There aren’t many comic book characters that have had as many career changes as Nick Fury. From his early days as a soldier in World War II to his work with the CIA before becoming head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury has seen a lot – even more, when you consider his latest role as a supernatural, omnipotent cosmic being.
There are a lot of different versions of the character around, with Nick Fury turning up in different roles depending on the a particular story's continuity. While moviegoing fans might be most familiar with Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the character in the MCU, it’s interesting to note both the similarities and differences between the movies and the various comics that have featured appearances by this famous super-spy.
To help clear up some of the complicated continuity surrounding the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D., here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About Nick Fury:
There are a lot of different versions of Nick Fury in existence – there’s the MCU version, played by Samuel L. Jackson, the Ultimate Comics version -- which is drawn to look like Jackson -- and there are even two different Nicks in the main Marvel comics universe.
While all of these different versions of the character have their own unique origin stories, the original Nick Fury lost sight in his eye due to a grenade – while it didn't do much immediate damage to the spy’s face, he slowly lost sight in the eye in the months afterwards.
This differs from the Ultimate universe's Nick Fury and the MCU’s version of the character -- these versions of Fury have the scars to suggest that losing his eye was an even bloodier and gorier affair, although no solid origin story has been presented in the movies beyond, Fury commenting in The Winter Soldier that he lost his eye the last time he trusted someone.
While the MCU version of Nick Fury is relatively young (younger, at least, than a defrosted Steve Rogers), the original comic book character has lived a particularly long life of warfare and espionage.
Nick Fury first debuted in a World War II-themed comic entitled Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos in 1963. The Howling Commandos in question appear in Captain America: The First Avenger as Cap’s team of elite soldiers. At the time, Fury’s antics didn’t involve Steve Rogers, although later comics have told stories of Fury teaming up with the super soldier and his sidekick, Bucky Barnes.
It was in 1965 that Fury made the leap to working as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, as Marvel writer Stan Lee noted that World War II stories were losing popularity, while spy thrillers were all the rage thanks to the ongoing Cold War. Reusing the World War II soldier made perfect sense, as it helped to better tie the Marvel comics universe together, and build on the popularity of an existing character.
Nick Fury’s journey to the modern era of Marvel comics (or at least, to what was modern in the ‘60s) wasn’t entirely easy for readers to follow. When the first Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. began publication, Nick Fury’s World War II book was still ongoing, so Stan Lee introduced an easy way to keep the different versions of the character straight.
A few months after his initial comic series debuted, Fury – now two decades older – shows up in an issue of Fantastic Four as a CIA agent. Stan Lee can’t resist a crossover, and having two comics set in different time periods didn’t stop him from mashing his characters together. At this point, Fury didn’t have an eyepatch, although he was noticeably older than in his Howling Commandos comic.
Reusing the super-spy for his S.H.I.E.L.D. book two years later, Lee gave Fury an eyepatch so that readers could tell whether they were reading a World War II era comic or a 1960s Cold War era story.
Many Marvel comic book characters have been around for a while now, with a consistent continuity that doesn’t always make sense within their timeline - for example, Peter Parker was 28 years old as of 2014, but his earliest adventures involved fighting Russian spies during the Cold War.
For the most part, Marvel simply shifts its continuity forward every few years and stops referencing older events. It’s never mentioned any more that Ben Grimm and Reed Richards met as soldiers in World War II, because there’s no way the characters could be that old and still working as superheroes.
Nick Fury is an exception to this – his longevity has been explained by a serum called the Infinity Formula, which Fury was given at the end of World War II after being injured in battle. As long as Fury gets annual doses of the formula, his aging process is slowed dramatically (or at least, that’s what Fury claims – the truth might be a little different).
While the original Nick Fury comic book character is obviously far older than Samuel L. Jackson’s reign in Hollywood, a version of the character based on Jackson predates his inclusion in the MCU by around five years.
In the year 2000, Marvel began publishing a line of alternate universe comics, known as Ultimate comics, to tell updated origins for a variety of its characters. Many characters were tweaked to have new backgrounds and personal histories. The decision was made to base the Ultimate Universe’s version of Nick Fury on popular actor Samuel L Jackson, although according to some reports, Marvel failed to actually get permission to do so.
Samuel L. Jackson tells the story that when his agent discovered Marvel’s newly redesigned character, he wanted to sue the company for unlicensed use of Jackson’s image. Jackson himself, though, thought that it was a fantastic idea, and negotiated with Marvel for permission to use his face in their comics.
Part of this deal ultimately saw Jackson sign on for a nine picture deal with Marvel’s new movie studio, and the famous actor then played a character based on himself.
Following the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plenty of changes have occurred within the main line of Marvel comics to make popular characters better fit their big-screen counterparts. The most notable of these changes has been the introduction of Nick Fury Jr., a son of the original character whose mother was of African American heritage – this new, second Nick Fury also happens to look suspiciously like the MCU’s version of the character.
In his origin story, it’s explained that Marcus Johnson, discovering that his true father is Nick Fury and that his real name is Nick Fury Jr., is kidnapped by Orion, who is aiming to reverse-engineer the Infinity Formula that is within Fury Jr.’s body, thanks to his father. Orion removes Fury Jr.’s eye in order to study it, providing the character with a convenient reason to look identical to Samuel L. Jackson’s big screen version of the character.
Once the Marvel comics universe had a new Nick Fury, it was time to discard the old one. The comic event Original Sin told the dark but somewhat silly story of the death of The Watcher, a cosmic being who lived on the moon and observed all events on Earth (Spoiler alert for this story – skip to the next entry on this list to avoid knowing the end).
The story is a whodunit mystery, with Nick Fury Sr. seemingly looking to solve The Watcher’s murder. It’s revealed at the end, though, that Fury was in fact the person who committed the murder, in order to protect the Earth from an armory of advanced alien technology that had been stolen from The Watcher. What’s more, the Infinity Formula within Fury’s body has been losing its potency, and Fury has been in hiding, and interacting with other heroes on Earth using a Life Model Decoy (basically a fancy robot avatar) for quite some time.
As punishment for the murder of The Watcher, Fury is bound in chains by other cosmic beings, and forced to become The Unseen, a supernatural being who lives on the moon and watches Earth in The Watcher’s place, without ever being able to interact with his home planet.
With the MCU, Marvel Studios used a lot of the elements from the Ultimate comics series to give their movie universe a more modern feel with an easy to follow continuity. A lot of the visualization of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers comes from the Ultimate universe and their band of heroes, The Ultimates, led by Nick Fury.
When bringing Fury to the big screen, it therefore made sense to base the character on his Ultimate version, especially as this incarnation of Nick Fury is based on the actor who is portraying him. For that reason, Samuel L. Jackson essentially plays Nick Fury as himself, without trying too hard to inhabit an invented role.
According to Jackson, when coming up with the approach for Nick Fury, “I tried to make him as honest to the story and as honest to what real-life would seem.” This honesty is why Nick Fury works so well, as the line between the character and the actor blurs to the extent that Jackson’s natural wit and commanding presence shine through.
Having a character is one thing, but figuring out their place in a story and the way they interact with other characters is often down to the director’s vision of the final piece. With the perfect actor in the role of Nick Fury, Avengers director Joss Whedon had to figure out how Nick Fury would fit into the story.
For this, he turned to another of Samuel L. Jackson’s previous roles: Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. According to Whedon:
“What I wanted to see was a guy who could, yeah, absolutely command a room with his voice, could absolutely be the guy you could never question who was in charge of this enormous organization and everything around it.
"Could be a guy who could do stuff that was morally compromised, yet absolutely necessary. But at the same time would feel the burden of that. To be the leader means to separate yourself from everybody else."
This characterization for Nick Fury certainly works well in the movie, as Fury easily justifies his role as an overseer and director for the band of volatile superheroes.
While a lot of Jackson’s portrayal of Nick Fury is from the heart, it’s important to remember that there is a distinction between the character Samuel L. Jackson plays in the MCU, and the actor himself. While Nick Fury can be trusted to keep sensitive information close to his chest (according to Tony Stark, “even his secrets have secrets”), Sam Jackson is a little less adept at holding onto classified documents.
While filming The Avengers, the script for the movie was leaked online by an anonymous source. For a while, nobody in the production team was aware of how this had happened, until it became clear that a member of the cast had photocopied their script and left a digital copy within the photocopier which was later retrieved and distributed across the internet.
The cast member responsible? None other than Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson. This just goes to show that there is a line between character and actor, and that you shouldn’t leave Jackson alone with your diary.
Long before the MCU kicked superhero movie making into a multi-franchise industry, and even before movies like X-Men and Spider-Man proved that audiences respond well to Marvel comics characters on the big screen, another actor took on the role of Nick Fury in a small budget, direct-to-TV movie, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D..
David Hasselhoff, the star of such shows as Nightrider and Baywatch, took on the role for the ill-remembered movie, bringing a layer of over-the-top acting and wackiness to a film that featured many of the pitfalls of ‘90s comic book movies, including colorful costumes, cheesy dialogue, and poor special effects.
Hasselhoff’s version of the character has hardly gone on to worldwide renown the way Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal has, but it’s probably for the best that this movie drifted away into obscurity. Just don’t tell David Hasselhoff that the current cinematic version of the character is the best – the former star still maintains that he is “the ultimate Nick Fury” as chosen by Stan Lee, and is fairly bitter to have been replaced.
Yet another link between Samuel L Jackson’s real life and his MCU counterpart comes from a line in The Winter Soldier, where Captain America and Fury share a casual chat about elevators. Fury notes that his grandfather was an elevator operator, back before the days when people were trusted to press buttons by themselves without incident.
In real life, Samuel L. Jackson’s grandfather actually was an elevator operator – this is probably why, when Fury talks about his grandfather in the scene, his usually stern demeanor cracks for a moment, as Jackson thinks of the man who helped raise him.
Speaking in an interview in 2013, Jackson described his grandfather as “loving, stern and God-fearing”, and explained that the lessons he was taught from his grandfather “inspired me to get up and go to work every day”. Considering the number of movies Jackson has starred in over the years, it’s clear that he took this lesson to heart.
The Life Model Decoy is an important part of Marvel comics lore. LMDs, robot avatars that people can send in their place to perform various tasks from a safe distance, debuted in the first issue of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have appeared regularly in the comics ever since. Life Model Decoys are even planned to make an appearance in the next season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and are likely to become a common sight in the MCU.
No Marvel character has made more frequent use of LMDs than Nick Fury – often sending them on missions in his own place in order to keep his real location a secret. Fury even entirely replaced himself with an LMD for several years when the Infinity Formula within his body lost its effect, causing him to age rapidly.
LMDs aren’t always useful, though – the robots have a degree of autonomy that can make life more difficult for Fury. Once a LMD, named Max Fury, went rogue, convinced that it was the real Nick Fury, before teaming up with a superhuman terrorist.
While at this point it’s difficult to separate Samuel L. Jackson from the version of Nick Fury that he has played in six MCU movies, he wasn’t the original choice for the character.
Back when Marvel was planning the first phase of the MCU, the studio knew that they wanted a respected actor in the role. As hard as it may be to believe, the studio was in talks for quite some time with George Clooney, believing him to be an actor of the appropriate age to portray the character.
According to some reports, though, talks broke down when Clooney saw a page from an issue of the recent Nick Fury MAX comic – the Marvel MAX series was notable for its darker, more violent and gory approach to comics characters, and the Nick Fury story was no exception.
Clooney objected to a scene where Fury strangled a man to death with a length of human intestines, deciding that such a character wasn’t the best fit for his image. While no such scene has appeared in any Marvel movies, it’s probably for the best that Clooney stepped down, as it gave Marvel the chance to cast Samuel L. Jackson and create probably the most accurate portrayal of a comic book character in history.
In yet one more fantastic self-referential connection between Nick Fury and the actor who plays him, The Winter Soldier pays homage to the role that first made Samuel L. Jackson a star.
At the end of the movie (caution, spoilers ahead), Fury and Captain America meet at a fake grave that has been erected in memory of the super-spy, so that the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be free to pursue Hydra without drawing attention to himself.
The gravestone is briefly shown, where eagle-eyed viewers will note that the inscription reads, “The path of the righteous man: Ezekiel 25: 17” – the same fake Bible reference that Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, quotes during an impassioned speech in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction.
According to the Russo brothers, after struggling for quite some time to come up with something meaningful to put on Nick Fury’s fake tombstone, the pair decided to go with a subtle nod to Tarantino’s film. This little joke passes by the majority of viewers without incident, but makes movie buffs smile every time.
There’s a lot untangle in the stories surrounding Nick Fury. Sometimes he’s old, sometimes he’s young, and sometimes he’s a robot. As both a War War II commando and a Cold War secret agent, he thrilled comic book fans as early as the 1960s, and it doesn’t look like the character is going anywhere any time soon.
Nick Fury has appeared in comics both with and without an eye patch within the same month, has been both Caucasian and African American at the same time, and has even had his identity stolen by his own robot clone.
Without a doubt, though, no matter which version of the character is being showcased, Nick Fury remains one of the most intriguing, enigmatic, and interesting recurring heroes within the Marvel Universe. He is rumored heavily to be appearing Avengers: Infinity War, out May 4, 2018.
What Nick Fury facts did we miss from our list? Which fact did you think was the most interesting? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.