S.H.I.E.L.D. has its origins Marvel’s Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos, which debuted May of 1963. This was at the forefront of the superhero resurgence, and horror and war comics were still big. It was set during World War II and starred one Sgt. Fury, a stogy smokin’ leader of a rough and ready group of heroes which did battle against the Nazi regime. This group was rather racially diverse for its time featuring characters of several ethnic groups. This was just the beginning of Marvel’s move to be more progressive than the rest, which led to the introduction of a whole army of ethnic superheroes in the later sixties and the early seventies.
The commandos were called back to fight threats in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Cameos by Captain America and Bucky, and a young agent from the Office of Strategic Services, Reed Richards, made the future crossover into the superhero genre a bit more smooth.
Marvel reimagined the Howling Commandos into the present Cold War scene, which now had Fury and his agents standing alongside Marvel’s A-list heroes. This came in 1965 with the debut of the original Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In Strange Tales #135, Fury becomes a colonel and heads the organization against its enemy (every hero needs one, right?), Hydra. They would later intoduce A.I.M. as another in the world threats. The tech was space aged with scanners, weapons and even mechanical men (Life Model Decoys aka LMDs) to meet the growing interest in the fanciful world of high tech espionage ala James Bond.
This run of Strange Tales brought us another great, Jim Steranko (check out this story for more about him), who became one of the innovative and celebrated creators in the Silver Age. He learned his wares well under the leadership of Jack Kirby and raised the bar of comic illustrations to an art form. He also pushed the envelope a bit with the stringent Comic Codes which was the rule of law in comics at the time.
After spending three years sharing Strange Tales with Doctor Strange (It seems fitting that the first mention of Stephen Strange came via S.H.I.E.L.D in Winter Soldier just this year), the world protecting super secret organization spun off into its own series with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, this only ran 15 issues and ended just over a year later. Steranko continued to contribute his iconic art to the ill-fated series.
Even though the series couldn’t stay afloat, the patch wearing Colonel and his super spy like agents were irrefutably a part of the Marvel Comics superhero scene. They made regular appearances in Marvels flagship comics. Marvel also explained why Fury hadn’t seemed to age since World War II in Marvel Spotlight #31 in December of 1976. Here, two other Marvel greats, Jim Starlin and Howard Chaykin, explained in ‘Assignment: The Infinity Formula” that Fury had been treated with an ‘age-retardant medication’.
Nick Fury returned in 1988 in Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D and in 1989 in volume two of the flagship comic which, this time, lasted 47 issues. There have been many mini-series since that have featured Nick and/or his agents reestablishing them in the current continuity. Be warned, storys were retconed and revised to fit several reboots and updates. The comics are still classic and good reading, but, as it is with most comic history, things were discarded and revamped to suit the times.
In 2004, Marvel’s super event Secret War centered on Nick Fury’s covert attempt to overthrow Latvaria against the president’s wishes. After this debacle, Fury resigned as director leaving Maria Hill in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. This event, the Hulk’s rampage and tragic accident involving the New Warriors, caused the public to begin to question the army of masked vigilantes that surrounded them daily. This led to the Marvel Civil War (2006-2007 headed by creative icon Mark Milar)in which Maria Hill comes to the conclusion that she was meant to fail and asks Tony Stark to take the helm.
After Secret Invasion (2008-2009), S.H.I.E.L.D was disolved and replaced by H.A.M.M.E.R. With Norman Osborn at the helm. The Avengers were also replaced with the Thunderbolts. Fury, after investigating, found that S.H.I.E.L.D. Had been under the control of Hydra from the beginning. (Sound familiar?) After Secret Warriors concluded, Fury brought S.H.I.E.L.D. Back under the leadership of Daisy Johnson with help from Marcus Johnson (later revealed to be Nick’s son) and Phil Coulson of the television show fame.
The future of S.H.I.E.L.D. is bright; especially with the second season of the show and the Avengers franchise flying high. Can’t wait to see what they do next!
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