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Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD 10
"Twas The Night Before Christmas"

And All Through The House, Not A Creature Was Stirring -- Except
STAN LEE, Editor

Christmas Eve, 1968 -- Snow falls in New York City, with most of its citizens enjoying the holiday season -- as they get ready for the coming morning with their families... but for Nick Fury, the Christmas season is but a reminder of his past, and his will is set on helping others... A cry for help is heard from an alleyway, and The Head of SHIELD wades in, kicking away an assailant, while grabbing for the victim, who has a deadly present for him... a gun!

He manages to evade the shot, but her friend, Luke, is not as fortunate. Her other crony, Harv, had told her to leave the gun at home! They had wanted to mug someone, and the woman fears that she's killed Luke. Her friend is just grazed, but Harv is about to join Luke in the hospital after Nick gets through with him. For a moment, Harv pleads with him not to hurt him because they wanted to earn some dollars. The only thing he has earned is a right cross from an angry agent of SHIELD.

He could call the authorities and have the would-be muggers spend their Christmas in a cell, but since he's feeling charitable... Nick's going to hope that they've learned their lesson, and have them go home -- just so they can get their lump of coal in the morning. Even if Saint Nick doesn't decide to pay a visit to the likes of them! He bids them farewell, and tells them to think twice before they try something on Nick Fury! As The SHIELD director lights a cigar, the alleyway is illuminated, while the muggers fade out into the shadows. All Nick has to look forward to is an empty apartment and some TV, and if not for seeing the eyes of children light up during this holiday, he would declare this year a bust! Fury stows the self-pity, and smiles as he sees a family preparing their Christmas tree... happy, especially in times like this. It makes it all worthwhile. After a cab ride, Nick arrives, planning on a little shut-eye, but a woman's soft hand covers his good eye prematurely!

Laura Brown greets Nick with a hearty Merry Christmas, and she senses that he was half-expecting someone else... by the name of Val! Nick gives her a welcome kiss, and they prepare to celebrate. Since neither of them has family, she thought it would be nice for them to spend the holiday together. While Laura gets comfortable, Nick puts on Sinatra's Christmas album, then starts a fire in the fireplace, mixes a couple of holiday daquiris, and dims the lights, to set the mood for some off-duty activity. As they relax in the living room, a SHIELD radio transmitter sounds a condition red alarm!

Nick picks up the phone, and wonders if his agents had spotted Santa and his reindeer, but they've received a transmitted message from... The Hate-Monger! This changes things, and after giving a quick farewell kiss to Laura, and grabbing for his overcoat, Nick heads for the garage, and revs up his SHIELD issued car with anti-grav wheels! He is once again on the clock, and refers to himself as "The Spy Who Went Out In The Cold!"

His thoughts are now on the immediate problem, and the world's security is his foremost thought, as Nick Fury docks on The Heli-Carrier. He is greeted by Jasper Sitwell, who tells Nick that an hour ago, SHIELD received a televised message from The Hate-Monger... where he stated that at twelve midnight, he plans to deliver a special Christmas present... a germ bomb, which will annihilate the entire New York City population. All that remains for Nick Fury and SHIELD is to learn if the threat is genuine... and if so, how to stop it!

Sitwell informs him that The Hate-Monger plans to carry out his plan from an orbiting scientific complex, Nick flies the SHIELD self-orbiting attack craft, and heads off into space -- on the outer depth of Earth's atmosphere! The craft's radio-tracer is locked onto the complex, and Nick has to figure out a way to get aboard...

Once his ship's speed is adjusted to that of the satellite, Nick has donned a spacesuit, and has five minutes to find the complex's airlock... then stop The Hate-Monger before the bomb is dropped!

Figuring that it's 11:30pm, Nick has to move fast-- if he is to have a chance to stop them! As he discards his spacesuit, he is spotted, and two of The Hate-Monger's men leap onto him! Using a judo throw, he dislodges them, and then uses a left hook to flatten one of them.

He slams the man against his fellow agent, then Nick realizes that he has only twenty minutes left. If he doesn't manage to find the control room, then ten million people will die! As the head of SHIELD runs down the corridor, one of his assailants regains his senses, long enough to sound the alarm!

"Fury!" The Hate-Monger yells out the name of his expected guest, and soon to be a departed one. The scanner operator asks him if troops should be deployed to kill the SHIELD agent, especially since he is their most dangerous foe,and it wouldn't be smart for him to have the run of the place. The Hate-Monger is determined that Fury will die by his own hand, and he has devised the means to do so.

The Hatemonger's men swarm over Nick, and their orders that he be taken alive is unfortunately not applicable to them, as The SHIELD agent's blaster takes down one of their own men! Nick's left wrist is caught in an agent's grip, and is seems like it will be snapped off! He manages to brace himself and dislodge them by using a backflip!

Unfortunately, he is hit from behind with a blaster. The four men carry Nick to The Hate-Monger, where the madman is confident that the superiority of his people has been proven! Nick Fury is to be instrumental in his plan to destroy all the inferior races of Earth!

Fury is to be prepared for his final mission -- while The Hate-Monger savors the glory of the moment... the moment which will make him mankind's savior! By the erradication of the human race, he can establish his own master race! With New York's destruction, all of the other nations will rage against one another... and the nuclear winter will be Earth's final season, while The Hate-Monger and his new colony will exist on the satellite. They will return to the world when the fallout has been cleared, and establish their own population... leading the world on its intended destiny! As soon as it is midnight, Nick Fury will take his final journey, and aboard the craft, is the germ bomb which will destroy the citizens of New York!

The Hate-Monger pulls the lever, and Nick's craft is sent from the launching control pad... heading for its fateful appointment with Earth! Nick sees the planet beneath him, and he knows that the craft is entering the atmosphere... where if the heat doesn't get him, the bomb's explosion will! The craft begins re-entry, and he realizes that the craft was built to withstand the fiery conditions. The missile continues its plummeting course with Earth, while a tracking craft monitors its progress, and the pilot's duty is to make sure it goes off on target!

The two tracking crafts prepare for one last pass, and one heads towards Nick's ship, so close that he can read the other man's lips! The pilot knows that Nick Fury has escaped from them before, and this time they must make sure he's aboard! So intent is the pilot on his approach, that he doesn't see the speeding object which passes between them... so fast it was almost invisible! This distracts the pilot long enough for his observation craft to collide with the bomb... WHOOM!

All that is left is the pilot pod, which is where Nick is strapped inside, and the germs will spread out, only to die in the thin oxygen. Thinking of a way to save himself, Nick finds the ejector seat button, and trips it with his foot! He frees himself from the ropes, and finds a manual parachute! Nick hopes to land somewhere soft... and the East River is a cold destination, but it sure beats the top of The Empire State Building! As he falls towards the chilly landing, the harbor police roll in, and pull him out before he freezes!

Nick thanks the captain and is greeted by a SHIELD agent, who tells him that they want to celebrate Christmas with him at headquarters, but he has his own plans. The harbor captain and The SHIELD agent watches as Nick heads off, and the captain wonders why a man who saved the world is so concerned about a private party. The SHIELD agent knows that with Nick Fury, he has his own reasons, and they wouldn't have him any other way. After a ride across town, Nick enters the apartment, and sees Laura asleep on the couch. She rises at the sound of his voice, and his kiss. It's Christmas morning, and Laura's glad to see Nick. The day passes, and he assures her that it was just routine business. Laura Brown believes him, and figures that even world conquerors have to take the day off for Christmas! To her, the sunrise means good will to men, and how for one day, the world seems to be without the scourge of evil! It doesn't seem possible that anyone could do evil on such a day, and Nick agrees, while wondering just what it was that caused the pilot to hit him! He hesitates and then admits that there must be a Santa Claus!

The cover features unusual decorations, with images of Nick, his SHIELD car, Laura Brown, and The Hate-Monger (who is wearing his all-concealing mask).

On the splash page, we're treated to the calligraphy of the late, great Artie Simek! The "Night" is alive with the buildings and people of New York.

I first read this story in the 1975 Marvel Treasury Edition devoted to Christmas.

Frank Springer and Johnny Craig present a SHIELD director who's ready for action, and thanks to Gary Friedrich, it is truly a gripping tale.

When I think of Crime Comics, I think of Johnny Craig, the fine E.C. artist, who was in his element, and inked Springer superbly, as each man played to the other's strengths. For those expecting Steranko, the two artists gave readers a great Christmas present.

I'm particularly fond of the panels where Nick is lighting a fire, mixing some drinks, and dimming the lights. If this were an E.C. story, a murder would be committed, but thankfully, all is calm... all is bright.

Who wouldn't want to drive a SHIELD car with anti-grav wheels? It would make a commuter's nightmare a dream, by comparison.

Jasper Sitwell is minding the store, while Nick is getting all the action.

For some reason, The Hate-Monger's mouth is visible, and his mask only covers the upper part of his face.

Nick is saved when a fast-moving object, too speedy to be clearly seen, causes the pilot to crash into his ship. Could it have been Santa, or did Superman or The Flash pay an unauthorized visit to The Marvel Universe during one of their annual races?

Steve Chung
"Twas The Review Before Christmas"