Vin the Comics Guy:
Strange Tales #150-168 (Nick Fury)
Issue(s): Strange Tales #150, Strange Tales #151, Strange Tales #152, Strange Tales #153, Strange Tales #154, Strange Tales #155, Strange Tales #156, Strange Tales #157, Strange Tales #158, Strange Tales #159, Strange Tales #160, Strange Tales #161, Strange Tales #162, Strange Tales #163, Strange Tales #164, Strange Tales #165, Strange Tales #166, Strange Tales #167, Strange Tales #168 (Nick Fury stories only)
To be fair, the trade paperback that reprints these stories is very high quality and even makes the first two issues look pretty amazing. The introduction in the trade tells the story behind the art credits in the first issue: John Buscema received Jack Kirby's layouts, but erased them to draw the issue from scratch in his own style.
The next three issues are Steranko doing finishes over Kirby's layouts...
... and then starting with #154, Steranko is drawing the book himself, usually doing the inks as well. Also with #154 Steranko is credited with co-plotting, and starting with #155 he is also writing the book. This would all just be a curious footnote if the work was of the same quality as other Marvel books from this time period, but it is in fact quite good and quite different. Not, to be clear, that Kirby's art hasn't been amazing, but this represents a totally new style at Marvel. Steranko's work will have a big impact on Marvel's house style during the late 60s and early 70s. Other artists will start dropping traditional panel layouts and experimenting with psychedelic styles. It won't always work - often it will feel like the superficial aspects of Steranko's style are being mimicked without a real understanding of how it worked - but there's no doubt Steranko's art was influential.
The first story in the book details the return of Hydra. SHIELD learns that Hydra still exists (and even have deadly Hydra-pillars!) and hunts them down...
...rescuing Laura Brown in the process.
The big reveal (not for us, of course) is that Hydra has really been run all along by Baron Strucker, not that dopey guy Arnold Brown.
Fury fights Hydra agents and a Dreadnought and a Satan Claw-wearing Strucker and in the end destroys Hydra Island.
In the next arc, Nick Fury and Captain America team-up...
and, with the help of Jimmy Woo...
... and some minor support from Mr. Fantastic and the Thing, fight the menace of the Yellow Claw.
We also meet some major re-occurring SHIELD agents Contessa Valentina Allegra De la Fontaine and Clay Quartermain in this storyline. The Contessa was a member of a European resistance group (presumably Italian and during during World War II, but it's not specified) who was subsequently recruited by SHIELD. Fury shows some chauvinism in her first appearance. Quartermain's gimmick is that he's big-jawed and always has a goofy smile on his face, no matter what the situation.
The Yellow Claw turns out to be a robot controlled by Dr. Doom, who is engaged in a 'chess' game with a robot calling itself the Prime Mover.
Fury and co. never find out Dr. Doom's involvement. In the battle against the Clawbot, Suwan, Jimmy Woo's love, is killed. This Suwan will later also be revealed as a robot, but neither Woo nor Fury know that now. Woo holds Fury responsible for Suwan's death and swears vengeance.
The last arc in the collection is a single-issue story where Nick Fury has a bizarre dream about an alien invasion.
As Steranko gains full control of the art, Fury becomes younger looking: slender and less gruff.
The idea was to make him more of a James Bond type of character. The series already had many spy story elements; Steranko just gives them a greater emphasis.
I probably didn't realize it the first time i read this trade as some of the techniques used (such as having a large blow-up of a character standing on one side of the page) are now fairly common, but reading through the books in order really shows how different this was than what came before.
Even with a jaded modern eye, much of the artwork is quite unique - there is a lot of psychedelia and weirdness that you don't see in modern mainstream super-hero comics.
Issue #167 has a 4 page splash 'panel'- impossible to reproduce well here - with this note:
The trade paperback presents the splash on fold-out pages, allowing us to experience the intended effect without having to buy two trades.
The art itself (as opposed to the layout/design) is sort of a hyper-Kirby. It's worth making the point that despite the fact that there's an obvious departure from the early Silver Age here, there's also a lot of love and respect for Kirby in this art. Actually, the use of the Yellow Claw as a villain is an interesting, as it reminds me of some of the unusual work that Kirby did in the old Yellow Claw comic (and you have to love the fact that Fury's still smoking his cigar while making the jump in this scene).
In the same issue, Fury navigates the Yellow Claw's psychedelic headquarters.
The panel layout is at times incredible.
It's good - very good - with very detailed panels and wild action shots, but it still looks a little dated. Everyone's got a sort of stony expression, except during the more human downtime moments. It wouldn't pass as current artwork, but there is no denying its quality.
There is a sequence in #156 where we have some major event with global impact (in this case it's a threat from Hydra to release a bio-logical weapon), and we get a few panels of the Marvel Universe's various super-heroes reacting to it.
I love those panels! I think this is one of the first times it was done.
Overall this is a major highlight in Marvel's publishing history. It is a shame that Steranko did not have any other major runs at Marvel.
Steranko actually began his comics career working for Joe Simon at Harvey Comics. When Simon told Steranko he didn't have the chops to draw, Steranko walked in off the street to Marvel and made his way to Stan Lee, who hired him for his "raw energy" and let gave him a choice of books to take over. My info here is from Sean Howe's book Marvel: The Untold Story and he ends this segment noting that this was the first time since Daredevil #10 that Lee allowed someone to both write and draw a book and then writes, "Jack Kirby, unsatisfied with his own lack of writing credits, took notice."
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: The group shots in #156 should be treated as conceptual (e.g., the Hulk probably wasn't hanging out with the Avengers when this happened), but at the least we'll place this while Professor X isn't kidnapped by Factor Three - before Uncanny X-Men #32-33.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Aug 2000 TPB)
Inbound References (14): show
At first I thought it was strange that the Prime Mover was massaging its own nipple (it does this in later appearances also). But then I realized that if I were playing SHIELD-Chess with Doctor Doom, I would be pretty excited, too.
Posted by: James Nostack | September 15, 2011 5:19 PM
Hi, What is the trade paperback called reprinting these stories, and where can i get it?!
Posted by: alex | August 26, 2012 9:35 AM
Posted by: fnord12 | August 26, 2012 11:16 AM
Clay Quartermain was supposedly based on Burt Lancaster.
Sean Connery is being turned away at the fake barbershop door in #164.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 5, 2013 4:09 PM
Regarding that Sean Howe quote, wasn't Jack Kirby credited for script and layouts in #148?
Posted by: Mortificator | November 27, 2014 3:43 PM
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