The standard Marvel Universe now has a black Nick Fury who looks like Samuel L. Jackson. No, this isn't a rift through to the Ultimate Comics Universe, nor is it a weird riff on the old Superman story when Lois Lane became a black woman out of curiosity. No, with The Avengers finally about to hit theaters, Marvel decided to address the issue that might confuse new readers – who is this white guy calling himself Nick Fury? Where's the guy from the movie?
Thanks to Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn and Matt Fraction, the guy from the movie is now in the main comics, and he's brought along Phil Coulson to boot.
Battle Scars spun out of the aftermath of Fear Itself, from a plot element in the last issue of last year's big event that was shoehorned in to springboard this story about an Army Ranger named Marcus Johnson, whose mother was killed purposefully under the radar of all that Asgardian hammer madness. Who is Marcus Johnson, we were queried, and by the third issue in, we'd figured it out. Marvel was letting the movies dictate their canon. Out with the Hasselhoff, in with the Jackson.
Honestly, if you had to choose… ?
That's hardly a new thing, really – Tony Stark's a lot more snarky than he used to be, thanks to Robert Downey Jr. The big comics companies have a habit of tailoring themselves to the movie versions of their characters – at least to coincide with the release dates, hoping to bring in new readers, and that's perfectly fine, if slightly annoying to die-hard fans. This feels more permanent, though, as it's heavily implied that the original Nicholas J. Fury, former director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is not long for this world, and his secret son, the former Marcus Johnson (and actually legally Nicholas Fury Jr., which he learns at the end of Battle Scars #6) is set to take his place, complete with that snazzy look Steve Rogers rocked as the world's premiere superspy, before he took up the shield of Captain America once again.
So, is the story any good? It's so obviously contrived for a specific marketing purpose that the odds were stacked against it. But thanks to a scripter like Yost and some solid comic book art action from Scot Eaton, we like this new guy. These new guys, actually, as Coulson is Johnson's running buddy he's called "Cheese" most of the time. That nickname would seem to indicate that the storytellers are aware of what this looks like – the fact that the first page of Battle Scars #6, right after its cover inexplicably printed on what feels like a much cheaper stock of paper, features the words "S.H.I.E.L.D. Priority Alert Code: Black" is way too on the nose to be accidental.
The villain named Orion, leader of the group Leviathan, has captured both father and son, determined to harvest the younger Fury for the Infinity Formula that's in his DNA – the same formula that the elder Fury has artificially taken to live this long and this heartily as a World War II veteran (and that the elder Fury has run out of completely) – to achieve immortality. As a poetic point, he's even ripped out the younger Fury's eye to match the father. At the start of Battle Scars #6, he's presumed dead. But he ain't, and he comes back to kick ass with a vengeance, entirely willing to sacrifice himself to get the job done. "Surrender is not a Ranger word." Lucky for him, he doesn't have to, as his pal Cheese, who he tried to ditch for his own safety, brings the Avengers in to bear, allowing the former Johnson to marvel once again at what his relatively superhuman-free life has now become.
We get a denoument where father and son have a final chat. The Nick Fury we've known since the Howling Commandos days is pretty well resigned to the fact that "nature'll catch up soon enough" now that he's Infinity Formulaless, but he's got some stuff left to do. This probably means we've got at least one more triumphant Old School Nick Fury swan song tale to be told before we bid the classic hardass superspy a well-earned farewell. Perhaps by then, we'll have grown to completely accept the new guy in the role as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seems like a sudden promotion, gven how green the guy is at the spy game, but somehow, the contrivances aren't that hard to swallow here. The feeling of inevitability seems to steamroll that objection pretty well flat.
Overall, Battle Scars started off strongly enough in concept and execution that it was able to ride out the realizations of what the story was actually setting out to accomplish, and the final result seems to respect the legend of the Nick Fury comic fans have loved for generations while ushering in the moviegoer era for the next gen by tying Sam Jackson – er, Marcus Johnson firmly into the characters literal and figurative legacies.
Good luck, new guy. You've got a hell of a lot to live up to.
Good-bye, good ol' Nicholas J. Fury, you badass, no-bullshit, hard-bitten, stogie-chompin', one-eyed master of espionage, shell games, international intrigue and balls-to-the-wall ass-kicking. It's been a a hell of an adventure, and we couldn't ask for a better pilot through the last 50 years of Marvel Comics.