Review by Frank Plowright
Spoilers in review
Most of Battle Scars is a well-conceived action thriller with a previously unseen, but more than capable lead searching for answers. Equally mysterious is why what seems a relatively low key project requires Cullen Bunn, Matt Fraction and Chris Yost to plot for Yost to script. Then, at the end, the truth is revealed as a marketing-led continuity adjustment. Spoiler alert for the penultimate paragraph.
“Who is Marcus Johnson?” screams the back cover. He’s a more than capable airborne ranger on duty in Afghanistan, serving his country a career selected in preference to sports, where he could have excelled. When his mother is murdered, he learns it was a plot to lure him out for similar treatment. His life becomes a domestic combat zone as he’s targeted by high-level mercenaries such as Taskmaster and Deadpool, with Captain America turning up to save him. Johnson, though, is resourceful and resilient and begins investigating why he’s become a target.
As noted, most of the story is a very good action page-turner, with Yost cranking up both the threats and Johnson’s adaptability and Scot Eaton illustrating whatever’s thrown at him in suitably dynamic fashion. There’s a slight similarity to the way Marvels portrayed super-powered characters as seen by the ordinary public before a revelation midway through that accounts for the story. That’s not what shreds all credibility, though.
In the Marvel films franchise Samuel L. Jackson’s charismatic take on weather-beaten super-spy Nick Fury ranges over several movies, his appearance originating as whimsy as Bryan Hitch drew the Ultimates, occurring on a different Earth. With Nick Fury now a high-profile character beyond comics, the old white veteran with an eye patch appearing in the printed Marvel continuity was seen as problematical, so Battle Scars was conceived to rectify the situation. By the final pages Johnson has been revealed as Fury’s son, the anti-aging formula Fury uses has transferred to his DNA, he’s lost an eye, and he’s heading a S.H.I.E.L.D. unit calling himself Nick Fury, now revealed as his birth name. The original owner of that name then ignominiously shuffles off into Original Sin, leaving film and comic versions of the Marvel Universe seamless. That is, of course, until Jackson decides sometime in 2018 that he’s had enough cameos in superhero films, and Fury is re-cast as a woman.
The rapid transition from decent thriller to sequence of imposed revelations is poorly handled. The embarrassment of such blatant marketing seemingly transfers to Yost whose final few pages indicate he can’t wait to distance himself and move on. With most of the poor material in closing chapter, the remainder still stands up well, but revising fifty years of established characterisation to conform to short-term movie convenience is a shabby exercise.