An overtly patriotic character like Captain America makes sense because he’s the embodiment of the wonderful ideals that this country stands for (in theory). Whether you believe that the U.S. is the greatest nation on Earth or that extreme patriotism is for the simple-minded, a man wrapped in this nation’s flag has been portrayed as a hero for nearly a century. However, since an immensely patriotic hero exists, then it certainly makes sense that an immensely patriotic villain exists.
While Frank Simpson has appeared within Marvel Comics for three decades, he has rarely been written as more than a gun-toting, ex-military psychopath. His background was only briefly explored and his most recent appearances have shown little character development. Still, I find this guy absolutely fascinating, so it’s time for Nuke to report for D-List duty.
Nuke first appeared in Daredevil vol. 1 #232 in 1986. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli created a character so patriotic, Nuke had an American Flag tattooed on his face. Even Frank’s medication was flag-themed – he had to take red, white, and blue pills in order to get his adrenaline pumping, calm down, and keep calm, respectively. Frank was shown slaughtering scores of Nicaraguans with his gun, named Betsy, which kept a kill-count for him (what a second-amendment sweetheart).
It was immediately clear that Nuke was a completely unhinged individual. He constantly muttered incoherent remarks to himself and was forced to take pills because he had no control over his emotions. Nuke’s apparent psychosis, however, meant that he was very susceptible to suggestion (like getting a tattoo on his friggin face).
The Kingpin convinced Frank that Daredevil didn’t believe in capitalism or the military, so Nuke popped a red pill and opened fire on innocent citizens in order to lure Daredevil to his location (teach him a lesson, Nuke, Reaganomics style). Nuke actually managed to maintain the upper hand throughout much of the fight, but the Avengers arrived and made short work of Frank. The villain was taken to a military facility and Captain America followed.
Cap accessed some secret files and found that Nuke was the lone survivor of the military’s “Project Rebirth,” which was a recreation of the same super-soldier program that created Captain America. The scientists within the program clearly overlooked something important because the result was a madman. Corrupt high-ranking military officials, however, viewed Nuke as a valuable asset to serve their own interests, so Nuke was essentially an unwitting murderer for hire (hooray for capitalism!).
After his first few appearances, years passed with barely more than a mention of Nuke. There were so many questions that demanded answers! When was he in the military? Was he nuts because he was a pill-popper, or was he a pill-popper because he was nuts? Where did he get that sweet face tattoo?!
A brief flashback revealed that Frank’s mom was an abusive alcoholic whom the boy’s babysitter convinced Frank to kill. Shortly after his mom’s death, his father killed himself. So…Frank must have missed out on a lot of birthday gifts. I can’t begin to imagine what puberty did to this guy.
Simpson later enlisted in the army and served in Vietnam, ascending to the rank of Major. Frank had an altercation with Wolverine and the (before-he-was-a) hero slashed Frank’s face, which explained the tattoo: it covered his scars. The super-soldier program that recruited Nuke was actually a front for the Weapon Plus program – the same organization that made the Hugh Ja…I mean, Wolverine we all know and love. The program tried using medication to control him, which explained Nuke’s pills. But the red pills Nuke had been taking were just placebos; he didn’t need synthetic adrenaline in order to kill.
Since Frank was extraordinarily unbalanced, it made sense for the military to keep him in isolation when not on missions. Would anyone want to see this guy walking down the street? (he is not the pretty woman I’d like to meet) While all of his history made for interesting story-telling, Marvel rarely utilized him. Then Norman Osborne was placed in charge of national security, and Frank was recruited into the Thunderbolts as the team’s new field-leader.
It was not immediately revealed that Simpson was the newest Thunderbolt because he wore a mask and took the codename, “Scourge.” Fellow Thunderbolt, Mr. X, had limited telepathic abilities and commented that it was a cacophony of voices inside Scourge’s head. Maybe Frank had multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, or maybe he just needed a hug.
Though Frank’s aesthetic as Scourge was very fashionable, I was hoping he’d reveal his true identity to his teammates sooner than he did. However, Nuke’s tenure with the Thunderbolts was relatively short-lived. Not only did the team fail every mission Osborne gave them, but during their final mission, Nuke was knocked into a boiling cauldron and then shot in the face (because the cauldron just wasn’t enough). It’s possible that Frank survived only because of the cybernetic skeleton that Weapon Plus had implanted in him.
Alright, so he killed some people and took orders from Norman Osborne, but was he really a bad person? He was simply a pawn who was pointed at targets and commanded to kill; because of the experiments conducted on him, it was allegedly impossible for Frank to disobey orders. Could Nuke have been rehabilitated? I’d like to say that the next story that featured Frank gave more answers than it raised, but that was not the case.
Like a good N.R.A. member, Nuke decided to show off Betsy to Eastern Europe by murdering civilians and pitching American flags on their corpses. Captain America captured him and, for the first time in his existence, Nuke appeared calm and rational. Frank told the hero that all he ever wanted to do was serve his country and make Cap proud. Frank confided that he had always hated his codename; when he served in Vietnam, he was more concerned with the safety of his fellow soldiers than killing the enemy. I was absolutely flabbergasted that Nuke behaved in such a composed and cooperative manner.
Frank was able to shake off the trauma of losing his parents and tried to do some good with his life by joining the military. Maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. could have helped undo the years of damage at the hands of others. Maybe Frank could have worked with Captain America and taken a new codename. Sadly, while in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Nuke exploded, because of someone else’s schemes once again (Oh! Nuke exploded! I get jokes!).
Because comic book characters rarely stay dead, Nuke recently resurfaced in the Death of Wolverine miniseries and Deadpool & the Mercs for Money. He was shown in both instances as a bald and overweight individual. Ever the villain, however, he picked a fight with each book’s respective hero.
Nuke has always demanded more than the superficial characterization that he’s been granted. Maybe it’s just easier to write him as a pawn for powerful villains, and now, as an angry redneck, but I challenge any writer at Marvel to give Nuke more depth. Nuke has been a badass blend of Punisher and Captain America, and I believe that there are excellent stories waiting to be told about a character with those qualities.
Nuke has appeared in a few alternate universes within Marvel Comics, and played a prominent role in the Netflix-original series, Jessica Jones. Although he was never called “Nuke” in the show and his first name was changed from Frank to Will, the character bore many similarities to his comic book counterpart. Nuke even had an action figure modeled after him (named G.I. Joe: Real American Psycho).
Frank Simpson is such an intense character in desperate need of more utilization. Though I’m happy he is still alive in the Marvel Universe, I hope that he isn’t used as sporadically as he has been over the past 30 years. Whether he makes America great again or not, Major Simpson most definitely deserves to be a major character in Marvel Comics.