Much of this week’s Original Sin #5 took place in the past tense, but what it showed is revelatory for the inner workings of the Marvel U, and specifically the man at the center of it: Nick Fury. The World War II veteran has always had his secrets; from his trademark eyepatch to his ever-present use of Life Model Decoys, and that’s not counting his time as an OSS agent and on through to his decades long tenure on top of S.H.I.E.L.D. and afterwards as a semi-retired rogue spy of his own. But what Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato revealed over the course of this week’s Fury-centric Original Sin issue creates an entirely new subtext to the character – making him more of a spy, and more of a killer, than we ever believed.
** SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ORIGINAL SIN #5 **
In Original Sin #5, we learned that for much of modern Marvel history Nick Fury has been moonlighting as Earth’s over-arching protector; “the man who guards the wall” as the man who recruited him, Howard Stark, dubs the position. Using alien technology obtained (and stolen) by previous persons in his position and in addition to Fury’s own resources later obtained as part of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury acted as a one-man army to prevent alien incursions into Earth. From preemptively assassinating would be alien invaders to killing subterranean monsters, entire planets and even extra-dimensional “old gods,” Fury kept busy -- even coming close to assassination a young Spider-Man before giving him an optimistic pass in in hopes the wall-crawler would “turn into something special.”
With this single issue, Aaron, Deodato and Marvel connect the long-established dots between the well-known spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., founded in the Cold War, with the earlier (but only recently revealed) S.H.I.E.L.D. first-seen in the 2010 through 2012 series S.H.I.E.L.D. written by Jonathan Hickman. In that time-spanning series, it’s revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. (originally referred to as the Brotherhood of the Shield) was active as far back as ancient Egyptian times, turning back various cosmic and extra-dimensional threats as the Celestials and Galactus. Various historical figures such as Imhotep, Zhang Heng, Galileo Galilei, Nostradamus, and Leonardo da Vinci were all attributed as members, up until the early 1950s when carried out by Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark – the fathers of modern-day Marvel heroes Reed Richards and Tony Stark, respectfully. Although Fury isn’t made aware of Shield’s immense past nor is he employed directly by him, the elder Stark puts Fury in the position as the aforementioned “man who guards the wall” as a replacement for the previous person, a new character named Woodrow McCord, who died during an alien raid that Fury happened into.
Pushing Fury’s (both past and present) into this role as Earth’s protector against the outside universe is eye-opening, but also steps on the toes of another organization: S.W.O.R.D. First introduced in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men back in 2004, S.W.O.R.D. – Sentient World Observation and Response Department – effectively does the same thing Fury has been revealed as doing in Original Sin #5. Acting as a completely autonomous subdivision of S.H.I.E.L.D., S.W.O.R.D. and its principal agent, Abigail Brand, have defended Earth against several large-scale, and single, alien incursions, from Breakworld to the Skrulls in Secret Invasion, and is also noted to keep perpetual track of Galactus given his previous attempts to devour Earth. Fury’s newly revealed role overlaps somewhat with his then-duties as director of S.H.I.E.LD., but completely overwhelms that of S.W.O.R.D. It’s interesting to note that S.W.O.R.D. wasn’t revealed in comics until the waning days of Fury’s time as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., but although he was removed from that position he seemingly continued on as the “man who guards the wall.”
A question many readers of Original Sin have brought up after this and the previous issue of this event series is ‘why is Nick Fury so old?’ As discussed with Marvel Senior Vice-President of Publishing Tom Brevoort last week in Original Sin Insider, supplies of age-suppressing drug given to Fury beginning in WW2– the Infinity Formula – are depleted, and Fury’s own infused blood was diluted due to transfusions given to revive Bucky Barnes after Fear Itself and also his recently revealed son, Nick Fury Jr. With Fury’s age beginning to catch up to him, it’s presumed Fury has been using LMDs to fill in for him, such as in the first issue of Original Sin.
And regarding the mysterious green bullets and shrapnel which was found in the bodies of various supernatural beings (including the Watcher), Original Sin #5 confirms that they are indeed related to the Hulk’s gamma radiation – specifically, adapted from Bruce Banner’s gamma bomb designs for Fury’s use as the so called “man who guards the wall.” Fury is shown to be armed with them at one point in Original Sin #5, and a previous issue showed someone in a space suit identical to Fury’s shooting them as well – although that was an imaginary scenario by Winter Soldier during the course of his investigation.
A page in Original Sin #5 also brings into focus some hazy nomenclature used as both a common noun and a proper now in the series and its marketing: The Unseen. First mentioned in the Marvel Point One issue years ago, in Fury’s monologue he uses the phrase when speaking of himself, but also with the Watcher pictured in view giving readers ample room to speculate that both are the aforementioned Unseen.
“I’ve killed… more times than I can count. I’ve burned worlds. Destabilized galaxies. Dethroned gods. And I did it without any of them even knowing my name,” Fury says, as written by Aaron. “That’s what it means to be the man on the wall. To be the invisible monster who keeps the others at bay. Forever unnamed, unknown. Unseen.”
Both the Watcher and Fury watch over Earth and keep track of its occurrences, especially of the supernatural or extraterrestrial variety. But while the Watcher is held to a vow of non-interference, Fury’s vow is anything but; shooting, killing, detonating, decimating, all in the name of protecting Earth. Fury’s use of the term “monster” to describe himself could be read as a tacit admittance that he believes he might have crossed a line, but for now Fury’s true beliefs remain murky at best.
In the final page of Original Sin #5, back in the present time, Fury is asked directly by the Black Panther what happened to the Watcher, referring to his murder. After a pause, Fury says matter-of-factly that the Watcher died, and that Fury might be next. The phrasing on that is multivalent; first being that Fury is stating a foregone fact about the Watcher’s death, but a second might be that Fury didn’t cause the Uatu’s death. Fury knows how to hold secrets, so maybe he’s fooling everyone with his wordplay, but maybe not. That’ compounded by the second statement, that Fury could follow in Watcher’s deathly footsteps, and that could hint at a confession from a guilty man in the Watcher’s death, or a second option: some third party killed the Watcher and is out for Fury, who as mentioned above, both have a high level of knowledge regarding Earth than virtually any other in the vicinity.
Original Sin #5 adds a dramatically cosmic new facet to the ever-evolving (and ever-aging) face of the original Nick Fury, but given his age it’s debatable to how much time we’ll have to see that played out. The next issue of Original Sin shows Nick Fury shot by an off-camera assassin, so it’s conceivable the elder Fury could die over the course of the series and fully pave the way for his son, Nick Fury Jr., to take his role and be more in line with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or perhaps Fury survives, but in this elderly state – still giving the junior Fury a hole to fill. But the bigger question remains: who killed the Watcher? If it’s indeed Fury, it would answer many questions proposed over the series but also bring up a less mysterious and more diabolical one: why?