Super spies were all the rage in the Cold War Sixties: James Bond, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart… and even Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though Marvel introduced Sgt. Fury in 1963, Fury’s most significant role in the Marvel Universe launched in Strange Tales #135 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. While S.H.I.E.L.D.’s inception may have officially occurred in issue 135, I would argue the organization leaped into the new age with issue 151. Strange Tales #151 marked the beginning of the Steranko era. Stories soon followed featuring the innovative and original art style of Jim Steranko, truly making S.H.I.E.L.D. a cultural phenomenon.
Multi-Faceted Jim Steranko
Steranko’s amazing resume´ includes Illusionist, Escape Artist, Inker for the renowned Matt Baker, Ad Man, Comic Historian, and Writer/Creator of Harvey super-heroes like Spyman. CGC credits Spyman #1 as Steranko’s first professional work. Further, I pulled these key numbers from GoCollect’s Spyman listings: 93, 23, 13. Those would be the CGC census numbers for Spyman 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Thus, consider Spyman a rare and significant part of Steranko’s career. Suddenly, Spyman garners new interest if Jim Steranko original art is not personally attainable.
My personal pinnacle for Steranko’s career featured super-spy, Nick Fury. Particularly, In Strange Tales #156 through the first issues of Nick Fury’s own mag. That’s when Steranko experimented with pop art, making the drawings as innovative as the stories.
More of Jim Steranko’s Original Pop Art
If you don’t have Steranko’s Strange Tales run, check out Marvel Unlimited and just flip through the pages. Though he started to experiment with pop in issue 156, his personal style fully emerged in issue 158. Like the times, his pop art compositions reflected the fanciful, the bizarre, and the extraordinary. But when it was all said and done, he really evolved Nick Fury from non-com commando to super(hero)-spy.
Steranko’s Strange Tales and Beyond
In his new super-suit (still just ‘duds’ to Nick), Fury and his super-team looked the part in Strange Tales #167. I consider the cover for that issue as the most iconic for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Strange Tales run. GoCollect shows a current 9.8 FMV at $4,200. Many meaningful recent sales exist for lower grades including 9.6 with a sale of $1,350 this year.
Interestingly, when I scan GoCollect for the Steranko Strange Tales run, frequently the Doctor Strange portion of the issue contributes more to collector speculation. Collectors and investors are buying the first appearance of the Tribunal, for example. But possibly, they fail to recognize the groundbreaking story and original art produced by Jim Steranko.
Unfortunately, Jim Steranko contributed only briefly to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He provided story and art for issues 1 to 3 and issue 5. I include the issue 4 cover because it is masterful Steranko superhero pop. Steranko also did cover art on issues 6 and 7.
Many of your favorite artists have probably done cover swipes from Nick Fury #6. (Examples include Doc Savage #5 (Dynamite) by Alex Ross and Superman #28 by Kerry Gammill.) Steranko’s Nick Fury comics, including issue 1, seemed undervalued to me. There’s barely any premium for the first issue of his self-titled series.
Jim Steranko Original Art at Auction!
All of what came before is build-up! Here’s why you may want to bid on Jim Steranko original art. Means permitting! The two-page splash from #113 boasts incredible wall appeal. This issue carries the same ambiance as the Nick Fury stories. And, throw in major characters like Captain America, Vision, and Nick Fury in a coffin! Better yet, the antagonists are those annoying Hydra agents. The bid + premium is already nearly $80,000, but I don’t think this piece will have any trouble surpassing $120K. In fact, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t flirt with two hundred thousand.
Speaking of Nick Fury’s self-titled series, a page from issue 2 lists in the same auction. It’s Nick versus a dinosaur. I would rather see Hydra, but original Jim Steranko art from Nick Fury’s series rarely makes it to auction. The current price of $6,300 is well short of what the final bid will command. Last year, an action-packed battle with a Hydra agent fetched $28,800 (Strange Tales #160 Page 12). However, these pages are so scarce, collectors never know when a spy page may come out of the cold.
High rollers don’t want to miss the opportunity to bid on an amazing two-page splash. Some lucky buyer is going to get Steranko Nick Fury 2 art for considerably less, but not chump change. While it’s true that Steranko is no Jack Kirby, the urgency is directly related to the sparse availability of Jim Steranko original art. When I put out the Comic Art Trends Price Guide 2019 edition, only twelve published pages by Steranko had sold through Heritage Auctions. Compare that to over 1400 published original art pages by Jack Kirby at HA up through 2020.
Of course for more modest collectors, don’t sleep on the entertainment and speculative value of Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. works. And, don’t forget about the significance of Spyman.
I have written about another Marvel artist from the era, Barry Windsor-Smith. Check it out!