Happy Independence Day 2018

The blog’s traditional July 4 greeting: The cover to Strange Tales No. 167 featuring one of Jim Steranko‘s most memorable covers during his run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Jim Steranko’s cover for Strange Tales No. 167

Jim Steranko lets out a S.H.I.E.L.D. secret

A 1967 S.H.I.E.L.D. story that introduced agent Clay Quartermain

Jim Steranko, the writer-artist of a classic run of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D stories in the 1960s, gave away a bit of classified information Sunday night.

Steranko interacts with fans on Twitter each Sunday. This past weekend, a fan asked about the inspiration for a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Clay Quartermain.

“I modeled SHIELD’s CLAY QUARTERMAIN after BURT LANCASTER — they’re birds of a feather don’tcha think?” Steranko said on Twitter.

This caught The Spy Commander’s eye because he saw Steranko at a Detroit-area comic book convention/collectibles show in the Detroit area some years back. It almost seemed like Steranko resembled Quartermain.

Years earlier, while reading a collection of Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. stories, it seemed to me that the writer-artist subtly changed Fury (making his face a bit more angular) to resemble Lancaster compared with Jack Kirby’s original version of Fury.

So, in a tweet, I asked Steranko about that. You can view his answer below.

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Happy July Fourth!

It’s Independence Day in the United States. What better way to celebrate than to again view this classic cover by Jim Steranko during his run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

Jim Steranko: 1960s spy fan

Jim Steranko provides a Sean Connery/007 cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 (1967)

Not that it’s a terrible surprise but writer-artist Jim Steranko, who had a legendary run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1960s, was a big fan of 1960s spy entertainment.

His S.H.I.E.L.D. stories included a weapons master named Boothroyd. He also had the Sean Connery version of James Bond make a one-panel cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 in 1967.

Anyway, Steranko takes questions from fans (or “henchmen”) each Sunday night on Twitter.

The Spy Commander couldn’t resist. So I asked if he had seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during the period.

The answer? Well, judge for yourself:

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I needed to look it up. The Hunter was a 1952 series where, according to IMDB.COM, Bart Adams used the cover of an international businessman to battle Communist spies. Barry Nelson was the first actor to play James Bond in the 1954 CBS television production of Casino Royale.

Our salute to Jim Steranko’s classic SHIELD cover

It’s birthday No. 240 for the United States of America. So, we’re celebrating Independence Day like we usually do with this Jim Steranko cover to Strange Tales No. 167, published in January 1968.

This time, though, we thought we’d present a little more detail.

This particular issue wrapped up a months long Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD story line where writer-artist Steranko revived a Marvel villain from the 1950s, the Yellow Claw.

Along the way (issue 164, to be precise), Steranko included a one-panel cameo by the Sean Connery version of James Bond at a SHIELD front in New York (a barber shop, to be precise).

Jim Steranko's cover to Strange Tales 167

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

 

 

Issue 167 had a twist ending where it was revealed the Claw was actually a robot being manipulated by Dr. Doom, the Marvel villain of all Marvel villains. For Doom, it was just a game for amusement. (The very same month, Doom had manipulated the Fantastic Four into fighting Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man. Obviously, Doom was a busy man.)

Steranko reveals his twist ending in Strange Tales 167.

Steranko reveals his twist ending in Strange Tales 167 via two full comic book pages.

Happy Fourth of July from The Spy Command

To celebrate the birthday of the United States, here’s our traditional greeting: Jim Steranko’s classic cover to Strange Tales 167.

The issue wrapped up a marathon Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. story line by the writer-artist.

Jim Steranko's cover to Strange Tales 167

S.H.I.E.L.D. at 50: bigger than it has ever been

Jack Kirby's cover for Strange Tales 135 in 1965

Jack Kirby’s cover for Strange Tales 135 in 1965

This summer is the golden anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Comics’ answer to the spy craze of the 1960s.

Marvel was barely hanging on at the start of the 1960s. Starting with The Fantastic Four in 1961, the comics company began a comeback. With new characters and revamped version of old characters, Marvel had momentum in the mid-1960s.

One obvious trend was the spy craze. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby already had launched a World War II war comic, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. The duo decided to also bring Fury into the “present day” of the 1960s and, an issue of the FF, established Fury survived the war and now worked for the CIA.

With S.H.I.E.L.D., Lee and Kirby took the concept a step further, establishing their own spy agency, which recruited Fury to be its new leader. S.H.I.E.L.D. even relied on Tony Stark to supply it with futuristic weaponry.

From its inception, S.H.I.E.L.D. had an uneven run. Lee hired Jim Steranko on the basis of his raw talent. Steranko chose S.H.I.E.L.D., in part because the comic wasn’t a huge success.

Steranko made his mark but was gone before the end of 1968. After his departure, there were attempts at revivals but none really took hold.

All of that changed in the 21st century. Marvel decided to make its own movies, starting with 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. S.H.I.E.L.D. was there at the start and, in an epilogue after the end titles, the audience saw a new Nick Fury in the person of Samuel L. Jackson.

Eventually, the Jackson version of Fury appeared in several Marvel movies (most recently in Avengers: Age of Ultron). Marvel, after it was acquired by Walt Disney Co., expanded into television. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed by ABC (another Disney property) for a third season.

S.H.I.E.L.D. now is bigger than it has ever been. Middle age is treating the Lee-Kirby creation pretty well.

The nemesis of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the start was Hydra, a villainous organization. Lee has said (as early as the mid 1970s) that S.H.I.E.L.D. was inspired by James Bond movies and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In 2015, there’s an U.N.C.L.E. movie but no Thrush (the villainous organization featured in the original 1964-68 television series).

Yet, in both movies and television, Hydra is still going strong. Meanwhile, with 007 movies, SPECTRE has been on the inactive list because of legal disputes until this year’s 007 film SPECTRE. Life can be funny.

WSJ on M:I and U.N.C.L.E.; new Kirby-Steranko story

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Here’s a roundup of some Other Spies developments.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL has a story about making movies based on television series, specifically looking at Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

One excerpt:

Why does TV continue to inspire movie dreams?

It is partly because of the extra time and money a feature can offer filmmakers. More fundamentally, even an aged television series can provide brand-name recognition, which acts as a commercial safety net—although an unreliable one.

(snip)
For every successful adaptation, though—from “Star Trek” to “21 Jump Street”—there’s the risk of turning out “The Lone Ranger.” The 2013 film with Johnny Depp as Tonto was rejected by audiences, who were uninterested in the plot, unfamiliar with the 1950s television show and more mystified than intrigued by Mr. Depp wearing a dead-bird headdress. The film led to a nearly $200 million loss for Disney.

The story includes quotes from M:I director Christopher McQuarrie about watching the original Mission: Impossible in returns (“It was sort of iconic to me.”) and U.N.C.L.E. movie co-writer Lionel Wigram, who says Warner Bros. wasn’t “interested in a contemporary story. But we could do a ’60s spy movie that appeals to a modern audience, and is very much the zeitgeist of ‘Mad Men.’”

Nick Fury

Nick Fury

COMIC BOOK RESOURCES reports that Marvel Comics plans to run a previously unpublished Jack Kirby-Jim Steranko art in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 9 coming out in August.

Here’s text from a press release in the Comic Book Resources story:

First, this August, S.H.I.E.L.D. #9 answers a question half a century in the making. A mystery that lies at the heart of the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. – who is the “Man Called D.E.A.T.H.”?! Written by Mark Waid with art by Lee Ferguson – this special, oversized anniversary issue features a never before published S.H.I.E.L.D. sequence penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Jim Steranko! Plus – Al Ewing brings you a second story featuring the return of Dum Dum Dugan and the birth of the new Howling Commandos! Along with the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. story from 1965 and the original sequence that inspired S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creation – this is not one to miss!

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee both co-created Nick Fury (as the start of a World War II comic book) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (where an older Fury takes command of the agency). Steranko took over S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1966, first as artist and then as writer. Steranko’s early S.H.I.E.L.D. efforts had him doing finished art over breakdowns by Kirby.

Return of the mysterious, shadowy organization

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

It’s like the mid-1960s all over again.

–Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation unveiled its teaser trailer this week, in which a mysterious, shadowy organization called the Syndicate is trying crush the Impossible Missions Force.

–SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, is in the midst of production, featuring a 21st century take on the organization that opposed 007 in the early Bond films.

–Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest Marvel Studios film is coming out May 1 and may include the latest appearance by Hyrdra, a vast group that infiltrated SHIELD in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

–The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14. It, too, features a mysterious organization. The question is whether it will be Thrush, the “supra nation” that opposed U.N.C.L.E. in the original 1964-68 series.

At this point, all we need Galaxy (two Derek Flint movies) and BIGO (three of four Matt Helm movies) to come back. KAOS, may be lurking as well (having been included in a 1980 theatrical movie and a 1989 made-for-TV film).

The notion of the huge group that, in some cases, was like a shadow government fell out of favor after the 1960s. Bond was the last man standing by 1971 and 007 encountered mostly one-off independent menaces (though some were affiliated with unfriendly governments). At the same time, the cinema Blofeld was the subject of jokes in Austin Powers movies.

What’s more, there were legal disputes about SPECTRE, with producer Kevin McClory saying the rights to the criminal organization belonged to him. A specific reference to SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld was taken out of the script of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. The script had a line where a mysterious guy who resembled Blofeld said this was the 10th anniversary of his last encounter with 007. Even though it didn’t make the movie, it was too late to take it out of the Marvel Comics adaptation.

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

By 2012, Eon Productions said it wasn’t even interested in SPECTRE.

“I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years,” Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli said in an interview with CRAVE ONLINE. “The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new.”

Eon whistled a different tune after a 2013 settlement with the McClory estate secured the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE. Recently, Broccoli acknowledged to Empire magazine that SPECTRE is a new take on the old villainous organization. The cast of SPECTRE includes Jesper Christensen, who played Mr. White, an official of a group called Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (the name wasn’t revealed until Quantum of Solace).

Marvel Studios also was bringing back the vast villainous organization. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, set during World War II, viewers were introduced to Hydra, formed by Hitler but a group that has its own ambitions to take over for itself. In the 2014 Captain America movie, we see Hydra is alive and well and moving forward on its ambitions.

Hydra in the comics made its debut in Strange Tales 135 in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that introduced Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, writer-artist Jim Steranko connected Hyrdra to Fury’s World War II past, establishing that Hydra’s leader was Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, a World War II foe of Fury’s.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

With M:I, the existence of the Syndicate was teased at the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. In the original television series, the Syndicate merely was an alternate name for the Mafia. The trailer unveiled this week makes clear the Syndicate is a much larger animal.

Which brings us to Thrush, which U.N.C.L.E. was waging war against in that television series. (At one point, WASP and MAGGOTT were considered as alternate names.) Thrush had vast resources, with thousands of employees on the U.S. West Coast alone. In the show’s final season, Thrush spent billions of dollars in various failed schemes. The Thrush name, however, wasn’t mentioned in the teaser trailer that came out in February.

Why the surge in popularity for such organizations?

Well, Hydra has been part of successful Marvel movies. Also, naming specific countries as being responsible for mayhem can be tricky. In 2002, Die Another Day had the North Koreans as villains. In 2014, North Korea was the leading suspect for being responsible for hacking at Sony Pictures, including leaks of SPECTRE’s script. What’s more, no studio wants to offend China and its vast market for movie goers.

Thus, what is old is new again. Don’t bet against the return of Galaxy and BIGO.

Stan Lee to make appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The SHIELD helicarrier in the first SHIELD story in Strange Tales No. 135.

The SHIELD helicarrier in the first SHIELD story in Strange Tales No. 135.

Stan Lee, the 91-year-old former editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, is going to make an appearance on the Feb. 4 installment of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

Lee gave AN INTERVIEW TO IGN where he talked about the appearance and a bit about the original comic book. An excerpt:

IGN TV: My first question with you appearing on S.H.I.E.L.D. is, what took so long?! Were you saying, “Hey, why am I not in the first episode of this show?”

Stan Lee: Oh, I like the way you think! I felt the same way. Why was it not called Stan Lee and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? [Laughs] No, I’m glad that they gave that one little cameo, though. It’s a little bit longer than a cameo. It’s almost a supporting role. Instead of the usual three or four or five seconds, I think this took almost half a minute.

IGN: You were there for the beginning of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Lee: Well, I’m glad they invited me, because I did the first S.H.I.E.L.D. story in the comics with Jack Kirby. I love the whole concept of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I don’t know if you’d remember, but years ago, there was a television show called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and U.N.C.L.E. was a secret organization and so forth. I got the idea for S.H.I.E.L.D. from U.N.C.L.E.. I thought it’d be great to have an organization like that, but because we were doing comic books, I’d make it bigger and more colorful and more far out. We had a book called Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, which we stopped publishing after awhile. The fans would wonder, “What happened to Sgt. Fury? Where is he now?” So it occurred to me that if I did this group S.H.I.E.L.D., why not put Sergeant Fury at the head of it, except he’d now be a Colonel. So he’d be Colonel Fury and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — and that’s how it all started. I loved the idea, and I’m so glad that it’s a TV series. As it moves along, I hope it just gets wilder and wilder.

Nick Fury's first post World War II appearance

Nick Fury’s first post World War II appearance


Lee’s memory is a little faulty in the interview.

Actually, the Sgt. Fury World War II title continued to be published after S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 1965. Thus, for a few years, Nick Fury appeared in two different titles (Sgt. Fury and Strange Tales, which S.H.I.E.L.D. shared with Dr. Strange) with stories set in two different time periods.

Also, Lee and Kirby, who created the Fury character to begin with, first established Nick Fury had survived World War II in Fantastic Four No. 21, published in 1963. At that point, Fury was with the CIA. He was still with that agency when he was recruited to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales No. 135.

In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t hit its stride until Jim Steranko took over as writer-artist in 1966-68.