Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. @ 30

A Second Reading and a New Interpretation

As I grow older I find myself trying to thin out my possessions. I haven’t decided if this is some sort of late midlife existential crisis or maybe I’m just getting tired of storing, moving, cleaning, and tripping over all the shit I’ve accumulated during the last four decades. I’d like to sound hip and say it’s the former but it’s probably more the latter. A couple months back I was sorting some comic books into keep and donate stacks when I came across Bob Harras’ six book series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. I remember enjoying it when I read it over thirty years ago, but my memory of the plot was a bit vague. So with beer in hand and some 1980s music for ambiance I sat down to reread the series to see if it would make the keep stack.

I was a geeky kid in high school who read comics (this was before being a geek or reading comics was considered cool) when the series debuted in 1988. I was an avid reader of a few Marvel superhero titles at the time. I was also developing an interest in spy and mystery novels (the inexpensive, paperback ones that you could buy at your local KMart). It was Jim Steranko’s cover artwork that first caught my attention back in the summer of ’88. It wasn’t the kind of comic book cover I was used to. This was a cover for a novel, the kind of novel I that wanted to read. That cover suggested adventure, espionage, and pages of thrills. Thirty years later the cover still impresses me. That cover makes you pause before you turn the page and start reading. After an appropriate pause I did turn the page, and I was glad I did.

It’s interesting what thirty years will do to, or for, your memory. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still the action story I remembered enjoying as a teenager, but Harras did so much more than write an action story. He gives us Nick Fury, a man who faces an existential crisis (one much more complex than my possible first paragraph crisis). Nick Fury is forced to question the meaning and purpose of his work and accomplishments as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and come to grips with the answers. In 1988, the protagonist’s dilemma was something I couldn’t fully appreciate. Thirty years later I discovered a story of personal crises and political intrigues. This story was true in 1988, but it was a truth that I didn’t have the life experience to fully understand. The story still rings true in 2019 and with over thirty years of life experience (and as many years of comic book reading) it is a truth that is readily accessible and exceptionally well written.

Harras’ well-developed story, along with the talented artwork of Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder, is well worth reading. One of the features of good art is that it can be read or viewed at different times in one’s life and provide varying interpretations each time. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. accomplishes this. At the time of publication it provided a geeky high school kid who was beginning to discover a world of literature a well written action story. The series also provided this middle aged reader with a contemporary commentary on modern man and the political world he lives in.


Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (1988) by Bob Harras with artwork by Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder.

Action Figures, Comic Books, and Patriotism

How G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Inspired Patriotism in a Nine Year Old

How old were you when you started taking part in patriotic missions to protect the United States (dare I say the free world) from the evil forces of Cobra Command? I’m wagering there is one group out there that can give me an age and another group that is debating whether or not to keep reading. I’m hoping I have a little something here for both groups. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero instilled a sense of patriotism in me as I read the comics and played with the toys in the early 1980s.

I was nine years old when I bought (actually my Moms bought it) G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue #4. At that time I had one G.I. Joe action figure, Breaker (my Moms also bought it). That comic book and action figure were the beginning of countless hours of reading and imaginative play. I read other comics before G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and played with other action figures before the Hasbro toy line was introduced, but the combination of an ongoing comic book and an associated toy line created a mythology I could immerse myself in. It was this mythology of top secret soldiers defending their country without a need or desire for praise and glory that introduced me to the idea of patriotism.

Larry Hama, the writer of the comic book, gave the characters (which were also Hasbro action figures) developed back stories and interesting personalities. Each month I would read an issue of the comic, and Hama’s stories would influence how I played with the action figures. The comic and accompanying toys allowed me to be part of a world where brave men and women fought evil foes in order to protect the United States. What made it all seem so patriotic was that the soldiers of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic operated in secret. There was no glory, no marching bands, and no book deals to accompany their actions. These soldiers fought because it was their duty to protect the innocent. They defended their country because they felt it was their responsibility as patriots to do no less. My playtime with the action figures followed the example set by Larry Hama. My missions and storylines may not have been as interesting and detailed as Larry Hama’s but I was only nine. I may not have understood some of the finer points of patriotism at that age but Larry Hama helped begin my education.

I stopped playing with the Hasbro action figures after a couple of years but I continued reading the comic book until the end of its run, issue #155. The ideals of patriotism were just one of the many themes that Larry Hama addressed in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. I know that my definition of patriotism is different now than it was in the 1980s, but I also know that the comic book and action figures were an integral part in the development of that definition.


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