Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Shield of Steranko!

When Jim Steranko jumped to Marvel from the advertising world, he brought a very different style of illustration with him. He started out inking Kirby on the SHIELD strip in Strange Tales he was soon writing as well as drawing the series. Stan Lee had his faults, but he could certainly recognize talent.

Following the defeat of Them and the Secret Empire, Lee brought back Hydra. Not only that, it turns out the real Supreme Hydra isn’t the guy they originally busted but Nick’s old WW II sparring partner, Baron Strucker.

The following issue, Hydra’s doomsday weapon wipes out that sinister syndicate for all time (yeah, I know). In #159 we start fresh: Fury’s core team get new assignments and we meet Nick’s future lover, Contessa Valentina de Fontaine. And as promised on the cover, there’s a fight with Captain America to demonstrate combat techniques to SHIELD trainees.I was going to write a detailed post about the issue but I think I’m going to go with some visuals instead. First, Nick’s very contemporary apartment.Then a shot of SHIELD’s training center.And finally Cap vs. Fury.I’ll be saying more about Jim Steranko, Auteur of SHIELD down the road. But for now this will have to suffice.

#SFWApro. All art by Steranko.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Steranko was such a breath of fresh air to Nick Fury. Lee & Kirby (and others) had been doing The Man From UNCLE with the series; but it had kind of petered out and, without HYDRA, the threats didn’t seem as big. THEM was just a pale imitation. Thankfully, HYDA re-entered, disposed of the rivals and we are off to the races. Steanko brought a different perspective to things. We go beyond the WW2 commando assault, after various skirmishes formula of the past and into bigger visuals, gadgets galore, some Eisner/Kriegsten-influenced visuals, and more than a little cheesecake. Steranko was doing more of a James Bond, then he mixed it with Fu Manchu, kind of predicting the future, when Doug Moench would take over Master of Kung Fu and turn it into Bruce Lee-Meets-James Bond, with the real Fu Manchu as Blofeld.

    When Steranko gets to the SHIELD battle with the Yellow Claw’s sky fortress, the visuals are just off the charts. The images of SHIELD agents firing grappling hooks, to swing over like pirates, are just plain awesome, then it turns into a Lewis-Gilbert-inspired James Bond Third Act finale of SHIELD commandos attacking YC’s henchmen, with Val in little more than a bathing suit and Clay Quartermain blasting away, as Fury chases after the Yellow Claw, with that 4 panel gatefold splash page.

    This is the stuff I wanted for a Nick Fury film, but we never got it and probably never will.

    1. Le Messor

      I don’t remember it well, but how close to that was the David Hasslehoff S.H.I.E.L.D. movie? I remember it being way closer to the comics than I’d expected at the time.

      Wait, Fraser, there really is a THEM?
      It’s reminding me of an old What If …? issue, where the Enclaves creations get married.
      (It’s just a golden family, with a golden retriever (after many, many years, I only just got that just now). Caption arrows point out Him, Her, Them (the kids) and Bartholomew (the dog).)

      1. Yeah, I wrote about “THEM” as the shadowy figures behind the Secret Empire and AIM. Then it turns out Them is Hydra reopening for business.
        Whoever worked on the SHIELD Hasselhoff film definitely read the current comics but I don’t recall it having the kind of spectacle Jeff is talking about.

        1. Le Messor

          So who is Bartholomew, really? I think that’s the question we’re all asking.

          I don’t think that S.H.I.E.L.D. movie had the budget for that spectacle, unfortunately. (Again, it’s been some time.)

          Jeff’s comment reminded me of Wayne opening a door do the kind of training montage Jeff mentioned, and Garth saying ‘what are you going to do with these guys?’ and Wayne answering ‘Oh, nothing, really, I just always wanted to open a door to a room where a bunch of guys are getting trained like in a James Bond movie’.

      2. Jeff Nettleton

        It wasn’t exactly close to the Steranko stories, because they kind of mixed in the more recent Nick Fury series, with new agents, post-Nick Fury vs SHIELD. They did use Baron Strucker (after a fashion) and Viper/Madame HYDRA (after a fashion), but killed off Clay Quartermain in the 1st act and had Fury estranged from Val. The script was written by David Goyer, who went on to write some comics and was involved with Blade, the Nolan Batman films and the DC cinematic efforts.

        Its cheesy, though Hoff wasn’t too bad, though Lisa Rinna, as Val, was pretty bad. Sandra Hess, as Viper, was waaaayyy over-the-top; but, it kind of worked, given how cheesy Hoff could get.

        The Helicarrier model looked great, though I used to chuckle at the interior, which was made to look like a real ship, complete with watertight doors (I was a naval officer, in my younger days). I wondered why the heck they needed watertight doors up in the air; you don’t have the same problem if the hull is breached. I suppose you could make the argument that it was to keep the interior pressurized; but, it doesn’t quite hold true. SHIELD troops were in navy blue utilities, with MP-style armbands, with the SHIELD emblem, to identify them, while the agents were all in black leather (which kind of matched the more recent Nick Fury series) and HYDRA were all in an urban camouflage utility, with netted face coverings, which were sold in outdoor catalogs, for deer hunters, at the time. Viper dressed in leather, too, as I recall, but I don’t remember if it was green or not and don’t really recall what her costume looked like. Strucker’s frozen body is taken from a SHIELD prison, in the 1st act, leading to Val having to fetch Fury, from retirement, to track him down and stop HYDRA’s plot, which involved missiles targeting a major city.

        It was better than the 70s Marvel stuff and that Generation X pilot film; but, still done on the cheap.

        1. Le Messor

          Thanks for a real fan’s perspective.

          Maybe the Helicarrier was a retrofitted ship?

          Do you remember if Viper’s hair was green at least? (And, it’s still better than the version of her in The Wolverine.)

          1. Jeff Nettleton

            I believe it was blond. The character is supposed to be Strucker’s daughter, so she was sort of Viper and sort of half Fenris (Strucker’s twin son & daughter). Gabe & Dum-Dum were costumed in standard office wear.

            Here is a fanmade trailer…

          2. Le Messor

            “I believe it was blond.”
            I hate it when they change up stuff from the original, especially the easy stuff – but of course that doesn’t necessarily make it bad.

            Is that brunette supposed to be Contessa Valeria Allegra De La Fontaine?
            She’s nothing like her! (And yet, kind of is like her at the same time.)

            I still remember the overall movie being not bad, though.

  2. conrad1970

    Man, as awesome as Steranko was on S.H.I.E.L.D. His 3 issues of Captain America were even better. It’s a damn shame his time spent with Marvel and comics in general was so brief.

  3. fit2print

    Remember that time Dark Horse solicited a much-anticipated reissue of Steranko’s classic “Chandler: Red Tide,” the first-ever graphic novel (yes, “arguably” the first, but still…)

    Pretty sure that was roughly a 386 years ago, give or take. How’s that coming along, DH? Or, you know, anyone that now happens to own the rights?

    Asking for a (much, much younger) version of me…

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Chandler really isn’t a graphic novel, though. It’s more like a heavily illustrated story.
      As for the reissue, yeah, I doubt we’ll ever see it. However, as I understand it, the delays are due to Steranko rather than the publisher – at least, that’s what I recall reading somewhere a few years ago.

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      I was at a convention, about a decade ago, where Mike Gold and Mike Grell made some cracks about Steranko still talking about republishing Chandler, but never delivering it.

      Comic Book Artist #8, from Twomorrows, had a retrospective of the 80s indies and had an interview with Ken Bruzenak, talking about his lettering work on Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg. In it, he talks about working as an assistant to Steranko, with his Supergraphics company and remodeling an old house he owned. His description of Steranko was a complete disorganized mess of short attention span and grand plans that got pushed aside at the drop of a hat, leaving Bruzenak and others to try to continue. It sounds like that lack of discipline was at the heart of his relatively small comic output.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.