1. First things first, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate.
(In Iron Man, Agent Coulson says he’s with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. That’s the first of many differences between the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the comic books and the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the film and TV universe.)
2. S.H.I.E.L.D. was formed by an Army colonel named Nick Fury after World War II.
…with some help from the United Nations, of course. The organization was originally formed to combat a group called HYDRA, a terrorist organization assembled from what remained of the Axis powers. Fury got his started with a group called the Howling Commandos during World War II.
3. Artist Jim Sterenko started doing art for Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1966, and the series became known for Sterenko’s striking, psychedelic style.
4. The Nick Fury of the comic books is not the Nick Fury you know and love from the films.
The original Nick Fury was, most notably, a white dude. Like Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the comic book Fury is missing his left eye. In fact, pretty much every Nick Fury is missing that left eye.
5. David Hasselhof once played him in a made-for-TV movie called Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D..
(The movie is apparently really bad.)
6. There are other Nicks Fury as well.
The most notable is the Nick Fury of the alternate “Ultimates” universe, who was designed to resemble Samuel L. Jackson. Marvel also recently introduced Nick Fury, Jr. (son of the original Nick Fury), who was also created to have a comic book analogue for the popular Nick Fury character of the film and TV universe.
7. There are also a ton of other versions of Nick Fury, because comic books are crazy and full of alternate dimensions and timelines.
10. In the comic books, Nick Fury started S.H.I.E.L.D. and ran it most of the time, but some other notable characters have held the reins as well.
Fury was in charge of the organization up until he started a secret war this one time. After Fury left command, a number of others controlled the organization for a while, including Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), Norman Osborn (aka Green Goblin), and Maria Hill (who was played by Cobie Smulders in the films.)
11. Writer Jonathan Hickman implied that S.H.I.E.L.D. even has roots all the way back in the 16th century, and that Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were among its founding members. (Also, Michelangelo is a glowing, time-jumping super-being, so…)
Here they are fighting Renaissance Galactus.
12. In the film universe, it’s not clear how S.H.I.E.L.D. gets started, but Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, is involved in its creation.
A new Marvel short called Agent Carter reveals that Peggy Carter (played by Haley Atwell) from Captain America: The First Avenger becomes one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first agents after World War II.
13. Agent Phillip Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) started his fictional life as a creation for the film universe, but was recently added to the comic book universe as well.
In the comic books, Agent Coulson fought alongside Nick Fury, Jr. in the Army. Like his film counterpart, the comic book Coulson was responsible for assembling a team of the Avengers. (Unlike the film Coulson, however, the comic book Coulson was only responsible for creating a team known as the Secret Avengers, not the Avengers Avengers.)
14. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will feature Agent Coulson (who has miraculously returned from his apparent death in The Avengers) and a number of agents who are new to the Marvel universe.
16. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will pick up where the Marvel film universe left off in The Avengers and Iron Man 3.
In Iron Man 3, we were introduced to Extremis, which is capable of giving normal people super powers. It’s been speculated that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will follow Coulson and his agents as they find (and recruit?) new super-powered heroes and villains. Like the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the comic books, the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the TV series will likely deal with Earth’s more real-world threats.
17. The S.H.I.E.L.D. of the comic books has had some notable members of their own, including Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, both of whom made appearances in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Both characters got their start in Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos during World War II. Like most comic book characters, both have made it to the modern era due to crazy circumstances like time travel and cryogenics.
18. S.H.I.E.L.D. is also responsible for a lot of pretty interesting technology in the Marvel Universe, such as their signature Helicarrier, which you saw in The Avengers.
At one point, while Tony Stark was in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., he made his own Helicarrier that he painted red and gold to resemble his Iron Man armor.
19. S.H.I.E.L.D. also pioneered the technology behind Life Model Decoys, and is capable of creating robotic duplicates of people.
The LMDs are a common go-to for bringing back characters that have been killed off, which may explain the return of Agent Phil Coulson in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
20. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s success has led to a lot of off-shoots and imitators. Here are a few:
Each group serves its own purpose. A.R.M.O.R. was formed to fight paranormal threats in the Marvel Zombies series, H.A.M.M.E.R. was formed while the villain Norman Osborn was in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., and S.W.O.R.D. is responsible for monitoring threats from space and extraterrestrial planets.