In which the blogger continues his piece on the characterisation of Scorpio, which was begun in the piece published here last Sunday, the 20th of March;
By 1977, even the endearing credulousness of comics fans couldn't always ignore the fact that those superfolks who'd once been shown active during World War II were now getting close to being too old to run up their own stairs at home, let alone face down youthful and powerfully world-threatening criminals. The links that Marvel Comics had created between its characters and real-world historical events in the early Sixties, when no-one had imagined that the superhero had anything much of a future at all, were now starting to seriously complicate the company's continuity. For those characters whose pasts were inseparably tied to the events of 1939-1945, explanations were suddenly in order for how they might still be so physically able in that futuristic era of President Carter and Studio 54. Some were provided with life-extending maguffins, such as Nick Fury's own immortality-creating "Infinity Formula", the existence of which had only been revealed in the year before Scorpio's run in the Defender's began, while those characters judged too important to be allowed to grow any older at all continued their gradual disassociation from the context of any specific historical moment at all.
However, some of the very least important of Marvel's characters could still be portrayed as stumbling under the weight of their advancing years. The Whizzer, for example, who'd first appeared in 1941, was shown in 1974's Giant-Sized Avengers # 1 to be prone to the heart disease which would eventually kill him. And Jake "Scorpio" Fury, being an even-more insignificant character than the lemon-costumed, mongoose-blood powered Robert Frank, was a figure who could productively be allowed to retain the specific historical context that he'd first been shown in. In fact, one of the keys to the success of Mr Kraft and Mr Giffen's reworking of Scorpio can be found in the fact that he's doomed to age in a fictional universe where so many others never do, where even the aged Aunt May bears one fatal illness and even death scene after another without lastingly passing over to a better place. Accordingly, Jacob Fury, a narcissist and a fatalist to the end, constantly refers with no little bitterness to his passing years in his Defender's appearances, as he does when he warns the kidnapped Jack Norris to;
" ... tread carefully. I am 52 years old and I won't be mocked! This is my last chance!"
And just before his suicide, Scorpio refers again to those "52" years. Time, he believes with some considerable desperation, is robbing him of the strength and the opportunities he needs to fight for the things that he's convinced he deserves, and without which he's sure that his life isn't worth the living.
On reflection, it's incredibly rare for a comicbook figure of even minor standing to know their precise age and to be able to discuss the matter as if time really did pass in the major superhero universes as it does in ours. We knew, for awhile at least, that Superman was 29, but then he was always going to be 29; he was never going to be 30, let alone 52. And it's in part the untypical relationship that Scorpio has to a form of time that mirrors our own experience which lends his fate such poignancy. For if time is passing somewhat for him as it does for us, then there's a sense that death just might afflict him as it will you and I. By extension, it appears that Scorpio really does seem to be inhabiting a universe which, as he believes, is crueler to him than it is to many of those he shares it with, because he really is measurably growing older and declining while, for a variety of reasons, a great many others from the class of superfolks are patently undergoing no such fate. And from the perspective of 34 years later, we might note that all of the Defenders seen in this tale are still "alive", as is even Jack Norris, the all-too human and deliberately-unremarkable ex-husband of the Valkyrie, while the best that might be said of Scorpio is that a computer programme bearing his name is on occasion seen failing to achieve its ends in the MU.
The suicide of Scorpio's is, in such a fashion, a terribly and untypically final and tragic business. For in the way in which he experiences the passing of his days, he's actually far more a creature of our world than of the often-timeless superheroic madhouse that he's doomed to live his fictional life out within.
Of course, Mr Kraft and Mr Giffen knew that Jacob Fury was 52 in 1977 because he'd been declared to be 20 years of age in Sgt Fury # 68/9, which was set in 1944. And Mr Kraft's take on the historical as well as the comicbook timeline of Jacob Fury's life is put to use in several exceptionally subtle ways across the five appearances of Scorpio in "The Defenders". For example, Mr Kraft refers three times to Scorpio's taste in music, and each of these examples are intimately related to Jake Fury's youth as well as being extremely telling where his state of mind is concerned. And so, when Scorpio is seen being psychologically charged and distorted by a great wave of mania in "The Defenders" # 48, he's shown playing a record of Varese's "Ameriques", that great sweeping and complex piece associated with the avant garde of the age between the two World Wars.This, Mr Kraft and Mr Giffen appear to be telling us, is what aspiration and expectation feels like to Scorpio when his mania allows him to both concentrate upon and dream of a hopeful future; a great modernist, orchestral evocation of New York complete with the howl of police car sirens and a lion's roar. And, like most of us, Scorpio's visions of a better tomorrow are conditioned in large part by his own past, as here, by a profoundly daring work associated with the city of Jacob Fury's youth in the years before the worst of his mental disorder quite overwhelmed him.
It's well nigh impossible to believe that Mr Kraft choose that piece of music at random, or that he might have indulgently allocated the same choice to, say, the Vulture or Egghead. For "Ameriques" is exactly the kind of esoteric and challenging music that the young Jacob Fury would surely have convinced himself that he adored, given that Varese would serve as evidence, as proof, that Scorpio wasn't just different to the folks around him, but better than them too. ("I've been an outcast all my life." he piteously declares, as if the world had compelled him to undertake his career as a costumed supervillain, as if they'd been no place in post-war NYC for a man of his talents, as if he'd never had a family that adored him even as he behaved like an ass, and far far worse.) For we already know that Jacob held socially heretical views in his younger days; after all, he'd been shown to be an open and virulent opponent of the War itself in "Sgt Fury" # 68, despite that having lead to his being labelled a "delinquent". And Mr Kraft constantly works to craft a portrait of Jacob Fury as always having had an unrealistically high opinion of himself while feeling rejected and indeed martyred by the lack of interest shown in him by the wider society. "In this world", he tells the android version of his brother Nick as the needle hits the vinyl and the orchestra starts to play the Varese, "autonomy, intelligence and originality are discouraged", although surely the very example of the composer's life and career might quash any such notion were Jake Fury capable of reasoned reflection.
But if Scorpio's manic surges see him temporarily energised and able to engage with the complexities and gameplaying of the avant garde, his quieter and darker moments demand music which is somewhat less apparently challenging in form if not content. When weary, his tastes turn to Billie Holiday and Judy Garland, and in the moments before he kills himself, he's tellingly shown having just listened to the latter's "Over The Rainbow" for "one last time". (We're shown the needle caught in the groove - "Klik - - Klik - - Klik " - with the song over and the vinyl still rotating, as clear and final an image as it's possible to imagine to express Scorpio's understanding of how his own fate has fallen.)
Well, of course a high-minded working class contrarian such as Jacob would've gone to hear Ms Holiday on 52nd Street in the Forties, and of course the younger Jacob would've been captured by "The Wizard Of Oz" in 1938, when he was a no-doubt precocious 13 years old. Those musical choices tell the reader so much about Scorpio's youth, of his aspirations and pretensions, just as they broaden our understanding of his state of mind in the last few days of his life.
Once every few years I take out "The Defenders" # 50 and read that last scene of Jacob Fury's suicide. I have always admired it, and did so long before I noted that Mr Kraft and Mr Giffen had used historical and comicbook continuity side-by-side in the fashion they had to evoke Scorpio's life and mind-set. But with a few more years under my belt, I read again the way that they delivered what's self-evidently a successful and yet standard-issue pre-Shooter superhero tale while also placing so much more of such considerable value into the sub-text of their story, and I find that I'm amazed. It would, after all, have been far simpler for them not to worry about such carefully detailed and subtle storytelling, while more egotistical creators might have placed their care and cleverness in a far more obvious and applause-inspiring place in the narrative. But to be smart and modest even as the unstable molecules and the Kirby Krackles are flying all around is well worth the noticing, even 37 years on after the event.
There was remarkably little of informing detail or depth in the Marvel archives of the time for David Kraft and Keith Giffen to call upon in their characterisation of Jake "Scorpio" Fury. A two-issue appearance as a 20 year old in a homefront Sgt Fury two-part tale and a few scenes as an absolutely typical supervillain in "Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD" were all that they had to draw upon, thin gruel indeed, and especially when it's realised that the SHIELD appearances were designed to disguise who Scorpio actually was. Yet their Scorpio is admirably and quite logically extrapolated from what little there was to adapt, and a great deal of thought was obviously given over to how to put that extremely limited amount of information to work. As a result, nothing much that's new has been added to the backstory of Jacob Fury, but that which we've seen before is often placed in a quite different context. For example, there'd been a slight but notable difference in tone between the typical blowhardisms of Scorpio's in the first issue of "Agent Of SHIELD" and the contents of his thought balloons, which are somewhat less moustache-twirling in their excess. That difference between the language that Jacob Fury uses in public and private is maintained in these issues of "The Defenders", although Scorpio's ludicrous but plot-serving habit of thinking of his brother as "Fury" in the second of the stories Jim Steranko told of him is rightly never repeated.
Far more ambitiously, Mr Kraft and Mr Giffen's take on Jake Fury fits perfectly with what little has been seen of the character before while it changes the very meaning of that backstory considerably. And reading backwards from "The Defenders" to Jake Fury's very first speaking appearance in comics results in his personality appearing to have always been that of a psychologically abnormal young man. Where Mike Friedrich's script for 1969's "Sgt Fury And His Howling Commandos" # 68/9 was designed to portray Jacob Fury as a feckless if redeemable younger son, the very same scenes which once did so now indicate something far more sinister. For example, Sgt Fury # 68 presents the reader with a Jake Fury who is a fierce opponent of the war, and the implication is that the younger son is jealous of his war-hero elder brother. But to re-read that story after experiencing Scorpio's last curtain call in "The Defenders" is to realise that Jacob wasn't so much resentful of his older brother's fame so much as thoroughly envious of the importance of the war itself in everyone's life. Yes, he loathes living in his brother's shadow, but he also seems to despise anything that doesn't have him sitting comfortably and self-aggrandisingly at the centre of events, and World War II was certainly, shall we say, a substantial distraction for the people of New York City. For the two key qualities of the 52 year-old Scorpio in Mr Kraft's scripts are egotism and a terrifying absence of empathy, and if those traits are used to make sense of the twenty year old Jake, a less benign character than that originally described emerges.
As a result, the frankly unbelievable decision for Jacob in "Sgt Fury" # 68 to wait two days before notifying anyone else of his brother's probable kidnapping, which was originally presented by Mr Friedrich as evidence of the 20 year-old's long suppressed capacity for honour, now reads as if the younger son was maliciously keen to keep the truth of the situation quiet for as long as possible.His tearful admission that he couldn't tell anyone because he'd promised brother Nick that he wouldn't seems now like the staged "admission" of a very nasty little boy indeed.
And where the Jake Fury of Mike Friedrich's tale is a lost and immature late adolescent inspired to join the army by the good example of the Howling Commandos, now we might note that he seems to change his mind about the War at the drop of a nickel when he perceives that he'll gain attention and advantage from following in the footsteps of brother and war-hero Nicholas Fury.
There's a moment during the closing brawl against the Nazi who'd kidnapped and brainwashed Sergeant Fury in those tales where Jake tells the men of the Howling Commandos to "Leave some of 'im for me ... I've the biggest stake in this, ya know.", and it's a scene obviously constructed to tell the reader that the 20 year old of 1944 has absorbed and internalised the need to fulfil his brotherly duties. But glance at it now and it seems obvious that Jacob Fury really does believe that he's got "the biggest stake" in the fight, and that he'd think that regardless of what was going on around him. To him, the fight isn't to avenge or even support his brother. It's nothing to do with the war and it's as divorced from conventional morality as can be imagined.
Because Jake Fury, the man who will eventually decide that all of reality is acting just to ruin his own pyrrhic schemes, really does believe that he has the "biggest stake" in everything.
When I was re-reading these 34 year-old issues of "The Defenders" earlier this week, the use of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in the tale's conclusion seemed to me to suggest the possibility of a camp sensibility on the part of Scorpio, and for a moment it seemed conceivable that that could've been being used as a marker of a lack of an "appropriate" masculinity in Jake Fury's make-up. Yet it just as swiftly became obvious that there was no other likely markers of camp where Scorpio's thoughts and behaviour are concerned, nor, of course, are there of any attempt in the slightest having been made to associate one particular socio-sexual preference with Scorpio's anti-social nature. Indeed, given when and where Jake Fury grew up, there's no need to perceive any irony at all at play in his choice of final record. Yet at the same time, there are signs that Scorpio is thoroughly confused about his sexuality, just as he seems to be a quite utterly perplexed individual in general. For example, there are moments when Scorpio and the android version of his brother Nick Fury bicker and argue like an old, sit-com married couple, with the LMD taking the submissive and quietly deeply loving role. (He only retains the android, Scorpio explains, because of "the loneliness", the fear of which is no doubt shared between Jake Fury and a great many other middle aged and unhappily-matched pairings.) At other moments, Jake is violently, and disturbingly, abusive to the android, and it's there as elsewhere patently obvious that the "sense of self" which Scorpio claims so vaingloriously to possess is nothing but a cruelly temporary illusion created by his mania.
In the light of Jake Fury's tenuous hold onto the facts of his own character, there's little in the history of superhero comics to match the sheer strangeness of the scene wherein Scorpio follows up his apparent murder of Moon Knight by escorting the kidnapped Jack Norris to his bedroom;
"Jack, you get to sleep on the floor. I've shown you enough courtesies -- I'm not giving up my bed."
How astonishingly odd it is to read that scene again! Scorpio is extremely quick to declare that he's not "giving up" his bed, as if Norris will demand to sleep there rather than, perhaps, think to demand his own freedom or at the least a show of guilt on Jake's part over the drowning of Moon Knight. Certainly Scorpio never seems to consider that it might be exceptionally odd to have his "guest" sleeping in his room anyway. They are in, after all, a huge secret base created within an old and abandoned warehouse, and it's a complex that's been shown to be full to bursting with secret compartments from which a non-superhero like Norris could never escape. And yet, there's an unavoidable sense that Scorpio is simply desperately lonely, and lonely, in the light of whatever reason, for male company most of all.
So; "The Defenders" # 49 has within its pages a scene in which Scorpio has Jack Norris sleeping on his bedroom floor while he takes the king-size mattress for himself. And all the time, the android Nick Fury, in his full Agent Of SHIELD costume, is there in the room with them both, charged with spinning Billie Holiday records into the night.
It is indeed as if Jake Fury isn't simply profoundly mad, but unimaginably lonely too.
To be concluded: