By Steve Morris
“The world’s not that simple. Hard choices have to be made… people make compromises. Like I said, our guys did what they had to do for their families!
Tell me the truth… What are you going to feel when you put a bullet in one of those men, Nick?”
That’s the infamous final page of Secret Warriors #4. It’s Nick’s response to a question from his fellow Howling Commando Gabe Jones, who is concerned about their upcoming attack on a station manned by former SHIELD Agents – agents who are now working for HAMMER under Norman Osborn. The men they’re going up against are still agents of the state – but their boss has changed, and they’ve chosen not to quit their jobs in protest. But Nick doesn’t care: as far as he’s concerned, those men have signed their death warrants, and he won’t hesitate to gun them down.
It’s a moment which cuts to the complicated heart of Secret Warriors as a run: is Nick Fury the good guy for going all scorched earth here, or is he a part of the problem? Just like when Ultimate Captain America made his joke about France, it’s a moment which wants readers to think that it’s funny and cool, but also morally ambiguous. Embraced satire, celebrating both sides. And as happened with Millar and Hitch before, the readership seemed to largely ignore the whole “morally ambiguous” bit. As Norman Osborn is unquestionably the villain, it seems that most readers simply went along with Fury’s decision to kill his formerly loyal agents. Agents who, as a reminder, were in that job because he abandoned them in a previous story, and they couldn’t afford to quit their job on a moral principle.
“One rule for me, one rule for thee”, Nick?
But it also rules. That’s the thing about Fury, which the series itself struggles to resolve. Over the course of the story he sees almost all his Howling Commandos killed off, his Secret Warriors splinter, his long-term love interest turn against him for good, and his son dies in action. And at the end of the day he stands in front of Captain America’s statue, shares some thoughts and grimaces, and then goes back on his mission. He takes on the burden of guilt without ever expressing it, so readers never have a moment to reflect on the bad he’s done in the process of doing good.
He’s clearly part of the overall problem – some would argue that culpability is the entire point of having a military complex – but his Clint Eastwood-esque black and white approach squares him solely into the “hero” mould, tricking readers into following the character’s own binary approach to the world. There’s good guys and there’s bad guys. It’s the job of the good guys to shoot the bad, whoever they may be.
And that “one rule for me, one rule for thee” mentality means that sure, he is going to spring the villainous Contessa from prison at the end of the series simply because he wants to. But it’s again delivered in such a cool way that readers are encouraged to celebrate something that is, by most reckonings, slight treason. But that’s the thing about Nick Fury: there’s nobody cool enough to call him out on his bullshit. Nobody can make him feel anything he doesn’t want to.
Secret Warriors #4 “Agent of Nothing, Part 4”
Writers: Jonathan Hickman and Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller and Inker: Stefano Caselli
Colourist: Daniele Rudoni
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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