In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
While comic books and the movies inspired or adapted from them share a lot of foundational DNA in common, they are very far apart in a lot of matters and not just because they are different mediums. All the way back in 2008 when the beginnings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were seeded through Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it made a lot of sense that Kevin Feige and everyone else that was part of this endeavor looked to the Ultimate Marvel Universe for some bits of inspiration.
That was the version of the Marvel Universe that was seen as being “modern” after all, free of all the multiple decades of continuity that kept many characters in sort of status quo suspended animation of sorts in the mainline. One of the things that they took directly from the Ultimates, that universe’s version of the Avengers, was a black version of super-spy Nick Fury. This comic version was modeled after Samuel L. Jackson, so Marvel Studios decided to just actually go get Jackson to play the part and history was made with the end credits stinger for Iron Man.
Because Marvel as a whole loves them some synergy, the movie choice came full circle and had an effect on the comics. The main Marvel Universe gained itself a brand new Nick Fury, who was actually the Black son of the original.
As the Sam Jackson on-screen version of Fury gained popularity as he appeared in Iron Man 2 and was slated to be a huge part of The Avengers movie in 2012, Marvel Comics decided to cash in on this popularity. In 2011 the publisher was in the middle of a huge Thor/Asgardian-themed summer event known as ‘Fear Itself’. This event saw a variety of villains gaining Asgardian hammers that transformed them, the emergence of All-Father Odin’s exiled brother Cul/The Serpent, big-name Marvel heroes getting hammers of their own, and the momentary deaths of Bucky Barnes Captain America (who survived & became Winter Soldier again) and Thor (he was more ripped out of his timeline than killed).
In the aftermath of this event, the publisher launched a couple of new books including some mini-series and a maxi-series that dealt with the fallout under the ‘Shattered Heroes’ banner. One of those books was the six-part Battle Scars series (from Matt Fraction, Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn, Scott Eaton, Andrew Hennessy, Antonio Fabela, Matt Hollingsworth, Paul Mounts, and Joe Sabino), which was a complete series dedicated to the retconned creation of Nick Fury Jr. as well as a way for them to bring the very popular character of Phil J. Coulson (played on screen by Clark Gregg) into the comics as well.
The Nitty Gritty:
Battle Scars introduces the character by the name of Marcus Johnson, an active Army Ranger serving in the Middle East, and his best friend Phil “Cheese” Coulson. When word comes down that Johnson’s mother Nia has been killed he returns home, to attend her funeral where he is unknowingly being watched by Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter. He returns home only to be attacked by the Russian hitmen that killed his mother as well as the deadly mercenary Taskmaster. Only the timely entrance of Captain America and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saves Johnson from this attack.
Everyone but Johnson is very aware of who he is and what his ties to Nick Fury are, but won’t’ tell him so it leads to a whole bit where he escapes from S.H.I.E.L.D. and goes on the run for answers which puts him up against Deadpool, Taskmaster again, and even the Serpent Squad. Another masked figure comes into play and demands that Johnson just leave it be, get out of the country, and forget any of this happened, or else he’ll end up dead.
Knocked out and left behind, he’s found by Cheese who wants to follow this advice and get them out of there but Marcus chooses to knock his friend out and find this figure. Getting the drop on the figure brings him the shocking revelation that this figure was Nick Fury all along, and Fury reveals that he’s Marcus’ dad.
Flashbacks show that Fury and Marcus’ mother, real name Nia Jones, were CIA agents who shared a moment of passion that led to the birth of Marcus. Because of the number of enemies and reputation that Fury had begun to build, he convinced Nia that the best thing for her and Marcus was to disappear into a new life where they would be a secret. Which they did, with Nia giving up everything in her life in order to keep her son safe and give him an actual life. Until a spymaster found this secret shortly before the start of the series and told Fury’s worst enemy Orion.
Long story short, Orion was someone that they didn’t think could die but Fury found a way to sabotage him and left the man in a state where he’s dying. The only thing that can save him is the Infinity Formula that kept Fury alive and young over so many decades, but Fury had gone underground and thus Orion found out about Marcus and made him the target. Because Marcus was born with the Infinity Formula within his very DNA.
Orion captures the duo, monologues at them, and then has Marcus’ left eye cut out to match his father but also to be tested so it confirms he has the formula in him. Fury was drained of the last of his formula to sustain Orion shortly till they can get to Marcus (who briefly escaped), but in the end, Cheese showed up with the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marcus killed Orion with an explosion.
Coming to terms with his father’s choices, Marcus follows Fury’s advice and he and Cheese join up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to follow in Fury’s footsteps. Also, he finds out his birth name was Nick Fury Jr., which he adopts again.
This younger Fury rose through the ranks quickly and lasted through various leadership changes of S.H.I.E.L.D. (from Daisy Johnson to Maria Hill), took part in various Secret Avengers teams, had multiple back-up stories during events, had his own mini-series for a brief moment and has remained active as a secret agent despite the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been disbanded for years now.
Retcons are not always clean in their execution. This is a retcon that is jagged and sloppy and smells blatantly of the clear mission to bring a Sam Jackson-like/black Fury into the main Marvel Comics. Everything from them taking his eye out so he can have the same eye patch to his birth name turning out to be Nick Fury Jr., to the fact that he’s got the Infinity Formula conveniently within his DNA is just really ham-fisted ways to get this character to where he’s needed.
All that being said, the addition of the character has been something that took off far beyond however sloppy the origin story was. Honestly, I much prefer this version of Fury to the old-style Fury who has been only sporadically seen in comics over the years (there was a whole bit where he killed the Watcher and then became a sort of Watcher substitute on the moon, comic book stuff). In the right hands, the character has been fantastic and needs to be used far more than he is right now.
Recent stories like the Taskmaster mini-series and the last arcs of the recently concluded Black Cat series (both written by Jed MacKay) are perfect examples of how awesome the character can be. A regular series with him in it would be pretty great, and it’s actually surprising that S.H.I.E.L.D. and agents like him have been out of the picture overall for so long with everything that has happened in the MCU as of late. Though this seems likely to change with more MCU Fury stuff on the way.
Sometimes corporate synergy retcons can be messy, but their eventual outcomes are worth it.
Next Week: When a gifted hamburger literally can change one’s world.