Spies, unlike us.
Oh, I’ve got your number, taken notes.
I know the ways your minds work, I’ve studied.
And your minds are just the same as mine,
Except that you are clever swines,
You never let your mask slip, you never admit to it
You’re never hurried, oh no, no, no.
And every night, I hone my plan
How I will get my satisfaction
How I will blow your paradise away…
—Pulp, “I Spy”
Jonathan Hickman, auteur of creator-owned indie books like The Nightly News and A Red Mass For Mars, has finally blasted into the Marvel Universe, bringing with him a team of new, young heroes and Marvel’s greatest spy, along with a thoroughly planned-out series of five story-arcs and the greatest, grandest secret in Marvel history.
SHIELD, and by extension Nick Fury, has been under HYDRA control all along.
In the words of Kitty Pryde by way of Joss Whedon: “Yeahbuhwha?”
While it’s a hell of a revelation—one that has definitely caused its fair share of controversy in comic book fandom over the last several months – readers shouldn’t be too shocked by this, given the events surrounding Agent John Stone’s service to The Four in Warren Ellis’ Planetary, and, indeed, Marvel’s 1980s series Nick Fury vs. SHIELD. With the darkening of the Marvel Universe beginning with Fury’s Secret War—which, of course, inevitably led to some of the most memorable storylines of the last few years, such as the Superhero Registration Act, Captain America’s death, House of M and even Secret Invasion—this is not only a natural progression of the last five or six years of Marvel’s stories, but could also serve as an organic conclusion to Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign of the Marvel Universe. If Nick Fury’s illegal invasion of Latveria is the key moment that triggered the last several years of stories—if Nick Fury’s greatest screw-up is to blame for the Civil War, the disassembling of multiple Avengers teams and the rise of the Green Goblin—then it only makes sense that in order to redeem himself, Nick Fury must be the one to put a stop to Norman Osborn, HAMMER, the Thunderbolts, the Dark Avengers, the newly-reconstituted HYDRA…and beyond.
Fury hasn’t exactly been a mainstay in the Marvel Universe for the last several years, which is especially odd considering he was once the glue that held that fictional construct together, but completely understandable when one realizes that in order for the last several mega-events to occur, Fury needed to be removed from the chessboard. He needed to be taken out of the game like the dinosaur many believed him to be, but instead of a public scandal surrounding his disappearance similar to the one that tarnished former CIA director George Tenet’s career in real life, Fury simply disappeared off the grid like a modern day version of Number Six from Patrick McGoohan’s venerated The Prisoner. Instead of being whisked away to a psychedelic island with its own mysterious security system and an unknown, mysterious leader like Six, Fury simply went underground, and there’s nothing scarier to the new kids in town than the world’s most powerful baseline human simply disappearing off the face of the Earth.
Ostensibly, there is both a metafictional and a sociological reason that necessitated the disappearance of Nick Fury. With the advent of 24’s iconic Jack Bauer in 2001, the release of the Bourne film trilogy beginning in 2002, and the rebooting of the James Bond franchise with 2006’s Casino Royale, the “old school” spies and government agents were deemed obsolete. The X-Files was cancelled in 2002 (not surprisingly, during the first season of 24) and Pierce Brosnan’s familiar 007 paved the way for the colder, more “modern” portrayal now made famous by Daniel Craig. After 9/11, the desire of the American public to trust their government became ever stronger, and this was reflected in the Marvel Universe (though, the American public of the Marvel Universe has historically been portrayed as ignorant, buffoonish and moronic, but that’s a topic for another time). As Mulder and Scully were chased from their jobs by the sinister, shadowy Syndicate, and made to look like murderers and traitors to their country, and Brosnan’s Bond was made to look like a failure and a double-agent, so too did Nick Fury disappear. Those government agents who had our best interests at heart—those with the strong desire to never stop questioning anyone, including those at the top of the information and political food chains—simply vanished as if they had been snuffed out by the Bush administration’s equivalent of Howard Hunt or Macduff.
And then Jonathan Hickman, along with co-plotter Brian Michael Bendis, just had to ruin it all and, at the tale end of the Bush administration, bring back Nick Fury as the Marvel Universe’s “shining beacon of hope” so many saw then-Senator Barack Obama as in the real world. Tagging along with Fury, Hickman and Bendis made sure to include a cadre of powerful “caterpillars”—young superhumans full of untapped potential, including the Bendis-created Daisy Johnson—as Fury’s new Howling Commandos, his campaign staff. Nick Fury returned when his nation—his planet—needed him most.
Secret Warriors, which spun out of the events of Secret Invasion, shows Fury waging another secret war and, to use an old cliché: this time, it’s personal. He has been jerked around by Nazis, HYDRA, Skrulls and now Osborn, HAMMER and others, and instead of waiting for the opportunity to present itself as it would have in the past, he’s taking the fight to those perpetuating it. It’s not about the Satan Claw or an Axis plot anymore; it’s about the freedom of the American people, whether they know it or not, whether Osborn paints Fury as a terrorist or not. As a patriot and defender of human rights, Nick Fury is doing the right thing, and should he not survive this, he has trained a cadre of successors in the ways of—yes—Truth, Justice, and the Fury Way to Preserve America.
The artwork, penciled by Stefano Casselli, is grim and gritty yet somehow tinged with hope, the daydream that tomorrow things will be better, that the wars will end, that Baron von Strucker or Gordon Brown or whatever you want to call him will one day be gone and the world will be a brighter place again. A bright place where secret wars will no longer be necessary, and secret warriors will be public heroes.
Notice the smell of the ex-SHIELD head’s cigar? It smells like victory.