How Nick Fury Became Black

 

Battle Scars #1

I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I’m pretty familiar with most of the big players and even a few of the minor ones. Few comic book characters are bigger than Nick Fury. For one thing, he has been around longer than most. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Nick Fury first appeared in Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 in 1963, so he’s been around since the Silver Age of comics. Starting out as a grade-A military badass, his character morphed into the super secret agent leader of SHIELD. Secondly, through his involvement with SHIELD, he has, at one time or another, played some role in nearly every Marvel comic book title I can think of, from Iron Man to the Punisher. For a character so under-powered in the Marvel universe, he has been written as a shadowy puppet master, pulling the strings behind a veil of secrecy. Then, in 2002, Nick Fury shows up once more in the title, The Ultimates, but with some notable differences. In that comic, he’s black.

Before I go further, I want to say that my issue with this change is not about race. I know there are some comic/movie fans out there that throw a fit when there’s some white-washing, or race changing, or virtue signalling, or any one of a number of bullshit things these people want to whine about. I don’t give a good Goddamn if they want to write Nick Fury as a black man, an Asian woman or a nonbinary Latinix with breast augmentation and a big dick. What does matter to me, however, is continuity. I was actually pretty shocked I didn’t hear more complaints about a character that has been white for four decades suddenly becoming a black man with no explanation. I believe the short answer that was given at the time was that this was merely an alternate dimension, which is the lamest writer cop out that I have heard. Then came Battle Scars.

A six issue limited run written by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn and Matt Fraction, this lukewarm story actually addressed this race change perfectly, albeit somewhat weakly. So well, in fact, that I have always wondered why I have heard little mention of it in comic book discussions. I don’t think I’ve even met someone who has read it. It was such a mandatory retcon, in my opinion, that I’ve wanted to write about it for a while now. I had forgotten about it until I started rearranging my comic book collection and ran across it and reread all six of the comics in a day. This is where I must put a spoiler warning. Spoiler alert, spoilers ahead, if you at all care then you already know what I am talking about. This may be overkill, because I have a feeling that no one cares, that this little bit of comics history is so insignificant (not to mention, this blog itself) that it is but a forgotten footnote in Marvel lore. That being said, I know some people can get pretty testy out there when any sort of spoiler comes along, so you’ve been warned. If you want to read this series for yourself, without foreknowledge of the plot, then read no further.

Battle Scars #5

In the start of the series, we are introduced to Sgt. Marcus Johnson, a tough and savvy army ranger who returns to the states from his tour in Afghanistan. The return is not a happy one, since it is for his mother’s funeral, but he barely has time to mourn before he gets attacked by Task Master and his henchmen. Given that he’s outnumbered and that Task Master has fought the likes of Captain American and Spiderman, Johnson holds his own pretty well, but still has to be rescued by the Avengers. They hand him over to SHIELD who immediately take him into custody and, oddly enough, treat him like a prisoner. He does the obvious thing and escapes, determined to find out who killed his mom. Along the way, he meets up with his comrade-in-arms, Cheese. I shit you not, his nickname is Cheese and I don’t want to imagine what happened to award him that nom de guerre. What follows is a circuitous mess of a plot that I won’t bore you with.

I know I warned you about spoilers, and they’re here, but the story itself is not great. It feels like the sort of thing that could’ve been fit into a single comic, but they padded it to make a short run series. Shit, even Deadpool couldn’t make this entertaining. Yep, Deadpool is in it, but he doesn’t help that much. Long story short, it turns out that Nick Fury was up to some hanky-panky with a fellow agent on one of his missions. That agent turns out to be Marcus’s mom and, deciding to keep the baby, assumes a secret identity to keep the child safe.

Fury reveals all this just before he and Marcus get captured by Some super baddie by the name of Orion. He’s an arch nemesis of Fury’s, but he wants Marcus because his body produces something called the Infinity Formula. This is the stuff that has kept Fury alive for so long and makes Marcus just a little stronger/faster/tougher than the average human. They ultimately escape and, in the process, Marcus gets an eye taken out, hence the eye patch that Fury is known for. Once the battle is over, Fury announces his retirement from SHEILD and asks Marcus to take his place. Not only does Marcus agree to that, but it’s also discovered that the name on his actual birth certificate just so happens to be Nick Fury. Isn’t that convenient. Oh, and his buddy Cheese? He just happens to be Phil Coulson.

So, there you have it. The story of how Nick Fury became black. Again, not the best story in the world, but at least Marvel did give some explanation about the change. I rarely care what is cannon or not, but that race change was too big not to have some reason offered, no matter how thin. I’m sure you were all dying to know. Until next time, True Believers, happy reading.

Top 10 Comic Book Artists (according to me)

First of all, let me make it very clear that this list is only my opinion. I don’t mean to say others artists are bad or that I’m even some sort of expert on the subject. I’m just another starry eyed fan boy gushing to the masses. It nearly killed me trying to pick a top ten and to fudge it a little, I’ve dumped a bunch of names into an “honorable mention” category. This is a very personal list, with inclusion determined by not only artistic talent, but by how deeply their art affected me as I was developing my own style. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Juan Jose Ryp

My first peek at Juan Jose Ryp’s art was the Warren Ellis comic, Black Summer. This was followed up by No Hero, also by Warren Ellis and just as dark. His art was perfect for these stories. So detailed you don’t know where to look first and filled with an intense energy that makes one feel that everything on the page is in constant motion. He’s one of the few artists that could make me overlook bad writing in a comic, though I have yet to put that to the test. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers and, though I have read very little of Charlie Huston’s work, I thought that the limited series, Wolverine: The Best There Is, is excellent.

Alex Ross

The first time I saw Alex Ross’s work, I never would have considered him a comic book artist. His style is so painterly that I just thought his superhero pieces were fan art, a side line to what he normally produces. Then, Kingdom Come proved me wrong. Quite simply, his art is gorgeous. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, then go, right now, and look at his art.

Robert Crumb

Probably one of the earliest of my influences, Robert Crumb attained fame from his work in the underground comix realm, with characters like Fritz the Cat and titles like American Splendor. His work was immediately accessible to me, mostly simple black and white pen and ink drawings. He is a master of cross hatching and I did my best to emulate him in my teenage years. His penchant for drawing rubenesque women was also a factor in my appreciation of his work. I won’t go on about Crumb; so much has already been written about him (he’s even got a freakin’ documentary for frickin’ sakes!) and I just wanted to share my love.

John Byrne

Another early influence, I became acquainted with Byrne’s work when he was drawing the X-Men. Part of my love for his art was because of the Dark Phoenix saga, but I followed him onto Alpha Flight, as well. Alpha Flight never garnered much attention, but there’s something I love about the idea of a Canadian superhero team. It always struck me as odd how American centric superhero comics are. Some titles have included superheroes from other countries, heck, Captain Britain had his own comic for a while, but, overall, the scene has been North American dominated.

I’ll include a link to John Byrne’s website, but let me warn you in advance, it’s nearly overwhelming in how busy it is and just how much art and information is amassed there.

Frank Frazetta

I feel a little guilty about including Frazetta on this list, because my experience with his art was not through comics. So, while, technically he is considered a comic book artist, I will forever associate him with Molly Hatchet. Frazetta did the art for their first three albums, all of them featuring bad-ass barbarian dudes.

As a comic book fan, whose art is usually rendered in inks, it’s always striking to me when I see a painter in the mix. Frank Frazetta trained at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, while there, trained under a celebrated, Italian painter, Michele Falanga. Falanga was so impressed with Frazetta’s talent, he was going to send him to Italy, on his own dime, for further study, but he died before that could happen. He began drawing for comics when he was 16 and later worked with both movie studios and book publishers doing posters and covers. He did one animated feature called Fire & Ice, with Ralph Bakshi, which was released in 1983. There’s nothing overly original about the story itself (IMO), but the art is gorgeous. In later life, he suffered a series of strokes that affected his ability to do art, forcing him to switch to his left hand. He died of a stroke in 2010.

Frank Quitely (AKA Vincent Deighan)

Words cannot express how much I love Frank Quietly’s work (I say as I write these words). The first time I saw his work was in a comic called, Gangland, a crime-themed rag of short stories that was dark enough to scratch my itch. He has worked on The Authority, Flex Mentallo, Jupiter’s Legacy and All-Star Superman. His art is gloriously detailed and intricate. He won the “Best Artist” Harvey Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The is one of the few artists I am envious of. There are many, many artists whose work I appreciate, but, being an artist myself, which brings a certain amount of arrogance about one’s own art, I don’t usually consider them better than myself. Their styles are either so different from mine that there is no way to compare, or the artist has a style that I enjoy, but would never want to do myself. You hear stories such as the tales about blues singer, Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to become the greatest blues musician. If the devil asked for my soul in exchange for Mr. Quitely’s level of talent, I’d say ‘no’, but there would be one hell of a long pause before I did.

Rick Griffin

A true child of the 60’s, Griffin was in the heart of San Francisco during the summer of love. He was part of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test and created a number of posters for psychedelic bands. His first art exhibition was at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street. In the early 70’s, he started doing some work for Zap comix. I’m not sure where I got them, but I have a number of “underground” comix, which, incidentally, is where I also got into Robert Crumb, and I would literally study the pages illustrated by Griffin. I consider his style to be quintessential 60’s psychedelia.
He died at the age of 47 in a motorcycle accident. Prior to his death, he found God and became a christian. I have seen a few articles that commented on how this entirely changed his style, but I did not find this to be true. His illustrations of biblical scenes seem just as trippy to me as his drug-centered work, but then some consider religion a drug itself, so that doesn’t really seem that strange to me.

Richard Corben

I don’t know how he gets the look he does in his art, but the first word that comes to mind, to describe his work, is lush. There is almost a 3D look to it. One can practically feel the flesh of his characters, smell the hot, foul breath of the fanged maws of the creatures he draws. The very first piece I saw by him was the album cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, but he also had numerous contributions to the magazine, Heavy Metal. His art does not shy away from some rather extreme sex and violence, which I confess a slight weakness for.

Bill Sienkiewicz

In the late 80’s, I got my hands on a four issue series called, Stray Toasters. It was an incredibly surreal piece that I fell completely in love with. Without giving any spoilers, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The story was certainly strange and convoluted, but I don’t believe it would have had the effect it did on me without the art of Bill Sienkiewicz. Rendered in subdued pastels, the art is phrenetic, having no respect for the neat boxes that usually make up the panels of a comic book, the sequential nature of the story delightfully uncertain and bound only by the page itself. Oh, and he wrote the comic, too.
I’ve read those comics time and time again, and I still consider the work to be one of the finest stories I’ve ever read. This sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I have a rather unusual taste in the stories I like and they’re not easy to find. Stray Toasters checked all the boxes for me. After more than 30 years, he is still very active in the comics scene, drawing for titles such as Batman, The Hulk, 30 Days of Night and the like. He has also done album art for RZA, Roger Waters and Kid Cudi, and even illustrated cards for Magic the Gathering.

Will Eisner

You don’t claim to be a comic books fan without knowing Will Eisner. Born the child of Jewish immigrants, he began drawing illustrations for pulp magazines in the 30’s. His most famous creation, The Spirit, an urban crime-fighting comic, ran from 1940 to 1952 and profoundly influenced comic book artists for years to come. He did work for the U.S. Army during WW2, his illustrations used for educational purposes, training soldiers in vehicle maintenance and ordinance usage.
His career spanned about 40 years and he even formally taught comic book creation, writing two books on the subject, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Truly one of the greats!

Honorable Mention

As I said earlier, I can’t really realistically only name the top 10 artists. There are so many awesome inkers and painters and illustrators, that to ignore them would be criminal. The likes of Frank Miller, Steve Dillon, Bruce Timm, Dave Mack, Mobeus, Mike Mignola, Milo Manara, Jim Lee and countless others have inspired me to be a better artist. In building my technique and style, I have borrowed much from them and I am eternally grateful for their art.