Comic Picks By The Glick

Fury: My War Gone By vol. 2

September 24, 2013

When we last left Garth Ennis’ MAX incarnation of Nick Fury he was fighting for French interests in the country everyone would later come to know as Vietnam and escaping Cuba after a botched attempt on Fidel Castro’s life.  Not only is this the story of one man who lusts for combat and the means to keep it going, it’s also of how the Military-Industrial complex got us the world we live in today.  Ennis has written a lot about this and war in general over the years and the focus on specific times and places in history helped set it apart from his previous work.  That continues here to good effect here as we visit wartime Vietnam in the 70’s and Central America in the 80’s, and allows the writer to find a natural place for Frank Castle and Barracuda in the proceedings too.  It may be bleak, and some of the proceedings may be familiar, but it’s still worthy of a place in your library if you like Ennis’ war stories.

Back in the first volume, and when the country was still known as French Indochina, Fury only managed to walk out of the jungle alive thanks to the good graces of a man known as Letrong Giap.  More as a show of superiority and statement of purpose than outright mercy.  In the midst of the Vietnam War, Giap is proving to be a frighteningly efficient commander and someone that the CIA and the military want taken out.  Assisting Fury in this operation is one Frank Castle, a man of few words and one whose capacity for violence outstrips his own.  So eager are the two to get back into the jungle and start causing mayhem that it never occurs to them their actions serve another agenda, or that they’re playing right into Giap’s hands.

Then it’s ten years later and Fury is in Nicaragua investigating the military support being provided to the Contras.  While the commanding officer assures the colonel that everything is on the up-and-up, the fact that Barracuda is also stationed here is all you need to know that it is not.  Though Barracuda knows how to turn on the charm like nobody else, it’s here that Fury finds out what the real cost of his decades of war and the pursuit of the glory of combat across the world is.

Wage war long enough and it doesn’t matter what you were fighting for in the first place.  Eventually the means will become an end unto themselves and the people around you will find a way to profit from it.  That’s the message of this series and it’s driven home here as Fury finds out that his efforts have only served the CIA’s drugrunning interests and all of the military arms dealers behind Senator Pug McCuskey.  Don’t expect a happy ending here.  The final chapter has the character dealing with the death of an old friend and the sad situation of the only woman he could’ve loved.  It’s an ending that holds out little sympathy for its cast and it feels like the only one this series could’ve had.

It’s not the bleakest thing Ennis has ever written, but it certainly comes close.  The writer’s characterization is spot-on as always and it’s the reader’s investment in the characters that will likely carry them through the narrative.  Fury is still the quintessential hardass here, old and grizzled even before his hair starts to change.  However, even though he retains a basic sense of morality, it’s quickly subsumed by the thought of prolonging a war.  Pug continues to be the ever-chipper face of the Military-Industrial complex, always looking to profit and put the best spin on global conflicts.  He may seem completely unsympathetic, but Ennis manages to wring a little bit of feeling for the man as he and Shirley hash out the issues of their marriage in the last arc.  As for Shirley herself, she may have belonged with Fury, but the man loved war more and she winds up taking (and paying for) the path of least resistance in the end. As for the more familiar characters, Castle is portrayed as being all business and completely, utterly at home in this wartime environment where he makes the world make sense.  Barracuda, on the other hand, makes for a fitting symbol of the corruption that becomes endemic to the system as he sees combat as another way to make a buck and indulge his penchant for violence.  He also knocks a man over with his dick in the book’s only purely comedic moment.  You have to figure that Ennis had been wanting to do some version of that joke for years.

Of course, this being a Marvel book you don’t actually see the penis but because Goran Parlov knows how to properly set up a scene, it’s perfectly clear what’s going on.  The artist shines again here in this volume as he grounds each arc in the look of the era and keeps a story that features an abundance of talking heads visually interesting.  That’s certainly due to the artist’s talent for caricature, clearly seen in his design for Pug, but he also captures the aging of the book’s cast remarkably well.  Everyone ages decades over the course of this volume and Parlov really manages to capture the toll of the characters’ years and actions on their faces.  It’s fantastic stuff and you can really see why Ennis keeps working with the artist.

While there’s plenty to recommend here in this volume, by the time I got to the end I wish that we had gotten to see more of Fury’s exploits over the years.  You’re ultimately left wondering what the character did next during the 90’s and aughts after he realized where his actions had taken him.  Now, I realize that Ennis’ original miniseries with this version of the character fits that bill, and after reading this his characterization feels more believable even in light of the story’s excesses.  That was an over-the-top action movie and not the chronicle of real-world events that “My War Gone By” has traded in.  What was Fury up to in the times of Desert Storm, the wars in Yugoslavia, the outbreak of violence across the African continent?  How did his world change after 9/11?  As good as what we got here is, these situations and the circumstances behind them are fairly well known, particularly if you’ve been reading Ennis’ work for as long as I have.  I don’t know if Ennis had specific plans for the series if it had lasted longer than thirteen issues, but after reading this I’d certainly like to see what he has to say about those eras.

As it is, the two volumes of “My War Gone By” make for compelling, if bleak, reading.  Ennis has written many war stories over the years and he still manages to find new and interesting stories to tell about the people who fight in wars and those who wage them.  There is the issue of diminishing returns with respect to the genre to consider, but there’s not enough of that here to make me want to stop reading the ones from this writer.

Jason Glick

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