I know I could never tell you where Jim Steranko came from before he started drawing Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division), in Marvel's "Strange Tales" comic book in 1966. Actually, way back when, I was more interested in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystical Arts. Besides, it was hard to believe Nick Fury, from "Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos," was a one-eyed spymaster. But the development of Steranko's signature style as an artist became THE reason for bothering with a comic that was, in many regards, the bottom of the line at Marvel. Steranko began by doing the finished artwork over layouts by Jack "King" Kirby and ended up not only drawing the series but scripting it as well. The rest was most definitely comic history.
Included in this collection are "Strange Tales" 150-168, which provides one of the greatest examples of artistic growth ever seen in the field of comic books (Barry Windsor-Smith's legendary run on "Conan the Barbarian" is the only other example on the same plateau). Here we have Nick Fury's one-man assault on Hydra and the epic battle with the Yellow Claw. Early in the Sixties Marvel had labeled its comics as "Pop Art," in a feeble attempt to market themselves as more than just comics for kids. Well, when Steranko started incorporating elements from the psychedelic films and art of the time you could argue he achieved "Pop Art" in comics. Steranko used photography, optical art effects and unorthodox page designs to create his own unique style. Ultimately, his work had much more to do with cutting-edge cinema than it did with traditional comic books, which is why his reputation endures.
It is hard not to look at these Steranko's striking designs in these super spy stories and find yourself thinking more of "Bladerunner" and "The Matrix" more than James Bond. But as much as we admire Steranko's use of fine, defined ink line we also need to pay attention to his use of pacing, which is undeniably cinematic. I heard Steranko went on to do storyboards for movies, including "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula," which is fitting, but also rather ironic. Speaking of irony, Steranko's best work in comics, both with Nick Fury and other characters (most notably Captain America and The X-Men) was yet to come. So while this collection does not represent Steranko's best work, it does capture the evolution of a major talent in comics. Besides, it will probably cost you more than the price of this collection to pick up just ONE of the comics reprinted within.