Friday, September 27, 2013


September, 1966.

 That was the month I made the conscious decision to purchase every Marvel comic book on the stands each month. It wasn't too difficult. There were only about a dozen titles released each month and with the regular size comics priced at twelve cents (giant-size issues cost a quarter), it was financially feasible on my admittedly limited 5th grade budget.

Thus, STRANGE TALES #151, became the first issue of that title I purchased. I don't know why I hadn't bought any issues prior to that. I'd certainly seen the house ads in other Marvel Comics for the series and I'm sure I'd seen copies of STRANGE TALES on the spinner rack. Plus, I was a huge fan of both James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. so S.H.I.E.L.D. should have been right up my alley.

Turns out it was as I discovered once I'd purchased and read STRANGE TALES #151. The cover is terrific, a pairing of two of my all time favorite comic book artists: Jack (The King) Kirby and Jim Steranko. Kirby started out pencilling the series when it debuted and soon moved to providing breakdowns and layouts for other artists. Steranko was then the bold new kid on the artistic block and before Stan Lee was ready to turn him lose as sole writer and artist on the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip, he had Kirby pencil this issue with Steranko inking the King's work. The result was pure comic book magic.

I loved this story and instantly became a fan of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters Intelligence Espionage Law Division was what those letters originally stood for, by the way). Nick Fury, the WWII veteran, now wearing an eye-patch (which upped the cool quotient) and promoted to the rank of colonel from sergeant, was now the director of the super-secret spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. The supporting cast included two former Howlers (from SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, Marvel's monthly WWII war book, another comic I bought on a regular basis): Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, Jimmy Woo, Val (Fury's girlfriend) and the lovely Agent 13, Sharon Carter (who was Captain America's sweetheart). All of those connective threads helped make the Marvel Universe a fun and cohesive world of the imagination.

Once Steranko took complete control of the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip, my young mind was well and truly blown. He delivered dazzling artwork that combined pyrotechnic psychedelia with hardware fetish, cinematic action scenes, innovative layouts and page designs and incredible plots and story lines every month in ten page installments. 

In the spring of 1968, Steranko really got a chance to cut lose when STRANGE TALES was cancelled and the book's co-features, Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. were given their own respective individual full length books. With a full twenty pages to work with, Steranko went wild producing some of the greatest comics of the Silver Age.

Alas, it was not for long. Steranko left the book after a few issues and his work appeared on an irregular basis in Marvel comic books. A cover here, a short story there, maybe a run of two or three issues someplace else. Steranko's work was always a pleasure to behold (it still is) but nothing can compare to the sheer visceral thrill I experienced on that fall day, now forty-seven years gone, when I bought STRANGE TALES #151. 

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