The Name’s Fury, Nick Fury
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its ninety-seventh choice, Nick Fury Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Jim Steranko and reviewed by Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman…
Nick Fury Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D
Writers: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas
Artist: Jim Steranko
Nick Fury’s strip in Strange Tales had already been going for some fifteen issues before writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby decided to move on from the title. With Colonel (formerly Sergeant) Fury and his own counter-intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. very much a product of their time, Kirby’s concepts had already drawn upon spy novels and movies, with outlandish yet innovative ideas, such as the LMDs (Life Model Decoys). When John Buscema, who had just returned to Marvel in 1966, was handed the artistic reins in Strange Tales 150, he was more than a little irked that he had to slavishly follow Kirby’s layouts. The decision was then made to hire an untried newcomer to take over pencilling the strip that occupied one half of the title (the other half being the Doctor Strange run) – a certain Jim Steranko.
Like many artists who arrived at Marvel in the mid to late 1960s, Steranko began as a Kirby clone, producing work that was a somewhat primitive take on the King’s efforts. However within ten issues of the strip Steranko, who had remarkably been given the scripting duties by Lee as well, had not just made Nick Fury his own, but had surpassed Kirby’s vision, channelling the veteran artist (many Kirby tropes were retained throughout) while maturing rapidly as a storyteller. From issue 160 to 168, after which Fury got his own iconic book, Steranko threw everything he had at the series, seamlessly splicing op art, Dali-esque surrealism and cinematic sweep with the super heroics, effectively turning the strip into a psychedelic, widescreen spectacle. Steranko, who was arguably the first branded “superstar” artist at Marvel (despite Kirby’s pre-eminence) had soaked up his mentors’ work within a year, transcending it while remaining faithful to its spirit. Out of nowhere he inhabited the soul of the medium.
Of course, there is the familiar 1960s daftness in the series – Fury himself having barely changed from his wartime iteration, chewing stogies and using more or less the same expressions and cadences as the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm, even while battling the supreme Hydra, the Yellow Claw or A.I.M. What is fascinating looking at this book from a pop cultural perspective is how it matched the development of big budget espionage thrillers such as Bond, drawing directly from them (one scene has Fury falling through the floor and into the clutches of a “monster celaphopod”, straight out of the pages of Dr. No) and in turn influencing them. Steranko may not have created Fu Manchu analogue the Yellow Claw, or Hydra, a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. copy, but he made the antagonists, like everything else, his own, putting Fury in a skin-tight combat suit replete with gizmos and gadgets that regularly come to his rescue with seconds to spare, while battling giant, baroque robots like the Dreadnought or the Yellow Claw in armour. And then there was the glitz, glamour and of course plenty of women in tight costumes, especially love interest Countess Valentina De Fontaine (she had to be called something like that!), swiping from the Avengers television show, rock poster and album iconography, and photomontages.
Steranko was a magpie steeped in comic history who drew from every conceivable source to produce the ultimate 60s escapist fantasy – dated certainly, and as distant from reality as one could get, but these are positives in what is the most envelope-pushing, bravura and filmic Silver Age series of all. Worth checking out even if you’re not all that familiar with comics.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far