Spoilers ahoy! This review of Battle Scars discusses major developments for the Marvel Universe.
Right now, a lot of Marelites are pulling a Charleston Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes. Those maniacs! They flirted, teased. They hinted and denied. But alas, the inevitable has happened: they made Nick Fury black.
I can literally remember the moment I first read the now famous "casting" scene in Mark Millar and Brian Hitch's The Ultimates. Nick Fury, clearly based on Samuel L. Jackson, participates in a conversation with the other heroes about their choices in who would play who in the movie based on their lives. It was an extremely meta moment, one that I made me pause and think about how effin' fantastic it would be to see a movies with the Avengers. Ah, boyhood dreams.
Flash-forward to May 2012. Manhood. The once impossible Avengers movie is here, and with it comes a bevy of comic tie-ins. Avengers Assemble, Hulk Smash Avengers, AvX — they all feed into the behemoth film with a star-riddled cast and fan-favorite director. While those other series help acquaint the movie watchers with the comic world, Battle Scars is designed to usher comic readers into the movie status quo. Yes, what you've likely heard is true: the protagonist of this series, Marcus Johnson, is the son of Nick Fury, and has replaced ol' one eye as the chief superspy and main S.H.I.E.L.D rep in the main Marvel Universe.
When Battle Scars started it seemed to have no connection to anything at all. The catalyst of the series starts in an epilogue for Fear Itself, but it has nearly nothing to do with godly hammers and dragon battles. The comic is modest, focusing solely on Marcus and using the Army Ranger as a vehicle for the reader. We see what he sees, but sadly we know a lot more about the world around him than he does. Dude is pitifully clueless about superheroes, and I guess someone who is fighting "the war" over in Afghanistan wouldn't be too concerned, but his amazement at something like a healing factor comes off weird. It's almost endearing that Marcus starts as an unspectacular badass. He is a premiere solider, but from issue one we see he can't hang with someone like Taskmaster.
Christopher Yost is a creator whose work I generally enjoy, and Scot Eaton is a trusted commodity. Their talent helps guide what could have been a garbled, forced ride. Even though it's apparent by the time Scorpio, one time mantle of Jake Fury, shows up at the end of issue #2 that someone is going to be missing an eye, and Yost does a skillful job of keeping the reader engaged in the character and overall mystery. More importantly, he develops Marcus Johnson, or Nick Fury Jr. (yes, it's actually his birth name), as a brave and appealing character. Although he has Infinity Formula running through his veins, and the training of one of the most fierce legions on the planet, Marcus still has very human doubts and concerns. New Nick is not yet comfortable amongst the strongmen and creatures of his new world, and he certainly has some learning to do. There is no way you can cram Nick Fury's 50 years of experience into a six issue series. Nick Fury Jr. isn't Samuel L. Jackson, nor is he Nick Sr. transposed into a new, younger, blacker body. He stands apart from both his comic dad and movie dad.
Old Nick is thrown a few developments himself, and is no way obsolete. The two will occupy the 616 simultaneous, and I really don't think either will be underutilized. Marvel is slim on "legacy" heroes, (more likely sidekicks end up splintering off into their own identities) but the way this is approached feels like a handoff of a mantle rather than a replacement. Marcus might have come from nowhere, but enough work was done on the page to justify at least the opportunity to earn his seat in the Marvel Universe.
Scot Eaton anchors the series with a consistent hand and an eye toward action. He has to work in a few varying genres here, the story starts off as a realistic war series, dips into a superhero yarn and then back into the world of spies and anarchist organizations. Eaton's style works in both worlds, with his heavy shadows and tough-looking individuals, but I admit this felt better with Deadpool and Taskmaster than with Leviathan (not that one) and Orion (not that one either). New Nick wearing the Super Solider costume at the end is a brilliant touch. That uniform is magical, and doesn't deserve the closet.
Of course I'm not going to forget Agent Coulson, the surprise of this series for sure. It might seem Coulson is more ad lib than New Nick, but actually "Cheese", best friend of our protagonist, is an ongoing presence from issue one. How cool is it that Phil Coulson's nickname is Cheese? (Alternately, how weird is it that New Nick's nickname is Marcus?) Coulson is an unlikely addition to Marvel comic books, and who knows where he'll fit in.
I think it should be noted that this series had two different editors provide afterwards for the first two issues and the last, respectively. The messages general theme was to thank readers for taking a chance on a series without a big name tie-in and to herald the coming of the new superspy. That's an unusual amount of notes from the editor(s), and shows Marvel is conscious of their bold move. In the last note it says they've been positioning this addition for awhile, which feels like a lie. There is a slight narrative arc stemming from Secret War to this moment, but it's faint, and ignores other Fury-related developments along the way.
The purpose of Battle Scars is painfully apparent, but the story underneath isn't so bad it doesn't deserve recognition. Yost and Eaton pull together a solid tale about a regular guy getting caught up in a world he barely understands and adapting. It is extremely debatable the benefit of this move; while millions will see the movie this summer, and for years to come, how many are truly not going to feel comfortable with a white Nick Fury? I'm not sure the creation of Marcus
was necessary, but he's here, and we get to see what he can do.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.