Some Thoughts On Nick Fury

So I’ve been reading KIRBY: KING OF COMICS by Mark Evanier again, the story of Jack Kirby’s life and works in comics.  Kirby ended up being the architect or progenitor of almost every major comic property MARVEL produced.  It’s a book I’ve owned for a while but rarely read because it’s just such a heart-breaking story.  

 
Kirby:King Of Comics - Mark Evanier



Jack Kirby (1917 – 1994), born Jacob Kurtzberg

It’s common knowledge to most comics fans that the MARVEL character The Thing (the orange, rock-covered bruiser with a sensitive soul from The Fantastic Four) was based on Jack Kirby; he shared his speech, his background and his attitude. Essentially, The Thing is how Kirby thought of himself.

But what most don’t know, and I only recently started thinking about deeply, is that there is another very notable MARVEL character that also has a deep relationship to Jack… Nick Fury. 

Fury had already been in comics, with two working eyes and no patch, as leader of The Howling Commandos before he became the super spy he is now. Like most men of his era, Kirby himself had fought in World War 2 and it’s well documented that his experiences fighting informed and inspired much of his work. So much so that in the case of Nick Fury, that was Jack.

From 1963 to 1964, Jack drew eight of the first thirteen issues, tapping into his endless cache of World War II memories and fashioning the lead character, the cigar-chomping Sgt. Nick Fury, on himself.

- Mark Evanier, KIRBY KING OF COMICS

The Howling Commandos went on to success but to most people that’s not the Nick Fury we know of today. That incarnation of Fury as international secret agent of SHIELD came after in Strange Tales #135 (Aug. 1965). This excerpt from KIRBY:KING OF COMICS explains the background…

He (Kirby) began to have problems with one eye- a condition that would be a constant concern. It would be years before it impacted his drawing, but he didn’t know that at the time and it worried him greatly. If he couldn’t see, he couldn’t draw… and if he couldn’t draw, he couldn’t bring home that all-important paycheck.

No one at Marvel knew about his slowly worsening vision. One day, he met with Stan to discuss an idea that had come up: a “super spy” feature built around present day (starring Nick Fury), and to differentiate it from the older Fury, Stan suggested giving the character an eyepatch.

Kirby was stunned. Here he was, worried about losing the use of an eye, and a character he viewed as his alter-ego had just lost an eye. Life immitating art immitating life he called it.

He increasingly asked Marvel for some sort of long-term financial security - something with health insurance and maybe a pension. “We’ll discuss it,” they told him, but they never seemed willing to actually discuss it. Still, he spoke of “trying to build Marvel into something.” Still, there was a steadfast belief that the company’s financial success would trickle down his way.

Now of course, millions of people know Nick Fury as the Samuel L Jackson lookalike from more recent MARVEL ULTIMATE comics dealing with an alternate timeline. Even more people only know him from the MARVEL movies as… literally Samuel L Jackson. Currently a character claiming to be Nick Fury’s son Marcus Johnson, coincidentally a man with a strong similarity to Jackson, has been introduced to the comics. With Nick Fury retiring, Johnson has now taken up his role and (because this is super-hero comics) has also taken up the name of Nick Fury. And then this new guy Coulson shows up…

Is that a case of DISNEY/MARVEL consolidating the image of the character over their various media properties? Probably. Does this mean Samuel L Jackson’s portrayal in the movies (based on Ultimate Nick Fury) will become the dominant image of the character? Probably. Does this make business sense? Again, probably.

Ok so yes, the original Fury still exists and will most likely be used again because this is corporate super-hero comics and every asset gets used as much as possible. And yes, making Fury black adds racial diversity to a mostly white cast of heros, which is a noble ideal that I’m all for. But so would, and I’m just putting this out there, inventing new characters with diverse backgrounds. Or using more of the ones they already have. Race-swapping should be at the bottom of a list of way more creative options. And don’t even act like a Luke Cage or Black Panther film wouldn’t be the hot shit. And before you say “oh it wouldn’t sell to Hollywood”, or “they’re not well known characters to the public” I have one word for you… BLADE.  

A lot’s been said about how Kirby probably never got his rightful share of profits or credit from the characters and stories he created, even having to fight to get his own artwork back, and other people way more informed than me have dealt with that issue better than I ever could. He did a lot for the company, he asked for some back, he didn’t get it. MARVEL made a billion dollars from The Avengers movie that the Kirby family will probably never see any of and I think that’s sad. Ultimately though, I’m just another artist and fan who’s heard a few horror stories about US comic industry bullshit that have nothing to do with me.

Racial diversity in media and creators-rights in comics are huge topics, and huge arguments, but neither are what I’m really getting at here. I’ll bring it back to what made me start writing this in the first place. What this whole bout of mini-melancholy I went through is all about. It’s this small line from KIRBY: KING OF COMICS from Jack Kirby himself that makes me sad the most… 

"Nick Fury is how I wish others saw me."

Think about that one for a while.