Did Nick Fury know Captain America was alive all along? As far as the world was concerned, Steve Rogers died at the end of the Second World War, sacrificing himself when he brought down the Red Skull's bomber in Greenland. He became a legend, America's champion who had served with valor and had given his life to protect his country.
The Strategic Scientific Reserve became S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1949, and S.H.I.E.L.D. would never stop looking for Steve Rogers' body. Howard Stark managed to find the Tesseract, and S.H.I.E.L.D. correctly deduced that the plane must have crashed in the ice cap, and according to tie-in comics, Fury was still sending out expeditions in 2010. In the end, ironically enough it was a Russian oil team who stumbled across the Red Skull's bomber frozen in the ice, and Fury hurriedly dispatched a S.H.I.E.L.D. team to investigate. They soon learned that Steve Rogers was still alive - and the rest is history.
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s persistence raises a curious question; why were they so focused on tracking down Steve Rogers' body? On the face of it, it's reasonable to assume that S.H.I.E.L.D. was interested in finding Captain America's body in order to revive their super-soldier experiments. Abraham Erskine had died before he could pass on his secrets, and according to The Incredible Hulk a lot of people had attempted to duplicate Erskine's formula. Genetic samples from Steve Rogers' body could be a massive help in achieving that goal.
And yet, this reason doesn't quite track. S.H.I.E.L.D. was more than happy to use super-powered assets in the field, as evidenced by Hank Pym and Ghost, but there's no evidence they tried to create their own. What's more, Nick Fury appeared openly contemptuous of the various super-soldier programs, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were generally hostile towards General Ross. While it's possible previous S.H.I.E.L.D. directors could have hunted down Rogers' body in order to acquire genetic samples, that doesn't fit with Fury. He just doesn't seem interested in the super-soldier programs at all.
One of Marvel's official tie-in comics, Fury's Big Week, offers a tantalizing hint. In one scene towards the end of the miniseries, Fury justifies his priorities to his superiors in the World Council. The World Council only had one focus; the Tesseract. As a result, Fury pitched almost all of his activities in relation to that goal. "I've kept a small team on the hunt for Steve Rogers," he told them, "which I know might be disobeying orders... I just thought it might be handy to have access to the only human being on the planet that has had any direct experience with the Tesseract." Fury's argument, then, is that he is seeking out Steve Rogers because he hopes Captain America can help him understand the Tesseract. His word-choice doesn't make it sound as though he's hoping to study Steve Rogers' remains; rather, it really does sound as though he's looking forward to debriefing him.
Is it possible that Nick Fury somehow knew, or at least suspected, that Steve Rogers was still alive? Fury's knowledge has always seemed to be almost preternatural, as though he's one step ahead of the rest of the world, but this level of foreknowledge would be pretty dramatic. The possibility can't be ruled out, though; Captain Marvel is expected to be a back-door origin story for Fury, and according to Samuel L. Jackson himself Carol Danvers can travel in time. If that's the case, it's entirely possible Carol gave Fury a glimpse of the future somehow - and he realized that a resurrected Steve Rogers was a part of it. That same idea would explain his supreme confidence in the Avengers, and his certainty that they would reform when the world needed them. Alternatively, there's strong evidence Avengers: Endgame involves time travel as well; perhaps something in that adventure will involve a past Nick Fury realizing that Steve Rogers is still alive.
Of course, this is just a theory - but it's one that fits the facts. That single line of dialogue in Fury's Big Week is the only one in which Nick Fury explains himself. And his word choice most certainly raises the possibility that he knew he would be able to bring Steve Rogers back to the land of the living.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019