What was the easiest way to tell that Captain Marvel is set in the ’90s? It wasn’t the Blockbuster Video store or the Nirvana T-shirts — it was Nick Fury’s good left eye. Along with Carol Danvers’ fabulous costume, one of the most striking visual elements boasted by the latest Marvel movie was our first glimpse at a young Fury, who still has both his eyes, rather than his iconic eye patch.
And that meant, going in, that Captain Marvel could potentially show us how Nick Fury lost his eye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
[Ed. note: This post will contain spoilers for Captain Marvel.]
How Nick Fury loses his eye in Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel teases Nick’s injury early on, when a car crash leaves him with a battered eyebrow. But once the main action of the movie is nearly over, we get the real story.
If you’re a cat owner, you know that even the most loving feline friend will lash out if they don’t like the way you’re handling them at that moment, and that’s kind of what happens to Fury. After a movie’s worth of loyalty, Goose the Flerken gets a little tired of being held up by the armpits without anyone supporting her butt or back legs — wouldn’t we all? — and lashes out.
She scratches Nick across his left eye, and the damage doesn’t seem dire at first, though Talos, who knows a thing or two about flerken, is worried. Sure enough, by Captain Marvel’s denouement, Fury has already adopted an eyepatch. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to blame Goose. Or, maybe he just knows better than to let an alien with an infinity stone inside its physics defying stomach out of his sight.
It might seem anti-climactic, but this reason also deftly explains why nobody in the modern MCU knows how Fury lost his eye. How exactly do you keep your aura for mystery while explaining that your pet cat scratched it out — except they’re not a cat, they’re ... you know what, yes, it was a Skrull warrior.
Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos
But MCU fans aren’t the first people to wonder how Nick Fury lost his left eye. Fury started his comic book life in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Marvel’s premier wartime adventure comic, which featured the two-eyed, Nazi-killing, Axis-confounding adventures of, well, Sgt. Nick Fury and his elite unit of hand-picked soldiers, the Howling Commandos.
Fury was just another enlisted grunt — albeit a nigh-mythical, unkillable, unbeatable, unflappable one — until 1965, when Marvel decided there just might be something to the post-war globe trotting spy archetype so recently and charismatically embodied by Sean Connery. The grizzled Fury was kitted out in a nice suit and, in his very first spy adventure, battled the many arms of Hydra on behalf of the espionage agency SHIELD.
How Nick Fury lost his eye
In his transition from a WWII grunt in a period comic to a modern sci-fi super spy, Fury earned one major change: an eyepatch. And in late 1965 or early 1966 (comic book publishing dates can get a little hazy), Stan Lee and Dick Ayers canonized how he lost his eye in Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos #27.
So how did Nick Fury lose his eye? The short answer is, he caught a Nazi grenade, but didn’t throw it away fast enough to evade the blast.
The longer answer is, after getting patched up on the battlefield, Sgt. Fury laid down covering fire so that his men could escape while he stayed behind, and wound up spending several days alone in enemy territory. Of course, he make it out alive — and, while he was at it, captured a Nazi super-scientist and convinced a German soldier to defect with only a stirring speech about being able to respect the people who give you orders.
But at that point, Fury’s eye was still mostly untreated, and an army doctor gave him a difficult, narratively convenient choice: Undergo crucial surgery to repair his eye and be out of action for a year — or accept that he would eventually lose all sight in that eye later in life. Nick Fury, being exactly the kind of perfect soldier that romantic wartime adventure stories call for, chose to sacrifice his future sight to remain with his men.
“He said you needed him!” the doctor says to the Howling Commandos, “He is a brave man, your Sergeant Fury! And you must all be very dear to his heart!”
Fury is, shall we say, more taciturn.
Careful, Sergeant, or your men might start to think you like them.
A narration box in the next panel states that Fury served the rest of the war with his eyesight intact, adopting his eyepatch in 1963 — which explains why he’s wearing one in his contemporary adventures.
And that’s how Nick Fury lost his eye, in the comics: He sacrificed it to keep his men safe, and to keep kicking Nazi butt uninterrupted.
But what about the other Nick Furys?
There are two other characters in the Marvel Multiverse who work under the name Nick Fury, and both of them are one-eye wonders as well.
In Marvel’s most famous alternate timeline, the Ultimate Marvel Universe, Nick Fury — who is likely the reason Samuel L. Jackson was cast as the character in the MCU — lost his eye in another military encounter. While serving in Kuwait during the Gulf War, Ultimate Nick Fury wound up on the wrong side of an explosion when his convoy was attacked by Iraqi soldiers. That convoy just happened to be transporting the army’s Weapon X, who you might know better as the X-Man Wolverine. Luckily for Nick, Wolverine pulled him out of the wreckage and carried him back to HQ.
That version of Nick Fury no longer exists, after the shuttering of the Ultimate Marvel setting, but the main Marvel Universe still found a way to introduce a similar character to its main setting. Nick Fury, Jr., the son of Nick Fury, is the current, living Nick Fury of the main Marvel Universe.
Marvel’s Battle Scars miniseries made several moves that nudged the Marvel Comics Universe closer to the Cinematic one, including Agent Phil Coulson’s comic book debut. The series also introduced Marcus Johnson, a soldier who looked a lot like Ultimate Universe Nick Fury, and who turned out to be Main Universe Nick Fury’s secret son, with the birth name Nick Fury, Jr. In the pages of Battle Scars, some bad guys who want to get to Nick Fury capture Nick Fury, Jr. and cut out his eye. Of course, he gets them all back in the end and embraces a post as an agent of SHIELD.
And that’s the story of three spies and three eyes.
But wait, how did original Nick keep from aging between being a grizzled soldier in the 1940s and suave spy in the 1960s?
Yearly doses of the Infinity Formula, a diluted version of the Infinity Elixir, which was developed by Sir Isaac Newton to give Nostradamus immortality.