Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Fury MAX: My War Gone By, Volume 2 by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov Review

A few years ago, Jason Aaron wrote the final story for the version of the Punisher where Frank was a man in his 60s, a grizzled veteran of the Vietnam War, giving Frank his longed-for death after fulfilling his vengeful mission in the final pages of Punisher MAX. The new version of the Punisher that emerged was in his 30s and a veteran of an unnamed war so as not to date him – the current version of the Punisher. 

In the same way, Garth Ennis has written the final story of the classic Nick Fury in his 13-issue run, Fury MAX. The old white guy who fought in WW2 and had whacky spy adventures in the hands of Jim Steranko is given his last gasp as newer Marvel readers expect to see Sam Jackson Nick Fury interacting with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. And while the handover from classic Nick Fury to Sam Jackson Nick Fury happened in the bizarre comic Battle Scars, Ennis gives Fury the proper send-off the character deserves, incorporating his vast knowledge of 20th century warfare from books like War Stories and Battlefields, to give us Fury MAX. 

I wasn’t very impressed with the first Fury MAX book – it was a slow burner, which is fine, but got too slow and inadvertently showed Fury to be a less interesting character than first thought or more of a blank slate. The second book takes off thanks to the inclusion of two characters Ennis works best with – Frank Castle the Punisher and Barracuda. If you’ve read Ennis before you’ll have come across his Punisher MAX books and know how sublimely good they are – essentially the same story in every book but still utterly brilliant. When Volume 2 opens in 1970 Vietnam and a young Frank Castle sits from the side of a Huey, the story immediately crackles with energy as Frank – pre-Punisher – teams up with Fury to assassinate a Viet-Cong general. 

Frank is an action man – every time he appears, he’s got a gun and he’s going to use it. Each time we see him, he’s on a mission and the story moves unstoppably forward as the character practically drags the writer and artist along with him, toward his enemy. You could argue Fury is the same way but as demonstrated in the first Fury MAX, Fury is more considered and politically savvy – he too can fight but knows when and when not to making him a less driving narrative force. This second book improves because it’s much more exciting as Frank appears and we get practically non-stop action until he leaves the story (pick up The Punisher: Born by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson to see what happens to Frank next).

The second story arc takes place in Nicaragua, 1984, where we’re introduced to Ennis’ own creation, Barracuda, the fan-favourite Punisher villain, before he became the Punisher’s villain. Fury uncovers shady drug operations taking place in this poor country, run by his own country and facilitated by ‘Cuda, and shuts it down. Barracuda’s a great character who’s smart despite his thuggish appearance and way of speaking, and a formidable opponent and tactician. He’s also got a sense of humour about him that borders on sadistic and slapstick and is practically a force of nature unto himself. Fury going up against Barracuda would be one hell of a fight (check out Barracuda’s own spinoff book by Garth Ennis and Vols 5 and 9 of Punisher MAX also by Ennis to see more of the character). 

But rather than give us out and out warfare, Ennis chooses to take a more critical look at these particular wars. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iraq – these are not honourable wars, they are shameful ones, driven by greedy, cynical men exploiting patriotic young men and destroying entire countries and generations for money. I’m not saying Ennis has big balls for condemning the American Military in these conflicts, especially as considered opinion on these subjects firmly sides with him, but Ennis does use them to show Fury up to ultimately be something of a small, pathetic man, which is an extraordinary conclusion to build to. 

As legendary a soldier as Fury was, he still participated in these horror-shows, he still did what his country told him to do, he still blindly followed orders. In the same way that Ennis posited an original interpretation of the Punisher by saying that Frank became the Punisher in Vietnam rather than in Central Park the day his family were gunned down by gangsters, Ennis defines his version of Fury as a man who so loves war that regardless of the reasons, he will be a part of it because that’s his entire purpose for being – and that is beyond sad. Which isn’t to write Fury off entirely, he does try to repent, he does do some good in his time, and his actions save lives, but by the end I feel Ennis was leaning one way in his look at the character. 

Fury MAX Volume 2 is a good but really dark read. This is a book where a dead baby, umbilical cord still attached, face half mashed by a military boot, gets punted at Fury like a football – and that’s not the worst thing you see here. It’s Ennis looking with disgust upon American foreign and military policy of the last 50 years and coming to some unexpected ideas about a character you’d think would be portrayed heroically by the end. Ennis writes a fascinating character study of Nick Fury and for that alone this book is worth a checking out, but it is a draining read that’ll leave you empty by the last page.

Fury Max: My War Gone By Volume 2

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