Happy Independence Day From The Spy Command

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

Today, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States.

For this blog, there’s no better image to celebrate than this Jim Steranko cover from Strange Tales No. 167, published in January 1968. The issue was the climax to a months-long saga that Steranko wrote and drew featuring the intrepid Nick Fury and the forces of SHIELD.

For more background, CLICK HERE for a 2000 article that originally appeared on the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. Happy July Fourth to everyone.

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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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.

Did Jim Steranko tease a new SHIELD project?

Answer: Hard to say. But we engaged the talented writer-artist during his weekly question and answer session on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar, Steranko wrote and drew Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD for Marvel from 1966 to 1968 and it created quite a stir. Here’s how the Sunday exchange went:

If something is in the pipeline, we eagerly await to see the results.

Movie draws attention to U.N.C.L.E.’s origins

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie comes out this week, prompting the Los Angeles Times to examine the origins of the 1964-68 series it’s based on.

The story looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.

Susan King of the Times talked to the likes of Dean Hargrove, one of the main writers on the show; Steven Jay Rubin, author of books about James Bond; film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack recordings in the 2000s; and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Here’s an excerpt:

Young moviegoers checking out the feature film version Aug. 14 starring Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin probably don’t realize the original TV series existed — let alone know of the show’s impact on baby boomers.

“Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Noted Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964.

“There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 — the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”

Separately, The Hollywood Reporter talk about how U.N.C.L.E. MAY HERALD THE RETURN OF SPY ACRONYMS.

U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize such acronyms, although Marvel Studios has beaten the U.N.C.L.E. movie to the punch by including SHIELD (which didn’t debut until a year after U.N.C.L.E.) in its films.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in knowing more about the show, CLICK HERE for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, produced by The Spy Command.

ABC orders SHIELD pilot, Deadline reports

Jim Steranko’s cover for Strange Tales No. 167


ABC has ordered a SHIELD pilot to be co-written by Joss Whedon, the Deadline entertainment news Web site reported.

An excerpt:

The project is based on Marvel’s peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D (which stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate or Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) found in both the Marvel comic book and feature film universes, including the blockbuster 2012 movie The Avengers, in which S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury, recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor to stop Thor’s adoptive brother Loki from subjugating Earth.

S.H.I.E.L.D. will be written by Whedon and frequent collaborators, his brother Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Joss Whedon also is set to direct the pilot, schedule permitting.

SHIELD (which originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division) debuted in 1965 in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Strange Tales No. 135. In that initial effort, Nick Fury is recruited to be SHIELD’s director. Lee and Kirby first created Fury in 1963 as the lead in a World War II comic book, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. It was established in a Fantastic Four story that Fury survived the war and was in the CIA.

Fury and SHIELD reached their peak of popularity in stories written and drawn by Jim Steranko. Steranko guided Fury into his own title in 1968 but departed after doing four of the first five issues.

The ABC pilot isn’t SHIELD’s first foray into television. David Hasselhoff starred in the title role in a 1998 TV movie, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

The Avengers: the power of planning

So, Marvel’s The Avengers broke all records for a movie’s opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada. There’s a lot of praise for the movie (that tends to happen with a big hit). Are there any any lessons for older movie franchises, say, a 50-year-old one featuring a gentleman agent? Maybe one.

The Avengers: result of a five-year plan


The Hollywood Reporter on its Web site says there are five hidden reasons for the success of The Avengers. One caught our eye:

Avengers benefited from something no movie had before: It has been marketed to audiences since Iron Man first appeared at Comic-Con in 2007. When that movie became a surprise hit in May 2008 with a $98.6 million opening weekend, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige quickly unveiled his intention to make four more movies — The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America — all of which would lead to a giant team-up. Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) popped up in those movies, and the original Iron Man featured a coda segment devoted to the Avengers initiative. At the time, only comic-book fanboys understood the reference.

Planning? Well, yes, that’s what happened with The Avengers. Had 2008’s Iron Man bombed, we probably wouldn’t have gotten The Avengers. But Marvel Studios did have a game plan about where to go from there.

Contrast that with the 007 franchise the past decade. You had Die Another Day in 2002, the 40th anniversary Bond film. After that? Eon Productions didn’t exactly know where to go. Those aren’t our words. That’s what Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson told The New York Times IN OCTOBER 2005:

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That led to 2006’s Casino Royale where Eon decided to start the series all over. The movie wasn’t so much Bond 21 as it was Bond 2.0. It was a big critical and commercial hit. But Eon didn’t exactly know where to proceed from that point. For Eon’s next movie, multiple ideas were considered, including Bond encountering Vesper Lynd’s child before opting for a “direct sequel” that didn’t really match up with the continuity of Casino Royale.

Earlier, in the early 1990s, in the midst of a six-year hiatus, there were reports that Eon commissioned scripts so it could get off to a running start and get Bond movies out at a regular pace. Eon may have commissioned scripts, but there was no running start. After the series resumed with GoldenEye, Eon had scripts from Donald E. Westlake and Bruce Feirstein (and possibly others, but those two were publicly disclosed). The Feirstein script got rewritten by other writers before Feirstein did the final version and was the only scribe to get a writing credit for Tomorrow Never Dies.

To be fair, Eon had a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the early ’90s and MGM had financial difficulties in 2009-2010, including a trip to bankruptcy court. That’s something Marvel Studios hasn’t had to deal with. At the same time, Marvel Studios was able to juggle multiple movies as well as different directors and writers as it executed its plan. If Eon has a similar long-term plan, it hasn’t shared it with anyone.

Interestingly, an element of The Avengers is the secret organization SHIELD. Stan Lee, in a 1975 book, wrote that SHIELD was inspired by James Bond movies and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

UPDATE (May 13): Marvel’s The Avengers had an estimated $103.2 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales in its second weekend of release. Meanwhile, Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios said in a Bloomberg Television interview that five more movies based on Marvel characters are in the works.