SHIELD’s helicarrier as seen in the comics

Jack Kirby’s original depiction of the SHIELD helicarrier

The big movie is the U.S. this weekend is Marvel’s The Avengers. One of the film’s settings is a massive flying complex belonging to the mysterious organization SHIELD that has brought together a group of superheroes. That flying headquarters, or helicarrier, made its debut in Strange Tales No. 135, which also introduced Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

In that initial story, Nick Fury is being recruited to lead SHIELD. He doesn’t know where he has been taken until the 11th page of the 12-page tale where Fury foils a plot by a secret organization called Hydra to destroy SHIELD’s command center. (See image at right.)

Later, in Strange Tales No. 154, artist Jim Steranko (who also plotted the SHIELD story in that issue), provided a “blueprint” with a cutaway view of the helicarrier. “Being made of a new silica and steel alloy, it is a simple feat for the colossal craft to hover five miles above the Eastern Seaboard…and to go much higher, if necessary!” scripter Roy Thomas informed readers.

Jim Steranko’s “blueprint” for the helicarrier

Also, in that issue, Fury is outfitted with a new flameproof and fireproof suit from a SHIELD staffer named, eh, Boothroyd. The suit is pretty much trashed by the end of the issue after Fury encounters a Hydra robot called the Dreadnaught.

Lee, in his 1975 book Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics, said he was a fan of James Bond films and the television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. “We were going to out-Bond Bond and out-UNCLE UNCLE — if you’ve got to set goals for yourself, might as well make ’em big ones!”

UPDATE: Marvel’s The Avengers set a U.S. record for a movie’s opening weekend with $200.3 million in ticket sales. That’s a preliminary figure based on actual ticket sales on Friday and Saturday and estimated results for Sunday. The final figure will be released on May 7.