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Nick Fury, the Origin Story of Marvel’s Legendary Spy

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If Samuel L. Jackson popularized and made recognizable the name Nick Fury outside comic book shops, the original character emerged sixty years ago as the leader of the elite unit Howling Commandos before becoming Marvel’s legendary spy master.

Now a key figure in the Marvel Universe, Nick Fury’s origin story has evolved and expanded over the years, from his years in the army as sergeant to the implacable Colonel and Director of the S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Creation of Nick Fury

In the late 1950s, Jack Kirby envisioned a comic book strip set in Europe during WWII, with a hero described as a “tough, cigar-chomping sergeant with a squad of oddball GIs — sort of an adult Boy Commandos,” which was a comic book Kirby created for DC Comics about young boys fighting Nazis.

He was referring to Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a comic book series he co-created with Stan Lee that ran from 1963 to 1981. For Lee, the title sprang from a bet with his publisher Martin Goodman that he and Kirby could sell a book with the worst title Lee could conceive of.

Lee and Kirby updated the character in Strange Tales #135, when they established Fury in the present as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. According to Lee, he was inspired by the popularity of the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to morph Nick Fury into a James Bond-like spy. Fury truly established himself as a cool spy during Jim Steranko’s run on Strange Tales, which began with issue #151 in 1966.

The Comic book Origin Story of Nick Fury

Born around 1920, Nicholas Joseph “Nick” Fury was raised in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, which is well-known for being the home of Daredevil. He was thrust into the turmoil of World War II when he enrolled in the American Army at the age of 20.

Fury distinguished himself as a soldier early on and advanced to the rank of sergeant. Because of his leadership abilities, he was given the reins of the Howling Commandos, a hand-selected racially diverse group of elite soldiers. Together, they undertook hazardous missions that carried them throughout Europe in the midst of a war, in countries like France, Greece, Belgium, and Holland, and even into the very heart of Nazi Germany. They also fought alongside Captain America and Bucky in issue #13.

Fury’s resourcefulness and determination ensured the survival of most of his team members on each perilous mission. However, these wartime experiences exacted a heavy toll on his own well-being. A grenade blast inflicted a grave injury to his left eye, causing a gradual loss of vision. Fury declined the option of surgery that could have removed his injured eye in favor of sticking with his squad and decided to hide it with an eyepatch.

Another event that changed his life happened in France after a harrowing landmine accident. He was then inoculated with the Infinity Formula by Professor Berthold Sternberg. This serum gave him the gift of eternal life but with a terrible condition. Without a yearly booster, Fury would swiftly age, gaining the equivalent of 60 years overnight and maybe dying. Dr. Sternberg personally blackmailed Fury beginning in 1946 and continuing until 1976 by charging Fury a hefty charge for more serum.

After the war, Nick Fury continued his services. He trained and became a Colonel in the Central Intelligence Agency O.S.S., the predecessor of the CIA. He worked for them until Tony Stark recruited him to lead the counterespionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (at the time standing for Supreme Headquarters International Law-Enforcement Division). Fury took a very active hand in S.H.I.E.L.D. operations, often going into the field himself on their most important missions, becoming the major player we know today in the Marvel Universe.

What about The Two Other Nick Furys?

When Marvel was developing the Ultimate Imprint in 2001, they had to create a new version of Nick Fury. At first, they chose to make it a younger version of the original character. His appearance was redesigned later to make it look like Samuel L. Jackson. The actor was cool with it, and accepted Marvel used his likeness as long as they came to him first when Nick Fury would make his debut on screen.

This is how Samuel L. Jackson became Nick Fury in the MCU and the recognition of the character even pushed Marvel to introduce Nick Fury Jr. in the main continuity in 2012, also patterned on Jackson.

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Read the many Marvel stories featuring Nick Fury with our reading order dedicated to the famous spy. For more backstory in the Marvel Universe, complement with the origin story of Captain America, then explore the story of the Hulk.

Last Updated on April 15, 2024.


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