Sunday, November 30, 2008

Strange Tales 150-155 (1966)

If you love James Bond, then you must read back issues of Strange Tales. I picked up an old Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD trade and I'm working my way through it. It's fantastic. It definitely feels like a Marvel book of the time, with woman referred to as "female" and Stan Lee type characterization. The best is Dum Dum Dugan, who may as well be the Thing, and Gabe Jones who antagonizes him like the Human Torch. Added into the equation is the brainy agent Jasper Sitwell. I had no idea Sitwell was such an important character back in the day, but he and the howlers are Nick Fury's go to guys, along with Agent Bronson, who is really the Supreme Hydra in disguise! I'm not sure who the Supreme Hydra is, but I strongly suspect Baron Strucker. The stories are fun, with Hydra constantly meddling with all of SHIELD's plans. Both sides have crazy inventions: the Overkill Horn, Vortex Beams, Q-Ray Cannons, the AUTOFAC, flying saucers, as well as current Marvel classics like the Dreadnought and the helicarrier. Fury is outfitted with Bond-type gear too, exploding cigars, oxygen tablet cufflinks, etc. All classic spy stuff. Fury is one step ahead of Hydra all the time, but man, Hydra really does have a lot of flunkies to keep showing up and messing things up. They constantly sneak assassins onto the helicarrier too, it's almost as bad as CTU!

Jim Steranko is writing and drawing at this point. His art is a fascinating mix of Kirby-inspired pencils and the ground-breaking stuff he's known for later. He chops panels to give the effect of an image displacer, he uses photos for some of his backgrounds, and he uses negatives to show gamma irradiation. These are just some of the experimental methods he uses in these issues. It's a real thrill to see someone with such classic influences venturing out into new territory. The book is a product of its time, no doubt. The stories are simple, EVERYONE smokes, and the one woman is constantly in danger and "too young" for Fury, yet still a love interest. So know what you are in for, but if you love old school Marvel, this is what it is all about.


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