Classic Nick Fury will probably never get his due in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Notice I don’t say the Real Nick Fury because for kids who’ve grown up reading the Ultimates stuff or who’ve accepted Samuel L. Jackson’s onscreen portrayal in multiple MCU films as definitive, classic Nick Fury may barely exist, or is just some 20th century relic we aging fanboys can’t let go of for nostalgia’s sake. Even the non-Ultimate Marvel U has found a way to link the new-model Fury with the more Jackson-centric model, by introducing the Colonel’s long-lost son, giving him an eyepatch, and setting him up as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the surprisingly enjoyable “Battle Scars” miniseries.
I wish like hell that I could get on board with this whole Jackson-as-Fury thing, but the fact of the matter is, he remains a weak link for me in all the Marvel movies in which he’s appeared so far. And part of the problem is, beyond how much I might rather have seen a Kurt Russell–who we all know looks badass in an eyepatch–or the less-likely Clint Eastwood take on the role of my beloved grizzled old rat bastard Fury, I would be much more willing to accept Jackson if he actually brought something to the table. Instead, he chooses to base his portrayal in the kind of inert neutrality and blank-slate characterization he brought to his performance as Mace Windu. Now, fan or not, you have to be aware of exactly what Jackson is capable of when he’s not just sleepwalking across the set to wherever they’ve laid his paycheck. Look at what he does as Stephen in “Django Unchained” and tell me the man doesn’t know how to bring the ferocious charisma when he feels like it. It would be so great to see just a little of that in his Nick Fury. Less Ray Arnold from “Jurassic Park,” more Jules Winnfield from “Pulp Fiction.” Some of that edge, that meanness, that lethal wit and wild dangerous eyes. Nick Fury can be any damn race he wants, I think, but two things he should never be: 1) bland, and 2) portrayed by David Hassellhoff.
All that being said, we’re now several movies in and the role is Jackson’s to interpret and define however he wants, and I find myself hoping that since he is the MCU’s Fury, that he’ll actually drop in for a cameo, or even an arc, on the new “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” if that show’s ratings hold and it proves durable and worthy of such a stunt. It would be cool to see, and if the somewhat lackluster, if slightly promising, pilot is any indication, the show could use that kind of shot in the arm. What got me thinking about all of this in the first place was that on the Saturday before the premiere, I came across a discounted copy of the aforementioned “Battle Scars” and devoured it quickly (it’s only four issues, and features a great guest appearance from Deadpool, who I always find much funnier when the book he’s in isn’t meant to be over-the-top comedy). And just days before that, my long-awaited copy of “Fury: My War Gone By Vol. 2” arrived in the mail from Amazon.
Written by Garth Ennis, who’s done such great work in his run with The Punisher, “My War Gone By” is a kind of alternate-history retelling of Fury’s history as a Cold War operative. S.H.I.E.L.D. is never mentioned, nor Captain America, nor Dum-Dum Dugan or the Contessa. Stripped of his usual trappings, Fury becomes a kind of anti-Bond, a disillusioned superspy with an unhealthy thirst for whisky, other men’s wives, and most of all, war. Ennis did a similar deconstruction of Fury and his self-serving, war-mongering agenda several years back, in 2002’s “Fury MAX” but while it’s a reasonably fun and absurdly bloody read, it’s somewhat marred by ill-conceived slapstick moments and lacks the sophistication and attention to real-world detail that makes “My War Gone By” not just cool, but actually thought-provoking and even achingly tragic.
As he’s demonstrated in his Punisher stuff, as well as “Hitman,” “A Man Called Kev,” and other works, Ennis has a seemingly obsessive interest in modern warfare and the kind of men who fight it, especially freelancers and mercenaries. But he is certainly no war fetishizer, as he takes a nuanced view of what it means when a warrior sells out any semblance of his ideals just to keep on finding reasons to fight. This is not a definitive Nick Fury story, by any means, as he’s so removed from his familiar element, and the conclusions Ennis draws about him are so uncomfortable. But he’s using the character here as a metaphor for American interventionism as seen through the lens of a man, and possibly a version of a character, who’s outlasted his usefulness. Of course, we comics fans, not to mention its writers and artists, are a sentimental lot, and it’s likely there are plenty of them who’ll want to keep picking Nick up, dusting him off, and trotting him out for more adventures, no matter how old he gets. So, black or white, bald or graying at the temples, here’s hoping the man with the ubiquitous eyepatch (and you can’t tell me Tony Stark couldn’t build him a perfectly good prosthetic eye by now!) keeps on fighting the good fight.
In the mood for more great Fury stories?: