Nick Fury was white, but, in a 2001 re-envisioning of the character, writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch decided to make him black. What’s more, they made him look like Samuel L. Jackson.
The comic “Ultimates,” which offered a modern version of Marvel’s Avengers, has been cited as a major influence for the movies by everyone from “Avengers” director Joss Whedon to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. Nowhere is that more clear than in the casting of Jackson as super spy Fury.
Millar explained in an email why he made Fury look like Jackson and how the actor responded years later (emphasis ours):
I wanted an African-American Nick Fury to be director of SHIELD because the closest thing in the real world to this job title was held by Colin Powell at the time. I also thought Nick Fury sounded like one of those great, 1970s Blaxploitation names and so the whole thing coalesced for me into a very specific character, an update of the cool American super-spy Jim Steranko had done in the 70s and based on the Rat Pack, which seemed very nineteen sixties and due for some kind of upgrade. Sam is famously the coolest man alive and both myself and artist Bryan Hitch just liberally used him without asking any kind of permission. you have to remember this was 2001 when we were putting this together. The idea that this might become a movie seemed preposterous as Marvel was just climbing out of bankruptcy at the time.
What we didn’t know was that Sam was an avid comic fan and knew all about it. One of my books was adapted recently as Kingsman: The Secret Service, where Sam played the bad guy, and we finally got to hang out on the set. The first thing I said was I hope you don’t mind me completely exploiting your appearance in my book thirteen years back and he said ‘fuck, no, man. Thanks for the 9 picture deal’. He’s fantastic.
Millar’s book was pretty explicit about using Jackson as a model. Fury even jokes in one issue that he should be played by Jackson in a hypothetical movie about the Ultimates.
In the same comic, characters suggest casting Brad Pitt as Captain America, Johnny Depp as Tony Stark, Matthew McConnaughey as Ant Man, Lucy Liu as the Wasp, and Steve Buscemi as Bruce Banner (or as he would prefer, Freddie Prinze Jr.).
While Marvel’s Avengers movies didn’t take Millar’s other casting suggestions, they took a lot of plot elements from “Ultimates,” including the Chitauri and Loki as villains.
As Millar told New Empress Magazine in 2012: “Kevin Fiege (who runs Marvel Studios) was a big fan of the books and told us it made him realise an Avengers movie could actually be a lot simpler than they’d thought and so they used book one and the ending to book two as the template for the movie, which is enormously flattering.”
Sean Howe, writing in “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” goes so far as to claim that “Ultimates” was “intended as a demonstration of how ‘The Avengers’ franchise” could be transmogrified into a megaplex attraction.”
Millar tells BI, however, that no one was thinking about a movie when he signed on to the comic:
My first book at Marvel was a reboot of the X-Men and it launched at number 1 so they asked me what I wanted to do next. I said I wanted to reboot The Avengers and they winced because the X-Men and Spider-Man titles were their biggest sellers at the time. The Avengers family of characters, they told me, were a waste of my time and they asked me to do a Wolverine book instead. But I was really passionate about this. It was a real labour of love and I had the perfect artist in Bryan Hitch to give this book a very realistic feel that tied together all the characters in a much more natural way I felt mainstream audiences would get. Marvel at this point had these characters scattered across different studios like New Line, Universal and one or two others so a movie was never in consideration. Their single purpose at the time was getting the comic-division back into the black as things had been quite rough for a couple of years. Anything that happened after is just because the material worked well for the mainstream and was described by readers as cinematic. Of course, we didn’t realise six or seven years later we were going to see all this start to come together as a movie. Marvel weren’t self-financing until 2008.
Millar has had a hand in an insane number of other comic movies, too, creating “Kick-Arse,” “Wanted,” and “The Secret Service: Kingsman” as part of his Millarworld publishing company, while advising various Disney Marvel movies and overseeing Fox’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When I mentioned that Whedon and Feige have cited his work as an influence on “The Avengers,” he offered this comment on his legacy:
It’s nice of them to point it out and we’re proud of the work we did. We didn’t own those characters and we’re very philosophical about what they use in the movies. I left Marvel a few years back to create Millarworld, really just trying to BECOME Marvel I guess and the revamp of The Avengers I did was a wonderful step towards that as it gave me an audience I could bring my own characters like Kick-Arse, Wanted, Kingsman and all the new stuff too. I still have a really good relationship with those guys, but am full time creating my own thing now. We’re on franchise twelve in publishing and just sold franchises eight and nine as movies (Chrononauts to Chris Morgan at Universal and Jupiter’s Legacy to Lorenzo DiBonaventura). Revamping The Avengers was an amazing six years of my life, though. As a fanboy it was kind of a dream. I feel I’ve left my mark on Marvel, which is exciting, but as Stan Lee himself said to me at the time I really had to go out there and create my own stuff.
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