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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the Furies:

Hee, in a funny bit of coincidence given my current Fury-bot kick, Occassional Superheroine posts this interesting question: whether they'll replace Nick Fury with Ultimate Nick Fury due to the latter's prominence in toy lines and movies. She wonders if hardcore Nick Fury fans would accept it.

I don't know if I count as a hardcore Nick Fury fan or not, I love the guy but I've still got a lot of back issues to track down and read, but I'd certainly have mixed feelings about this.

I'm a fan of both 616 Nick Fury and Ultimate Nick Fury. I like the latter and his role in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, I like that he adds a bit of diversity to the cast that sorely needs it. I also like that, in all the comics I've seen him in (which admittedly isn't as many as I might like, since I'm not fond of the Ultimate universe for a lot of other reasons), he seems to be a steady voice of sanity and authority in a cast that seems to sorely need it. I also tend to think he's the best choice to use for movies and other new incarnations of the universe (i.e. Ultimate Avengers).

At the same time though, I personally prefer the chaotic, somewhat demented approach of 616's Nick Fury. (I also, admittedly, have a well documented twisted love of David Hasselhoff, who for all his faults DOES look remarkably to me like Steranko's Fury.) There's no reason, of course, that Marvel couldn't keep 616's demented personality and use a more Samuel L. Jackson likeness though.

Except...what about the Howling Commandos?

More importantly...what about Gabriel Jones?

In the Marvel 616 Universe, Gabriel Jones was a jazz trumpeter from New York City whose abilities lead to him being hand-picked to enlist in Nick Fury's Howling Commandos in WWII. Gabriel Jones became, then, the first African-American to serve in an integrated unit. (Here's some more information about Jones, though I think the picture attached is an unfortunate choice.)

In the real world, the Armed Forces weren't legally integrated until 1948, and it wasn't until 1954 that the last all-black unit was abolished. (Here's a link on the topic for people, like me, who could use some supplementary information on the subject.)

So then, it really really means something that this man got specifically handpicked for this unit. And considering that the Howling Commandos debuted in 1963, it's fairly significant that Stan Lee and company specifically wanted to include a black soldier on the team. He's also a character with staying power, who's appeared as late as in Civil War.

There is the point that, if they can alter history enough to integrate a team years before the real world, why not make even more of a statement and make the leader an African-American?

It would certainly make for interesting story ramifications.

It would be very interesting to see what a group of modern writers would do with the idea. How WOULD Nick Fury being black change the Howling Commandos? (I have to admit, considering the racial prejudice of the time period, I doubt that they'd have quite the same "hand-picked" prestige, regardless of Fury's talent. More likely, I'd imagine, they'd be more of a suicide squad that keeps inexplicably surviving due to the talent and skill of the members.) Would the team still be racially mixed? Would they be all-black? Where would they go with this idea?

But the thing is, they could have this story now. What stopped Marvel from producing this story in the Ultimate Universe? It doesn't have to be a long running series, it could be a mini-series, or a flashback in an Ultimates story-arc. If they wanted to explore this area, they can.

Besides, it's not like the Infinity Formula is any dumber of a concept than the super-soldier serum, so if one makes the transition to the Ultimate Universe, why not the other?

As I said before, I haven't read a lot of the Ultimates-verse, so all I have to go off of right now are the Marvel Universe bios and Wikipedia, and since we all know how accurate those can be, so please do correct me if I'm wrong...

But it appears as though the Ultimate Universe hasn't done anything of the sort. It looks like Nick Fury in the Ultimate Universe has a completely different backstory involving service in the Gulf War.

No Howling Commandos. No Infinity Formula.

How bizarre is it that I'm actually really offended to find this out? I mean, racial diversity is a wonderful thing and all, but why pick a historically-entrenched character like Nick Fury for the race change without planning on doing anything WITH it?

Why not pick Iron Man? Or Spider-Man? Wouldn't it be interesting to see how racial assumptions and prejudice would possibly impact a character like Tony Stark or Peter Parker? Heck, for that matter, they could have picked Captain America (using a modified version of Isaiah Bradley's backstory)! Wouldn't that be interesting?

And to me, it suddenly looks a bit cheap. The company made the (correct, in my opinion) decision to diversify the Marvel Universe in this new incarnation, but instead of taking a real risk and changing the race of one of their big name mainstays, they take a relatively secondary character, change his race, and in the process take out nearly everything that made the character significant in the main Marvel Universe!

I mean, sure, they could, I suppose, do the Howling Commandos in the Gulf War. That'd be pretty cool. But it's not exactly the same as a WWII unit, is it? There's a certain, dare I say, prestige in being involved with the big war. The "Greatest Generation" and all that. Plus, of course, the coinciding with the Golden Age of Comics.

And if they're not going to explore the story in Ultimates, where they have a fairly fresh, open, new universe to play around in, it's fairly unlikely that they'd make the attempt in 616. And I can't see 616, after forty years or so, suddenly trying to declare the Howling Commandos never existed (not with how wrapped up they are in the foundation/development of 616's SHIELD.)

So, no, I don't think it's going to happen. Moreover, unless it's done a lot better than Marvel's handled things just far, I really doubt most hardcore 616 Fury fans would like it. Because Marvel would probably make it suck.

7 Comments:

  • At January 15, 2008 3:03 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    I don't want Ult. Fury replacing 616 Fury. Not because of him being black. And not because he's basically Samuel Jackson: Action Star (though that is a little bit of it). But because as a spymaster, he's utterly incompetant...

    He fucked up with recruiting Pym, then with turning down Pym's free robots, THEN missed the Commie/Muslim Terrorist coalition (but who can blame him for missing something THAT ludicrous in concept), had Black Widow as damn near his second in command, utterly dropped the ball on handling Spidey during the Clone fiasco AND every Norman Osborne appearance. Mishandled the integration of the X-Men and Xavier academy into SHIELD so badly that the President went and had AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT group of mutants recruited to counteract him...

    Really you can just scroll through anything to do with Ult. SHIELD, and if it doesn't involve shooting people and shouting somethign bad-ass, Ult. Fury just sucks at his job...

    Good soldier, BAD spymaster.

     
  • At January 15, 2008 9:48 AM, Blogger Patrick C said…

    Don't know if you read Ultimate Power, but Fury also recruited DOCTOR DOOM to help spy on Reed Richards... and then was genuinely surprised when Doom double-crossed him!

     
  • At January 15, 2008 10:43 AM, Anonymous Aaron Nowack said…

    How bizarre is it that I'm actually really offended to find this out? I mean, racial diversity is a wonderful thing and all, but why pick a historically-entrenched character like Nick Fury for the race change without planning on doing anything WITH it?

    Yes, speaking as someone who has read a lot of Ultimate Universe stuff I think it is pretty bizarre. :)

    For one, by all accounts, they didn't make Ult. Nick Fury black to make him black. They made him look like Samuel L. Jackson, who happens to be black.

    Second, the purpose of the Ultimate Universe isn't just to tell stories that aren't quite in 616 continuity, but - as much as the writers seem to forget it on occasion and love to homogenize things with 616 - to streamline and re-invent characters in a more modern fashion. And as awesome as it all is in 616, fighting in WWII specifically and the Infinity Formula required to allow that is unnecessary (and a little silly) cruft for his current and Ultimate role of "Nick Fury, director of SHIELD." It's no different than how in 616 what wars Charles Xavier and Tony Stark were involved in keep shifting; it's just a timeshift done to keep the character from being implausibly old or needing a plot device like the Infinity Formula, and nothing more.

    Third, part of the idea of the Ultimate Universe is that the age of superheros is starting now, not in WWII/an eternally sliding 10-15 years ago. One exception - Captain America - proves the rule. Adding in another weakens the concept.

    And fourth - speaking of Captain America and weakening - Ult. Nick Fury's primary role is/has been as a supporting cast member of the Ultimates, and a big part of the Ultimates has been exploring Captain America's issues from going to sleep in 1945 and waking up in 200X. Having an eternally young WWII veteran in his supporting cast weakens his story and a lot of nice character moments from him and Ult. Bucky.

    Phew, that was a lot longer than I expected, but in general "Why isn't Ult. X more like the awesome 616 X?" is one of my pet peeves. ;)

     
  • At January 15, 2008 12:24 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    OK, bear in mind I'm not real familiar with the Ultimates universe or Nick Fury's history, so this is mostly speculative. Also, I'm a little confused: are you talking about retconning in a black Nick Fury in the 616 universe; or complaining about Ultimate Fury's backstory; or both?

    Anyway, part of the problem here is how one handles modern-day reboots of decades-old characters and the elastic nature of character continuity in the first place. When Nick Fury first showed up in the early 60s, it was credible for him to be a WW2 vet who became the leader of SHIELD in the then-present day. Fast forward 40 years to today (or whenever the Ultimates first came out) and it's a lot harder to make that credible - well, without indulging in convenient superscience, at any rate. The Infinity Formula sounds like one of those deus ex machinas Marvel came up with to hand-wave away the aging issue in the original. It's one of the inherent problems with tying characters to actual historical events like WW2. [I wouldn't be surprised if, say, Frank Castle gets retconned into being a Gulf War vet in a couple of decades when Marvel decides they don't want the Punisher to be an octogenarian.]

    Another part of the problem is something I think you've brought up before: namely how do you bring more ethnic diversity to a decades-old stable of established characters who are predominantly white males. You can create new characters, but they don't have the same cachet as the old standbys. You can pass an old mantle onto a new person (e.g., Ryan Choi as the new Atom, Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle). Or you can change the original character's race and / or gender the next time you do a continuity reboot - but that, as we all know, has a tendency to provoke outrage from the, shall we say, more hidebound and conservative members of the fan community. ["Conservative" in the "don't rock the boat" sense.] I think both DC and Marvel have been pretty milquetoast in their use of that last option, only using it for secondary characters like Fury or the Wasp.

     
  • At January 15, 2008 12:29 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thank you, Aaron, that was actually a rhetorical question.

    I appreciate the need for a general difference between the two universes.

    The Ultimate Universe's strength, to me, is the re-envisioning of the familiar character in a new situation. "What if the Fantastic Four were teenagers?" "What if Captain America was a dick?" (heh).

    And of course "What would the Avengers be like in the modern day?"

    I think however, there's a significance between that and creating a brand new character Jackson, who happens to be black" and giving him the name of a fairly prominent secondary character.

    Even allowing that the Ultimate Universe ought to change some significant parts of the characters, the fact that Ultimate Nick Fury shares NOTHING in terms of role, appearance, abilities, powers, origin, or significance of his original counterpart is significant. He could easily be a brand new original character period. Contrast this with say: Janet Pym. Janet Pym is an Asian mutant scientist rather than a caucasian playboy. But at least in terms of her role as a founding member of the Avengers, member of a fairly troubled relationship with Hank Pym, and her powers, she's at least somewhat recognizable as the Wasp apart from her name. I don't see the same element of commonality in Ultimate Nick Fury. YMMV of course.

    It's disappointing, especially when there are so many aspects to explore in the concept of a Nick Fury who happens to look like Samuel L. Jackson having his origin as a commander in WWII. There is a lot that a good modern writer could explore.

    In retrospect, I feel rather justified in my irritation at the missed opportunities.

    Feel free to disagree, of course. :-)

     
  • At January 15, 2008 12:32 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Damn, posted my last response before I saw your reply, Ferrous. :-)

    Mostly it's a blended stream of consciousness topic combining "I don't think they're going to change the 616 Fury into Ultimate Fury" with "I'm awfully disappointed with the Ultimate Nick Fury because..."

    On a side note: I still don't think the Infinity Formula is THAT big of a deus ex machina compared to anything else in the Marvel Universe. But if they really want to change it up, they could always make it a mutant power or something. :-P

     
  • At January 17, 2008 5:33 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    I'll note that I don't think the Ultimate universe goes far enough in re-imagining old-school characters, considering they basically had a blank slate to start over. Apart from a few exceptions, it actually feels more like a soft reboot (based on the titles I've read), rather than a truly major re-invention.

    . . . Ultimate Nick Fury shares NOTHING in terms of role, appearance, abilities, powers, origin, or significance of his original counterpart is significant.

    Is he really all that different? All I know about Nick Fury is he's the tough one-eyed commander of SHIELD. Ultimate Fury is not a WW2 vet, but how long has it been since that was important to the original Fury? Likewise, he hasn't had the Infinity Formula, but if you don't need to make him long-lived, what would be the point?

    I still don't think the Infinity Formula is THAT big of a deus ex machina compared to anything else in the Marvel Universe.

    Heh. Well, then we get into the question of "When is a silly idea too silly (or just inconvenient to the story)?" which is always a tractionless issue in superheroes. :-) [E.g., once you introduce a longevity serum, you have to explain either (A) why other people don't or can't take it as well or (B) allow that lots of people have and now you've got to explain who all these other octogenarians are and what they're doing and blah blah blah.]

    Not to mention the question of "If we make everything about Ultimate Fury exactly the same, except now he's black," well, what was the point of reinventing him in the first place? If it's just so we can say, "Hey look, we made a black guy the leader of a WW2 secret-ops unit! Aren't we progressive?" without telling any stories about those days - well, that falls under the "telling not showing" clause of tokenism, IMHO. But OTOH, as far as I can tell the Ultimate universe doesn't want the added baggage of subplots involving WW2 vets - or earlier supes - other than Capt. America.

    Basically, no matter what they do with the Ultimates characters, there will be people who argue that they lost some essential aspect of the characters' nature; and others who argue that they didn't go far enough to reinvent them. Hell-oooo, Catch 22! :-)

     

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