by Rogers Cadenhead
taken from Amazing Heroes #166 June 1, 1989

Like the camp TV version of Batman that still haunts many comic book fans today, Nick Fury and SHIELD left an indelible mark 20 years ago on the collective comics consciousness, a psychedelic, groovy mark on the days of I Spy that has been hard to shake. "The series is really outdated-it belongs to the '60s," says Jim Steranko, the comic artist who was Nick's guiding force through legendary cloak-and-laser adventures. "He's been outdone by time." That prevailing attitude and Steranko's memorable work on the character made Marvel editor Bob Harras the last person in the world willing to revive SHIELD for a series in 1988. "I didn't want to do it," Harras says. "No one could be less comfortable with the series than I was." Harras says his reading tastes did not include SHIELD during its '60s heyday, making him much more hesitant to take the project. "it 'was too much-I thought who are we fooling here?"

However, Harras says when limited series editor Mark Gruenwald presented his idea for the series, Harras "loved the concept" and chose to accept Marvel's mission. As 1988' Fury vs. SHIELD limited series shows Harras grew more accustomed to writing Fury and fans began to take notice.

"A lot of people didn't expect it to be as big a hit as it was," series editor Greg Wright says "It didn't have a big-name team or character." The popularity of that series, a battle between Fury and his insidiously corrupted organization, prompted Marvel to make Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD one of its six new monthly titles for the first half of this year. The book, which sells for $1.50, was originally to be titled SHIELD but Wright says a previously published comic with the same title made Marvel return to the name of Fury's series. Harras', colorist Bernie Jaye and inker Kim DeMulder return from the limited series. After artist Paul Neary was prevented from returning because of Excalibur duties, Bob Hall was chosen because of his theatrical background. "He has a really good grasp of characterization-including some subtle touches," Wright says. Hall pencils the premiere issue but couldn't continue the series. "Just as we were happy with Bob, he liked to take a leave from the books We knew Keith Pollard was available, and thought his work would look sharp with DeMulder's inks- very, film noirish." Pollard takes over with issue #2.

The series will build a new SHIELD from the rubble that the limited series left the old one in. Through a plot of labyrinthine twists that unmade alot of Marvel history, Harras revealed in the limited series that SHIELD, Hydra and Roxxon Oil were all contributors to the Delta Program, an insidious world takeover scheme. Delta drew its recruits in, killed them and put their minds and bodies into fake duplicates-masking the efforts with a perverse religion. Many of Fury's long-time friends Woo and Clay Quartermain, became Deltites-and SHIELD's hidden board of directors kicked Fury out of SHIELD and hunted him down as he tried to uncover the plot.

"SHIELD, my pride an' joy" Fury muses. "My army of good-clean democratic soldiers...out there to save the world from the bad guys. What a joke. SHIELD ain't any & those things. SHIELD kills."

The whole plan was created by a SHIELD life model decoy who copied the personae and intellects of thousands of SHIELD agents into his own, using them to fulfill SHIELD's directive to maintain peace and order by taking over the world. He almost succeeded. The moral behind the story can be summed up in three lines of dialogue from issue #5

"Dum Dum, remember when we thought all this was fun?" Gabe asks.

"Not really."

"Neither do I."

Steranko's cover painting for Nick Fury vs SHIELD#1 was his first return to the character in years. Although his work as editor and publisher of Prevue Magazine keep Steranko from many forays back to comics, he said the cover was a welcome reunion with Fury

"I hadn't done anything wit Fury for about 10, 12 years" he says. His cover was a style-intensive red, white and blue montage of Fury, his SHIELD compatriots and enemies. "It came out brown, white and blue", he says. "It's very discouraging to paint your soul out on the board and have it muted in the separation and printing processes." Unlike the limited series, the story has a happy ending. Marvel made the cover into a poster that came out red, white and blue. "I don't think I've ever been happier with any painting I've ever done" Steranko says, currently working on/ a Marvel poster of another golden oldie: Captain America.

Blood On His Hands
Like any SHIELD endeavor, the new series revolves around Fury, one of Marvel's most popular non-caped crusaders. "I think he has always been a fun character" Wright says. "Nick's the kind of guy people can very easily identify with. He's a bit grouchy, and he has no super powers, which makes people think, 'If Nick Fury can do it, maybe I can do it, too."

"He's one of the characters who appears in every series:' Harras says. "He's like a unifying character-he knows everybody." At times, he knows more than readers have been told, Harras says. In the limited series, Fury revealed to Tony Stark that he knew Stark was Iron Man, and Harras says Fury also knew Thor's secret identity. In both cases, he kept it secret. "That's very indicative of how Nick works." One disadvantage of Fury's wide-ranging appearances has been his wide-ranging characterization, Harras says. When scripting Fury, "Everyone played him differently," which made it hard to get a strong grasp of who Fury is. "I'd also like to delve into Nick's background." A Marvel editor in addition to his scripting chores, Harras says this series gives him a chance to explore what Fury's like. At the beginning of the new series, the hero is pretty grim. "There's too much blood on his hands," Harras says, "At the start of the book he's left the entire espionage business. He's left everything he used to know." Many of the longtime SHIELD agents Fury knew for years died in the limited series, including the Gaffer, Eric Koening, Jasper Sitwell, Quartermain and Woo--all killed and then resurrected repeatedly as Deltites. SHIELD was disbanded by United Nations resolution as a "major international security risk" at the limited series' close. The organization's forced collapse, which even Fury recommended to the United Nations, and the losses of many friends drove Fury into seclusion somewhere in Nova Scotia, Canada-far from the intrigues of New York City.

A Throwback to Howler Days
Despite Fury's best intentions, a villain from Fury's past forces him to form a new group, Harras says. "When he's brought back-he's saying, 'Only this once'-and it's for personal reasons" Harras says. "It's a major threat-which is what it would take for him to come back after what happened" Because he no longer trusts large organizations, the group will be a small, covert team "of only the people Nick really, really trusts," Harras says. "He's going to keep it small to start. He only thinks he can handle six, seven people-it's almost a throwback to the Nick Fury and the Howlers days. It was back with the Howlers where Nick felt the most comfortable" He says they won't wear costumes or call themselves SHIELD for several issues. What stood for the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division will mean something new: the Strategic High Intelligence Espionage and Logistics Directorate. The charter members of SHIELD will be the few heroes who survived the Delta crisis: Pierce, Val, Mac and Kate. Alexander Goodwin Pierce, a sleeper agent who became an accountant- turned-Rambo when Fury needed him to fight Delta, will be along because he idolizes Fury, Harras says. "He provides a little comedy in a sometimes grim book," Harras says. "He's not quite all there." Wright says Pierce is the bright spot in some dark tales, that kick off the series. "The comedy comes from Pierce. If he had his wish, he'd be Nick Fury. He's kind of a fop-he gets unbalanced, and is always being chided." Pierce and Madame Hydra developed a certain twisted rapport in the limited series, and Harras says she'll come back into his life even though she's been declared mentally insane and confined to a maximum-security prison.

Countessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine will be the CIA liaison between the government and SHIELD. When discussing Val, Wright. and Harras both mention that she and Fury were together "forever" without any changes-including her hairstyle, a mod Vampirelia beehive that has vanished in SHIELD's latest incarnation. "I gave her that hair 20 years ago," Steranko says. Her hair and the relationship have changed drastically, Harras says, in the year that separates the limited series and the new series, Harras says the couple split up. "Something happened during the year," he says. "There's a lot of tension between her and Nick," Wright says. Adding to the tension, MacKenzie is paired with Val and Fury is linked with Neville, a possible love quadrangle that will develop gradually over time, Wright says. Because MacKenzie is not used to the high-tech adventures of SHIELD agents, Harras calls him "the moral conscience for the group." A CIA operative who fell into Deltas' trap alongside Fury in the limited series, MacKenzie's role is to bring the SHIELD veterans back in touch with the real world. "He's the most fun to deal with," Harras says. "He says things that people would really say if they were dealing with SHIELD. Things to Fury like, 'Do you know how utterly stupid that sounds: We're off to fight androids?" Neville's specialty as SHIELD was "efficient killing" Wright says. Three new characters will be joining the fledgling group: Network Nina, Lump and an older Wakandan nobleman. Network Nina, once SHIELD's best esper, will be introduced. "She's a very good high-level telepath," Harras says. "What SHIELD did was give her neural implants which made her more powerful and ultimately drove her loony". "Val is against the idea of using Nina," Harras says. "She thinks it's going to be dangerous." Lump, an "artificial life form" with a connection to the Deltites, will have an elderly German professor as his guardian who has some ties to Fury's past, Harras says.

The introduction of a Wakandan nobleman will start a sort of affirmative action program for SHIELD that Harras says was sorely needed. "In the past, it has been a very WASP SHIELD," Harras says, "I wanted to have more diversity-for it to be more worldwide." Two of Fury's oldest SHIELD allies who survived the limited series, Gabe Jones and Dum Dum Dugan, will be around to assist in a limited role. "They're basically retired," Wright says.

This is for Fury
Along with SHIELD, Hydra and AIM have collapsed. The villains that Fury faces in the first issues will have ties to Baron Strucker, the man who created Hydra. The Death's Head Commandos, a corps with allegiance to the Nazi leader during World War II, return to fill the void left by the sudden extinction of large-scale espionage groups. Harras says they organize by capitalizing on the resources of-old SHIELD foes. "They've been operating for awhile, forming and organizing along old Hydra and AIM cells." The commandos have returned to kill ex-SHIELD agents. "Every time they kill one off, they say, 'This is for Fury'," Harras says. The CIA calls Fury for assistance. The pivotal event that brings Fury back from self-imposed exile is the death of Dum-Dum Dugan. "I thought it would take something like that after what happened," he says. But Harras says the first mystery that Fury must solve about the murder is "Why is the coffin empty?" Harras said the commandos, who are super-powered and more than a match for the low-budget SHIELD, have a bizarre reason for their allegiance to Strucker's fascist doctrines. That reason was classified, but Harras did say that it explains some of the gadgetry Strucker was able to compile during the '40s. "One thing that bugged me about Strucker was how he got all this advanced technology," Harras says. "That's never really explained." After the first multipart Death's Head story concludes, Wright says'the series will vary five-part, three-part and one-part stories' Certain members' will appear in, certain issues, and Wright says there are plans for some Fury solo stories. "Different people will be on different missions" Wright says.

Harras said guest appearances by other Marvel Universe mainstays are likely after SHIELD gets rolling. "Fury knows so many people that anyone can appear," Wright says. Harras says, "Some might be called for assistance on missions since this new group is low-level." Just as he appeared in some issues of the limited series, Iron Man will be a natural guest star since he was involved in SHIELD's founding, Harras says. Others include The Avengers, West Coast Avengers, The Thing, Captain America, Black Panther because of the Wakandan SHIELD member and Deathlok-when the character is reintroduced, Wright says. "Captain America's a natural," Harras says. "He and Nick go back to World War II." Fury will also guest-star with fandom's favorite psychopath in the Fury/ Wolverine graphic novel, The Scorpio Connection, Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin's tale involving Fury's evil brother, Scorpio. Some of Fury's old rogues gallery will appear, and Wright says the resurgence of Hydra, the Yellow Claw and others will be what convince Fury that SHIELD has to return. Harras says these powerful foes will be difficult to tackle since his new group is so small. But Wright'says don't worry too much. "if Nick decides he needs 400 agents he can probably still go through channel to get them" Harras says Fury's new SHIELD is answerable only to him by order of the president.

More of a gritty book
Marvel staffers say plans to bring SHIELD back into its own regular series began covertly with the limited series. "it was too big, which is one reason Nick Fury vs. SHIELD destroyed it so it could be built up again" Wright says. "SHIELD is the type of group that lends itself to getting bigger and bigger as it goes along," Harras says, Espionage has either gotten darker in the '80s, or the darker espionage has become more publicized. Either way, the book's creative team say the happy go-lucky days are over for Fury and SHEILD. "We know more now about the CIA" Harras says. "They're not the nicest folks, and some of the book will show that side. SHIELD once held a valid place in the Marvel Universe as an investigative police agency. That worked in the '60s, but now it has the connotation of being repressive." Still, the writer says the downside won't be overemphasized. "You don't want to make the main character someone you dislike," he says. "It's going to be more of a gritty book, with an emphasis on characterization. It's still spandex and super weaponry, but we want to tell stories that are down-to-earth." Wright says. "They're not super beings, they're people." The exploration of the relationship between Fury and Val, or lack thereof, will be an ongoing plotline woven through adventures. Wright says, "People are interested in character relationships a lot more. Even if their situation gets resolved, the change will introduce new tensions." Wright says these kinds of departures from traditional super-hero tales were more common for Marvel to do in the '70s. "Those kind of stories kind of died out, but they're coming back."

Despite the success of the limited series and the need to pore over past SHIELD exploits for background information and script ideas, Harras says he doesn't look too closely at Steranko's classic version of Fury, "I don't read it too much," he says. "it gets you nervous." Steranko says for SHIELD to make it in the '90s, it'll have to take a different direction from the group so closely identified with the '60s. When he heard about Marvel's idea for the series return, Steranko says he had doubts. "I stated my opinion belonged to another era. They see something had to be done--and changes have been made."

Buoyed by the success of Nick Fury vs. SHIELD, Wright doesn't think revitalizing Marvel's most popular spy series will be a mission impossible. "Spy stories are always popular," Wright says. "And if you asked fans over the past few years what things they wanted to see more of, most wanted SHIELD. I think people are ready for a book about characters that' don't have super-powers."