By Patrick A. Reed
By now, you've probably heard the news that ABC has ordered a full season of "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and masterminded by Joss Whedon. But what you might not be familiar with, if you're not a hardcore comic reader, is the background of this mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. We break it down for you, in MTV Geek's History of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The early '70s were a time of change and upheaval for Marvel Comics, as they were for much of the world. The company was hiring new creators, experimenting with new styles and formats, and expanding their line of titles in all directions.
"Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D." had been cancelled with issue #15, so beginning in 1970, without a magazine to call their own, the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast did what any good spies would do: they spread out, blended in, and infiltrated the entirety of the Marvel universe.
The agency boasted quite an impressive roster of characters by this point (Nick Fury, Dum-Dum Dugan, Contessa Valentina Fontaine, Gabe Jones, etc), and most of Marvel's major titles ended up with at least one agent in a supporting role over the next few years. Charming, blonde, ever-smiling Clay Quartermain was tasked with helping the US Army pursue The Incredible Hulk. Eager, youthful Jasper Sitwell was given the position of liaison to Stark Industries, and appeared regularly in Iron Man. Russian defector and part-time S.H.I.E.L.D. affiliate Natasha Romanova (AKA Black Widow) moved to San Francisco and teamed up with Daredevil. Sharon Carter (Agent 13) had been appearing alongside Captain America since the mid '60s, and she continued to feature in that series throughout the ensuing two decades.
Nick Fury, in the meantime, wound his way throughout the Marvel Universe, appearing in various titles, often with his fellow agent Contessa Valentina de la Fontaine (Val, for short) in tow. He received co-star billing in a few issues of "Marvel Team-Up," "Marvel Fanfare," and "Marvel Two-In-One" – and in 1976, he got "Marvel Spotlight" #31 all to himself – but mostly, he just popped up in cameo appearances whenever a story called for some extra intrigue.
A couple other notable events in the S.H.I.E.L.D. sector occurred in the pages of Captain America. First, Contessa Val and Sharon Carter took a stand for equality when they formed S.H.I.E.L.D.'s all-woman attack squad, Femme Force. And then, the agency launched a division for superpowered operatives called the SHIELD Super-Agents – but two of those agents were soon revealed as traitors, and only one (Wendell Vaughan/Marvel Man/Quasar) stuck around for long after that initial storyline.
And while all this happened in their well-established titles, Marvel began to produce more series featuring licensed properties. Characters from movies and toy lines joined the in-house roster of heroes and villains, and were quickly incorporated into the larger Marvel universe – which meant, of course, that S.H.I.E.L.D. ended up featuring prominently in books like "Micronauts" and "ROM: Spaceknight." Long-time second-stringers Jimmy Woo and Dum-Dum Dugan finally got a chance to shine on their own when Marvel launched a Godzilla comic; S.H.I.E.L.D. created a "Godzilla Squad", and assigned their finest men to keep tabs on the giant dinosaur.
And craziest of all, in 1985, Nick Fury and Dum-Dum appeared in the third issue of "Transformers," took notice that the evil Decepticons had set up camp in Oregon, and then went on to completely ignore this colossal threat to America's well being. Way to go, world-saving spy guys... Giant robots of doom that want to extinguish humanity are totally not worthy of your attention.
In short, S.H.I.E.L.D. laid low for the better part of twenty years, moving around the background of various comics, showing up every now and then to take decisive action, then disappearing back into the shadows. Nick Fury appeared in a few panels of "West Coast Avengers" #27 in December 1987, and everything was business as usual.
It seemed like things were going pretty well for S.H.I.E.L.D., but stormclouds loomed on the horizon, and Marvel's merry group of secret agents were about to face their greatest threat to date.
(Concluded tomorrow in "The History Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Part Four: 1988 'Til The Present Day")