S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fictional, comic-book espionage and law-enforcement agency in the Marvel Comics universe. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Strange Tales #135 (Aug. 1965), it often deals with superhuman threats.
The acronym originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division. It was changed in 1991 to Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate. In the 2008 Marvel Studios films Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the acronym stood for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.
Its most persistent enemy is HYDRA, a criminal organization founded (after some retcon) by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. Despite that name's capitalization per Marvel's official spelling, HYDRA is not an acronym but a reference to the mythical monster, symbolizing the organization's claim of growing stronger the more it is wounded.
S.H.I.E.L.D. was presented as an extant, full-blown entity in its first appearance and much retcon over the years filled-in its labyrinthine organizational history. Stan Lee wrote each story, abetted by artist Jack Kirby's co-plotting or full plotting, through Strange Tales #152 (Jan. 1967), except for an issue each scripted by Kirby himself (#148) and by Dennis O'Neil (#149). Following an issue scripted by Roy Thomas (#153), and one co-written by Thomas and new series artist Jim Steranko came the sole-writer debut of soon-to-become industry legend Steranko — who had begun on the feature as a penciller-inker of Kirby layouts in #151 (Dec. 1966), taken over the every-other-issue "Nick Fury" cover art with #153 two months later, and full writing with #155 (April 1967).
Steranko quickly established the feature as one of comics history's most groundbreaking, innovative and acclaimed. The 12-page feature ran through Strange Tales #168 (sharing that "split book" with the occult feature "Doctor Strange" each issue), after which it was spun off onto its own series of the same title, running 15 issues (June 1968 - Nov. 1969), followed by three all-reprint issues beginning a year later (Nov. 1970 - March 1971). Steranko wrote and drew issues #1-3 and #5, and drew the covers of #1-7.
New S.H.I.E.L.D. stories would not appear for nearly two decades after the first solo title. A six-issue miniseries, Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (June-Nov. 1988) was followed by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. vol. 2. This second series lasted 47 issues (Sept. 1989 - May 1993); its pivotal story arc was "the Deltite Affair", in which many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were replaced with Life Model Decoy androids in a takeover attempt.
A year after that series ended, the one-shot Fury (May 1994) retconned the events of those previous two series, recasting them as a series of staged events designed to distract Fury from the resurrection plans of HYDRA head von Strucker. The following year, writer Howard Chaykin and penciler Corky Lehmkuhl produced the four-issue miniseries Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. (April-July 1995). Various publications have additionally focused on Nick Fury's solo adventures, such as the graphic novels and one-shots Wolverine - Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection (1989), Wolverine/Nick Fury: Scorpio Rising (Oct. 1994), Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty and Captain America/Nick Fury: Blood Truce (both Feb. 1995), and Captain America/Nick Fury: The Otherworld War (Oct. 2001)
Usually led by Nick Fury as executive director (although he reports to a twelve-member council, whose identities even he does not know), this organization often operates as much as a covert agency as a quasi-military one, initially depicted as affiliated with the United States government. Later, S.H.I.E.L.D. was depicted as under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, with vast technological resources at its disposal, with U.N. General Assembly Resolutions and legislation passed in signatory nations aiding many of their operations. (However, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been inconsistently portrayed as under U.S., rather than U.N., control, possibly by writers unaware of the agency's fictional history. For instance, in Astonishing X-Men #3, Nick Fury explains S.H.I.E.L.D.'s inaction during an incident of genocide by stating that it did not occur on American soil.)
During the time that Godzilla roamed the United States, S.H.I.E.L.D. formed a subunit, the "Godzilla Squad" to hunt the creature down, until it disappeared into the Atlantic sea. This unit, led by Dum Dum Dugan, employed such weapons as a giant robot called Red Ronin and a smaller version of the Helicarrier, known as The Behemoth.
One of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s unique technological innovations, the LMD (Life Model Decoy) — an extremely lifelike android used to replace people in imminent danger of being killed — was the basis for two major upheavals. First, the supervillain Scorpio stole that technology and used it to create the second team of villains called the Zodiac. Later, some LMDs known as the Deltites achieved sentience and infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., replacing key members, until Fury defeated them. This led to the disbanding of the original organization and its replacement by a new taskforce with the same acronym.
In the wake of a disastrous unauthorized mission in Latveria, in the multi-title story arc "Nick Fury's Secret War", Fury effectively resigned as executive director, with international warrants out for his arrest. His first successor was not one of his closer associates but a relatively unknown newcomer to the S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy, Maria Hill. A transcript of a conversation between Hill and the President of the United States revealed she was chosen for the post by United Nations consensus to keep Fury loyalists out of the job and to keep relations with the superhero community to a minimum. The President also expected Hill — an American — to be loyal first to U.S., despite S.H.I.E.L.D. being a U.N.-chartered organization.
The passage of the United States' Superhuman Registration Act and the subsequent superhero "Civil War" created an additional political and ethical irritant between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the superhuman community, with S.H.I.E.L.D. tasked to lead enforcement and to take on registered superheroes as operatives.
Toward the end of that conflict, Hill concluded she had been made director with the intent that she fail at the job, and she proposes to Tony Stark that he assume the post himself, with her as deputy. Stark accepts the appointment as director upon the conclusion of the superhuman Civil War, and undertakes a series of initiatives, including the construction of a new gold-and-red Helicarrier in the motif of his Iron Man designs, the introduction of a daycare center in the Helicarrier, and an employee suggestion-box. While accused of treating S.H.I.E.L.D. as a Stark Industries subsidiary, he succeeded in streamlining the organization and raising morale. S.H.I.E.L.D. fought a wave of global superhuman terrorism and was manipulated into two international incidents that almost saw Director Stark arrested, until they revealed the Mandarin to be behind it and stopped him from committing genocide with an Extremis pathogen.
At the start of the Secret Invasion by the extraterrestrial shape-shifting race the Skrulls, the Helicarrier was disabled by a Skrull virus and left floating and disabled in the Bermuda Triangle. The Skrulls by this point had already replaced a large number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including the high-ranking Timothy "Dum-Dum" Dugan.
Most of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s agents are normal humans. Years ago the organization attempted to set up a team of superhuman agents, composed of Marvel Man (the future Quasar), Texas Twister, Blue Streak and the Vamp but the last two were secretly agents of the criminal organization called The Corporation, and the team broke apart before it had its first official mission. A second team organized years later also lasted only a short while.
S.H.I.E.L.D. does employ some superhumans, including in its Psi-Division, composed of telepathic agents who deal with like menaces. S.H.I.E.L.D. also obtains help from independent heroes when their special abilities are needed. It has also accepted some superheroes and supervillains as members, but no longer in a separate unit. (See "Membership".)
Its headquarters is the Helicarrier, a massive flying aircraft carrier kept airborne at all times and, among other things, containing a squadron of jet fighters and housing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In addition, S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains strong ties to the superhero community, especially Captain America, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, and often calls upon that community for aid on particular missions.
In the 2000s, depictions of S.H.I.E.L.D. imply a hierarchy of security clearance levels used either in place of, or alongside, the previously described rank structure. The security-clearance hierarchy operates on a scale ranging from "Level One", the lowest, to "Level Ten", described by Maria Hill, executive director at the time, as the highest security clearance anyone of any government can have. Hill's own clearance, cited in the series New Avengers was Level Nine.
The first story arc in the series New Avengers (2005- ), "Breakout", revealed an additional ranking, "Champion Status", that effectively removes them from the traditional S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy and, as Captain America comments, gives status-holder such as himself the right to assemble any team to carry out any mission he believes necessary. In addition Nick Fury is the only "33rd-degree" S.H.I.E.L.D officer, meaning he is the only member of S.H.I.E.L.D, present or past, to know the full existence of 28 emergency, covert, back-up bases scattered across the globe.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. Flying Car is the standard issue S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle.
Nick Fury has often carried his personal .15 caliber handgun, a needle gun which fires explosives.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. regulation issue weapons are a plasma beam handgun, and a .30 caliber rapid fire automatic machine pistol.
Throughout its existence, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been most prominently led by Nick Fury, with Maria Hill succeeding him in mid-2000s stories. She voluntarily stepped down in a 2007 story, becoming deputy director to Tony Stark. Other historically prominent members, who have appeared from the earliest stories to the modern day, include Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan and Gabriel "Gabe" Jones, both veterans of Fury's World War II Howling Commandos, though their youthful longevity has not, unlike Fury's, been explained in Marvel continuity; Contessa Valentina Allegra di Fontaine; Clay Quartermain; Jasper Sitwell; and Sharon Carter (Agent 13), all introduced in the 1960s; and Jimmy Woo, introduced in the 1950s comic Yellow Claw and reintroduced in the ' 60s.
Prior to the events of the Civil War, Captain America estimated there to be 3,000 agents on active duty.
Astonishing X-Men vol.3, #6 (Dec. 2004), written by Joss Whedon, introduced the governmental organization S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), which works with S.H.I.E.L.D. but specializes in extraterrestrial threats. Dialogue in the stories depicting both organizations has been ambiguous on whether S.W.O.R.D. is a branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. or a sister agency.
Agent Abigail Brand, the S.W.O.R.D. agent the X-Men encountered, has green hair, a trait typical of agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s archenemy, HYDRA. This unusual characteristic did not go unremarked; Wolverine referred to her as "Hydra-Hair" in Astonishing X-Men vol.3, #6.
A similar group as S.W.O.R.D., likewise affiliated with the U.N., is Starcore, which has worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. on several projects of joint interest, including establishing and maintaining a crewed facility on Earth's Moon.
S.T.R.I.K.E. (Special Tactical Response for International Key Emergencies) was a sister agency to S.H.I.E.L.D., based in the United Kingdom. Disbanded after being infiltrated and taken over by a criminal organization, one of its members was the future X-Man Psylocke. It was introduced in Marvel UK's Captain Britain #17.
In the case of selected French editions, the name of the agency was depicted as S.E.R.V.O., which sounds like "brain" (cerveau) in French.
In Finnish the name that applies to S.H.I.E.L.D. in mainstream Marvel continuity is Y.P.K.V.V. (Ylimmäisen Päämajan Kansainvälisen Vakoilun Vastustamisjaos), a direct translation of the original English. In translations of the Ultimate Marvel comics, the name is K.I.L.P.I., with "kilpi" being the translation for the word (as opposed to the acronym) "shield".
In Greek, the organisation name is Α.Σ.Π.Ι.Δ.Α. (pronounced ASPIDA, meaning "shield" in Greek). The initials stand for Supreme Military and Political Foundation of International Counter-espionage (Ανώτατο Στρατιωτικό Πολιτικό Ίδρυμα Διεθνούς Αντικατασκοπέιας)
In Portuguese, the name S.H.I.E.L.D. remains, but it is translated as "Superintendência Humana de Intervenção, Espionagem, Logística e Dissuasão", i. e., Human Superintendence for Intervention, Espionage, Logistics and Dissuasion.
In Dutch the name S.C.H.I.L.D. (schild = shield) has been used by the publisher Williams, but was dropped by Junior Press in favour of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In Spanish, initial publisher Vértice translated S.H.I.E.L.D. as "Escudo" (always without a determinant), but never showed the meaning. Later publisher Planeta DeAgostini used the name S.H.I.E.L.D., but translating the acronym as "Organización Internacional para la Ejecución y el Cumplimiento de la Ley" (international organisation for implementation and fulfillment of law). It has been suggested, as a joke, that the acronym does not correspond to the meaning because the acronym itself is undercover. Now, Panini translates the acronym as "Servicio Homologado de Inteligencia, Espionaje, Logística y Defensa" (accredited service of intelligence, espionage, logistics, and defense).
In Danish, S.H.I.E.L.D. was originally known as S.K.J.O.L.D., "Skjold" being the Danish word for a shield, though the meaning of the abbreviation would differ.
In the novel Secret of the Sinister Six, S.A.F.E. agent Clyde Fury (no relation to Nick Fury) distinguishes between espionage agencies (such as S.H.I.E.L.D.) and strategic action specialists such as S.A.F.E.
H.A.T.E. stands for the Highest Anti Terrorism Effort. It is a parody of S.H.I.E.L.D. created for Marvel Comic's 12 issue series Nextwave by comics author Warren Ellis. The leader of H.A.T.E., General Dirk Anger is a parody of Nick Fury. This series depicts H.A.T.E. and Dirk Anger in the trademark Warren Ellis style as being a secretive organization with suspect motives led by the madman, Anger, who has self control and sexual issues.
After Ross' apparent death, Nick Fury was then selected as the organization's executive director. His first actions were to shut down Weapon X and resurrect the Super Soldier program, commissioning Dr. Bruce Banner to try to recreate the formula that made Captain America. This failed and resulted in the creation of the Hulk when Banner injected his serum into himself. It was later revealed that the chemical called Oz, which turned Norman Osborn into the Green Goblin, was also created in hopes of recreating the Super Soldier formula. Spider-Man was also a product of the Oz formula. As well, the creation of the Sandman and Electro are due to Hammer Industries attempting to recreate the Super Soldier formula for S.H.I.E.L.D.
S.H.I.E.L.D. later created its own superhero team, the Ultimates. Later still, it brought the X-Men and Spider-Man under S.H.I.E.L.D. jurisdiction. As of Ultimate X-Men #65 (Jan. 2006), S.H.I.E.L.D. severed ties with the X-Men.
In the Ultimate Marvel universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. is controlled entirely by the United States. It maintains ties to a sister organization in Europe, the European Defense Initiative as well as the English operated S.T.R.I.K.E.