22 September, 2013

The War of All Against All: A review of Fury: My War Gone By

Editor's Note: Alright. I lied. My next piece wasn't going to be about how I liked Wonder Woman. That's coming. I swear. Also, having Breaking Bad on in the background as I edit is doing nothing for my grammar.

Josh Flanagan of iFanboy believes that Fury: My War Gone By is the best book Ennis is written since Preacher. I don't know if he's right. I do know that if he is wrong, he isn't far off the mark. However Fury lands in the pantheon of comic books, Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's run on Marvel's Max inprint is one of the most original and well executed comics that I've seen in a long time. It is a book that is well worth arguing about.

My War Gone By is a book about a lot of things. It's an analysis of America's track record during the Cold War. It's a meditation on the kind of men that fight the wars we don't have to see. And, utlimately, it is a tract about Garth Ennis' own opinions about his adopted country's spotty history. Despite all of its seemingly highfalutin ideas, it is still, ultimately, a thrilling action book.

The first volume was a journey through the beginning of the Cold War through the eyes of four people-- the quiet American, Agent Hatherly, the All-American spitfire (name) Defazio, the corrpulent and corrupt Senator McCluskie, and, naturally, Colonel Nick Fury, a gladiator that was born in the wrong millenium.We see each of them course through the beginnings of the modern era, from Indochina in 1955 to the failure of the Bay of Pigs.

The second volume is that car crashing head first into a brick wall.

The world of Nick Fury is a cynical, mean one and it's only natural that it all culiminates in heartbreak for everyone. After all, it isn't as though the real world walked out the Cold War feeling better. It's a counter-point to the self-assured jingo of Black Ops, yet it also isn't so naive to believe that there aren't good people out there or that there aren't good people out there in the world. There are people worth fighting for. It's just that this book isn't about those people. They've got nothing to do with the kind of wars Nick Fury fights or the kind of mess that a certain segment of America has made for itself.

It'd be fun to fight against the worldview this book espouses, but Garth Ennis' dialogue would just grind you into dust for the effort. He's a man who knows his history and, as much as Nick Fury, he is a man who has opinions about it. At the very least, he is a man who can see these opinions and find a home for them, even if he doesn't quite believe them. While the shape of the world might not be as much of a horror show as the one Ennis describes, it certainly is the world that men like Nick Fury have made for themselves.

As much as this book is for war history nerds, it also does a far bit of fan service to the continuity Ennis created on his run on Punisher (or runs, really). He does so by featuring a young Frank Castle in Vietnam, hired to kill a Vietnamese general that featured in the last book. (Fresh from his days in The 'Nam, I presume).

Ennis' Punisher MAX run is an interesting one for a lot of reasons and I could go on about it for days. The one that is most relevant to My War Gone By is how he treats the Punisher as a supporting player. There are tons of bad Punisher stories. He's a hard guy to write. Ennis avoided that pitfall by taking a fundamentally uninteresting character and making him interesting in the same way that Ian Fleming made Bond interesting (an appropriate way to go about it considering that the best known incarnation of Nick Fury was a rip-off of 007).

Ian Flemming avoided Bond looking like the bore that he is by filling the world around him with interesting people and things. In this case, he takes the inverse route, by attaching the taciturn Frank to the philosophizing Fury.  Fury is accented not by the Punisher's lively personality, but by his stoicism. Frank, more or less, tempers Fury down to his most basic personality trait: Action.

This is most clear when the men go to work on the North Vietnamese Army. You see that they're not movie action heroes or buddy cops, they're men going to work. There we see the interact less like to men and more like pieces of some great murder machine. Fury and Castle respect each other, but they aren't getting beers together after a mission. They are not men who bro-out.They work together like two pieces of the same machine. They each know what the other needs and you can see that on the page.

He also includes one his more horrific villains, the Barracuda, a man with all of the sensitivity of a rabid pitbull. It's nice to see the Barracuda pop up again (along with at least one of his comrades from his eponymous mini-series). Though, these touches work because they add something to a story.As much as I would have liked to have seen him delve further into this world he set up, these characters appear because they add something to this world that Ennis has fashioned. Besides, if one could choose a face for a Latin American death squad, it would be the Barracuda's.

As great as Ennis' characters and storytelling are, these things come alive because of the work of Goran Parlov. The two have worked together previously the mini-series Barracuda and on several Punisher stories (most notably in Ennis' final two story arcs).

Parlov is a man who understands comic books as well as Ennis and it shows in the work they've done together.He has all of the exactness of a draftsmen along with the energy of a cartoonist.Yet these two styles never compete, never conflict with one another. It's the kind of invisible storytelling that I appreciate the most. It's a balance that shows the man's talent.

There's a line from Band of Brothers (in fact, it is the final line of the show), where Major Dick Winters replies to the question "Were you a hero?" and he replies, "No, but I served in the company of heroes."

My War Gone By is the dark corollary of that statement. Fury lives in a world where all of the heroes he knew are dead.It is a world where the men in the trenches never get to be something that noble.  What we're left with is the wreckage, the broken pieces left all over the world and the sense that we've got to put them back together. It's what he's left with. Life in this world is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. For his sins, Fury gets to live in it.

Fury: My War Gone By feels like the culimation of something Ennis has been trying to say for the past ten years. You see it in his work on Battlefields and on the edges of Punisher MAX. In this book Ennis' views on war and warriors and on the legacy of men like Colonel Nick Fury are on full display. They're vivisected and splayed out for you amusement.

Like Ennis' work on Battlefields and War Stories, Fury: My War Gone By has something to say about history, war, and the people who fight them. So does Nick Fury. It's much more than a fun action book, yet, at the same time, it doesn't believe that you should be lectured or that it knows better than you. Ennis and Fury know better than that.It has opinions, it has beliefs, it just doesn't know what the answer is. Is there a greater idea to put Band of Brothers in stark relief than that?