Ennis And Parlov’s ‘Fury MAX’ Presents A Soldier And Country That Can’t Live Without War [Review]
If recent revelations can teach us anything, it's that Americans will always have a shadow behind us. Since the end of World War II, we have invested so much money and power and authority in our military-industrial complex and clandestine forces that it's categorically absurd to believe that our privacy has been anything but compromised, our national innocence -- if it ever existed -- anything but forfeit. For at least the last twelve years, American soldiers have been engaged in seemingly perpetual wars across the world, while potentially every electronic conversation we've had has been stolen and scrutinized, and the lie we've been told is that it's all been in the name of American freedom.
For the original Fury MAX series from 2001, writer Garth Ennis approached Nick Fury as a character that was not that far-removed from official Marvel continuity. A grizzled, embittered, and burned-out Cold Warrior, he dropped a lot of f-bombs, gutted a few people, and phone-ordered Asian hookers by the half dozen -- much to the dislike of chairman emeritus Stan Lee -- but he was still in SHIELD and fighting Hydra, and clearly belonged to the fictional universe.
In “My War Gone By,” the circumstances are much different. Save for appearances by Punisher and Barracuda from Ennis’ Punisher MAX run, all ties to Marvel are severed. There’s no Dum-Dum Dugan, no Hydra, no SHIELD, nothing to bind Fury to his character as portrayed in Marvel continuity. Instead, Nick Fury is excised from the strictures of continuum and placed in real-world military history. No longer a member of SHIELD, Fury is a member of the CIA and given the task of chronicling for readers the sordid, sometimes sickening real-life actions that have been pulled off in the name of the American way. In many ways, Fury is a teacher, a cipher through which the corruption and lunacy of our military actions in the twentieth century are decoded.
As was foreshadowed in the conclusion to the 2006 Marvel Knight series Fury: Peacemaker, “My War Gone By” begins with Colonel Nick Fury in Southeast Asia, and follows him on a greatest hits tour of the Central Intelligence Agency’s anti-Communist operations. It begins with French Indochina in 1954, where the CIA attempted to prop up French colonial rule against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On to Cuba in 1961, where the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion and several unsuccessful assassination attempts failed to break up Fidel Castro’s revolution. Back to the Vietnam War in 1970, where covert ops like Air America smuggled opium to Laos, and Nicaragua in 1984, where CIA-trained Contras trafficked cocaine to fund their bloody war against the Sandinistas. Ennis, renowned for his knowledge of military history, fills “My War Gone By” with real-world facts that will chill your flowery golden heart, and at the very least you will walk away from this book with a near-encyclopedic understanding of covert American screw-ups, and perhaps a healthy amount of hate for the Iron Fist of Democracy.
But “My War Gone By” is much more than just a history lesson. A moving and involved character piece, this version of Nick Fury is possibly the best-written and most complete that we’ve ever seen. Untethered by continuity, Ennis writes him as a simple kind of man who is nonetheless complex: in touch with his desires but acknowledging his emptiness; denying the existence of his morals while still struggling with them; and despite his nihilism, unable to shake the feeling that the American flag really should mean something.
But redemption never comes for a man not looking for it. Stripped of any post-WWII illusions and fully committed to his life as a soldier, Fury carries on, always looking for the next fight. He runs operations even though he knows the CIA is always supporting the wrong side, mortgages his ethics and any chance at a life of peace for the next opportunity to get in the field, and is slowly stripped bare by his inability to understand anything other than war. Like the former Nazi he fights alongside against the Viet Minh, “He wants to keep on fighting. Because he’s a soldier and it’s all he knows.”
Ennis, who has always been among comics’ very best when it comes to stirring dialogue, reaches a new plateau with his characterization of Fury, and nearly every scene contains tight-lipped lines of hard-world cynicism you’d like to trap in Lucite and examine under the light. “I thought we were owed for the blood we spent in World War Two. Thought things were going to be different. Instead it’s empires and colonies. And us and the Reds. Business as usual.” All throughout the story, his dialogue references history and reveals character without ever crossing the line into hard-boiled ridiculousness. This is the new prototype for Nick Fury, the one that all other versions, in the Marvel universe or out, should aspire to.
Croatian artist Goran Parlov, who previously worked with Ennis on Barracuda MAX, brings so much weight, reality, and flair to Fury MAX, it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it with the same bravado. His slick European style and subtle cartooning are perfectly suited to every aspect of Ennis’ story. He’s as adept at quiet dialogue scenes as he is at ultra-violence, and the look and feel of every exotic location is spot-on. His backgrounds in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Cuba are their very Platonic ideals, and aided by the stellar colors of Lee Loughridge, his portrayals of war are as frenzied and harrowing as Harvey Kurtzman’s and Joe Kubert’s.
The series just ended last week. The first storyline was already collected, and a second trade is surely forthcoming. But if you haven’t already read it, get on this book as soon as possible. Sophisticated, arresting, and unflinching, Fury MAX: My War Gone By tells harsh truths that need to be heard right now.