Nick Fury and His Agents of SHIELD #5, October 1973, Marvel Comics Group
writers: Jim Steranko and Roy Thomas
letterer: Sam Rosen
editor: Stan Lee
To honor Joe Quesada's appearance on The Colbert Report tonight, not to mention the premiere of Stan Lee's Who Wants to Be a Superhero? on the Sci-Fi Network, I decided to read a classic Marvel missive, commandeered last week at that cavalcade of pop culture, the San Diego Comic Con. In recent memory, this early issue of SHIELD (any from this era would have sufficed) is the first I've sought based solely on the merit of its artist, Jim Steranko. I'd heard of Steranko's psychedelic style, but other than the occasional retro promo image, had little opportunity to experience an entire issue's worth. When I found some of these books for over $30 at the Con, I thought my chances were sunk, but I uncovered this ragtag reprint for a mere dollar. (The original story appeared in '66.) You can't beat Nick Fury, and you can’t beat that price.
So, does Steranko live up to the hype? Was the read a mind trip through classic "graphic literature," as Quesada dubbed it on Colbert? I guess. I mean, Steranko implemented some interesting visual effects, presumably derived from the more commercial art of the day, and the colorist (either completely anonymous or Steranko himself) uses stark contrasts to establish a mod mood, but by today's standards, this adventure is a textbook example of the mighty Marvel manner. Despite his personal touches, Steranko is of the Kirby school – he inked Kirby's original Fury tales in the mid '60s – and the alliterative lingo littered throughout this super spy serial smack of Stan Lee's insufferable influence. When your cutting edge technology has hyphenated titles like the heli-carrier, the vorti-control center, and the epiderm-mask machine, you’re living in the Marvel Universe. (Did I just create the geek version of "You Might Be a Redneck?")
Like Quesada during his interview, this issue simply needed to breathe. With explosive cufflinks and android assassins, Fury was Bond-meets-Tron, the perfect pop culture combination for that era. Steranko was on the edge of something spectacular, and he certainly made his mark on the industry though this early work, but alas, this issue is too busy being a Marvel comic to let its creators explore the depths of their potential. Even under Steranko's direction, nothing could shield Fury from that fray. When Stan comes up with the spin-off "Who Wants to Be a Cigar Chomping Psychedelic Super Spy," maybe he'll have another chance. If there's anything more cutthroat than the hordes of HYDRA, it's reality television.