In honour of S.H.I.E.L.D’s 50th anniversary, we take a take a look at a version of Nick Fury that has slipped under the radar…
Saying the name “Nick Fury” these days makes most people think of one person: Jules Winfield’s balder brother, a distant relation of that guy who got eaten in Deep Blue Sea, that man who just wanted those snakes to get off his plane.
Samuel L. Jackson has nailed the role, to the extent that a convoluted Marvel storyline made the character resemble him in the books – and another version had prophetically looked like him years before SLJ himself popped up at the end of Iron Man. We therefore have much to be thankful for, as anyone saying “My favourite comic book character is Nick Fury,” would only have a lycra-clad David Hasselhoff for reference to the wider populace.
The current “mainstream” Nick Fury in the comics is being brought back into the spotlight – post Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event. There he’s been chained up on the moon for a while (don’t ask), and his old black ops ways are being brought into conflict with his son, Nick Fury Jr – who coincidentally looks like Samuel L. Jackson. It’s all to do with S.H.I.E.L.D’s 50th anniversary, the organisation now home to Fury the younger.
There’s also Ultimate Nick Fury, who was introduced in 2001, four years before Samuel L. Jackson would play him on the big screen, but deliberately drawn to resemble him. This Nick Fury is the one that the movie version is most closely based on – not only in looks. Fury here is the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but has a significant military background, working in the shadows and manipulating events and characters to his own ends. He was last seen preparing for war with the “mainstream” universe as part of Secret Wars.
But there is another version, one not as well known, which is somewhat of Marvel’s dirty little secret, the Nick Fury that they can’t put in a PG rated movie, and one that still has a full head of hair. The more aggressive, uncompromising cousin of the two I’ve already mentioned, from that dark corner of the mind, the MAX universe.
No doubt you’re familiar with arguably it’s most famous incumbent, Frank Castle, but both Deadpool and Nick Fury have had the treatment, with varying degrees of success. The Deadpool incarnation of the imprint has been somewhat hit and miss, and is more politically incorrect than dark and brooding. The Fury miniseries of 2001, by Garth Ennis, reflects his work with The Punisher.
In this universe, Nick Fury is out of step with the modern world, an old time fighter who relies on his smarts and mental toughness (along with his fists), to solve problems of a global nature. He’s a veteran of several wars, the only caveat to his longevity being an experiment carried out on him during the Second World War which has slowed his ageing process. Other than that, this Fury is not a wisecracker, he’s not cool, he’s just very, very angry, and very, very good at what he does.
The original series by Ennis had him trying to stand down an old comrade from starting up his own private war, and was symptomatic of the brutal, graphic violence the writer would come to produce in his Punisher series. Nick Fury here is not so much the master manipulator of the Marvel movie series, he is more of a Black Ops expert, not afraid to go against the orders of his superiors if he feels it gets results.
A classic example is his cameo appearance at the end of the Punisher MAX series in 2012, where Frank Castle, now a wounded, beaten old man, finally succumbed to his injuries after a bloodbath with the Kingpin and his henchmen. In the end, no one turned up to identify the body, no one turned up to show any sympathy for the fallen Punisher, and no one turned up to mourn. Despite this series being written by Jason Aaron, he confidently took on Fury’s presence by showing him turn up at Castle’s autopsy. Not as a friend, or loved, one, but out of respect. Even then, the veteran didn’t have much sympathy for Castle’s crusade, and believed The Punisher had wasted his life when he could have used his expertise on bigger, more global problems. Fury did tie up the loose ends, finishing off Kingpin’s wife, who unbeknownst to Castle had put the whole scheme into operation in the first place. He also saw Castle’s crusade being taken up by the citizens of New York, and perhaps realised that while he didn’t approve of what Castle had done, it did inspire other people, something Fury himself had never done.
Ennis has said he doesn’t really care what other incarnations of the character are (particularly in this interview here), and that he hasn’t paid much attention, if any, to the movie version. He was determined to create a grizzled, angry veteran, that rather than having to live with the consequences of his actions, doesn’t really give a damn what they are if the end justifies the means.
The interesting thing to note, if you’re only familiar with the Ultimate/movie version, is that this Fury is much more comfortable in enjoying himself with members of the opposite sex, barely an issue of Ennis’ work goes by without Fury fighting and doing other things “like a train” as he puts it. In some ways, it’s an effective way of making this Fury just that little bit more human. Less badass, more warhorse. Emphasis on the horse.
Ennis has since returned to the character, recounting Fury’s experiences in 1950’s Indochina, 1960’s Cuba and 1980’s Nicaragua. In this series from 2013, Fury is a serving officer in the US military, learning that every action has a consequence, and that sometime,s to come out the winner, you have to break the rules. He also comes across his eventual protégé Frank Castle, and also another Ennis creation, the infamous Barracuda. The writer is well documented of his love for Goran Parlov’s art, which makes the big mean and nasty guys look even bigger. This series is also about war: It’s showing you what makes Nick Fury the soldier. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to fighting the enemy, who in this case aren’t Skrulls or HYDRA, but opposing armies, terrorists and military brass.
This Nick Fury isn’t the unloved cousin of Big Sam, but rather the less famous one. Years from now, when people say the name, most will still think of the guy from Die Hard with a Vengeance, some will think of The Hoff (probably not that many), but a few of us will know of the cigar chomping, hard drinking, career soldier that Garth Ennis created, and we might just spark up a cigar ourselves in tribute.