Marvel's The Avengers
Credit: Marvel Entertainment

Unsure who Black Widow is? Having trouble deciphering the Hulk’s roar? Can’t tell the difference between Iron Man and the Iron Giant? In anticipation of the release of The Avengers on May 4, EW’s team of super geeks is here to help guide you through the mythos with our seven-part series of superhero primers, the recently declassified “Avengers Files.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a comic book connoisseur or a Nick Fury newbie — follow along this week as we deconstruct Earth’s mightiest heroes and pose the question: Which Avenger is the mightiest?

Name: Nicholas Joseph Fury

First comic appearance: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 10, 1963), created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First movie appearance: Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a 1998 made-for-television movie. In terms of the modern Marvel movie franchises, Fury has popped up in most of them: Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Portrayed by: David Hasselhoff donned the black eye patch to play Fury (opposite Lisa Rinna’s Valentina) in the cringe-worthy 1998 TV movie, which was one of the last pillars of the old guard of Marvel comic book movies (before X-Men made them watchable). The recent cinematic reinvention of Nick Fury — which is far more popular and far less Hasselhoff — is played by classy bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson.

Origin story: Fury became a soldier who became a spy who became a super spy. As a soldier in World War II, Fury led the Howling Commandos, an elite attack squad whose missions turned Fury into a military legend. Following the end of a war (and a grenade explosion that damaged his left eye), Fury became a CIA operative before becoming the executive director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (originally the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, although the designation has transformed over the years). In his role at the agency, Fury commanded an ever-changing roster of superheroes, spies, and soldiers as they took on covert ops, with Fury usually calling the shots but frequently joining the ranks and showing off his spy chops to keep the world safe. Mostly.

Weapon/Superpower: Nick Fury is arguably Marvel’s most famous non-powered face, with most of his heroic abilities coming from military training and standard fighting practices. It’s worth noting that Fury ages at an exceptionally slow rate, due not to any supernatural origins but to his consumption of the Infinity Formula, a life-saving medication that a French scientist gave Fury after he was gravely injured by a land mine in World War II. Fury’s life was saved, and thus he takes the tonic annually, thereby keeping him perennially young, lest he age rapidly and reach his expiration date. In terms of weaponry, just look to one of Fury’s dozens of holsters and take comfort in the fact that the man is never without a gun. (Note: Fury’s Ultimate Marvel backstory — the Samuel L. Jackson version — is significantly different, as the modern character has super strength and a robotic arm.)

Outfit/Clothing: The commando’s classic accessory is his eye patch, which is less of a fashion statement and more of an I-took-a-grenade-to-the-face statement. Jackson’s cinematic Fury is a leather trench coat aficionado, but the comic book character’s traditional outfit was a midnight blue lycra bodysuit with white accented accessories. Modern iterations of Fury, both in comics and in animated features and television series, have since transformed the aqua unitard into a slightly more stylish entry, although regardless of color palette, nobody should ever wear that many belts.

Secret Identity: Nick Fury needs no secret identity, although his dabblings in espionage and reconnaissance have demanded impersonations on select missions (including an imposture as his own brother Jake, also known as supervillain Scorpio).

Sidekicks: Back in his days as a land-mine-hoppin’, Nazi-shootin’ World War II soldier, Fury’s Howling Commandos included ex-circus strongman Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, who became Fury’s personal right-hand man and closest companion in the war and later at S.H.I.E.L.D. (Dum Dum popped up in Captain America: The First Avenger, played by Neal McDonough). In the cinematic world, Fury’s ‘sidekicks’ are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Love Life: Constantly jumping from wars to military bases to covert intelligence agencies, Fury has found little time for matters of the heart, except for one long-standing ladyfriend (Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine) and one tragic relationship during his early Howling Commando days in which his would-be British nurse fiancée died in a bomb raid on London. Still, Fury found the time to birth two sons from two different mothers. Amber D’Alexis gave birth to Fury’s first son, Mikel, and later trained him to follow Scorpio and assassinate Fury (which didn’t quite happen). His second son, Nicholas Jr. (a.k.a. Marcus Johnson), was born from a steamy encounter abroad with Nia Jones. Since Jones fled underground and D’Alexis trained their offspring to murder Fury, neither romantic endeavor worked out in the long run.

Sample tweet from Nick Fury: That’s it! I have had it with these motherf—— Skrulls on this motherf—— planet!

Random fact of obscure trivia: Comics often reflect real-world people and events, but in a rare case of art imitating art imitating life, the Ultimate Marvel universe (circa 2002) reinvented the Nick Fury character specifically to be based on Samuel L. Jackson. After Jackson approved of his likeness in The Ultimates #1, his eventual casting in the movies was all but guaranteed. The refurbished Fury — and his notable change in ethnicity — was one of the few bright spots among all of the Ultimate storyline switcheroos, which for the most part weren’t particularly well-received (save for the new Fury, Spider-Man, and the thoroughly awesome Avengers revision).

Why he might be the best Avenger: Nick Fury is far more than just a figurehead — he’s the short-tempered, hot-headed, occasionally terrifying string that ties the Avengers together…or at the very least, the one that makes the important decisions. Without Fury at the helm, the Avengers might as well be a group of supernaturally gifted cosplay wanderers.

Why he might NOT be the best Avenger: Mystery and rage are not the most likable mix, and Fury lacks some of the compassion that makes the other heroes sympathetic. He’s fun to watch and cheer on, but there’s something missing where his vulnerability should be. Also, let’s be completely honest here: There are a zillion more kids dressing up as Captain America and Iron Man than there are putting on a Nick Fury costume. The dude’s got no merchandise potential.

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The Avengers

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Jeremiah S. Chechik
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