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Jim Steranko: Marvel Comics Trade Paperbacks

Updated on November 25, 2012
Paperback collections containing Jim Steranko's classic Marvel Comics work.
Paperback collections containing Jim Steranko's classic Marvel Comics work. | Source

In the mid-1960s, Marvel Comics was causing quite a stir with their new line of superheroes. The company had introduced so many new characters and concepts that when writer-editor Stan Lee called Marvel "The House of Ideas", it didn't seem like hyperbole.

In 1966, Stan Lee hired Jim Steranko, a virtually unknown artist who had done a small amount of work for Harvey Comics, to help with Marvel's expanding line. As fate would have it, this was just a few months before DC Comics hired another newcomer to the industry, Neal Adams. Over the next few years, working in an industry already energized by Marvel's recent success, Steranko and Adams raised comic book art to even greater heights. They had an enormous impact on the generation of comic artists that would come after them, and their influence is still being felt today.

Unlike Adams, who still works in the industry, Steranko wrote and drew comics for a relatively short time. In fact, his entire output for Marvel (excluding a few covers he drew for stories illustrated by other artists) has been compiled into three trade paperback collections, each of which is reviewed here:

  • Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD - reprints Strange Tales #150-168, containing Steranko's first work for Marvel.
  • Nick Fury: Who is Scorpio? - contains Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3 and #5.
  • Marvel Visionaries: Steranko - collects the remainder of Steranko's Marvel output.

A page drawn by John Buscema (left) and one by Jim Steranko show how the look of the Nick Fury strip changed during Steranko's run.
A page drawn by John Buscema (left) and one by Jim Steranko show how the look of the Nick Fury strip changed during Steranko's run. | Source

Doc's Rating:

4 stars for Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD by Steranko

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

Steranko's first issue of Strange Tales was #151, a continuation of the story begun in the previous issue. To keep the book from opening in the middle of that storyline, issue #150, drawn by John Buscema, is also included in this collection.

Steranko drew his first three issues over layouts provided by Jack Kirby, which was not uncommon at Marvel at the time, but by issue #154 he was laying out the book himself. Beginning with issue #155, he was also writing the stories (earlier issues had been written by either Stan Lee or Roy Thomas). It is at this point that Steranko really comes into his own, with page layouts and character designs becoming more innovative (see the Buscema/Steranko comparison to the right).

When Steranko took over the strip, Nick Fury was wearing a suit and tie, much as James Bond did in the movies, but Steranko soon had Fury clad in a skin-tight spy suit, complete with utility belt and plenty of pouches. During Steranko's run, Fury battles the terrorist organization Hydra, as well as the Yellow Claw. Captain America (whose own book Steranko would soon be drawing) also guest-stars.

Nothing like these stories had been seen in comic books before. The figures were as dynamic as anything Jack Kirby was drawing, but Steranko also incorporated elements of graphic design into his layouts, and his artwork showed influences of surrealism, psychedelia, and even optical illusions. These stories are as much a joy to read today as they were then.

Pages illustrating Steranko's dynamic style. On the left is Nick Fury's new costume, and the panels on the page to the right actually change orientation as Fury moves through the maze.
Pages illustrating Steranko's dynamic style. On the left is Nick Fury's new costume, and the panels on the page to the right actually change orientation as Fury moves through the maze. | Source

Steranko's 4-Page Spread

In Strange Tales #167, Steranko drew a single picture (a dynamic battle scene) that took up four pages. The reader saw half of the picture as a two-page spread, then turned the page to see another two-page spread containing the rest of the picture. You actually needed to place two copies of the comic book side-by-side in order to see the complete picture. The paperback collection contains two fold out pages side-by-side, enabling the reader to see the complete picture as they never could before.

Each issue of Strange Tales contained both a Nick Fury story and one featuring Doctor Strange, so the stories in this collection are only 11-12 pages long. They tell a continuing story, however, and the collection reads quite nicely. As a bonus, the book includes the Strange Tales covers Steranko drew for this run (Fury was on the cover every other month), plus the try-out pages that got Steranko his job at Marvel (two pages of his inks over Jack Kirby pencils).

My Rating

For me, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD is a nearly-perfect package, and I've awarded it 4 out of 5 stars, taking away one star because the quality of the printing and coloring isn't what it should be. The book is printed on much higher quality paper than the newsprint of the original comics, something Marvel failed to take advantage of.

Still, it's great having the entire run collected in a single volume. The inclusion of the Buscema story not only keeps the story intact, but also provides a before-and-after contrast, showing just how much of a change Steranko brought to the strip. The story and artwork are amazing throughout, and the four-page fold-out is wonderful.

At 248 pages, this is the biggest of the three paperbacks reviewed here. If you want just one Steranko book for your collection, this is the one to get. If you want more — and you just might after reading this book — the following compilations are offered for your consideration.

Who is Scorpio?

Jim Steranko seemed to be particularly inspired by superspy Nick Fury, as his best work at Marvel are stories featuring that character. Nick Fury: Who is Scorpio? collects Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3 and #5, from 1968. Steranko drew the covers for issues #1-7 of that series, the first six of which are also included in this collection.

These stories were all written and illustrated by Steranko with the same style and flair seen in Fury's adventures in Strange Tales. The first and last stories in this collection (Who is Scorpio? and Whatever Happened to Scorpio?) feature a new villain created by Steranko. Scorpio harbors a particular hatred for Nick Fury, although the reason for this is never revealed, nor is Scorpio's identity. Perhaps Steranko intended to develop these elements in future stories (which, alas, were never to be).

The remaining stories in the book are unrelated, stand-alone stories.This is a thin paperback (96 pages), containing only four complete issues, along with Steranko's covers for #1-6. The problems with printing and coloring seen in the previous volume are even worse here, but readers who enjoyed the first Nick Fury collection will probably enjoy this one, as well.

Two pages from Marvel Visionaries: Steranko, including a somewhat macabre Captain America page, and one from Our Love Story #5, which Steranko drew in a groovy, psychedelic style.
Two pages from Marvel Visionaries: Steranko, including a somewhat macabre Captain America page, and one from Our Love Story #5, which Steranko drew in a groovy, psychedelic style. | Source

Marvel Visionaries: Steranko

The remainder of Steranko's Marvel work, minus a handful of covers, is collected in Marvel Visionaries: Steranko. The book, which is 128 pages long, is a mixed bag consisting of the following:

  • X-Men #50-51
  • Captain America #110, 111, 113
  • Tower of Shadows #1 (7-page story, At the Stroke of Midnight)
  • Our Love Story #5 (7-page story, My Heart Broke in Hollywood)

The art on the two X-Men stories, which were written by Arnold Drake, is sub-par for Steranko. Indeed, X-Men #51 is downright terrible (which may be why his name does not appear in the credits for that issue). Steranko did, however, create a new logo for the X-Men, which, with minor tweaks, is still being used today.

On the other hand, the artwork for the Captain America stories is amazing. Steranko wrote these stories, and you may be able to find a plot hole or two if you really look, but overall the Cap issues are quite enjoyable.

Steranko wrote and illustrated the horror tale, At the Stroke of Midnight, which is reproduced horribly in this book. I don't have the original comic, so I don't know if it was printed this badly originally, but either way Marvel should have put a little more care into this. The final story, a romance tale from Our Love Story #5, is interesting mainly for the artwork. The story was written by Stan Lee, and it's not one of his more inspired efforts, but Steranko drew it in a "groovy" late 60s/early 70s style that at least makes it interesting to look at.

If you feel a need to own everything Steranko did for Marvel, then you should pick up this book, which also includes some of the covers Steranko drew for other Marvel titles. Otherwise, I'd pass on it.

These checklists contain a complete listing of Jim Steranko's work for Marvel:

Jim Steranko Marvel Checklist - Full Stories

Cover Date
Cover art by Steranko?
Dec 1966-May 1968
Strange Tales #151-168
Yes (every other issue, 151 inks only)
Jun-Aug, Oct 1968
Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3, 5
Nov-Dec 1968
X-Men #50-51
Feb-March, May 1969
Captain America #110-111, 113
Sept 1969
Tower of Shadows #1, story "At the Stroke of Midnight"
Jun 1970
Our Love Story #5, story "My Heart Broke in Hollywood"

Some of these stories have been reprinted over the years. Reprints are not listed.

The following list contains comics for which Steranko drew only the cover, as well as which paperback collection, if any, the cover appears in:

Steranko Marvel Checklist - Covers Only

Cover Date
Included in
Sept, Nov 1968
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #4, 6
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD: Who is Scorpio?
Dec 1968
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #7
- none -
Sept 1968
Daredevil #44 (inks only)
- none -
Oct 1968
Incredible Hulk King-Size Special #1
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Oct 1968
X-Men #49
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Dec 1972-Feb 1973
Doc Savage #2-3
- none -
Dec 1972-Feb 1973
Shanna the She-Devil #1-2
- none -
Dec 1972-Feb 1973
Supernatural Thrillers #1-2
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Jan-March 1973
Creatures on the Loose #21-22
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Jan–Feb 1973
Fantastic Four #130-131
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
March 1973
Fantastic Four #132
- none -
Jan 1973
Tex Dawson, Gunslinger #1
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Feb, April 1973
Nick Fury and His Agents of SHIELD #1-2
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
March 1973
Western Gunfighters #14
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
Sept 1982
Marvel Comics Super Special #22 (Blade Runner)
- none -
Dec 1983
Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, Special Edition #1
Marvel Visionaries: Steranko
June 1988
Nick Fury vs. SHIELD #1
- none -

Reprints are not listed.


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    • nuffsaidstan profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice Hub, i love Sterankos artwork and what an amazing character he is too.


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