Full disclosure, I dimly remember reading some of the first run of Fury: MAX by Garth Ennis some years ago, and I remember finding it a bit over-the-top in its offensive obnoxiousness and I never bothered finishing it. It also has the reputation of having been George Clooney's first exposure to the character of Nick Fury, and it completely turned him off of the notion of playing him on the big screen. I'm generally an Ennis fan, but I can recognize how off-putting this tendency of his can be. No one can argue that Preacher didn't detonate some boundaries of sensibility, but the bulk of it captured something very real and interesting. Much the same can be said for Hitman. Yes, he puked on Batman's shoes and scoped out Catwoman with his X-ray vision, but there's something about the way Ennis can dig into the meat of maleness and make us remember the coolest things about it that just resonates.
Case in point, Fury: My War Gone By #1, his return to writing Nick Fury MAX.
Yeah, it may not be Smilin' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's version of the guy, but goddamn if it isn't the kinda thing you want out of a man with his legendary stature – the kinda guy who can stop a degenerate asshole's barfight with a pointed finger and a stern word. Fuck you, I'm Nick Fury and I don't have to fucking tell you what that means. You just fucking know it.
Ennis is at his best when he's digging into that male bravado, the camaraderie between Jesse Custer and Proinsias Cassidy, or between Tommy Monaghan and Nat the Hat and the rest of the crew of Noonan's bar. And lines like "Back the fuck off, ballsack" will never not appeal to me when delivered properly, as they are above. Fury: My War Gone By could easily build back up into something so belligerent that you just squint and look away and just wave it off – and his opening narration certainly hints that it might. "My name is Nick Fury. I've had a bullet in my head since Nineteen Forty-Four. I can't seem to die, don't even age much. I fight and fuck like a goddamn demon. I lick up war like it was sugar." Yeah, that has the earmarks of becoming too much down the line. But this first issue is solid set-up, introducing us to Fury in his grizzled glory that is just so viscerally appealing.
The story is Fury recording his life story, flashing back to 1954 French Indochina, where shit eventually builds up into the Vietnam War a year later. Fury's a cynical, hard-bitten man trucking in a gritty, real world style rather than the bombastic super-hero reality that we usually see him in – one Ennis has made no secret of his distaste for. After World War II and Korea, he's stuck dealing with France's fading imperial interests and dealing with glad-handing society bullshit he has zero interest in. It's all layering story down, set firmly in a historical reality, and if any Marvel character translates well to this sort of thing, it's Fury. The superhuman things about him are easily ignorable, and he's just this magnetic personality who looks good in a white tux but feels so much more at home busting up barfights or surveying a battlefield.
Goran Parlov's art translates Ennis' swagger pretty well, as you can see above. Nick Fury is a goddamned man. Unapologetic and intimidating as hell, but you just like the guy anyway. At least so far. This issue is fairly understated – something Ennis is entirely capable of, although his more outlandish stuff gets the attention. Fury: My War Gone By #1 is all setting the stage for what's to come – which promises to be a lot more cussing and beating up a big burly ex-Nazi, for starters. However, the first issue has next to nothing in the way of action, besides the dust-up in the bar started by a handsy asshole and a ballsy congressman's secretary. Yet, it's still interesting for grown-ups who like historical fiction.
Let the 616 have its Marcus Johnson Fury now. The original Nick Fury appeals to the older generation anyway, and if we can get badass stories like this is promising to be (fingers crossed), in a firmly grown-up setting in an adults-only title, it's the best of both worlds. Let's hope that promise established here is delivered without going overboard. And if it does go overboard, let's hope it's entertaining.