|Will Murray, author
of the upcoming Nick Fury novel Empyre, is no stranger to the world
of action-adventure fiction. Having written more than forty of the books
in The Destroyer series (which chronicles the adventures of the world’s
greatest assassins while they are in the employ of the US government),
along with several Doc Savage novels, it would seem Murray is the perfect
choice to pen a tale about the greatest spy in the Marvel Universe.
Mr. Murray was kind enough to answer a few questions both about his work on Empyre and his thoughts on Nick Fury and allow us to post them here for all to see.
Will Murray: The people at Byron Press had been asking me to write a novel in their Marvel series for quite some time, and I usually said no because I was too busy or didn't care for the particular project. Many of the Marvel characters had evolved away from their roots, and I prefer to approach an existing character from an aspect of purity. I declined an Iron Man novel once because it had to have War Machine in it. But someone at Marvel licensing liked my work, and kept bugging the Press people to keep bugging me.
When they approached me on Nick Fury back in the Fall of '97, they said thought I was perfect for it because of my background writing the Destroyer for so many years. In fact, I found writing Fury closer to writing Doc Savage, which I've also done.
I also had an ulterior motive. I had just started working as a professional psychic, and knew I was going to be writing about my experiences in both fiction and non-fiction in the future. Remembering the old SHIELD ESP Division, I wanted to bring that up to date, incorporating elements of the CIA Stargate Remote Viewing Program. The Fury book would be a laboratory for me to experiment with writing about realistic human psychic functions in fiction. I told my editor about this. After he got over his surprise, he agreed to this approach. Thus, Empyre was born.
2. Marvel Comics has a history of allowing the writers of their novels to take liberties with the established backgrounds of their characters. How close is your version of Nick Fury to the one found in the comics?
WM: As someone who bought the first SHIELD story off the newsstand in 1965, I wanted to write Fury as close to his roots as possible. To me, that was the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby version of the character, with some Steranko thrown in. I had not read SHIELD since the early 70s, but I knew the organization had been corrupted and reformed at least once. I was assured that Marvel wanted a simplified, uncomplicated SHIELD--which was what I wanted to do, too. They sent me a stack of SHIELD books from the 80s-90s, but I was told to ignore most of them. [As reference material] I found them basically useless. I don't recall every do and don't, but I know they asked that I not reference Fury's age, nor use the old SHIELD acronym and its long history. To me, this long background made SHIELD even more interesting, so I found ways to address both--although they did cut one reference to the old acronym.
Beyond that, I was pretty much allowed--even encouraged--to write and update SHIELD anyway I chose. Other than creating the new Special Powers Division, I stayed close to the original conception. I did create new weaponry and some Kirby-style gadgets for Fury to use.
I recently read the [novel] proofs, and am happy to report it's going to be published almost exactly as I wrote it.
3. You mentioned that Marvel said you were to avoid mentioning Fury's age and SHIELD's long history. With that in mind, did Marvel give you any limitations on what established Fury supporting characters you could or could not use in the novel, since several of them share Nick's WWII roots?
WM: I was instructed not to rely on Fury's old Howling Commandos for Empyre, but either I was allowed to use Dum Dum Dugan, or I lobbied to be able to use him. I felt Fury needed a familiar foil, and Dum Dum was perfect. I played him like Monk Mayfair to Fury's Doc Savage, a big tough amiable right hand man, and used him liberally, getting into his background without overemphasizing it. He was fun to write.
Gabe appears in a minor capacity. I also brought in Val from the Steranko era, but downplayed her long history with Fury. All other SHIELD personnel were created for the book.
4. You said that Gabe Jones, Dum Dum, and Val were the only three existing supporting characters for Nick that you used in the novel. Which of these three characters did you have the most fun writing, and which do you think is most important to the Fury mythos?
WM: There's no question in my mind that Dum Dum is the most important secondary character in Nick Fury's life. He was the first Howler Fury ever met and the character who seemed closest to Fury during all of his incarnations. He was also the greatest fun to write--a warm-hearted roughneck in the Monk Mayfair vein. If you look at the earliest Lee-Kirby Sgt Fury's they were absolutely tongue in cheek, very much inspired by Maxwell Anderson's World War One play, What Price Glory? with Fury and Dum Dum playing the brutally lovable Captain Flagg and Sgt.Quirt, who both acted like they wanted to slaughter one another, although deep down they had bonded as only men who fight side-by-side can bond. This is how I approached Nick and Dum Dum. No other relationship in Fury's life has this quality and richness of characterization. (This play, by the way, also inspired some of the Doc Savage characterizations, which is why I enjoyed writing Nick and Dum Dum so much.) There really isn't a lot of texture to Gabe Jones, and I never really cared for Val as a character.
5. Nick is a character who started out fighting in World War II before moving on to become an international espionage agent. Which version of the character do you like better: the NCO Fury or the head of SHIELD Fury?
WM: My first exposure to Fury was purchasing Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #4 off the newsstands in 1963. This was the first "serious" issue, recounting the death of Junior Juniper. I enjoyed most the brawling over-the-top Sgt.Fury of his earliest issues. As the series progressed, it grew more serious and less fun. By the time that happened, Lee and Kirby reteamed for SHIELD. Ultimately, I find the Nick Fury of SHIELD the more compelling concept, but I'm partial to the earliest Lee-Kirby stuff, the 1962-63 material which was the first I was exposed to. I should mention that I "played" Fury as Jack Kirby, since Fury was clearly an ego projection of Kirby himself. I really loved the Steranko version, but in the interest of clear characterization, I didn't take much from Steranko's more sophisticated interpretation of the character.
It's funny. I'm a big Kirby fan. But I never fully appreciated the great concepts he created for the SHIELD series until I tried bringing them to life on the printed page. The Heli-carrier, for one. It's a fantastic, preposterous concept, but a wonderful one, too. I made her as much of a character as anyone else in my book. It was an interesting challenge to bring the Heli-carrier to life and make her work in print. A great deal of the story takes place on her decks.
One concept I almost dispensed with was Hydra. I felt it had been overworked and hadn't planned to get into any Hydra stuff. Another reason was that Hydra had played a big part in other Marvel novels recently. Fortunately, I rethought my initial misgivings. Although Hydra isn't the primary villain in Empyre, they play a big part in the novel's unfolding, and they were a great concept to play with too. And as I discovered, it's kind of hard to get into the origins of SHIELD without bringing in Hydra.
6. While writing Nick Fury Jim Steranko often attempted to insert social satire into his stories, only to have it removed by his editor. You did similar humor when you worked on both The Destroyer novels and comic magazine. Did you work any of that satire into your Fury novel?
WM: Since I was keying off Fury's Lee-Kirby roots, the satirical route never occurred to me. The humor of Empyre is same kind of humor found in Doc Savage, or early Marvel Comics for that matter. Fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff. No particular edge or point of view. I did however, reach into my file of unused Destroyer plots for inspiration when I first got the assignment. A planned Destroyer called "Death Spiral", denuded of Destroyer elements, served as the first building block to Empyre.
Early on, a Byron Press editor objected to me giving one of the villains a Destroyeresque Saddam Hussein soundalike name in the outline, so I changed it. Beyond that, I wasn't looking to do satire, just a faithful Nick Fury adventure book.
7. A minor question, but one that has to be asked. In the early-90s a wave of political correctness washed over Marvel, resulting in Nick Fury suddenly giving up his trademark cigars. While this policy was changed recently, were you told to keep out any comment on Nick smoking in the novel, so as not to warp the minds of impressionable young readers?
WM: The essential problem with Nick Fury is that on the comic page, drawn correctly, he's a great larger than life character. In prose, he tends to flatten into two-dimensionality. I knew it would be death to have him speak with all those "ya's" and other broken-English language tricks that work in comics. So I smoothed out his speech patterns without changing them. That helped. So did having Dum Dum to bounce off. No one told me not to use the cigar, so it became a major character prop, almost an extension of his personality, like Doc Savage's expressive flake-gold eyes. The editors may have trimmed some of the cigar scenes, but Fury smokes from chapter one to the explosive end.
8. An editor once described you as “[possessing] omniscient knowledge of just about anything a story’s background [required of you],” referring to the vast amount of research you do before writing any of your stories. What kind of research did you do to make Empyre more interesting and believable?
WM: As mentioned earlier, I'm a professional psychic, and especially interested in reviving the old SHIELD ESP Division. It's called Special Powers now. Although Jack Kirby had an obvious interest in the paranormal, he had no operational working experience. It's flat-out impossible for three psychics to see--never mind project--the exact same clairvoyant image as Kirby drew in an early story, because psychic images appear to be generated by the brain, not received as pure signal, and are thus subject to being filtered by individual imagination. Also Psi signals cannot be electronically blocked a la the old ESP helmets Kirby created. I had to find a way to explain how those helmets worked. Thanks to recent advances in the understanding of brain-wave function as it relates to Psi, I think I pulled it off.
The creation of a Hydra Remote Viewing program, and the dire implications that SHIELD secrets can no longer be protected, is what kicks off the new Special Powers Directorate, and the novel. [For the novel] I created a new character, Starla Spacek, a former CIA Remote Viewer, for this book, basing her abilities more-or-less on my own. Although I should note I had no RV training when I wrote the book. Since then, I've had a good deal, thanks to David Morehouse, the former U.S, Army Intelligence officer who blew the lid off all those secret programs when he wrote Psychic Warrior and was courtmartialed as a result.
Lastly, a phenomenon that used to haunt my Destroyer novels resurfaces in this book. An airliner incident in an early chapter eerily prefigures both the Egypt Air 990 and Alaska Airlines 261 disasters. No one should be surprised if other elements of Empyre don't prove uncannily precognitive.
9. Finally, has there been any talk of you doing another Fury novel or perhaps comic series, assuming this first novel does well?
WM: This book has been delayed several times. It was originally scheduled for May of '98, I think. Then moved to May '99, then Dec. '99. Outline approval process redtape caused the project to grind to a halt several times. When we were finally ready to go in January 1999, I had basically given up the project as dead, and wasn't sure I could deliver the book on the new, we-need-it-now deadline. The new Byron Press editor--I went through 3 in all--told me another writer was doing a Fury Vs. Wolverine novel scheduled a year later, and we could swap projects if I wished. I never read Wolverine and really wanted to write the first SHIELD novel, so I made time for it. As far as I know, that second SHIELD book is the only one planned. I enjoyed writing Empyre, and might enjoy writing another, if asked.
I last wrote for Marvel
Comics about 10 years ago, and have no contacts there. If someone at
Marvel wants a SHIELD series from me, it would be
worth exploring. And I know who would be great to draw it: my old Marvel
Destroyer collaborator, Lee Weeks. Around the time I was asked to write
Empyre, I was shown at a comics convention sample pages of a SHIELD
miniseries Lee did with another writer. They looked fantastic. Unfortunately,
Marvel never picked it up.
A Quarter for Crazy Eddie
EQMM & 100 Crooked Little Crime Stories
Snail Ghost Eldritch Tales & 100 Creepy Little Creature Stories
Tiger Hunt Pulp Adventures Classic Pulp Fiction Stories #23
The Big Nothing
SKULLDUGGERY & Detective Story Magazine
The Zeppelin Tattoo SKULLDUGGERY
The Long and Short of It SKULLDUGGERY
The Green Brassiere Detective Story Magazine
SPICY ZEPPELIN STORIES: (collection)
Zeps of the Void
All-Star Action Heroes
Bone Further Adventures of the Joker: Legends of The Batman
Seize the Night Further Adventures of Batman 2: Legends of The Batman
The City That Could Not Breathe Further Adventures of Batman 3 Legends of The Batman
The Riddle of Superman's Mask Further Adventures of Superman
Mercury Man Further Adventures of Wonder Woman
To Clear the Earth
The Shub-Niggurath Cycle
Black Fire The Cthulhu Cycle
Rude Awakening The Cthulhu Cycle
The Sothis Radiant Miskatonic University
* The Eldredge Collection Disciples of Cthulhu II
* Kingsport Tea Tales of Kingsport
Miss Hitchbone Reclaims Her Own Horrors!
365 Scary Stories
The Skull in Her Smile 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories
The Mudang 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories
* Rags, the Mighty 100 Clever Little Cat Crimes
The Catawampus Caper 100 Clever Little Cat Crimes
The Orb of Kukulcan
Weird Stories #7
The Shadow Over Uxmal Cthulhu Codex #11 & The Yig Cycle
Terror Tribunal Herbert West--Reanimated
Side-by-Side with the Astonishing Ant-Man!
Untold Tales of Spider-Man
Transformations The Ultimate Hulk
The UFO Files
The Crime of Transfiguration Future Crime
1) Python Isle
10/91 DOC SAVAGE
2) The Frightened Fish 7/92 DOC SAVAGE
3) Encounter Group 6/84 DESTROYER
4) The Sky is Falling 1/86 DESTROYER
The Last Alchemist 4/86 DESTROYER [plot only]
Lost Yesterday 7/86 DESTROYER [plot only]
5) Blood Ties 7/87 DESTROYER
6) The Eleventh Hour 9/87 DESTROYER
7) Return Engagement 1/88 DESTROYER
8) Sole Survivor 4/88 DESTROYER
9) Line of Succession 7/88 DESTROYER
10) Walking Wounded 10/88 DESTROYER
11) Rain of Terror 1/89 DESTROYER
12) The Final Crusade 4/89 DESTROYER
13) Coin of the Realm 7/89 DESTROYER
14) Blue Smoke and Mirrors 10/89 DESTROYER
15) Shooting Schedule 1/90 DESTROYER
16) Death Sentence 4/90 DESTROYER
17) Hostile Takeover 7/90 DESTROYER
18) Survival Course 10/90 DESTROYER
19) Skull Duggery 1/91 DESTROYER
20) Ground Zero 4/91 DESTROYER
21) Blood Lust 7/91 DESTROYER
22) White Eyes 3/92 DOC SAVAGE
23) Arabian Nightmare 10/91 DESTROYER
24) Flight into Fear 3/93 DOC SAVAGE
25) Mob Psychology 1/92 DESTROYER
26) The Ultimate Death 4/92 DESTROYER
27) The Jade Ogre 10/92 DOC SAVAGE
28) Dark Horse 7/92 DESTROYER
29) Ghost in the Machine 10/92 DESTROYER
30) Cold Warrior 1/93 DESTROYER
31) The Whistling Wraith 7/93 DOC SAVAGE
32) The Last Dragon 4/93 DESTROYER
33) Terminal Transmission 7/93 DESTROYER
34) The Forgotten Realm 11/93 DOC SAVAGE
35) Feeding Frenzy 10/93 DESTROYER
36) High Priestess 5/94 DESTROYER
37) Infernal Revenue 9/94 DESTROYER
38) Identity Crisis 11/94 DESTROYER
39) Target of Opportunity 1/95 DESTROYER
40) The Color of Fear 5/95 DESTROYER
41) Last Rites 8/95 DESTROYER
42) Bidding War 11/95 DESTROYER
43) Unite and Conquer 3/96 DESTROYER
44) Red Horse 10/97 EXECUTIONER #226
45) Engines of Destruction 7/96 DESTROYER
46) Angry White Mailmen 10/96 DESTROYER
47) War Dogs of the Golden Horde 5/96 MARS ATTACKS
48) Scorched Earth 12/96 DESTROYER
49) White Water 2/97 DESTROYER
50) Feast or Famine 4/97 DESTROYER
51) Empyre 8/00 Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD
The Destroyer (Marvel Magazine Series) #’s 1-9
Punisher Summer Special #1