With two twenty-page tales, a two-page peek into Jack Kirby's original Nick Fury pitch and a reprint from "Strange Tales" #135, "S.H.I.E.L.D." #9 packs quite a punch. Mark Waid writes the first chapter of this extra-sized special, which stars the cast of characters from the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." television series, while writer Al Ewing checks in with a sneak peek into the all-new comic series "Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D." in the second tale.
Waid uses this anniversary issue to frame up connectivity between Nick Fury's current S.H.I.E.L.D. and the more ancient S.H.I.E.L.D. from the series by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver, but he leaves plenty of wiggle room for that connectivity to be explored by crafting a new threat that spans the ages, influences S.H.I.E.L.D. and serves as a potential impediment to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s affairs.
Lee Ferguson provides the art for that chapter, bringing independent energy and open style to Coulson's adventure. Some panels are more open than others, with nondescript backgrounds prevalent throughout the story. Colorist Paul Mounts packs in a fair amount of texture and effect to give the open backgrounds gravity and depth, but one story can really only have so many open panels before it starts to dissolve. Much of this story is talking heads, which plays well in Ferguson's style, but his character positioning could use a bit more variety. The panels lifted from yesteryear (drawn by Jim Steranko and John Severin) are meticulous and -- integrated with Ferguson's present-day work -- masterful, especially by comparison. I don't expect Ferguson to ape those who came before him, but the level of detail in an espionage comic directly affects the impact of the adventure within.
In addition to spot art from Steranko and Severin, "S.H.I.E.L.D." #9 gives readers a nice sample of Jack Kirby. The two opening pages are timeless and inspirational. In a time when retro imagery is the rage, these seven panels from Kirby seem tailor-made for t-shirts, folders and phone wallpapers. The King's stuff holds up nicely and is bookended with a tale not quite as timeless but no less entertaining as " S.H.I.E.L.D." #9 ends with the "Strange Tales" reprint.
The middle tale in this comic is certain to at least capture the attention of any S.H.I.E.L.D. fan. Dum Dum Dugan shows up to lead a pair of monstrous beings against Kid Abomination (yes, from "Superior Iron Man"). Secrets about Dugan are revealed that set up "Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D." and explores the wackiness Kirby brought to the Marvel Universe alongside Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Those ideas have been paired together before, but writer Al Ewing and artist Stefano Caselli deliver a solid introduction. Ewing and Caselli tie this tale in tightly to S.H.I.E.L.D. and give readers plenty to look forward to as a result of this done-in-one adventure.
"S.H.I.E.L.D." #9 is a magnificent sample of all things S.H.I.E.L.D., blending the comics and television concepts together and letting the reader decide what is most important and/or interesting. Waid and Ferguson supply a done-in-one that carries through some threads from the ongoing series, but they don't take away from this being an enjoyable standalone issue. Adding a bit of variety served up on a tangent, the "Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D." offers an interesting amalgamation of espionage thriller and horror adventure. "S.H.I.E.L.D." #9 kicks off the anniversary in style but sets the bar high. Hopefully, this just means we're in for more "S.H.I.E.L.D." related treats.