Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fury - My War Gone By: 'Sometimes it just gets like that'

When Garth Ennis wrote his first stories featuring perennial Marvel warhorse Nick Fury, there were some complaints that he wasn’t being true to the character, and was being far too vulgar with such a venerable veteran. All that high-tech spying and justifiable mass murder was fine, but the hookers and the drink were unacceptable.

But beneath the typical violent laughs, Ennis’ Fury comics also had his usual storytelling efficiency, humanistic pleas for a little kindness and big things to say about big subjects, and it’s easy to not worry the fact that ol’ Nick isn’t wearing a tight blue spandex uniform, and chases away his nightmares with booze and drugs and whores.

Despite Marvel’s efforts to make the official version of Fury look like Samuel L Jackson, the grizzled grunt is back again in a new series - Fury: My War Gone By by Ennis and Goran Parlov, a brilliantly black story about war, failure and bad people taking the American Dream out the back and putting two in the skull.

I’ve been getting, on average, half a dozen regular monthly American comic books ever since I was 10 years old, but there is always one that is my favourite.

I always know what it is, without thinking about it. A particular comic that is so enjoyable in monthly chunks, it’s the one I look forward to more than any other. It’s the most intense, or funniest, or thoughtful, or beautiful, and there is always one that is my undoubted favourite.

It might be my favourite for only a couple of months, or for several years. At various times, it was The Invisibles, or the New Warriors. It was Alan Davis’ Excalibur twice. It’s been Daredevil three times, the Punisher twice and the Incredible Hulk once.

Right now, it’s undoubtedly the new Fury comic, because it’s efficient and intense storytelling, with gorgeous art and Big Things To Say. Nothing else coming out every month comes close.

Ennis is even more efficient than usual in the new comic - telling complete stories in three issues. There is no padding, and nobody to hold the reader’s hand. Keep the fuck up or fuck the fuck off.

My War Gone By is undoubtedly influenced by James Ellroy’s magnificent American Tabloid books, set in the same time periods with the same kind of broken and powerful men, but there is also a sense of shared efficiency. Ellroy never wasted any time getting to the goddamned point, or dumping huge amounts of vital information in a perfectly worded paragraph for two, and Ennis is down with that.

But the comics are telling a different story around the same events. Fury is on the ground, right in the middle of the shit during the Bay Of Pigs fiasco and the annihilation of a French outpost in Vietnam, not watching from on high as viciously righteous plans go awry.

It has far more in common to the Punisher Max series from the same creators. (Unsurprisingly, it’s called Fury Max in the credits, losing the stark poetry of the subtitle on the cover.) This new Fury stuff is a thematic sequel to his Punisher stories, but where Castle was a man outside the system, Fury is deep in it. The company man, with plans on a global scale. Castle’s war was against vicious crime, Fury’s is for something a lot more nebulous, but a whole lot bigger.

The characters do share certain traits - when Fury appeared in the Punisher series, they stood on equal footing, a mutual respect for each other’s abilities to stay alive and kill people (that was only a little grudging), but they were both the type of men who weren’t about to let a little girl die in the name of the Great Game

But while My War Gone By might have a lot of similarities with older stories, it’s also got its own tale to tell. It’s another American story, and it’s another bloody one.

Nick Fury was created at the very height of the Cold War as a working class action hero. A WWII veteran who stood up to those bullying Nazis, even when everything looked lost, and almost won the war himself with sheer grit and gumption. But he was also the modern spymaster, playing invisible games of espionage and shutting down lunatic terror attacks.

Fury sums up a lot of the true-blue American virtues: he’s hard-working, fair, distrustful of authority (including his own), he’s got guts and hates bullies, and doesn't like to see innocents suffer. But he's also a bad man to have as an enemy, and willing to suffer a little collateral damage to take out a greater threat.

In Fury, Ennis has found another way to look at one of his favourite subjects: Americaand its grand hypocrisies - the love for freedom, and the willingness to do terrible things in the name of that ideology. America's hands were in some of the bloodiest conflicts of the past six decades, and there is plenty of possible stories in these interventions.

What is particularly interesting about the new Fury comics is that it's all about the failure of that cruel side of the American psyche, with the first six issues of the series looking at two of the American intelligence communty’s greatest failures in the second half of the 20th century, Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs.

A rabid anti-communist agenda was used to justify America's involvement in these two debacles, but after causing untold misery - usually to innocent people on the ground - both ended in failure.

And as America stumbles, so Nick Fury fails too. He doesn’t do anything at the final battle of the first story, taken out by the first explosion, left senselessly dazed for the duration of the fighting, and only allowed to live so he can take a message back to the west. In the second story, his mission is to take out Fidel Castro, and this isn't Inglorious Basterds, and history goes to plan.

Nick Fury is America, and this is where the real intensity of My War Gone By lies. It's not just the violent action scenes, it's seeing the full effect of these grand plans, and the inherent intensity of things going terribly wrong.

As much as those first critics thought Ennis was doing it all wrong, Nick Fury is the perfect Marvel character for this kind of business. He's always been about the shady backroom deals and balls out action for decades, and he's had a buillet in his head since 1944. He's allowed a few vices, with the things he's seen and done, with all the horror of his past deeds now being revealed.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey bob,real nice piece. Will go on my must read list. Don't know if this is of interest but Ennis has probaly lifted the title from Anothony Llloyd's 'My war gone by, I miss it so', the full title being quite poignant in this instance. I would highly recommend LLoyd's book, the sorry of his time as a reporter in Bosnia during the war there, and it has a little extra for comics fan in the form of Lloyd's encounters with an unnamed Judge Dredd artist during his time back in London.