Right off the bat, I want you all to understand: S.H.I.E.L.D.: Hydra Reborn was NUTS. Now I know that the majority of my reaction is due to how differently older comics (this volume collects issues from 1989-93) tell stories compared to contemporary comics, but even with that in mind, there were so many things about this collection that were insane.
Of course, it’s not entirely surprising, as it consists of reprints of issues #36 – #47 of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., a series that was originally created way back in the day by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, aka the masters of crazy. Since then, it has always been a series known for its outlandish espionage. It was where such fantastical ideas as the helicarrier and the Life Model Decoys (LMDs), android replications of people deployed for misdirection, were first introduced. This newest collection carries on that grand tradition as LMDs, secrets, and subterfuge play a big role in how weird and wild things get.
First, we get a quick, one-off team up with Luke Cage, up against the Constrictor. While Constrictor is considered much more dangerous here than he ever is in future iterations, issue #36 is pretty straight forward. But then, #37 is another one-shot adventure to, for whatever reason, check in on genetically engineered human-animal mash-ups, the Changlings. Fury and his agent Psi-Borg (guess what her shtick is?) help Woodgod, some sort of satyr man. The wackiness starts moving a little quicker, but the story is still pretty tame, albeit about a group of bizarro monster people.
Then we get the first multi-issue story of the collection. This four part tale boggles my mind. SPOILERS AHEAD It starts with Fury being interrogated. They ask him about his first mission for the O.S.S. in Japan, post WWII. It’s a pretty standard war story about him tracking down some villain, yadda yadda, yadda. Next issue, another anecdote from his past: he and his team blow up a dam in the Korean War. Pretty familiar ground. Then, top of issue three, Fury admits THAT HE MADE UP THE STORY ABOUT THE DAM! AN ENTIRE 22 PAGE COMIC BOOK WAS JUST COMPLETELY PULLED OUT OF HIS BUTT! Suddenly, a complete tone shift, including a new artist, happens and the third and fourth issues are more or less an entirely different story. Plus, the fourth issue renders most story in issue #! useless too. WHAT!? There are some insane story moves that just aren’t done nowadays, and it is SUCH a wild ride. END SPOLIERS
From there, we get into the meat of the book, with issue #42 through #47 being about the titular rebirth of Hydra. This is a much more linear, yet still bonkers arc. Baron Von Strucker is back from the dead and consolidating power as Nick deals with the fallout from the events of Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., a limited series in which it was revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been run by an evil LMD from the start. Of course, the rebirth of Hydra has to include brainwashing, kidnapping, gadgets, and guns. All of the classic Nick Fury tropes are on display.
Amid all the fun and craziness in the writing of a twenty five year old comic book series, the plot starts to come into conflict with continuity. It was interesting to read the forward by Ralph Macchio (the editor, not the actor. I looked it up) in which he explicitly stated that he had some logical questions with the previous Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. story, as did writer Dan Chichester. Their solution? Macchio had Chichester write these issues to make canon all the answers they came up with. Of course, this happens all the time in comics, one writer answering the questions left by one of their peers. It was fascinating though, for an editor to be so transparent in his dissatisfaction, then to turn around and read what he thought needed to be added. The result is that, while there is plenty in this volume that stands alone as entertaining, it’s a response comic, so it’s pretty beholden to what has come before. It makes for a very difficult book to just jump into.
Having read the Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. story years ago, I was able to follow along pretty well, but there was a lot that I had to just go along for the ride, infer what I could, and shrug off what I couldn’t. Not only was it referential, it also had a half-dozen cameos by various heroes and villains from the larger Marvel Universe, so your millage is going to vary quite a bit depending on how tuned into early 90s comic lore you are. Add to that some pretty inconsistent art in a lot of the first issues, and the price tag of $35 becomes something to definitely put some consideration into.
You certainly get plenty of comic for your money if this type of book is up your alley; it was a blast to read. In fact, I actually learned a decent amount about the formation of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, two groups whose histories I always struggle to keep straight. A big reason for that though, is because what is and isn’t “canon” regarding the groups is constantly shifting. For example, by now, most of the origin story presented in 1994’s Fury one-shot included in the back of this book has been completely retconned at least once, if not dozens of times since then.
But again, if that sort of thing doesn’t intimate you, then this collection might be for you. S.H.I.E.L.D.: Hydra Reborn is Peak Fury — it has all the hallmarks of a classic S.H.I.E.L.D. story, elaborate espionage, all sorts of crazy tech, a whole host of familiar allies, and Strucker, one of the biggest baddies of ’em all. If all that intrigues you, if you had questions after the Delta Affair, or if you even know what the Delta Affair was, then this book is for you.