Fury MAX: My War Gone By Vol. 1 by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov is the first collection of their still ongoing series detailing the struggles of Nick Fury and his life of war throughout the 20th century.
Opening with Colonel Fury slumped in an armchair late at night, swilling on whiskey in a bathrobe and rambling into a dictaphone, our first view of the eponymous man is a tired and broken figure. He’s reluctantly telling his story as if it’s all he has left in the world. A massive splash acts as a flash back from his perspective and a flash-forward from ours, promising at details to come in this timeline of global conflicts. Already the weariness of Fury bears down on us, conflicting our eagerness as readers.
Mirroring this audience eagerness is the first supporting character we’re introduced to, Agent Hatherly, stationed by the CIA in French Indochina in 1954 to work with Fury overseeing the French’s military practices in maintaining their empire’s foothold in the country. Too young to have seen either WW2 or Korea, Hatherly is our viewpoint into the already battled scarred mind of Fury and the world we’ve entered. His warm approachability plays will with Fury’s gruff cynicism and seeing their relationship evolve through the book reflects well on the shifting perceptions of the reader being flung further into the throng of battle and bloodshed that escalates as the old guard of Western imperialism clashes with guerilla rebels claiming their land and homes back.
But this is far from a romanticized “David VS Goliath” portrayal of these conflicts. Ennis, as a devout humanist and realist in depicting war, makes sure to drive home how these wars strip all involved of their humanity. Sometimes they shed it willingly to become the beasts they need to be to emerge victorious. Other times it’s stolen from them by the enemy or their higher up commanders pushing around statistics and budget numbers. But no one’s hands are left clean.
Parlov invokes a widescreen format with virtually every panel as wide as the whole page and usually a fourth or a fifth of the page height. A style popularized in the early part of the millennium by the likes of Bryan Hitch and Warren Ellis it spawned numerous imitators lazily attempting to utilize it’s cinematic approach to no avail. Parlov is no such faker and displays magnificent skill in his ability to construct a shot. It works particularly well during scenes of dialogue and tends to encourage either pulled back shots with all figures in view interacting with their environment which establishes context and location well, or tighter shots highlighting specific facial cues or actions which can grant insights into the subtext of a character’s words. Occasionally the rigid structure is broken allowing for larger splashes with huge impact for the height of a fall from a plane or the oncoming swarm of a sieged fortification and the scale of the situations are thoroughly on display.
Amidst the density of the subject material there is good humour and levity to be found occasionally too, relaxing the audience briefly and providing good narrative counterweight to the weight of the action. Interactions between Fury, Hatherly and the lovely Shirley DeFabio inject scenes with a certain playfulness. Ennis even approaches some of the chapter titles with his tongue firmly in cheek. “Get Ready To Shed A Tear” delivers on its promise.
Dave Johnson’s covers wonderfully invoke the period through combinations of 50s style travel brochures, propaganda pieces, military documents and haunted figures of war. Here in trade format they serve as good chapter breaks, allowing a breath to be taken before moving on to the next section of madness and mayhem.
Historical accuracy is of surprisingly high quality for a series shoehorning a Jack Kirby and Stan Lee character into post-WW2 20th century conflicts. A back-up bonus in the trade even reveals entire ages being redrawn upon discovery that markings on some of the planes and their precise models were incorrect for those used in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. This level of care and detail on display shines throughout the book and lends the series a much-valued verisimilitude.
So just like Ennis’s MAX take on the Punisher in a grounded reality differed from the usual interpretation that even he had written in the Marvel Knights series, so too does Fury MAX’s portrayal exist out of sync with the iconic Steranko series of surrealist op art and bombastic sci-fi espionage. But it feels very much close to home to what Kirby himself and countless other soldiers and officers might have experienced and how military combat shaped the development of numerous emerging nations and the entire landscape of the 20th century world. And ultimately still true to the character of that man who disdained violence, but to his ultimate detriment felt too at home in it.
If you haven’t already checked out this series, I urge you to try. Prepare to be mortared into submission by it though. I’ve found drinking helps.