The saga of SHIELD and Nick Fury takes a detour when Nick shows up at Avengers Mansion in Tales of Suspense #78 to have a chat with his old WWII comrade Captain America. The two of them come under attack by a deadly android from the DNA-rich vats of the super-science organization dubbed "THEM'. (I was reminded of "The Evil Factory" from the earliest issues of Kirby's Jimmy Olsen)This android can combine chemicals in his body to create all sorts of deadly effects but together Cap and Nick bring him down eventually. At the end Nick gives Cap a SHIELD security badge and we realize we haven't seen the last of him.
Over in Strange Tales #147 the battle continues as Nick and SHIELD track down where the android came from and discover an underwater laboratory lair occupied by two of THEM's agents. Previously he had learned that the attack of Mentallo and the Fixer had been at least partially financed by THEM. Dressed in the now familiar yellow radiation-suit inspired togs of A.I.M. these two scientists appear to be a criminal branch of A.I.M. which at that moment is represented by Count Bornag Royale as a legit think tank which is offering high-tech weapons to the world if they will remove Nick Fury as commander of SHIELD. So it seems that THEM and A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) are two arms of the same outfit, but it gets more complicated yet.
During a hearing to possibly remove Fury, he abruptly takes a header out of the window of the awesome helicarrier. Thought dead he then leads a counterattack against the forces of A.I.M. who have shown up in force at SHIELD headquarters to try and take control of LMD technology. The attack is foiled and eventually Count Royale is revealed. Followed by Jasper Sitwell, Royale appears to be killed when A.I.M.'s main secret base is exploded by forces unknown.
The long missing Gabe Jones reappears in the garb of the Secret Empire, as it was shown in the pages of Tales to Astonish where that secret criminal outfit had been giving both Hulk and Sub-Mariner problems. Infiltrating their ranks Jones was able to remove the threat for the moment. But now Fury and his agents begin to suspect that THEM, A.I.M. and The Secret Empire might all be merely "arms" of a larger and more deadly enemy - Hydra!
These are some fun issues and the shifting back and forth of the enemy does really have an espionage feel, though it does seem that the writers lost track of what they were all called. The artwork though suffers a bit as Odgen Whitney steps in to handle the pencils on the last chapter of the story, his work is developed but lacks that Marvel energy and punch. One notable event was that one chapter of his run was written by Jack Kirby (and credited as same) before Denny O'Neil stepped into take over from Stan.
The attempt to blend all of these secret organizations in sundry comics really amps up a feeling of paranoia and a larger world threat worthy of the heroes.
More next time when finally Hydra returns!