Sunday, May 09, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #18: Nick Fury

NICK FURY (Marvel)
Real Name: Nicholas Fury
First Appearance: Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #1 (May, 1963)
Group Affiliation: Secret Warriors, SHIELD (former)
Gaming Credentials: The Punisher (1993); The Punisher (2005); Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006); Spider-man: Friend or Foe (2007)Spider-man: Web of Shadows (2008)Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Iron Man 2 (2010); Marvel vs Capcom 3 (TBA); The First Avenger: Captain America (TBA)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #DNR

Iron Man 2 has officially hit cinemas (and consoles) around the globe, and if you're meeting these characters for the first time, you've probably noticed something a little askew about the mugshot of today's Hero of the Week -- Nick Fury's caucasian!

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Nick Fury in the film, elaborating on the brief post-credits cameo he made in the previous movie. This marks the first of a potential nine Marvel movies that will feature Jackson in the role as a lynchpin figure that ties together various properties such as Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, culminating in an ensemble Avengers film with all three. The convergence of film plot lines will probably borrow from the same contemporary resources that gave us Samuel Jackson's version of the character -- the Ultimate Marvel comics.

Nick Fury first appeared in 1963 as a Sergeant leading a ragtag team during the Second World War. This retroactive Marvel history was rapidly followed up with a contemporary equivalent that sought to capitalize on the popularity of secret agents in the mould of James Bond. Thus; Nick Fury's aging has been retarded over time to allow him to remain the stalwart leader of SHIELD -- Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate. It's a role he lost recently in the comics, but is no doubt about to regain as part of Marvel's Heroic Age revamp that reconfirms the heroes of the Marvel Universe after they were scattered by the 2005 Civil War event.

As Director of SHIELD, Fury came to be connected to almost every corner of the Marvel Universe, acting as the gruff watchdog with hidden motives and redtape up the yin yang. So when it came to reinventing Marvel's properties for a contemporary audience in 2000, the Ultimate version of the character was made a fundamental part of the new universe from the beginning. Borrowing liberally from the successful world of cinema and celebrity (inspired by their own entry with Blade and X-Men), Marvel reinvisioned Nick Fury deliberately as a fond reference to Sam Jackson -- making him the destined man to take the role that a few years earlier had been manned in a TV-movie by David Hasselhoff. Strange, but true!

Any more elaboration on the design of the character would be unnecessary, but it's worth explaining for the uninitiated that the Ultimate Marvel universe is completely seperate to the core series. That is to say, Ultimate Avengers exists in the context of the "Ultimate" comics, but New Avengers and similarly titled series are part of the central Marvel Universe, which has been in effect since the sixties (with references dating back to the thirties, ie; Captain America and Sub-Mariner).

Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury isn't the first time superhero comics-to-film adaptations have run across race relations. Tim Burton's reign over the Batman franchise saw Billy Dee Williams take the role of Harvey Dent -- Gotham's District Attorney destined to become the villain, Two-Face, who was made famous in The Dark Knight by Aaron Eckhart. 2003's Daredevil tossed up various ethnic shifts with Michael Clarke Duncan's African-American Wilson Fisk, Colin Farrel's Irish Bullseye, and a less than Greek Jennifer Garner as Elektra. Other examples persist.

It's one of the many underlying motivations that slowly reshapes comic books, reinventing the white-washed origins of 1930s and 1960s superhero comics that were almost exclusively created by pasty Americans and American-Jews. Jackson's Fury benefits from a contrived sourced logic that other examples haven't had, but the irony remains that Iron Man boasts one of the many memorable African-American heroes to come from comics in James Rhodes, aka; War Machine! War Machine already got in on the Iron Man 2 action earlier in the HOTW cycle, late last year.

Nick Fury commands the heroes of Ultimate Alliance from the SHIELD Helicarrier in the hit 2006 game..

Ultimately [pun not intended]; the coexistence of these different versions of a character has been easy to reconcile. It would be insulting if the change were to suddenly erase forty years of history, but the Ultimate Marvel Comics, at least in their inception, set out to create something edgy and new, inspired by the Hollywood world Marvel was just entering in 2000. Unfortunately, that purity of vision has been lost over the last decade, rendering the Ultimate comics nigh irrelevant to any but those who were indoctrinated through them. Never the less, Samuel L Jackson's performance, which should be a persistent part of the movies coming over the next few years, remains a tribute to a brief moment in comic book history.

The original version remains active in the comics, front-and-centre in Marvel's wrapping Siege event that sees Fury, his Secret Warriors, Captain America, and the Avengers throw in with the Norse Gods of Asgard who've come under siege from Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers. This story leads in to Marvel's galvanized version of itself, dubbed the Heroic Age. Nick Fury's also appearing in one of the sleeper hits published by Marvel Comics, Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of our Fathers, which I would recommend strongly for anyone interested in the title heroes, or WWII Nazi fighting superheroics. You'll find more info on these and other comics at

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