Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Black Superheroes: Nick Fury, Jr.

Step 1: Make him black. Step 2: ???
Step 3: New readers, somehow!

Name: Marcus Johnson

First Appearance: Battle Scars #1 (2012)

History: Marcus Johnson lived a relatively normal life. He was raised by a single mother and entered the army out of high school, where he eventually became an Army Ranger. While serving overseas in Afghanistan, he was informed that his mother had been murdered. Returning the Untied States for the funeral, Marcus was ambushed by assassins and the super criminal mercenary known as the Taskmaster, the same people who killed his mom. While he was rescued by SHIELD and Captain America, he was deliberately not told why he and his mother had been targeted. Soon Johnson was attacked again only to be saved by the man revealed to be his long-lost father, none other than former Director of SHIELD Nick Fury. In the ensuing adventure, the two teamed up, got captured, Johnson lost his eye during torture (and it just happened to be the exact same eye his father famously is missing), and the two managed to defeat the man behind the whole plot; Orion. Afterwards Johnson agrees to join SHIELD as its newest agent, taking the name that is revealed to have been his birth name: “Nick Fury, Jr.”

History: Overly contrived plotline that suggests the publisher has no respect for its readers, thy name is Marcus Johnson. I don’t often write these Black Superhero profiles about characters I despise and, indeed, I don’t hate Baby Fury as a character in the same way I hate the Sentry (may his MCU appearance Rest is Piss).  However, his creation is the most extreme version of a concept I hate in comic books. I generally don’t mind changes of characters’ traits in adaptations so long as the spirit of the character remains intact, but every so often Marvel or DC will take that change and implement it back into the current comic and that’s the thing I loathe; it becomes a snake eating its own tail. In this case, having a white, cigar chomping ,World War II vet named “Nick Fury” was apparently bad for business when Samuel L. Jackson was playing the character in the biggest movies of the 21st Century. You know what that means; MINORITY REPLACEMENT, BABY!

Haven't seen the marketing team this power mad since the Clone Saga 

It's more complicated than simply replacing, say, Ray Palmer with Ryan Choi. In fact, to tell the full story of how Fury Lad came to be we must start eleven years before his first appearance. In fact, this is actually the story of four separate characters over two separate mediums.

More on Kid Fury after the jump.

...and then some maniac decided to cast David Hasselhoff 

Most comic fans have at least a passing knowledge of Nick Fury. Introduced in the 1960s as a World War II squad leader in a retro comic, he was liked enough by the Marvel Bullpen to bring into their then current continuity, changing him from a soldier to a superspy and director of newly created SHIELD. And so he remained for the next half-century; a regular supporting character throughout pretty much all of the major Marvel books. Usually, he was an ally or at least a potential source of support to most superheroes though occasionally an antagonist due to circumstances. He is the “Amanda Waller” of Marvel, except he’s more “secretive to the point of being extremely problematic” rather than Waller’s “it’ okay to do super evil things every day to protect America’s interests” mentality. Well, usually. 

The inciting incident to today’s topic occurred in 2001. Marvel had just launched a new line of comics, “Ultimate Marvel”, which we discussed before with our Spider-Man profile. Short version is that the line was supposed to be a modern reimagining of their classic characters in a new continuity free of the decades of storytelling baggage. This was supposed to be a fresh and hip alternative to attract new readers (and if it became popular enough to justify replacing the old continuity, well then so be it). Among the modernized characters was Ultimate Nick Fury. First appearing in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #5, he initially established himself in the pages of Ultimate X-Men, where his character is basically identical to the original Fury except he lost his eye after an encounter with Ultimate Wolverine…oh yeah, and also he was black.

Who the f@#$ is this guy?!

Now, that they decided to change Fury’s race didn’t bother me in the slightest. This is a new character with no relation to the original, so if they wanted to make a change to add some diversity you would not hear a cry of protest from 16-year-old Beta. Ultimate Fury would appear as a main character in the Avengers reimagining, the Ultimates, where he is completely redesigned to look like Samuel L. Jackson (and his character even references it by saying that’s who he’d like to play him in a movie). Again, this is completely harmless. Heck, he looked a lot cooler with this new design.

And lo, was Samuel L. Jackson's soul bound to Nick Fury for all time!

Then, in 2008, Marvel Studios began their Marvel Cinematic Universe with the now classic Iron Man film. In order to begin setting up the forthcoming Avengers film, Nick Fury made a cameo to recruit Tony Stark…and Nick was played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, decked out completely like Ultimate Nick Fury in what must be the most comic accurate and faithful adaptation. This would be like if Professor X had been played in a movie by Yul Brynner, the character’s visual inspiration.

And, again, this was fine. The idea of making Fury a person of color when the rest of the Avengers cast was super-white makes sense. Plus, they didn’t even change the guy’s race; they just adapted an already well-established version of the character who happened to be black (and looked exactly like Samuel L. Jackson). Regardless, as he appeared in many of the movies, Jackson’ version of Nick Fury soon became the default portrayal in pop culture and any image of the older, white version (as played by David Hasselhoff once) slipped from memory.

Pictured: The only Nick Fury who has ever existed, shut up!

Which brings us back to 2012. With the first Avengers movie finally coming to theaters that summer, Marvel apparently came to the decision that any new fans who watched the film only to find a white Fury would be confused and possibly put off. To avoid this, and to bring their comics closer in line to the films, they decided they needed a black Nick Fury who resembled Samuel L. Jackson and the classic character needed to go. Now, I guess I understand the logic, but if I felt that I had to have a character that resembled the film version I would probably just write a story where Ultimate Nick Fury somehow was transported to the main continuity. He’s a known character with a ten+ year history, and frankly Marvel would do something similar with Miles Morales when he gained mainstream a popularity as Spider-Man a few years later.

Marvel did something a little different. They decided to introduce a new character, a never before mentioned son of the original Nick Fury who not only kind of looks like Samuel L. Jackson, and also happened to lose the exact same eyes as his dad, who would effectively replace the old man as an agent, and later leader, of SHIELD after Nick Fury Classic was written out of Marvel in a overly complicated story where he was turned into a new version of the Watcher, “the Unseen”, and forced to live on the moon with no real ability to interact with the rest of the comic continuity. This is possibly the most contrived and ridiculous way they could have resolved this.

The Unseen, the result of actual forced diversity

Maybe, MAYBE, if they had introduced Marcus Johnson as a recurring character months, if not years, before making it clear he was the new Fury Hotness (and he never loses an eye, Jesus Christ...) this would have been a little easier to swallow. But the way they did it was so incredibly forced and obvious that I think I remember passing out in sheer annoyance when I first read about it. Plus it’s weird that they felt that they could just insert some random black guy into this role and expect to get a pat on the back for representation when it feels lot more like exploitation to me. 

Again, this was so unnecessary. There already existed a character at Marvel who fit this role. HE WAS THE CHARACTER THE MOVIE VERSION WAS BASED ON!! I promise you, with 100% certainty, that any story Marvel could write to justify Ultimate Nick Fury crossing into the proper Marvel universe would not be as silly or contrived as “hey guys, here’s Nick Fury’s secret black son.”

Well anyway, it’s over ten years later and I do not think Marvel is likely to backtrack on anything here, though history has shown that the MCU hasn’t brought in the large number of new readers Marvel had hoped, so the whole reason for creating Fury Boy feels like more of a silly stunt then a necessity and a dark reminder that while Marvel will often be good about trying to be more inclusive when creating new characters they are just as likely to do so for the most cynical and poorly thought out of reasons. As for Nick Fury Classic; he hasn’t been as retired as a character as maybe they had planned and he has shown up again from time to time, recently actually teaming up with Uatu the Watcher. Even so it is not likely that he will return to his decades old role as a supporting character in the greater Marvel Universe any time soon. Perhaps when the MCU finally burns out we may see a comeback. Until then, you can enjoy Baby Fury, a far less interesting character than both the original and the Ultimate version. Hooray.

Good job creating a character that will never be taken seriously on his own, Marvel

I guess it could be worse. It’s not like Nick Fury, Jr. starred in the crappy Secret Invasion TV show.

For more on Marcus Johnson, though I’m unsure why you’d want it, you can check out World of Black Heroes. That’s it for Black Superheroes Month this year. Hopefully next year we can cover less rage inducing characters.

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