Iron Man: “He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets.” – The Avengers (2012)
A man wearing an eyepatch observes an array of monitors. He sees The Avengers fighting the Masters of Evil. On another monitor, he watches his troops in a pitched battle with HYDRA and AIM. A third monitor shows riots in the streets as angry mobs hunt mutants. Another shows the POTUS threatening Latveria with nuclear war for Doctor Doom’s transgressions.
The man sighs. “Some days, it just don’t pay to get outta bed,” Nick Fury grumbles.
Nick Fury is Marvel’s signature super spy. He’s fought in World War II, become Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and once hunted Godzilla. So who is he? How is he young despite fighting in WWII? Why is he white in comics, but African-American in the movies? Let’s find out.
Howling Commandos: Nick Fury’s Backstory
J. Jonah Jameson: “What is this place?!”
Nick Fury: “Welcome to Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division. We call it S.H.I.E.L.D.” – Spider-Man “Day of the Chameleon” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Nick Fury first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 in 1963. He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to win a bet with Marvel editor Martin Goodman. Fury’s design and squad drew inspiration from DC Comics’ series Boy Commandos, Sgt. Rock, and the real 101st Airborne Division, colloquially known as the Screaming Eagles.
An Army lieutenant who saw Nick’s wing walking act at a circus recruited him. Fury excelled at army training and was soon given command of a squad of misfits. He nicknamed the ethnically-integrated squad The Howling Commandos and led them throughout WWII.
The Commandos fought alongside contemporary heroes like Captain America, Wolverine, and The Invaders. They fought against the creations of Dr. Zola, Hitler’s protege the Red Skull, and Fury’s archenemy, Baron Strucker.
Nick Fury became a secret agent in 1968. Stan Lee says the change was to cash in on the popularity of James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Fury started as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and eventually rose to become its Director.
Original Sin: Nick Fury’s History
Nick Fury: “I’ve killed… More times than I can count. I’ve burned worlds. Destabilized galaxies. Dethroned gods. And I did it without any of them even knowing my name. That’s what it means to be the Man on the Wall. To be the invisible monster who keeps the other monsters at bay.” – Original Sin #5
Nick Fury was ousted from S.H.I.E.L.D. after brainwashing several heroes into attacking Doctor Doom’s home in Latveria. The Latverians launched a retaliatory strike that devastated America. While on the run, Fury assembled a team called the Secret Avengers to perform black ops.
Fury eventually learned he had a long lost son named Marcus Johnson, who looks suspiciously like Samuel L. Jackson with an eye patch. Fury convinced his son, now calling himself Nick Fury Jr., to join S.H.I.E.L.D. As a bonus, Fury Jr. convinced his friend Phil Coulson to join as well. How convenient for Marvel.
In 2014’s Original Sin, Nick Fury killed a cosmic entity called The Watcher. Readers learned that Fury is “The Man on The Wall”, an assassin who killed anything that threatened Earth. Fury committed countless crimes as the Man on the Wall, including torture, execution, and genocide. The Watcher’s species punished Fury by changing him into a being called The Unseen and forcing him to take the Watcher’s role.
Super Spy: Nick Fury’s Powers and Personality
[An agent learns he is a robot.]
Dum Dum Dugan: “You want to kill threats to humanity, Nicky? Maybe you shoulda started with yourself!”
Nick Fury: “Duly noted. You done?”
Dugan: “Yeah, I’m done. [puts a gun to his head] If you were ever my friend…don’t bring me back this time. Let me go. Let all this go. Don’t nail anyone else to your damned wall. Tim Dugan died thinking you were a good guy, Nick. It’s not too late to be that guy again.”
Fury: “I’m sorry, Dum Dum. But that’s not how the world works.” – Original Sins: “How the World Works”
Nick Fury is an expert martial artist and has mastered several weapons. He’s trained as an Army Ranger, a paratrooper, demolitions expert, and Green Beret. He also uses the Infinity Formula serum to keep his body in prime shape, effectively making him immortal.
As Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury had access to gadgets James Bond would kill for, including bulletproof suits, flying cars, flying battleships called Helicarriers, and an army of robotic duplicates called Life Model Decoys. The LMDs are indistinguishable from Fury and possess superhuman abilities. They provide a good excuse if Fury “dies” during a story.
Nick Fury spent decades cultivating a tough but ultimately heroic image. He is a manipulative Knight Templar who won’t hesitate to kill threats. He often expresses remorse for his actions, but only to assuage his guilt.
The Actors who play Nick Fury
Nick Fury made his TV debut in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, voiced by character actors Philip Abbott and Jack Angel. This version of Fury also cameoed in several concurrent Marvel shows. Musician Jim Byrnes voiced Fury in X-Men: Evolution. Alex Desert voiced Fury in Wolverine and the X-Men and reprised the role for Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Finally, Chi McBride voiced Nick Fury in Ultimate Spider-Man.
Knight Rider’s David Hasselhoff starred in 1998’s Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a made-for-TV movie.
In 2000, Marvel asked to use Samuel L. Jackson’s likeness for Nick Fury in their Ultimate Marvel imprint. Jackson agreed on the condition that he got to play Nick Fury in any movies Marvel made with the character. He got his wish in 2008’s Iron Man, appearing in a post-credits scene. He has since appeared in seven of the seventeen Marvel Cinematic Universe and cameoed in the spinoff television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury next appears in 2019’s Captain Marvel.
Didya get all that?
Earth’s personal S.H.I.E.L.D.