The debut issue of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD was a blockbuster for this young fan. Somehow I'd gotten hold of Strange Tales #167 and had beheld the greatness of Steranko, but this was the first issue I intentionally bought for myself and it literally blew me away.
I was at once mystified and fascinated by Steranko's storytelling and imagery. The famous silent multi-page opener fascinated and confused me simultaneously.
The book had a bravura and a heart but the time jumps made the whole a bit of jumble for me at the time. On this most recent reading I really was able to enjoy the lush Steranko images for their own sake and appreciate Joe Sinnott's cohesive and expressive inking.
The story of a loser comedian who gets mixed up with a murderous hood and then comes across the path of Nick Fury who is fighting for his life against the mysterious and murderous Scorpio is a beautifully rendered cautionary tale. It's loaded with atmosphere and saturated with a noir attitude bonded to the high octane action sequences.
In the second issue of the series Steranko gets his science fiction rocks off as he gives us an updated version of a classic monster movies blending plot elements from The Island of Doctor Moreau and King Kong (literally almost).
Inked with gusto by Frank Giacoia this one is high octane all the way. The opener showing Jimmy Woo's initiation into SHIELD addresses that dangling plot element and sets up the two-man adventure as Fury and Woo find the deadly volcanic island of Centurius a mad scientist who is creating and revising life at will.
Against this threat to the whole world Fury finds and drafts a whole movie crew who are busy on the island making another variation of King Kong. This one has humor and some true life tragedy.
In the third issue Steranko switches gears again, this time beautifully assisted by the soft inks of Dan Adkins.
Effectively Steranko adapts The Hound of the Baskervilles and blends it with some classic ghost stories and haunted house lore. There's more than a few secrets in this one, a beautifully drawn classic that offers a visual feats on every page.
Nick Fury is a man with a mission and more than bit of mystery as he stands in for Sherlock Holmes to battle the ghostly and ghastly hound.
Issue four has only a cover by Steranko. In a sign of what was to come, the reliable artist Frank Springer steps in with script by Gary Friedrich to reprise the origin of Nick Fury, a useful tale for those of us just discovering SHIELD at the time.
Steranko returns, with the assistance of inks by John Tartaglione, for one more full issue when he brings back the deadly Scorpio and attempts to deepen the mystery.
Scorpio captures Nick and in a weird reversal of the LMD confusion from the debut issue has Nick mistaken for his artificial counterpart. There are some delightful characters in this one and dark moments as Fury learns the real identity of Scorpio. The reader is not given access to this secret which will require a few more years and an issue of Avengers to solve. I hope to touch on that story next month.
And that my friends largely ends the relationship of Jim Steranko with the series which truly launched his career and to a very great extent still defines it.
He did produce two more handsome covers for the original run but that was all as other talents stepped into try and reproduce the magic he'd created. Frank Springer, Barry Smith, and Herb Trimpe all gave it a good try but alas Steranko proved to be too tough an act to follow.
Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD became an essential part of the background in many a Marvel story over the decades, and I'm mostly convinced that's where they function best. But for a relatively brief time when Jim Steranko was head honcho, it was otherwise.