This month marks the 50th anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Comics spy agency that began as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of '60s spy shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and eventually grew into something that would help shape the entirety of the Marvel universe. Once upon a time, S.H.I.E.L.D. was just a featured player in half of a comic book (Strange Tales), and now it has its own TV show. That's quite a pop culture life.
What's particularly interesting about S.H.I.E.L.D., especially when compared to the 50th anniversaries of Marvel creations like Spider-Man and The Avengers and even Daredevil, is how hard it is to nail down the exact importance of the agency to comics at any given time. With Spider-Man, it's simple: He's Marvel Comics' poster boy, and he's had at least one comic book, often many more, with his name stamped on it published every month for more than five decades now. With S.H.I.E.L.D., it's trickier. Sure, they have their own comic right now, but for many, many years they didn't, and when they did it was usually carried by Nick Fury, not by a team of spies. So, while it's easy to trace S.H.I.E.L.D.'s influence through every Marvel event from Civil War to Fear Itself, it's a little harder to nail down exactly which comics you should read if you specifically want S.H.I.E.L.D. stories.
So, that's where I come in. In celebration of the agency's 50th birthday, I've gathered 10 comic-book stories that are great showcases of S.H.I.E.L.D. for various reasons. They're not by any stretch the only S.H.I.E.L.D. stories you should read, but they are all a lot of fun, and any one of them could be a good start. So, here we go.
"Who Is Scorpio?" - Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (1968)
When you talk about S.H.I.E.L.D., you inevitably talk about Nick Fury, and when you talk about Nick Fury, you have to talk about Jim Steranko. The legendary writer-artist pushed the limits of comic-book art in the 1960s and came to define much of what we think about when we think about Nick Fury. That doesn't exactly begin here, but it does provide a perfect crystallization of everything Steranko was working toward, along with an unforgettable villain.
Original Sin (2014)
Like so many comics that S.H.I.E.L.D. influences, Original Sin does not begin as a S.H.I.E.L.D. story, nor does it, exactly, end as one, but the history of the agency, and of Nick Fury, is an essential part of the event. Read this book and, by the end, you'll have an entirely new appreciation of just how much Fury and his team have contributed to the Marvel Universe.
Secret Warriors #1-6 (2009) - "Nick Fury, Agent of Nothing"
Here again, I'm referencing a series that isn't exactly about S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, it's a direct refutation of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the events of Secret Invasion. Nick Fury no longer has his agency, he doesn't know who to trust, and he's got to find a new direction to save the world. This series is great for anyone who loved the HYDRA infiltration that ran through the Marvel Cinematic Universe last year, as well as anyone who just loves Fury getting down to business.
Kitty Pryde Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)
It's really sad that Marvel Studios doesn't have the rights to Kitty Pryde right now, because she's perfectly suited for spycraft thanks to her intelligence and power set. In this limited series, she gets to use both, and it produces a delightful story that allows an unlikely agent to take the reins of a S.H.I.E.L.D. tale.
S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-6: "Architects of Forever"
Jonathan Hickman's attempt at a S.H.I.E.L.D. story pushes the agency far beyond the boundaries other writers kept to. In this series, S.H.I.E.L.D. has existed more or less forever, and luminaries like Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton were once a part of it. It's weird secret history storytelling done right, and it brings a whole new element of bizarre to the Marvel Universe.
Strange Tales #135 (1965) - "The Man for the Job"
If you're really looking to get into the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D., you have to go back to this story, which, like so many Marvel origins, was engineered by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It's the debut of Nick Fury in Strange Tales, and it introduces everything from the idea of Life Model Decoys to the iconic Helicarrier. It's not fully formed yet, but this is the beginning of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Strange Tales #159-167 - "S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. The Yellow Claw"
One of the biggest S.H.I.E.L.D. stories ever told by Jim Steranko, this tale not only sets up an epic battle for the agency, but also features the story of how new agents train, and it features Captain America. It's got everything you could want.
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.D. (1988)
The classic S.H.I.E.L.D. versus some kind of underground organization is nothing new, but this particular series found a way to shed new light on what Nick Fury would actuallly do if he was confronted with a world that would force him into exile.
Godzilla Squad (1977)
If you've ever wanted to see how S.H.I.E.L.D. would react to a giant monster, Godzilla is the series for you. This is a book that features Dum Dum Dugan trying to run down a monster at every turn, and it's great fun.
Strange Tales #150-158 (1967) - Baron von Strucker Returns
One of the essential S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. H.Y.D.R.A. stories, this tale gives fans one of the biggest Baron von Strucker tales, and gives us another chance to see S.H.I.E.L.D. as a major comics force.