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You Flunked Out of Spy School? Our Favorite Secret Agents’ Secret Origin Stories

By Brad Pike

It’s no surprise that the origin stories of our most intriguing secret agents would be kept a secret. In fact, it’s what makes these characters all the more interesting. Arguably, the most gripping parts of Skyfall were the references to Bond’s childhood. The Bourne movies all revolve around Jason uncovering his formation into a spy. And most recently, Mark Millar, author of Kickass and Wanted, created a critically acclaimed comic series called The Secret Service about a thuggish street kid who undergoes training as a secret agent.

KoldCast TV’s new action comedy series, Spycology, taps into this zeitgeist by showing how secret agents learn to fight, shoot, and drink more martinis than is appropriate for a professional killer.

You are watching the pilot episode of Spycology

Jack is a prospective agent on the cusp of flunking out of school, who’s recently failed a pop quiz by accidentally shooting a hostage. When an intense new girl arrives, he’s inspired to take class more seriously, but is she a mole for a rival spy school? Spycology crosses the institutional fun of Harry Potter with the wry tone of Archer for an inspired satire of the spy genre.

While most of our favorite secret agents’ origin stories haven’t gotten the big screen treatment – contrary to most superhero characters – here are five spy’s with fascinating histories who may just deserve one.

Nick Fury

In the Marvel films, Nick Fury is the tough, Machiavellian head of SHIELD, an advanced espionage and law-enforcement agency that handles threats to global stability like HYDRA or shape shifting skrulls. He’s modeled after the Ultimate Universe incarnation of Nick Fury, who’s brusque, one eyed, and, interestingly, a World War II veteran. During the Invasion of Sicily, he and several other African American soldiers were forcefully conscripted into Project: Rebirth, an attempt to revive the super soldier program that created Captain America. But after being injected with a mysterious serum, he managed to fight his way out of the holding facility with newly enhanced strength and retarded aging.

Likewise, the main Marvel Universe version is an octogenarian WWII veteran, but his slowed aging is courtesy of the infinity formula, used to heal him after a near-fatal land mine explosion. Also, unlike Samuel L. Jackson, he’s Caucasian and has gray streaked hair. But before becoming head of SHIELD, he was the cigar chomping Sergeant Fury, leader of an elite WWII squad called the Howling Commandos. The squad contained the first Jewish American hero in comics, and shocking for a comic from the early 60’s, main characters could die permanently, including one of the commandos and Nick Fury’s girlfriend. This early history remains an integral part of the character.

Solid Snake

The plot of the Metal Gear Solid videogame franchise is a convoluted mess, surpassing Lost, Donnie Darko, and even Final Fantasy in terms of torturous complexity. At the heart of this confusion is the origin story of special ops agent Solid Snake, one of three clones of the greatest soldier who ever lived: Big Boss.

To make a long—so very, very long—story short, Big Boss was part of a group called the Patriots that sought world unification, but after a falling out with other members, his genetic code was taken and used to create Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, and Solidus Snake (is no one in these games just named Brian?). Over the course of the series, Solid Snake fights all of them, interspersed with hour-long scenes in which characters monologue about politics, warfare, and morality, usually in vague abstractions.

Wallace Ritchie

One of Bill Murray’s less famous roles (though not as obscure as Larger than Life; does anyone remember that movie?), Wallace Ritchie is the titular Man Who Knew Too Little, a play on the Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. To occupy the goofball Wallace during a fancy business dinner, his brother, James (Peter Gallagher), books him a night in The Theater of Life, an interactive improvised crime drama that casts participants in the starring role. But when Wallace mistakenly answers a call meant for a hitman, he becomes embroiled in an assassination plot involving blackmail, Russian dolls, and murderous butchers—all while thinking he’s an actor in a show. In the style of Being There, his bumbling impersonation of a secret agent is actually more effective than a real one, so much so that the CIA arrives at the end to recruit him. There’s more than one way to become a secret agent.

Sydney Bristow

Like Solid Snake, Sydney Bristow’s origins are similarly convoluted, designed to facilitate the many shocking reveals requisite to a JJ Abrams production. When she was six, her mother faked her own death to avoid being apprehended as an undercover KGB agent. Soon after, her father shrank into CIA work and alcoholism, leaving her to be raised by nannies. Of course, for secret agents, absentee/dead parents are the norm (see: Archer, Bond, Chuck, etc.).

Then at 19, she was recruited for an espionage organization she thought was the CIA, but was actually SD-6, a malevolent branch of an international organized crime group called the Alliance of 12. Her father, being a double agent for the CIA and SD-6, knew this and tried to discourage her from joining, only this likely cemented her decision to accept the job. Thus, Sydney Bristow found herself entangled in the byzantine mishmash of loyalties, betrayals, and secrets that constitute secret agent life.


Much of Archer is concerned with ISIS agent Sterling Archer’s perpetually murky parentage: could his father be Nikolai Jakov, head of the KGB; Buddy Rich, world’s greatest drummer; or Len Trexler, head of rival spy agency ODIN? We may never know!

On the other hand, the origin for his cruelty and massive ego (masking massive insecurities) clearly lies with his mother and boss, Mallory Archer, who neglected and demeaned him as a child. Flashbacks to his childhood invariably depict some manner of abuse like the Halloween when Mallory took all his candy or when she abandoned him until the age of five and then sent him to boarding school for 12 years.

Another moment of insight is when Mallory denies baby Seamus a toy, saying, “Did somebody trick you, hmm? See, that’s how the world works dear, and I’m the only one you can trust.” You can have loving parents or a license to kill, but you can’t have both.

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Must Reads 8/30/2014