Having a tightly interconnected comic book universe afforded Stan Lee and company a certain economy of motion.
Let’s say secret agents have become immensely popular, thanks to James Bond 007. Okay, you’ve already got a World War II combat hero handy in the Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos title (which began in May 1963), and, in Fantastic Four 21 (Dec. 1963), you’ve already updated him to the 1960s as a CIA agent fighting the Hate Monger (an enemy he knew well, as it turned out).
What could be simpler than to turn Nick Fury into the head of some new, super-secret super-organization like UNCLE, CONTROL or ZOWIE? Call this one SHIELD (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division).
To tell the truth, I never really warmed to Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (who premiered in Strange Tales 135 in August 1965). This gruff, barking guy with an eye patch seemed particularly unsubtle for a spy, and we were already swamped with spies by then — James Bond, Derek Flint, Matt Helm, Napoleon Solo, John Drake, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott, Amos Burke, Maxwell Smart. Even Archie Andrews became a secret agent, for pity’s sake.
The spies of popular fiction offered sex, violence and gadgets, and with the sex and violence necessarily muted by the Comics Code, that meant the gadgets had to be amped up through the roof in SHIELD — flying cars, invisibility suits, death rays, Life Model Decoys, even a flying aircraft carrier (most of them provided by Marvel’s resident tech genius Tony Stark, naturally).
The gadgets served the same purpose for Fury as the spells of Dr. Strange, SHIELD’s companion in Strange Tales, and they offered the same dramatic problem. When you can always pull a deus ex machina out of your ass to resolve whatever peril you’re in, suspense becomes elusive.
More than one enduring element of the Marvel universe sprang from the series — most notably Hydra, the evil cabal that’s now probably even more famous than SPECTRE, the spy organization that inspired it, and seemingly as immortal as its mythological namesake.