Old and at the end of his rope, life-long soldier and governmental tool, Nick Fury, recounts the episodes of his long life in which war has been his constant companion and obsession, not unlike Uncle Sam himself, from WW2 to the close of the cold war and beyond.
For those unaware of Marvel’s MAX line of comics, they exist so that stories can be told about a select few Marvel characters as if they existed in a more realistic, out of continuity reality, and in a more mature fashion, which is to say, with more swears and violence.
I don’t think it would be amiss to say that the whole line was created so that mad writer, Garth Ennis, could write a version of The Punisher that wasn’t hindered by the constraints of the Marvel universe proper; and to this end he created the astoundingly successful Punisher MAX, a long running series that many believed could not be topped, as Punisher stories or by Ennis’s future output.
The former is probably still true, but the latter, well, the thirteen issue Fury MAX series could have piped it to the post; it just might be Garth Ennis’s masterpiece.
From his early days, right back to his Dredd and Hellblazer stuff, Ennis has pointed his work to a more advanced readership, extremes of violence and humour never being too far around the corner. But with that, in retrospect, can be seen an element of immaturity to the writing, not just due to the fact that they could become very puerile, but also because the characters that were ‘right’ in a given situation, seemed to be the ones spouting Ennis’s own opinions on that subject, traits especially evident in his seminal work on Preacher.
First let me point out that I don’t use the word ‘puerile’ as detrimental, it’s these elements of his work that engaged and entertained us, and they were always done knowingly and with intelligence, tongue firmly in cheek. Ennis has always wanted to shock us, and for the most part he has, but also makes us laugh.
Things became less black and white with Punisher MAX, a character that had just as many issues as the people he was taking down, but with Fury we are told a story of the facilitating of multiple wars, over several decades, through the eyes of four lead characters; the world wary Fury himself, his optimistic, patriotic and somewhat naïve right hand man, a clued up politician and his intelligent wife. But as is true in reality, opinions and motivations change with the accumulation of experience and age.
This set-up provides Ennis with two things, a massive canvas to expressive his vast knowledge of wars through the contemporary ages, and multiple viewpoints to voice their opinions on the reality of the situations, with no one person’s opinion being especially ‘correct’, the complexities and circumstances of war being what they are.
As is pretty common knowledge, Ennis is one of the last champions of the ‘war comic’, being that he has a remarkable interest in the subject, and as a war historian has an unnatural supply info ready and waiting to be used right there in his brain. Unfortunately his out-and-out war comics don’t do too well, but here, with a character as popular as he’s ever been, due to mass media, Ennis is able to tell a tale not just of a single battle, conflict or even war, but all the major US conflicts since WW2 and, to some degree, their reasons for being.
You’d think that all this smacking-you-in-the-face-with-knowledge would make for a bracketed and tough read, but the through story and characters are genuinely splendid, all combining for a seamlessly entertaining and educational story that has you gripped every second of the way.
No Ennis comic worth its salt goes without shocking elements however, and Fury MAX is no exception. It’s actually quite incredible that after all these years of producing shock inducing themes and imagery, that he’s still got anything left to pull out of the bag, but brother, he has. Maybe not to the frequency of something like Crossed, but exactly as and when it’s right for the story.
Fans of Punisher MAX will be glad to hear that a Vietnam ere Frank Castle makes an appearance, not to mention a certain badass named Barracuda.
Art duties for the entire run were supplied by Goran Parlov; who was the artist on a number of the Punisher MAX stories and the Barracuda mini-series.
Parlov, as a draftsman, is utterly textbook. His panel layout and design guides the eye through the story as smoothly and cleanly as is humanly possible. Sure, his style might not be as showy as many of the current superstars, but it’s definitely individual, and the level of physical and facial expression he can extract from the characters with a bare minimum of line-work is actually quite extraordinary. It’s also refreshing to see that someone’s still drawing impeccable vehicles, backdrops, props and weapons without the aid of a computer program.
Fury MAX: My War Gone By is an entertaining, intriguing, educational, shocking and complex book, expertly executed to the degree that if it’s not a perfect comic, it’s pretty damn close.
A grade – for story
A- grade – for characters
A grade – for art
A grade – for pacing
Over all grade – A
Fury MAX: My War Gone By will be released in two collected editions, Vol1 available now with Vol2 due for release in September.