Thanks to the massive hit James Bond, spies were very much among us in the 60's with espionage-flavored entertainments all around. Movies gave us Harry Palmer, Matt Helm and Derek Flint. TV gave us The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Get Smart, and The Wild Wild West. And Comics gave us plenty with material like the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from Tower, The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. from Archie, and assorted stuff like that. Marvel though delivered the most long-lasting variation when they dusted off World War II veteran Nick Fury and had him take charge of of the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division or S.H.I.E.L.D.
Nick's first foray into the 60's was in the Fantastic Four #21 when he shows up to help the Fab 4 put down the vile Hate Monger. With it firmly established that Fury had now survived the war and was part of the then-current Marvel Universe it only remained to figure out how to best utilize him.
The story in Strange Tales #135 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby kicks off with a bang with Nick Fury, currently a C.I.A. agent having been recruited into a super-secret super-scientific force to battle a nefarious secret army called Hydra. Hydra is a sprawling cadre of evil-minded types who want to take over the world and are led by a masked individual called the Supreme Hydra.
The organization takes elements of Hitler's old S.S. and blends it with vintage America Ku Klux Klan regalia and we have a dangerous mix of criminal zealots in a secret army who are willing and apparently able to undermine the United States itself using the cold efficiency of modern business applied to crime and terrorism.
Against this threat steps in Nick Fury who is quickly joined by his old comrades Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones of the Howling Commandos. All of these hard-nosed veterans are more than willing to fight the good fight using wild and crazy technology dreamed up by Tony Stark and other bigwigs who work in the mysterious hallways of SHIELD.
Quickly on in the series the EC Comics great John Severin steps in to give the artwork a realistic polish that Kirby's potent energetic poses cannot deliver on their own. Severin seems slated to be the guy but sadly after a few issues gives way to a committee of talents who slide in and out, doing their best over Kirby layouts.
One of the things about these early issues is that there is real death as SHIELD agents lay down their lives throughout the series, though of course Fury himself always seems to escape unscathed.
Hydra proves to be a relentless menace with a vast organization which allows the criminal army to bring the efficiency of modern industry to the world-conquering game.
There is an end to the Supreme Hydra eventually but it has much in common with the kind of enemy and demise that a Steve Ditko might have developed. Of course we know that Hydra will return, as they must because as they say all the time -- "Cut off a limb and two more shall take its place".
More to come tomorrow as the fight continues.