TOP 10 MARVEL BOOKS OF 2012 – NUMBER FOUR – FURY MAX

#4 – Fury MAX – My War Gone By

By Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov

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Ennis’ continuing exploration of masculinity and the fragility of the male ego finds a perfect home in the Marvel Universe in the form of one Nick Fury. A bitter, hard-worn WWII veteran who is basically immortal is the kind of character Ennis was destined to write about, and FURY MAX is a virtuoso performance of real, fragile people trying to make their way through a difficult world. Juggling a cast of four central characters, MY WAR GONE BY is a brutal, bloody look at post-modernism, at an America that is learning they’ll never see a war as black and white as ones previous ever again. In this series, men of power are cowards, men of violence are rewarded, strong free-thinking women are punished, and sensitive, emotional men are naïve. The world of FURY MAX is a dark one, with a realist, cynical outlook that is juxtaposed by Ennis’ penchant for hyper-exploitive violence. Reteamed with his only artistic collaborator to ever rival Steve Dillon, Ennis’ brutal, barebones script is viscerally portrayed by Goran Parlov’s thick and definitive ink work. Parlov is like the coke-addicted version of Toth – not nearly as romanticized, but just as world weary, Parlov’s men have seen more in one war than most of us will in a dozen lifetimes. This is a colossal, intimate epic on two of the biggest wars of a post-war America, about the changing cultural attitudes of manhood and womanhood, and one tough SOB finding love in the middle of it all.

The story is told in three issues arc set a few years apart, spoken into a tape recorder by a greying Fury in a decrepit hotel room. Nick Fury has traveled to Indochina to evaluate the situation in Son Chau on request of one Congressman McCuskey. Fury is introduced to McCuskey after he meets the congressman’s secretary, Shirley DeFabio, busting the faces of a couple of would-be sex criminals in a dingy bar. McCuskey is all down-to-earth farce, asking for people to refer to him as ‘Pug’ and frequently reiterating his distaste for Washington yes men. Pug likes Fury’s no nonsense style, and hopes he can present him with an honest appraisal of the Son Chau situation. Seems things aren’t looking so good, as Fury, along with newly recruited Agent Hatherly, find the French guarding an indefensible fort with only 200 soldiers defending it, most of them untrained locals. To make matters worse, the man responsible for whipping these soldiers into shape is an ex-Nazi general. Looks like Fury’s got his work cut out for him.

He finds comfort in Shirley. At first, she might be little more than a way to get close to McCuskey, but it becomes clear very quickly that it’s much more than that. Shirley is the kind of woman men like Nick need. Not only is she fun-loving in a no-nonsense acidic sort of way, she also has an infallible sort of moral strength, the kind that’s able to make constant sacrifice to continue living a comfortable life. Hatherly, meanwhile, is everything Fury isn’t. He’s at the start of his adult life, the beginning of his career, the beginning of his marriage. He’s an optimist with a cheery personality who believes in his country and the views it supposedly stands for. When Hatherly learns they’ll be working with a German WWII soldier, he can’t stand for it. He goes to fight the hulking Aryan, only to be brutally beaten as a result. As he lay in gurney, replete with bandages, bruises and wounds, Hatherly says of the savage Sergeant Steinhoff, “He has no idea there’s anything wrong with him, does he? What…kind of men are we fighting beside…?” We get a chilling, shadowed up-shot of Fury, where we feel the sharp sting of pain Nick must be feeling in this moment. As much a hardened cynic as he is, its kids like this that Fury fights for. “It might be time we talked about the facts of life.” Fury answers, self-knowingly.

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In fact, as much as Shirley represents the only kind of respite for Fury, it is, as it so often is with Ennis, the bizarre intricacies of the heterosexual male relationship that seem to be the pinpoint of the story. As Fury and Hatherly wait for the reinforcements to arrive after a devastating sneak attack the night prior, the two end up having a heart to heart. The young agent is still struggling to understand the violence he is seeing, and how a country can even consider offering redemption to a man like Steinhoff. “The last thing he wants is to redeem himself.” Fury says as he looks off into a dry sky, “He wants to keep on fighting. Because he’s a soldier and it’s all he knows.” I think one would be wrong to interpret this scene as some sort of masculine advice to the emotional Hatherly; in fact, I believe most scenes between Hatherly and Nick are meant to reinforce the idea that Fury sees the world in a very limited way. Hatherly may often have a rather romantic outlook on war and the notion of the hero, but he’s still a man who’s found love and who continually questions and challenges the world around him. Fury’s bitter acceptance of circumstance is laid out later in the scene, as Hatherly admits he may have wounded some of his own men in the bloody battle. “I’m pretty sure I did, too.” Fury replies. “Sometimes it just gets like that.”

After one of the untrained local boys at Son Chau is revealed to be a suicide bomber, Fury is led through a prophetic waking-nightmare of the soon to be very real crisis of Vietnam. As a shell shocked and blood drenched Nick Fury leaves a legion of dead soldiers behind, we see the death of political ignorance and emotional patriotism. The story then abruptly shifts to many years later, with Fury at the heart of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In the first story arc we see Fury dealing with an increasingly complex world, but that’s nothing compared to the back-room CIA operations involved in the Bay of Pigs. But first, Fury has a reunion with Shirley DeFabio, only to discover she’s soon to be Mrs. ‘Pug’ McCuskey. Shirley admits that her time with Nick has been some of the greatest of her life, but she needs someone who cares about her, and who can offer her some semblance of a stable life. Shirley’s ultimate courage isn’t shown in her ability to take down bar toughs or fearlessly tease Fury – it’s in the way she accepts life’s downfalls and finds a way to make them work for her.

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Meanwhile, Fury, Hatherly and a soldier named Elgen have been tasked with the mission of assassinating Fidel Castro. After the plan goes south and the three end up getting captured, we get another brief interlude exploring the relationship between Hatherly and Fury’s ideal of an America that means something. As fellow soldiers are tortured to death in front of their eyes by the enemy Communists, Hatherly soon gives up hope and announces to Fury and Elgen he’s going to confess and get them all free. After all, Hatherly has a wife, and now a baby on the way. He has his own life to think about. Fury and Elgen explain that things aren’t that simple, and that what they’re there for is to create a bigger message. “We came here to kill a dictator so people could be free. That’s the point of our country,” as Elgen bluntly puts it, “to make things better.” By the time the three escape in an epic opera of violence that Parlov renders beautifully, Elgen is nearly dead and missing both his arms. As the three soldiers sail off to home, Fury mercifully ends Elgen’s life. In a bleak denouement, Fury proves Elgen’s point in the most succinct way possible. If we are all part of one bigger ideal, our individual lives are meaningless to a greater cause. Elgen and Fury accept this with sly detachment, but things don’t come as easily to Hatherly. In the end, it’s not clear to say who’s right and who’s wrong. Fury’s world of endless solitude hardly seems enviable – but at the same time, his selflessness is extremely admirable.

But it’s Shirley who seems to encompass the themes of the story in the most direct way. After McCuskey leaves her alone with the members of the US Government who are secretly enlisting Fury, she is beating for not knowing Pug’s whereabouts. As she arrives home and her husband opens the door to witness her swollen, bruised face, the soon-to-be senator explains the situation. “I thought you could sort of handle them for me, you know, like a secretary?” As McCuskey further explains the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the cancelation of the follow up airstrikes, he blusteringly pleads for Shirley’s forgiveness. “Don’t leave old Pug alone in the world. It’s a cold, cold world to be alone in.” Shirley stops at the door and we get a moment of heart aching realization, a dreary epiphany that not even the ones who love us most can protect us all of the time. As she sits down to nurse a drink, McCuskey has one final request. If she must walk around with a black eye, be sure that no one sees her going in or out of his office.

FURY MAX has all of the morally-ambiguous, gut wrenching scenes that you’ve come to expect from a Garth Ennis comic. This is an ambitious, character-driven look at not only war, but of masculinity, of male relationships, of female perseverance and strength. It’s about how sometimes the strongest strength is needed to just get by and get out alive, and how perceived ‘weaknesses’ such as sensitivity and sentimentality is sometimes all we have in the face of pure horror. But mostly MY WAR GONE BY is exactly what the title promises; it’s the story of one man, a man from the Old World, watching the ways of the New World resurrect in a way that alarms and frightens him. A man who deserts into a hardened, grisly exterior, ignoring the possibility of love and salvation that stands right before him. Fury is a man lost, trying to prove something about his country so he doesn’t have to face terrifying facts about himself. As Nick himself says in the opening chapter, when Hatherly asks him if he believes the American flag means anything, he replies “I believe it should.” And he’ll be fighting for that belief for the rest of his life.

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