Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Appearing weekly is a column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column is called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics. This week is slightly different from the norm, as Tedd decided to profile a specific comic book legend in Nick Fury.

Colonel Nick Fury

The man in charge (until recently): Fury is (was, depending on whether you read Marvel comics or Ultimate Marvel comics) the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division). When S.H.I.E.L.D. was originally introduced, it was kind of like what you always imagined the CIA and the FBI were like when you were younger and didn’t really have a good sense of political issues, cultural differences, and civil rights (see Team America: World Police). While S.H.I.E.L.D. started off as a less-than subtle anti-communist James Bond fanboy wet dream, complete with the obligatory flying aircraft carrier and authorization to carry out UN policy with military force, the concept has blossomed into one of the most intriguing aspects of the Marvel Universe’s landscape. Nowadays, S.H.I.E.L.D. acts kind of like a liaison between the Super-Human community and the UN’s political leaders.

Consequently, when Nick Fury showed up in a Marvel comic (and oh, he did [does], every eight to twelve issues of any given comic), the characters, and you, the reader, were always left guessing as to what kind of role he and S.H.I.E.L.D. were going to play. Sometimes they show up to draft heroes into military-like service, sometimes to reprimand characters for interfering with the world political landscape, and sometimes they’re just genuinely trying to stop the bad guys. Of course S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fury himself, aren’t above misleading and outrightly exploiting the sometimes na├»ve apolitical super-heroes you loved- after all, protecting the free world isn’t about running around in tights, it’s about dirty, dirty politics and military service.

In most stories, Fury growled a few warnings at the Avengers or the Fantastic Four between cigar chomps, but ends up looking the other way for any legal transgressions for the greater good, emphasizing his whole “heart of gold” archetype. However, Fury recently lost his position at S.H.I.E.L.D. and his good standing with…pretty much anyone with a cape and a secret identity, after the painful and amoral events of Civil War (written by Bendis…and beautifully drawn, I might add). Essentially, Fury assembled a crew of big name Marvel characters for what he claimed was a typical S.H.I.E.L.D. “black op” into Latveria (a fictional European country that is frequently lorded over by fan favorite Victor Von Doom). Fury reveals evidence to the series characters’ that the Latverian prime minister has been providing many American super-villains with illegal technology. But as the series goes along, it becomes clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t authorized anything Fury is doing. Once he essentially nukes the country’s capital building (Castle Doom) from the inside out, Fury sees about having the memories of his comrades erased. Needless to say, a furious Wolverine sinking his claws into Fury’s rib cage and screaming “YOU DON’T MESS WITH MY HEAD” about sums up the super-hero community’s reaction.

What you might not know: Fury isn’t dead, despite the aforementioned skewing at the hands of ol’ canucklehead. S.H.I.E.L.D. The guy has a huge slew of near-identical disposable robot duplicates that he frequently sends into situations that he knows he wouldn’t walk away from alive (the above example being one of them), what S.H.I.E.L.D. calls Life Decoy Models (L.D.M.) and what I might call A Writing Gimmick (A.W.G.). Of course, the presence of L.D.M.’s is fascinating when you stop and think about it for a minute- for example, how many Marvel Comics characters think they’ve met Fury face to face but never really have? How would you know? If some HYDRA agent took Fury out, would S.H.I.E.L.D. just leave a L.D.M. in his place? Would you even know he died? Etc.

Well, provided that the Fury in the comics is the Fury (Jessica Drew a.k.a. Spider-Woman acknowledges that L.D.M.’s “smell different” as compared to the real thing), you might be interested to know that the guy is nearly eighty years old. A World War II veteran, Fury actually knew and fought with Cap when Cap was just starting out- in the interim, Fury started using an experimental drug: the Infinity Formula (which has slowed his aging to almost nil). Fury has taken so much of the drug that his body actually produces it- while he probably isn’t what you think of as immortal, you could actually think of extended-longevity as his super-power, if you will. You know, besides being the cigar-chomping tough-as-nails bad-ass that he is, which, depending on who you ask, beats most super-powers any day of the week.

Believe it or not, Fury’s now deceased brother, Jacob, went by the supervillain alias Scorpio (I’m pretty sure he was part of this big group of bad guys I remember who were astrologically themed. The thing was there was a villain for EVERY sign. Seriously. So there’d be like a panel of Cap or Thor yelling out ALL of their names in surprise like “Aquarius! Taurus! Libra! Virgo!” etc. Not the most creative idea Marvel ever generated, but a couple of them have stuck around as solo acts, most notably Libra- check out Avengers Forever if you want more info, great series). At some point, Jacob committed suicide, shooting himself in the head- however, Fury’s illegitimate son Mikel actually stepped into the role (his mother, Amber D’Alexis was this kind of James Bond-esque character who dealt illegal weapons, but fell in love with Fury while he was investigating her operation…oh, you get this idea). Eventually, he actually became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent himself, although he remains somewhat estranged from his father.

Fury is the consummate man-with-no-name soldier type (yes, I see the contradiction in what I just wrote- but his work is his life and his life is his work, and that work is being a soldier). He’s in peak physical condition and is skilled in martial arts and all sorts of ridiculous fictional weaponry. He’s also an expert pilot and he was actually part of an airplane wing-walking act before WWII. These days, he’s underground and has little contact with anyone, wanted for something of an atrocity himself. Whether he ends up back in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. or in prison is anyone’s guess at this point.

Suggested Reading:

Civil War (as noted above)

New Avengers Volume 3- Secrets and Lies (explains his relationship with Jessica Drew and her whole double-agent status thing)

Ultimates (For the Samuel L. Jackson incarnation of Fury, who’s a little less grizzled and a little more suave, but still a lot bad-ass)

Secret Invasion (looks like the man is back on the scene as a big player in Marvel’s latest big-ass crossover)

Fury and Fury: Peacemaker (By Garth Ennis. In a word- brutal, but a fitting portrait of a man who’s watched the world, and war, roll forward, unrelenting).