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Strange Tales 137
"The Prize Is... Earth!"



(Originally Reviewed On 03/14/02)

On the cover, Nick Fury and his fellow agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, find themselves with guns blazing, against the backdrop of a missile base, and the ominous shadow of The Imperial Hydra!

In the communication center of S.H.I.E.L.D., Colonel Nick Fury is seen on the multi-imaging screen, commanding all units to abandon all their other missions, for Hydra is preparing to launch an all-out attack on the various nations of the world, and now... Hydra is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s prime target!

Colonel Fury has just entered a captured Hydra saucer-ship, in the aero-research lab at S.H.I.E.L.D., impressed by the technology and aware that it must have cost a fortune, but the sinister organization doesn't seem to be missing it! Thus far, no one has seen the members of Hydra without their masks and lived to tell about it! Even those loyal to the organization have no knowledge of the true identity of The Supreme Hydra. Nick is escorted to the weapons design department, not too eager to the idea of being under watchful protection, but the order has come from capitol hill, and there's a million dollar reward for his head, which leaves the Colonel wondering just how much the rest of him would fetch, as well? Entering the room, Nick finds himself in a tailor shop, which is in reality the weapons design division, and the tailor assures Colonel Fury that he'll find the new styles much to his liking.

He is shown a hat, which contains a concealed plastic mirror under the brim, enabling him to see possible pursuers. A tie's design is actually a printed radio circuit, with a built-in microphone on the reverse side. The tie can be destroyed by pulling an off-color thread, releasing a chemical which burns upon contact with air! The shirt is in actuality a high explosive, with specially treated fibres. It can be torn into strips and can destroy any object it is wrapped around... once it's been exposed to heat! The shirt is tied around a piece of metal, and after Nick lights it with his cigarette lighter, the metal block explodes!

Nick is told to try on a suit, and in the dressing room, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is unable to tell the difference between these clothes and those sold off the rack. Smiling in the mirror, Nick knows that he won't give Cary Grant much competition, but he frowns, hearing some movement behind the mirrors! The next moment finds the glass rising, and Nick Fury caught in a crossfire of machineguns! The smiling tailor emerges and asks Nick if he's satisfied with his new outfit, and the colonel realizes that the men were indeed firing live ammo, and he has not so much as a scratch! The suit is woven of flexible steel, the end result of years of research, and if he is ever captured by the enemy, they would not realize that his wardrobe is a best-dressed defense!

At a train station in the Balkans, a courier carrying a microfilm to SHIELD is shot by a Hydra agent posing as a flower vendor, and in that moment, as the train begins to pull out of the station, the courier manages to hand off the film to a SHIELD agent, who reaches for it from a window! Realizing that the assassin saw the victim pass off the film, the agent initializes Emergency Plan X3, and knows that Hydra won't stop until they've retrieved the microfilm. Above the train, two jet-copters alight, and soon, Hydra agents descend onto the train, knowing that failing to retrieve the microfilm means their very lives!

The hordes of Hydra fan out, searching every compartment, and within the SHIELD agent's compartment, he manages to hand off the microfilm to a speeding car, driven by fellow agents, who are told that he'll hold off their pursuers for as long as he can. Turning from the window, the SHIELD agent draws his gun and greets his uninvited guests! The two SHIELD agents see a Ferrari following them, and knowing that soon, others will join in the chase, the agents activate the car's submarine-mode, and head to sea!

The drivers of the green Ferrari contact the Hydra Undersea Assault Force, and from a domed-structure located beneath the sea, a group of heavily-armed Hydra frogmen make their way to the underwater vehicle, whose steering mechanism has gone out of control! Knowing that escape is impossible, and that their car will be taken to Hydra's lab for study, the agents press the destruct button! At SHIELD headquarters, Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones witness the final act of the two SHIELD agents, just as Nick enters and asks about the mission's progress... ending with the loss of three agents and a spool of microfilm.

Clenching his fist, the colonel knows that the agents' sacrifice must not be in vain, and that SHIELD must learn what was on the microfilm. Pressing a button on the wall, Nick shows Dugan and Jones a diagram of the Betatron Bomb, which is to be launched by Hydra, and upon which the sinister organization plans to conquer the world! Gabe realizes that the microfilm must contain the location of the launch site, which they could smash! Even without such knowledge, it's up to them to stop Hydra. Pressing the button on a cabinet, Nick's desk slides over to one side, revealing a hidden passageway, which will lead to a trip to the Balkans. SHIELD's scientists figure that the launch site must be somewhere in the Balkans, which is their destination, and when Gabe points out that it's quite a bit of area to cover, Nick asks if he has any better ideas, then all three enter the waiting pneumatic car! The ride takes them to SHIELD's secret airport, and eighteen minutes later, outside of Baltimore, Colonel Fury and the others are greeted, then led to their waiting plane.

The Intercontinental Ballistics Plane is similar in appearance to the B-70, achieving speeds of 5,000 miles per hour by soaring to the edge of space, where there is no wind resistance. Colonel Fury and his men waste no time in boarding the plane, which begins to climb towards the stratosphere, its rockets igniting, and the craft becomes a supersonic missile, soaring through the confines of space! At the apex of its angle, the plane noses down, and has made the crossover to Europe in a matter of minutes. A two-star general tells Colonel Fury that they'll be in the Balkans in eight minutes, and the head of SHIELD asks him what he's crowing about if the plane is doin' all the work? Dugan can't believe how Nick is talking to the two-star, while Gabe points out that being head of SHIELD makes Nick answerable only to the commander-in-chief.

At a board meeting in one of the most powerful corporations, Leslie Farrington accepts the board's offer to serve as board chairman for the coming year, then adjourns the meeting. As the board members of Imperial Industries depart for their own offices, Farrington tells his assistant, Brown, to dig up some information on his fellow board members, without their knowledge, of course. The small, bespectacled man nods at his understanding of this clandestine assignment. Later, in a suite of the executive offices of Imperial Industries, a hand presses a hidden button, which opens a secret door, where unseen by others, the man changes into the uniform of The Imperial Leader of Hydra! He knows that the time has come for the launching of the Betatron Bomb, which will give him mastery over the Earth! At the bottom of the narrow stairway, he is greeted by the hordes of Hydra, who present him with his panther...

The three Hydra agents who recovered the microfilm from SHIELD are rewarded with sacks of money, while The Imperial Hydra points out that failure would be rewarded just as swiftly, and just as generously. The complete conquest and domination of the world is Hydra's goal, and once that is accomplished, they will achieve power even beyond their most wildest dreams! Four Hydra agents come forth, reciting Hydra's oath... "Hail Hydra! Immortal Hydra! We Shall Never Be Destroyed! Cut Off A Limb And Two More Shall Take Its Place! We Serve None But The Master! As The World Shall Soon Serve Us! Hail Hydra!" Within the personal quarters of The Imperial Hydra, he is told that Special Agent "G" wishes to see him, and so, The Imperial Hydra watches as Agent "G" removes her mask, and stands before him... as his daughter! Grateful for a chance to remove what she considers to be a hideous mask, the girl is chided by her father, who tells her that if another has said that, he would pay for those words with his life!

The girl can only wonder why her father would want to conquer the world, and is stunned to hear that he is doing all of this for her. She tells him that she wants a normal life, like any other girl. The Imperial Hydra tells his daughter to be silent, for even she may pay for such rash comments. Her mother died in poverty, and it was then that the man who would become The Imperial Hydra vowed to give her everything that her mother never had. The girl wonders about the price, the lives that would be affected, and the devastation. The Imperial Hydra is confident that his plan will succeed, and Hydra will rule the world. The girl asks her father about those who inhabit the world, about their opposition and about... SHIELD! With The Betatron Bomb in orbit, it will be as The Sword of Damocles above all of Earth, with his will commanding it to fall! A moment which he plans to share with his daughter when he becomes the conqueror. In the Balkans, The Betatron Bomb is launched, with the agents at the missile base confident that none on Earth can stop them now! Only an agency dedicated to battling Hydra stands in their way, and as long as they live, the battle will go on!

As Steranko would later do, Severin makes the headquarters law-enforcement division supreme!

The communications center of SHIELD is similar to the one seen in the movie, "Dr. No."

Another tailor who would be more than he seemed would be one by the name of Gambi. From The Rogues Gallery to Black Lightning, those of his profession would be known as the brave little tailor.

Intrigue on a train and a helicopter chase would be seen in "From Russia With Love."

An amphibious auto would be seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me."

The I.B.P. would be the initials of a weapon that the animated '60s Spider-Man would use on one Dr. Humperdinck Dumpty... a special webbing known as instant banana peel!

Hydra's oath would be heard again in issues of Daredevil, when The Man Without Fear would find himself up against the hordes of Hydra in issues written by Tony Isabella.

Steve Chung
"The Prize Is... Review!"