07 January, 2013

How I Miss it So

Garth Ennis is the single best war comic writer living today. It's an unfortunate reality of the market that this is not saying much. War comics, like westerns, like fantasies, like romances are a meager bunch. It's nice to know that every once and a while Garth Ennis will show up and knock it out of the park. And into a minefield infested with dogs. With AIDS. On the Moon. And the moon is Phobos.

With all that said if more people gave a fuck about war comics in the way that I give a fuck about war comics Garth Ennis would still be their king, sitting on a pile of melted keyboards. He knows how to write a good, violent yarn.

Fury: My War Gone By is more of Garth Ennis' take on the horrors of war. It is also more of the bourbon swilling, no nonsense, "What are you faggots looking at?" Nick Fury that we got to briefly known and love in Ennis' run on Punisher: Max (i.e: The real Nick Fury). It's what a war comic needs and it is what Fury deserves, after all, he's not a superhero, he's a born killer and those types of men aren't particularly romantic. They are awesome, though, if anything.They are awesome in the same way that the Old Testament God is awesome. You respect both of them, but you wouldn't want to celebrate Christmas morning with them.

My War Gone has a built in frame device: Fury, unshaven and drunk in an unnamed hotel room and a bathrobe is reminiscing on the dirt he's done over the years. We see him trudge through the mud of a post-WWII Earth, starting with the clusterfuck that was French Indochina and ending with the spicier, yet no less ugly clusterfuck that was the Bay of Pigs.

It is not a feel good piece. If I were to attribute a psychology to the war work of Ennis it is that his stories are written by an Irishman living in New York.

Ennis' (and Fury's) vision of Indochina that feels like Graham Green was doing a lot of trucker speed. There's no romance or cure references to Full Metal Jacket, there is just work to be done. If there is a complaint that I have of these stories it is that we don't have time to digest what is happening and neither do the characters. They feel brief and even paltry when you consider the gravity of the horrors that we're witnessing. Or maybe it's that Fury isn't much for waxing poetic.

The core of the book is prime material for Fury to ruminate on as an old man and engage with as a young man. The same goes for Ennis, because this feels like a book that he's been writing for at least ten years. If you like Punisher: Born and you liked War Stories and you even liked his flashbacks in Preacher, you'll love this book. If you don't like those books this will not change your mind, also: What is wrong with you? Are you a hippie?

He is a writer who seems to get what the hell is going on with soldiers and maybe even what is going on with a war. While that's a tall order to fill and while he also has to sell an action packed comic at the end of the day, it is something interesting and, dare I say, meaningful, and it is also something that many other pieces of media that revolve around similar matters lack.

There is no grand philosophy to Fury: My War Gone By. There isn't even really an arc. What you do have is some wonderfully contextualized events intercut with immense violence. That is more or less what the best Garth Ennis war stories eventually boil down to. And, besides, what the fuck am I going to do? Empathize with Nick fucking Fury? Even if any of us could he wouldn't want that shit.

This panel is not from the comic I am talking about. I just love it.
If we want to meditate on what Nick Fury "means" then, like John Rambo, he is a living monument to the failure of masculinity. Ennis' Nick Fury is a boozing, womanizing murder-machine and it has brought him nothing but pain, misery, and failure. He is too skilled in the art of war to do anything else and he his inability to love anything but getting back into the fray that he's a ruin of a man, a man that John Huston in Chinatown might call "respectable" if only for not having been killed.

Despite all of this, Fury remains and the need for a Fury remains. Times change, enemies change, politics change, and yet we need men like him to do our dirty work. The flaws of Fury are his own (he doesn't strike me as the type to bemoan his lot), but the necessity for wreckage like him is the work of men much more monstrous.

I mentioned how awesome Nick Fury was earlier and, really, he is. So are the events he finds himself in. War is an awesome thing. I say that in the classical sense, not in it being wonderful or impressive. I say that meaning that it is a thing that is worthy of awe and in that regard it's also pretty fucking awful.

Fuck. I just now realized that I want a copy of Nick Fury: Peacemaker. Oh well. At least I have my singles of Fury MAX to fall back on. Now there's a comic full of vim and vinegar.