I’d wanted to read these comics for years and the “Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel Masterworks – Volume 1” gave me that opportunity. Featuring restored reprints of the original stories and a crisp sewn binding, this book was beautiful.
Most people associate the 1960s Nick Fury stories with writer/artist Jim Steranko. Yet, Mr. Steranko didn’t show up until near the end of this initial volume and, when he did appear, it was simply as an art finisher on Jack Kirby’s layouts. For the most part, this volume was Jack Kirby’s book, with scripting assistance by Stan Lee. Mr. Steranko’s notable stories didn’t start appearing until the next masterworks volume.
Given the lack of classic Jim Steranko art, I’d actually begun reading these earlier stories with lowered expectations and that might have sold comic legends Kirby and Lee unfairly short. One could tell that they were excited to be introducing a James Bond-like character into the Marvel universe and it was fun to see other characters wander into that integrated environment. One primary example was Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark, who popped up as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s primary weapons supplier.
Those early stories that involved the nefarious terrorist organization Hydra were the strongest in the book. The antics of Hyrda – being somewhat omnipresent with secret bases, seemed a direct precursor to the Cobra organization in the 1980s “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” cartoons and comic books. Of course, the similarity in naming was an obvious giveaway that Cobra owed a debt to Hydra, yet there was also some similarities to SPECTRE from that era’s James Bond stories. Hydra appeared to be a cult of sorts though and, compared to Cobra or SPECTRE, their operatives were more blindly fanatical.
The usual end sequences present in those Hydra-related shorts involved the failed Hydra mission commander often having to duel for survival and the right to lead another mission again S.H.I.E.L.D. Most commanders died in rather cold-blooded fashion, which surprised me given the era of the stories. That was a witty plot device though, since sometimes the failed warriors proved tough enough to survive.
The stories did get slower as the volume went on, with the low-point involving some forgettable villains-of-the-month in the middle issues. A long-running serial near the end eventually led back to a Hydra sequel and that’s when the volume got back on track. The fact that the stories were all roughly thirteen pages each did help to reduced the fatigue that might normally result from reading highly-compressed silver age stories. When there were stinkers, I was able to get through them more-easily than I’d have been able to tolerate in a normal-length comic of the same era. Despite liking many of the stories, by the end, I was primed and ready to get to volume 2, which would be all Steranko, all the time.
Lee, Stan. Marvel Masterworks: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 1. Marvel, 2007. Print.