Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #17

Captain America # 17 is ostensibly about Dr. Mindbubble’s attack on Nick Fury and SHIELD. Mindbubble seems to be doing the bidding of Iron Nail, who argues that SHIELD exerts “fascist control” over the planet.  There is, to be sure, a problem with SHIELD’s unchecked power, but when Mindbubble encounters Nick Fury, we drift from crypto-fascism to Oedipal anxiety:  Fury, Mindbubble insists, can’t feel comfortable as the head of SHIELD because he has somehow inherited the job from his father.

If that has you doing a double-take, you’re not alone.  We’ve all come at accept the new-look Nick Fury, modeled on Samuel L. Jackson.  He first appeared in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #5; August 2001; Jackson then played Fury in the Iron Man movies, and Marvel has since used both to create a new continuity.  Fair enough.  Personally, I dig this Fury, though the idea of a black Fury leading the Howling Commandos in World War II seems like a stretch. The original Howling Commandos, some might recall, did have a black soldier, Gabriel Jones; but Jones had virtually no speaking lines.  Other black heroes followed, most notably the Black Panther (created 1966), and, of course, Luke Cage (1972), and so on.

Revamping Nick Fury as a black man seemed like a necessary revision of history for a comic book company that was late to the Civil Rights campaigns, but here Mindbubble insists that this Nick Fury is somehow the son of an older Nick Fury.  Mindbubble, a psychological super soldier, explains:  “I knew your father… but you’re not your father are you? … They say when men inherit a family business they often feel unsettled because they themselves didn’t earn it.  They didn’t build it… But if you could see what I see, young Fury, you’d know that ain’t you man.  You’re important, and unlike your father… you’re gonna change the world”–and by “change the world” Mindbubble means blow up SHIELD and tilt America towards a socialist path.

So, umm, when did the military become a “family business,” and how did young Fury inherit both his father’s mantle AND his eye-patch?

Of course, this may all be a Mindbubble nightmare, a fusion of garbled memories and anxieties, but dreams, while Sibylline, rarely raise immediate questions for the dreamer. One of the quickest ways to end a dream is to say within it, “This must be a dream.”  The problem here is that Fury is dreaming, but we are not.  Put another way, the dream itself raises so many odd questions for readers that we can no longer, from the distant shore of consciousness, empathize with Fury’s suicidal Siren call.

And then there is Cap.  He was all but M.I.A. in the last issue.  He’s absent from much of this one too, but when he does appear, fighting maskless, what he has to say is far odder than any Mindbubble magic. It seems that Jet has been trying to convince Steve that he’s too heroic, too noble.  He needs some “Zola pragmatism.”  Considering that Zola has never won an encounter with Cap, that suggestion seems rather odd: Pragmatically speaking, shouldn’t Steve go with what works?  Surprisingly, Steve says that he will consider her advice: “Maybe the Punisher is onto something.  Couldn’t hurt to darken up the image some.”– this from the man who, in the pages of the Marvel Civil War, described the Punisher as a  “murderous piece of trash”  and “insane.”

The issue here isn’t necessarily Steve’s assessment of Frank Castle’s sanity, though considering we’re dealing with Dr. Mindbubble, psychology has a bearing.  The more pressing concern is pragmatism versus heroism.  In the popular parlance, pragmatics is a means to an end.  Think of a chess game: You have a plan, but you often need to ditch that plan as the game evolves. In military terms, to be pragmatic is to be tactical.  Steve, a trained soldier, understands the value of pragmatism in battle, but there are certain moves he will not (or should not make).  That is because Stave is an ethical being.

Ethics are often interchanged with morals, so some quick clarification might be in order:  Morals are the society’s rules; we are born into them.  The Ten Commandments serve as a moral loadstar, for example.  Ethics encompass the ways that we enhance our moral standing.  As a soldier, Steve has, within the norms of combat, the moral right to kill— once war is declared, killing an enemy combatant is sanctioned by the state; Steve’s decision not to kill is, then, a personal, ethical choice.

We saw in his recent fight with Nuke that Steve has been reconsidering that ethical stance. His conversation with Jet suggests that he is continuing to investigate the issue.  Well, that’s fine, even necessary.  Steve would have no ethics if he were not aware of their constraints, and without constraints he and SHIELD really would be fascist bullies.

The sacrifice of a pawn is necessary in chess; but co-opting that logic to the Marvel Universe may lead to an ethical no man’s land.  Imagine a world in which Cap allows homeless people to die but protects millionaires because they exert more power than the many pawns around them.

That’s just not heroism.

Cap, who saves a banker from Sino-inspired terrorism in this very issue, is in danger of turning that hypothetical into a reality….

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Jeffrey Kahan is a is a well-established Shakespeare scholar with about two dozen books and editions to his name. He is also the co-author of Caped Crusaders 101 (MacFarland, 2nd ed., 2010), and is a co-editor of The Dark Man, a journal dedicated to the works of Robert E. Howard, and an associate editor of The New Ray Bradbury Review. He teaches a class on superhero comics and has twice appeared as a speaker at Comic-Con, as well as at New York’s Big Apple and other comic conventions. His newest book, Shakespeare and Superheroes, will be published in 2018 by ARC Press. He works in California but lives in his own world.

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  1. Nick Fury Jr was introduced a while ago to give a canon explanation as to why Nick Fury in the comics now looks like Nick Fury in the movies.
    And yes, that still doesn’t make much sense. I suggest strongly to read the thing, even if it’s just because it’s so frickin bizarre.
    Nick Fury retired, and made his black son (who never knew him up to that point) the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which nobody questions, since coincidentally, the guys is ALSO called Nick Fury, and happens to ALSO have an eyepatch, so the only difference is his skin color (well, and decades of training and experience).

    • Hey John, Thanks for the info, but I think we agree that this is lame. As we recall in the Iron Man films, Nick (Samuel A. Jackson) tells Tony that he worked with Howard Stark Tony’s quizzical look reminds us that this Fury is way too young to have known Howard Stark. The way Marvel usually dealt with Fury’s forever-forty look was the Infinity Formula ( In any case, if Nick lives as a 40-something forever then he has no pressing physical reason to step aside. And if Nick Jr. inherited the trait (to age at a glacial pace), then he should have been an infant for, like, 200 yrs., Further, if Nick Sr. did step aside, it hardly explains why Nick Jr. gets the gig, or why he wears the eye patch. In short, the whole thing is a mess. OK, so we roll with the shift in continuity, or we would, but these constant attempts to backfill only remind us of the original botch. As you say, bizarre….

  2. Terence Chua says:

    Regardless of how lame the shoe-horning of a black Nick Fury is simply to ape the movie and Ultimates continuity, the in-universe explanations re:Nick Fury Sr.’s loss of the Infinity Formula, Nick Fury, Jr.’s entry (along with Phil Coulson) into the Marvel Universe and how he got the Formula and the eyepatch are all in the Battle Scars mini-series. So it’s wrong to say there hasn’t been an explanation.

  3. Hi Terence, I acknowledged John’s reference, but, umm, I never said there was no explanation– merely that I was unaware of one. Thanks for the Battle Scars ref!

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