At the end of 2008’s “Iron Man” feature film Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), “You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.” Marvel Studios continued to expand that universe in subsequent films including “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and the upcoming “The Avengers.” Jackson’s Fury and actor Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson have become two of the more prominent characters in the Marvel Movie Universe, so it’s only natural they would eventually appear in Marvel Comics’ main Earth 616 Universe.
The debut issue of the six-issue “Fear Itself: Battle Scars” miniseries by writers Chris Yost, Matt Fraction, and Cullen Bunn and artist Scott Eaton introduced readers to the Marvel Universe counterparts of Jackson and Gregg’s characters. In the fifth issue readers discovered that African American Army Ranger Marcus Johnson was the illegitimate son of the Marvel Universe’s caucasian Nick Fury. The final issue, in stores now, revealed his best friend and fellow Ranger Cheese was in fact Phil Coulson. CBR News spoke with Yost about the developments of that final issue which set Marcus AKA Nick Fury Jr. and Coulson up for a bigger role in the Marvel Universe.
CBR News: So Chris, last time we spoke about the editorial and story origins of Marcus Johnson and how he was a way to bring some of the Marvel cinematic and animation universes to the 616 Marvel Universe. In “Battle Scars” #6 you revealed that the real name of Marcus’ friend Cheese was Phil Coulson. Did you always intend for Coulson to be Cheese?
Chris Yost: It always was the plan. From day one, I figured if we were bringing in Marcus Johnson as a very cinematic Nick Fury he should have Coulson with him. So if you go back to issue #1 you’ll see that Coulson actually appears before Marcus does. So if you’re looking for the secret origin and first appearance of Phil Coulson it’s “Battle Scars” #1.
Was this your idea or did it come from Editorial?
I believe it was mine. It honestly feels like forever ago when Matt Fraction, Tom Brevoort, Cullen Bunn and I got on the phone and were hashing all this out. The point was always to introduce Marcus into the Marvel Universe and for fun I threw Coulson in there.
Refresh my memory, did you ever explore the origins and reasons for Coulson’s nickname?
[Laughs] It’s funny because Tom Brevoort recently asked me about that. I guess they all thought I had some insider knowledge on Coulson from the movie side of things. It wasn’t though. It was really just a dumb joke. That had to do with his name being Phil, which is close to Philadelphia, which has cream cheese.
Really though, I needed something to call the guy so we didn’t blow the reveal that it’s Coulson. It was just a fun nickname.
Over the course of the six issues of “Battle Scars” we saw that Coulson was a combat savvy Ranger, but it also felt like he was just as skilled with technology. Is that correct?
Absolutely. You see in the movies that Phil is fairly up on the technology of everything that S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing so I wanted to put a little bit of that in here. Marcus and the Coulson of the Marvel Universe are very young. Marcus isn’t suddenly the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s an agent. And Coulson is the same. They have a lot to learn, but this is kind of the base of Phil Coulson and we’ll see what he becomes.
Speaking of becoming something, at the end of “Battle Scars” #6 it’s revealed that the name on Marcus Johnson’s birth certificate is Nick Fury Jr. and he’s shown clad in Steve Rogers’ Super Soldier costume. Has Marcus/Nick become the inheritor of the Super Soldier identity?
Much like his father Nick Fury Sr., who doesn’t have any special powers, he’s just a little bit stronger and faster, but we wanted something to really call Marcus out as special. In the story we say it’s a gift from Captain America, so Captain America has kind of taken an interest in this kid and he’ll be doing special missions and special ops. It was something editorial thought was a great idea and it looks great.
The final page of “Battle Scars” #6 implies that Nick Fury Jr’s initial special missions will be against the forces of Leviathan, the terrorist conspiracy that killed his mother, almost killed his father, and robbed him of one of his eyes. Are Nick Fury Jr and Agent Coulson now S.H.I.E.L.D’s two man anti-Leviathan task force?
Yeah. There are still remnant groups out there, but the larger HYDRA organization has been dismantled. And much like his father had HYDRA I thought it would be great if Marcus and Coulson were tasked with taking down Leviathan. Obviously as time goes on and they’re exposed to more of the Marvel Universe the scope of their missions will broaden. Right now though, Leviathan is a very personal enemy for Marcus.
In “Battle Scars” #6 Leviathan’s leader, Orion, appears to perish in an explosion. How dangerous is the organization now that their leader is “dead?”
Leviathan has cells all over the world. Orion was in the process of building them back up into a major threat, and he’s a man known for having 100,000 deaths within him. So who knows if we’ve seen the end of Orion.
“Battle Scars” may be over, but we know we haven’t seen the last of Nick Fury Jr and Coulson. Where are they going to appear next?
You may want to check out “Scarlet Spider” #5, on sale May 9th, for an essential cameo from Fury and Coulson. In the issue there’s a nuclear bomb loose in Houston and everyone gets involved. So you’ll see cameos from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers as the hunt goes on for this bomb.
Then beyond that, I’m hearing rumblings of some big plans for Fury and Coulson. So I would definitely keep an eye out for these characters.
Speaking of those plans, if there was a demand would you be interested in writing a Fury-Coulson buddy book?
Sure, I’ve got great affection for Marcus, but being fairly self aware here, espionage stories aren’t exactly my strong suit. So it would depend on the direction they would want to take the characters. There are so many great writers out there so Marcus is going to be in great hands. I would love to revisit him at some point, though.
In your opinion which aspects of Fury and Coulson’s characters seem most ripe for exploration?
I think the great thing about this is Nick Fury Sr. is a spy master. He knows everything and everyone, and is always a step ahead of everyone. Now we’re in a situation where we’re getting somebody who’s learning the game. I think that’s a fantastic opportunity because how do you enter that world of spies and action? When you’re dealing with those kinds of situations and super villains for the first time things get pretty exciting.
So they’re rookie super spies?
Yeah, rookies are the best. That’s why I love writing the teen super heroes like the New X-Men and Runaways. They haven’t seen all of this before and for new readers that’s pretty fun. They’re entering into this world the same time the characters are. So a book like that would be a great way to dive into the Marvel espionage world with a new character.
We’ve talked about Nick Fury Jr.’s role in the larger Marvel Universe. Let’s wrap things up by talking about the role his father will play now that his son is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’ve noticed some fans are worried about what the rise of Marcus Johnson/Nick Fury Jr. means for Nick Fury Sr. Should they be worried about the Marvel U’s master spy?
I’ve also noticed that some people are worried about Nick Sr. The bottom line is Nick Fury is a tough old bugger. I would not want to be the man tasked with taking him down. So he’s alive and well, but he doesn’t have the Infinity Formula within him. He says in the final issue of “Battle Scars” that nature will catch up with him soon, but not yet.
Plus, just like his son there are larger plans for Nick Fury Sr., correct?
Right I know Matt Fraction has plans for him over in “Defenders.” Nick Fury Sr. is a great character and will always be a great character. There’s definitely room in the Marvel Universe for both father and son.
Finally, the last issue of “Battle Scars” came out last week. Now that it’s out how does it feel to look back on the series?
I really want to thank everybody who ordered and read the book as well Editors Tom Brevoort, Alejandro Arbona, and Tom Brennan for helping shape the book into what it is. I also want to thank Matt Fraction and Cullen Bunn for brainstorming with me. It was a fun book. Nobody knew what it was. Then the mystery started to unfold and it’s been great to see everybody’s reaction both good and bad.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more info on Agent Coulson and Nick Fury Sr. and Jr.