soldiers who were growing tired of the endless cycle of war they were trapped in since the ’40s.
The main point of the issue was Fury coming to terms with his past in order to move the character forward. It featured the return of a brand new Scorpio, who is shockingly revealed to be Fury’s son, and incorporates super-hero elements into the gritty world of espionage. The book is an almost forgotten gem, one that should be rediscovered and serve as a primer to the correct tone a SHIELD story should have
Nick Fury vs. SHIELD (1988)
by Bob Harras, Paul Neary, and Kim Demulder
The story that inspired the latest Captain America film and set the direction of Marvel film’s version of SHIELD. The Dark Knight Returns of SHIELD lore, Nick Fury vs. SHIELD stands as one of the finest SHIELD stories ever written. In the course of this series, featuring the finest writing of future Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras’ career, with art by Paul Neary and Kim Demulder, Nick Fury discovers that SHIELD and Hydra have been taken over by rogue Life Model Decoys (LMDs) called Deltites.The LMDs in question were some of Fury’s most reliable agents like Jasper Sitwell and Jimmy Woo.
The series has a sparkling respect for the older SHIELD agents like Dugan and Jones but also serves as an introduction to the next generation of SHIELD agents like Alexander Pierce, Al Mackenzie, and Kate Neville, agents who were supposed to be the heart of a new SHIELD for a new generation. Yes, that Alexander Pierce, the character that played such a huge role in the fall of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, made his comic debut right here, albeit in a very different form from the film. The LMDs were allied with the corrupt Roxxon Corporation and Fury and the few agents left loyal to him became fugitives trying to bring down the LMD backed SHIELD and Roxxon. The aging LMDs discovered that the Infinity Formula would stabilize them and allow them to live forever, making the story particularly personal for Fury.
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, Volume 2 (1989)
The follow up to Nick Fury vs. SHIELD was still guided by Bob Harras and the early issues still stand out as some excellent SHIELD stories. The first arc took place right where the previous mini-series left off. With a world-weary Fury forced to strap on the guns once more after the murder of Dum Dum Dugan (a death that would be undone later in the series). In the first arc Fury and company take on an alien race called the Gnobians (what’s a Gnobian?) who have been supplying Hydra with weapons. The second arc by new writer D.G. Chichester, features Fury’s new team going up against cult leader and terrorist, Leviathan. Leviathan is a frighteningly subtle villain who would make great fodder for Whedon and company, particularly as it shows Fury trying to forge his new recruits into a team.
The Leviathan story is followed by a great one shot by writer Alan Grant featuring a flashback to the Howling Commando days; this is followed by a confrontation with Madame Hydra and the Yellow Claw, a story that saw the return of Dum Dum who was held in stasis by the Claw. The series hits its creative crescendo with issue # 20-26 where the Red Skull leads a gambit to revive Fury’s greatest foe, Baron Von Strucker. These issues feature absolutely breathtaking art by Jackson Guice and stand out as a high point in the non-Kirby/Steranko/Lee canon. It’s a perfect example of how classic espionage can and should work in a super-hero setting. The title fizzled late in the run and basically undid the last of the elements introduced in Harras’ VS. story, leaving SHIELD in shambles for the next group of creators.
Fury of SHIELD (1995)
by Howard Chaykin and Corky C. Lehmkuhl
Like much of the Marvel Universe, SHIELD was a bit rudderless in the mid-90s until the return of Howard Chaykin. With artist Corky C. Lehmkuhl, Chaykin tried to reestablish SHIELD and Fury after the mess that was the conclusion of the previous series, and he brought a high tech vibe to the series, using but not abusing some of the elements of nineties’ comics storytelling. The mini-series was clearly designed to serve as a lead in to a new monthly, but the unstable nature of the market in that era led nowhere. Despite that is still stands out as a highlight of ’90s Marvel.
Secret Warriors (2009)
Introduced by Brian Michael Bendis in the pages of Secret Invasion, the Secret Warriors defined the SHIELD concept for the 21st Century. Nick Fury was more of a shadowy manipulator than a protagonist, but the series was soon taken over by Jonathan Hickman who combined concepts from the Kirby/Steranko era with a modern sensibility that made riveting characters out of Daisy Johnson, Yo-Yo Rodriguez, and Sebastian Druid.
This is the most modern version of the SHIELD concept and the place most likely to be mined by Whedon and company moving forward. The series introduced a vast conspiracy between SHIELD and Hydra and dovetailed all the myriad elements and history of Marvel’s black ops organizations together. It holds out as an exemplary example of modern comic storytelling and could potentially serve as a jumping off point for all future SHIELD stories. In fact with Ward imprisoned and Fitz injured, the Agents of SHIELD might need some more new Agents as Coulson begins to rebuild the organization…and Secret Warriors is the perfect place to find them.
Battle Scars (2012)
by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn, Matt Fraction, and Scot Eaton
Battle Scars brings SHIELD full circle to the version fans are familiar with today. Written by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn, and Matt Fraction with art by Scot Eaton, Battle Scars made Marvel’s comic book SHIELD conform more to the appearance of the SHIELD fans were familiar with from the films. The series introduced Sgt. Marcus Johnson, who, during the course of the story, loses an eye, shaves his head, and is revealed to be the son of Nick Fury. The African American Johnson finds out his name is actually Nick Fury, Jr., so Marvel can have a version of Fury running around looking like Samuel L. Jackson without jettisoning the classic Nick Fury. Battle Scars also introduces a character named Cheese, a highly decorated soldier friend to Nick Jr. To further make the publishing universe conform to the film universe, Cheese was, of course, revealed to be none other than Phil Coulson.