Make It So: Disney+ Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD by Jerry Whitworth
In a recent earnings call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed that in addition to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and Loki which are in various stages of production for streaming service Disney+, seven more Marvel Cinematic Universe series are currently in development. With What If… ?, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk already announced, speculation has emerged what the two yet revealed projects could be. Rumor has it that in order to make the shows ‘must see,’ an effort has been made to make them integral to the next stage of the MCU in the wake of the Infinity Saga. Among these rumors is the multiverse as the new interweaving theme and a desire to set-up the Young Avengers, Thunderbolts, and Kang within the stories of the Disney+ shows. However, the original announcement of the forthcoming shows stated their intended purpose was to tell stories for an ever expanding cast of characters that couldn’t possibly all be given the proper time and attention in the confines of the films. In this spirit, a viable candidate for such a character is Nick Fury.
Something of the glue that binds the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s heroes together, Nick Fury (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) still remains something of a mystery to the franchise’s fans. Aspects of the character’s past have been explored in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain Marvel (2019) but in much the same way the Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) was provided bits-and-pieces of a back story, it would take a direct project about that history to thoroughly pay it credit (as Widow receives her own film later this year). Of what we know about Fury, following the events of Captain Marvel, which is based in 1995, he set out to establish a group of exceptional individuals that could defend humanity against the rising tide of unusual threats the Earth is ill-prepared to face (such as alien invasion from the Kree). While we know this culminated in the fateful after-credits sequence in 2008’s Iron Man, that leaves thirteen years of yet known tales for the Avengers Initiative. While it’s likely in that period, the likes of Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández), Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), and the aforementioned Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff could have filled roles in such an effort, it’s likely they wouldn’t have been Fury’s only candidates (Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost/Ava Starr is also possible though the circumstances of her indentured servitude may have seen her as a secret kept from Fury). Thus, a series about this search could both flush out Fury and fuel the future of the brand.
A number of post-Invaders/pre-Avengers hero teams have been introduced in the comics over the years. Among these is the Agents of Atlas. Based in part on the story “What If… the Avengers Had Been Formed During the 1950’s?” from What If? #9, Marvel editor Mark Paniccia tasked creator Jeff Parker with crafting a pitch featuring the tale’s largely forgotten characters. Where the original story featured 3-D Man, Gorilla-Man, M-11 the Human Robot, Marvel Boy, and Venus (with guest appearances by Namora and Jann of the Jungle) being recruited by FBI agent Jimmy Woo to save President Dwight D. Eisenhower from the Yellow Claw, Parker dropped 3-D Man (which was a character from the 1970s but whose story was set in the ’50s) but kept the rest of the group (adding Namora), dubbing them the G-Men. It should be noted, Jimmy Woo was recently introduced in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) portrayed by Randall Park and it set to return later this year in WandaVision. In the pages of the New Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis and Howard Chaykin tackled their own 1950s Avengers team led by Nick Fury that featured the Blonde Phantom, Ulysses Bloodstone, Dum-Dum Dugan, Dominic Fortune, Kraven, Namora, Sabretooth, and Silver Sable. There are also several individual characters that could work well in such a context.
2003’s Truth: Red, White & Black envisioned a revised history of the super soldier serum used to empower Steve Rogers to become Captain America was created using African-Americans as early test subjects, the sole survivor and successful subject being Isaiah Bradley. Imprisoned for going rogue to stop Germany’s efforts to recreate the serum following the loss of the Captain, Bradley was pardoned by president Eisenhower in 1960. Bradley’s DNA was used to make another super soldier in Josiah X and Bradley’s grandson Elijah alleged to have been given a blood transfusion from his grandfather giving him powers he used to become the Young Avengers’ leader Patriot (this was later revealed to be false as Elijah instead used the drug Mutant Growth Hormone). Where Isaiah Bradley was something of an unknown Black Captain America, Robert Reynolds was an unknown Superman in Sentry.
Promoted as a publicity stunt by then Marvel publisher Bill Jemas, it was alleged Stan Lee along with fictitious artist Artie Rosen had created a Superman-inspired hero in the Sentry prior to the creation of the Fantastic Four. However, the concept was abandoned but newly discovered and given to writer Paul Jenkins to reinvent. In reality, the Sentry was Jenkins and Rick Veitch’s brainchild about a Superman-like hero who lead the resurgence of heroes including the Avengers and Fantastic Four but whose existence was forgotten. However, when an event brought the Sentry and Avengers back together, the character became a member of the team again. The Sentry’s origin revolved around drug addict Robert Reynolds breaking into a laboratory and taking an experimental Golden Sentry Serum giving him “the power of a million exploding suns.” Now with incredible power, Reynolds became the Sentry and ignited a new age of heroes. Alternatively or additionally, a Nick Fury series could tackle the infestation of Hydra within SHIELD.
While Captain Marvel (2019) gave us a look at a younger Nick Fury (as well as Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) provided insight into how Fury’s relationship with Alexander Pierce (portrayed by Robert Redford) was a significant partnership in SHIELD’s growth toward an entity that could protect the world. However, the film also revealed that Pierce had secretly been a high ranking operative in the terrorist organization Hydra which had survived the end of World War II and believed death of their apparent leader Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and Ross Marquand in subsequent appearances). Under guidance from Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) who had surpassed death as an electronic construct and seeming leadership of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Hydra had crept into the world’s various houses of power with notable influence within SHIELD under Fury’s nose. As such, the likes of former SHIELD Head of Defense Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) and the aforementioned Rumlow and Sitwell were covert Hydra operatives. Though, the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was undoubtedly Hydra’s secret weapon. Certainly, a Nick Fury series could help stoke some of the backstory of Hydra’s symbiotic relationship with SHIELD. Another opportunity such a series could provide would be to introduce an important character in Fury’s comic book counterpart.
In the comics, SHIELD was founded in part by Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos. However, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) largely took Fury’s role in history with the Commandos supporting she and Captain America (Chris Evans). As such, perhaps the only significant supporting character of Fury yet introduced in the MCU is La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. An Italian aristocrat whose parents were murdered, Contessa was contacted by SHIELD to become an agent able to use her influence to reach targets otherwise difficult for them to gain access (it was later revealed her father served a similar role for SHIELD). Meeting Fury toward the end of her training, the pair impressed each other and soon after became lovers. La Contessa quickly worked her way through the ranks and often partnered with Fury on his missions as one of his closest confidants. It was later revealed Contessa was a Russian sleeper agent who infiltrated Hydra in order to betray them to the organization Leviathan (founded by Russian intelligence agents that counted Contessa’s parents as members).
It should also be noted this article is written before the release of Black Widow in May 2020. It is entirely likely aspects of it could have a direct correlation to a proposed Nick Fury series considering several elements. Chief among these, the back story of former SHIELD agent Rick Mason (portrayed by O.T. Fagbenle) or Taskmaster (whose actor is yet known). In the comics, Mason was a mercenary aligned with SHIELD as Taskmaster/Tony Masters started out as a SHIELD agent that through several circumstances became a mercenary at times employed by SHIELD. Along these same lines, a character such as the Constrictor/Frank Payne whose backstory is a SHIELD agent turned mercenary could easily fit into a Nick Fury series. A digitally de-aged William Hurt will appear as Thaddeus Ross in Black Widow in a yet known capacity so his back story could be expanded upon what is yet known about him.