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.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s comic book sensibility

"It's a memo from Stan Lee, sir."

“It’s a memo from Stan Lee, sir.”

MeTV on April 26 is scheduled to show The Foxes and Hounds Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that’s one of the best of the series, that includes Vincent Price as a villain.

It also has a whopper of a “McGuffin” at the center of the story — a mind-reading device which, if it falls into the wrong hands, will cause all sorts of problems.

Of course, mind-reading machines didn’t exist then (1965) or now. U.N.C.L.E., during its 1964-68 run, embraced comic book-style science fiction concepts, giving its stories, on occasion, a taste of the fantastic. Here are some other examples.

Project Earthsave (The Double Affair/The Spy With My Face): The possibility that Earth might be invaded “from beyond the stars” was real enough that major nations funded something called Project Earthsave.

It’s apparently an energy source to use against aliens (it’s not explained in detail). Something that powerful, of course, is bound to interest villains.

Regenerating serum (The Girls of Nazarone Affair): A professor, who died under mysterious circumstances, invented a serum which causes the body to regenerate from even the most severe injuries or wounds.

The serum has fallen into the hands of villainous organization Thrush. It tests the serum on one of its operatives, race driver Nazarone, by shooting her with machine guns. She survives.

Regeneration is one of the powers of Marvel Comics character Wolverine (who didn’t make his debut until an early 1970s Hulk comic book). With the serum, you could have an army of Wolverines (minus the claws, of course). However, something Thrush didn’t foresee comes into play.

Vaporizer (The Arabian Affair): Thrush is developing a vaporizer that disintegrates items or people. In the pre-credits sequence, it’s tested on an unfortunate Arab man. So the Thrush scientists involved with the project wear special white outfits, similar to the radiation suits worn by Dr. No and his men.

We’re told the white outfits are “inter-molecular,” which prevents the wearer from being disintegrated. That sounds similar to the “unstable molecules” devised by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used in the costumes of the Fastastic Four.

Age-reversal device (The Bridge of Lions Affair/One of Our Spies Is Missing): Another scientists has constructed a device (which includes the head of Robby the Robot from the MGM prop room) that can old men young again. As you might guess, this could cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands.

Cyborgs (The Sort-of-Do-Itself-Dreadful Affair): Part human, part machine they can really cause problems.

The Gurnius Affair
Mind-control ray (The Gurnius Affair): Thrush has invested $4 billion with some neo-Nazi types to perfect a mind-control ray.

The problem for Thrush: Nazis are prone to pursuing their own agenda, as Thrush operative Mr. Brown (Joseph Ruskin) finds out the hard way.

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.

HMSS scorecard on comic book creators and ’14 movies

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

Sorry, Gerry Conway.

Last month, we carried a A POST wondering if comic book creators would get their due with 2014’s bumper crop of comic book-based films.

So far, the creators are 1-for-2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier carried a creator credit for Cap (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) and included a “special thanks” credit for a number of comic book writers and artists, including scribe Ed Brubaker who devised the Winter Soldier storyline that’s the spine of the movie.

This weekend, saw the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got a “based on the comic book by” credit, as they have with past Spider-Man films. But others, mainly Gerry Conway, who authored an early 1970s story whose outcome is incorporated into the movie, didn’t get a mention. The closest reference in Amazing Spier-Man 2 is how there’s a “Principal Conway” character.

Also going unmentioned is John Romita Sr., co-creator of the Rhino; a much different version of the character appears in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

This isn’t that surprising. Movies produced by Marvel, now a Walt Disney Co. unit, have for the most part provided some kind of recognition for those who created characters and stories used by film writers and directors. Studios that license Marvel characters, such as Sony with Spider-Man, haven’t been as diligent.

Later this month, Fox will release another X-Men movie. Much of that film is based on a Chris Claremont-John Byrne story. The X-Men were originally created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and a 1975 reboot with a number of new characters was started by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. It remains to be seen whether any of them will get a mention in the 2014 film.

Will creators be remembered for 2014 comic book movies?

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

There’s a spoiler concerning Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the post below.

April 4 is the start of the comic book movie season with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The presence of SHIELD, Marvel’s spy organization, merits inclusion of the subject here. The film’s arrival raises the question how much recognition those who created the original source material will receive.

Movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios have settled into a pattern. The comic book creators aren’t included in the screenplay credit. But, for the most part, they show up in the long “crawl” of the end titles. Those who did the original comic story get a “based on the comic book by” credit and later there’s a “special thanks” credit for those who worked on stories the film’s writers used in crafting their story.

Example: the first Captain America film in 2011 had a credit for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who wrote and drew the original 1941 comic book. The “special thanks” credit included Kirby and Stan Lee, among others, who did various stories that helped form the final movie.

Meanwhile, movies where Marvel licensed characters haven’t even done that much. The X-Men movies and the 2003 Daredevil movie released by 20th Century Fox never mentioned the comic book creators, for example.

For that matter, DC Comics-based movies only reference comic book creators where Warner Bros. is contractually obligated to do so. So you’ll see Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names on a Superman film as well as Bob Kane on a Batman film. But you won’t see Bill Finger, Mark Waid, John Broome, Gil Kane or others who did comic book stories that the movies used. Jerry Robinson got a consultant credit on 2008’s The Dark Knight that didn’t say he actually created The Joker.

Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Sony Corp. will release early next month, having licensed Spider-Man from Marvel. The Spider-Man movies released since 2002 do include Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original creative team on Marvel’s most successful character.

Gerry Conway, who wrote Spider-Man stories in the 1970s, has taken to HIS TWITTER FEED to let folks know one of his stories — arguably his most important Spidey tale — figures into the 2014 movie.

I see in Entertainment Weekly that Spider-Man 2 is, in fact, based partly on my Amazing Spider-Man 121. Waiting for invite to premiere.

The Los Angeles Times noticed and a post on its Hero Complex blog. Conway’s original story included the death of a major character and there have been hints that will replicated with the 2014 movie.

In any event, many millions of dollars are riding on all this as Disney/Marvel, Sony and Fox all come out with superhero movies this year, with more scheduled for 2015 and 2016. None of those films would be possible without the comic book creators who, for the most part, aren’t with us. The likes of Kirby, Simon, Kane, Finger and others have died. Creators, such as Lee (91) and Ditko (86), are at an advanced age.

Only Stan Lee, with his gift of self promotion, is remembered by much of the population. Outside of comics fans, not many are aware the likes of Kirby, Finger, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, etc., etc., etc., created the characters that are the foundations of the movies.

It’d be nice if that changed in 2014. But don’t count on it.

UPDATE (April 3): Gerry Conway says on Twitter he has been invited to the premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 192 other followers