Back in 1965, Marvel Comics decided to capitalize on the popularity of spy stories such as Danger Man, Man From U.N.C.L.E., and James Bond, and turned their grizzled WWII foot soldier Nick Fury into a one-eyed badass super spy and situated him as the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which then stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division but has since come to stand for any other number of things, depending on the medium). Now as much as I would love to write a million words gushing over the trippy ’60s brilliance of Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., we’re here to talk about much more important things: crazy spy gadgets.
Wacky gadgets are of course a hallmark of the initial 60s espionage craze, but in the original run of Strange Tales, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (along with their finishing artists, including Steranko) went ballistic trying to make up for lost time and imagine up extravagant inventions that were even cooler than their competitors. Sure, some of these things are downright ridiculous, but what makes them so amazing is that there’s absolutely no shame in any of it. No matter how absurd and over the top these crazy devices got, they were always delivered with such unabashed love for the comic book and super spy genres that it made it totally okay, or maybe even a little better. No one ever seemed to stop and think, “Is this TOO over-the-top?” or if they did, it doesn’t show in the books. The ’60s were just a different time, I guess.
Anyway, here are some of my favorite gadgets introduced in the original Strange Tales run of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
Life Model Decoys—or LMDs, as they’re so affectionately called—are really just a fancy way of saying “android copy,” virtually indistinguishable from the individual on which they’re based. Life Model Decoys remain a popular device for S.H.I.E.L.D. comics to this day (there’s even an evil rogue Nick Fury LMD named Max Fury running around). There’s been some speculation that a Life Model Decoy might be used to explain Agent Coulson’s appearance in the S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, after his apparent death in The Avengers.
The Flying Car
Nick Fury: cruising in style since 1965. The Flying Car remains a staple of the S.H.I.E.L.D. fleet (I suspect we’ll be seeing these on the show, as well). Initially seen driving on land, each wheel of the flying car is equipped with a “mach-pressure fan delicately installed within the hub,” and the wheels can rotate to underneath the body of the car, allowing it to takeoff and fly. Remind me why we don’t actually have these yet?
You might remember this from The Avengers movie. Q: What’s cooler than a giant flying aircraft carrier? A: A giant flying aircraft carrier that doesn’t get blown out of the sky in every major storyline. And considering that it’s never really been made clear whether S.H.I.E.L.D. is a US or UN initiative, I can’t help but wonder whose tax dollars are going to repair that thing every 3 weeks....
(side note, I love all of these crazy comic book diagrams. They don’t make ’em like they used to)
On the street level, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret headquarters in Midtown Manhattan was disguised as your regular neighborhood barbershop, with trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agents handling your haircut and shave. But take a seat in the barber’s chair, and you’re whisked underground....
Of course, having just ONE false-front to your covert operation isn’t always enough, and S.H.I.E.L.D. would occasionally disguise the front of the barbershop as an abandoned hardware store, which somehow helped to further dissuade potential invaders who could have sworn there used to be a barbershop on that corner that housed the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters underneath.
Incendiary Disk / Respiratory-Powered Projectile Hurler
S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell was originally introduced as a well-to-do, overachieving bumbling British idiot. But he had his uses, much as he drove Nick Fury up the wall. His ingenuity lead to the creation of such discreet and useful weapons as a quarter containing an incendiary disk, and a “respiratory-powered projectile hurler”—aka, a blowdart—that shot a small radio transmitter that could track anyone anywhere. Good ol’ Jasper, always thinking ahead.
Nick Fury’s Wardrobe
While the LMDs were mostly employed to protect the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. from assassination attempts, Nick Fury still found himself in danger more often than not. S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists equipped him with a number of handy gadgets built into his wardrobe, just in case he needed to get himself out of a sticky situation. This includes a shirt that explodes when exposed to slight heat (which Nick once used to escape from a HYDRA prison cell), and a watch that worked as a magnetic repulsor against bullets, because that’s way better than your standard superspy wrist watch communicator.
And then there was the most useful tool: Nick Fury’s belt.“It holds up your pants!”
No, but seriously, that is the entire function of Nick Fury’s special S.H.I.E.L.D.-certified belt. He eventually used it to de-arm his archnemesis Baron Strucker and steal his Satan Claw, but mostly, it holds up Nick Fury’s pants. Which is important.
The Tri-Do-Roentgen Handgun
...Which projects harmless 3D X-Rays, in case you, um, need to see your enemy’s skeleton for whatever reason. I don’t know. Maybe this wasn’t Agent Sitwell’s greatest contribution to the world espionage (it’s hard to top that blow dart). But hey, at least it has a cool name!
The Periscope Hat
When you’re the top spy of the Marvel Universe, you always run the risk of being followed. But thanks to an overly-elaborate setup of mirrors, the periscope hat allowed Nick Fury to keep an eye out behind himself while walking the streets of Manhattan. While it’s certainly clever, you’d think that S.H.I.E.L.D. would have the technological know-how to come up with some fancier and less-convoluted method, but apparently not.
The Epiderm-Mask Machine
Any good spy should of course be a master of disguise. But who’s got time for makeup and prosthetics? That’s for theatre people! In just a few short seconds, the Epiderm-Mask Machine can plant a new synthetic face directly on top of your real face!
Originally used by the Supreme Hydra to mask his identity as Fury’s WWII archnemesis Baron Strucker, Fury later used the device for the best double-double-blind ever. Fury used the device to disguise himself as Baron Strucker, then used it on Baron Strucker to disguise him as Nick Fury Disguised As Baron Strucker.
The Hydra agents couldn’t tell which Strucker was the real one, but when they pulled the Baron Strucker mask off of the real Baron Strucker, it revealed the face of Nick Fury instead, allowing the real Nick Fury to escape (still disguised as Baron Strucker).
The HAWK (High Altitude Wing Kite) Harness
I’m not really sure what this does, except for allow Nick Fury to go skydiving by turning him into a flying squirrel. But dammit, it looks cool, and has an even better name.
Bonus: THE EGG
Technically not a S.H.I.E.L.D. gadget, but this flying robotic egg was used by the evil The Druid to remotely spy on S.H.I.E.L.D. from his hidden underground observatory disguised as trees because comics.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve robots). He firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net