"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 seem to age much. I fight and fuck like a goddamn demon. I lick up war like it was sugar. These are the things I've done for my country" - Nick Fury
This thirteen issue maxi-series written by Garth Ennis in 2012 to 2013 under the MAX imprint is something of a magnum opus for him. Ennis is a student of military history and this series takes Fury through the post-Korean war military antics of the US goverment and CIA and uses the popular character to force us to face up to the upsetting facts behind them. There are no superheroes here, no S.H.I.E.L.D, no LMDs, this is a Nick Fury purely of our history - the only concession to fantasy is that after WW2 he no longer ages he just gets more grizzled at time moves on. So he is given a small supporting cast with which to show the ravages of time and a book that starts out as an angry one gradually turns into a heartbreakingly sad one as well. The framing device is Nick Fury in the present day (2009 I think, roughly by the dates given in the book), holed up for days in a hotel room, dictating his memoirs into an ancient tape recorder. With a gun, the occasional three prostitutes and seemingly non-stop amount of booze to hand, it gives the feeling that this is also a last will and testemant. This is another hefty and densely written volume that I have had to split into two posts just because there is so much information on the CIA and US military's cack-handed deeds abroad in it. His artist is Goran Parlov, who illustrated the final two Punisher MAX volumes and the Barracuda miniseries with him. Parlov has a nice and distinct style not uber realistic, but not too cartoony either. I like his work a lot, and also for once the reliance mostly on widescreen panels works, giving the whole thing a steady and relentless pace and the feeling of a war on film slowly unfolding before you.
|Fury and Hatherly meet in 1954|
They look at the US flag fluttering over the embassy. Fury asks what it means to Hatherly. Hatherly says he wouldn't believe him if he told him. Then there is a ruckus inside the bar the are drinking outside of. A woman is being attacked but doing an awesome job of defending herself. Fury intervenes and gets the man to stop and get lost.
The woman introduces herself as Shirley and she is here as a secretary with a Congressman's party. She says she was fed up with all the "nancy boys" at the US embassy and went exploring, "never know who you might meet" she grins.
|And Shirley makes her mark on Fury too.|
McCusky introduces him to another man who goes where he's sent and can get things done, a French Major called Lallement. While they talk Shirly says to Hatherly that Fury is "hating every minute of this isn't he?" Shirley says she knows why Nick Fury is assigned to this "little jewel." A friend in the typing pool told her.
He was involved in a big retreat in the Korean War. Some units got cut off from the rest and brass wrote them off. Fury had other ideas and led an attack that rescued all the men and "ended up in so much shit he was lucky to get even this job".
We cut back to Lallement, Fury and McCusky. Lallement says "Dien Bien Phu" is under siege but they think they can hold it even though France is not the power it was. Lallement says he is convinced that if France loses Indochina, Cambodia and Laos and the rest will turn communist.
|Talking politics at Pug's party.|
Hatherly wishes Fury and Shirley a good night and leaves. Shirley smiles that he is a "sweet boy". Fury asks her where she learned to handle herself in a fight like that. She says she grew up on the South Side of Chicago. She says that where "Pug" McCusky found her and said "a figure like hers and an aptitude for shorthand were an unbeatable combination". Pug's being spoken of as a possible Vice President.
|Arriving at Son Chau|
The leiutenant on duty reports they have been mortared every day for a month. Thirteen dead, twenty wounded. Ammo and supplies are critically low. Lallement says he has bought them as much as he could. Then they hear a cry, it is sergeant Chef Stienhoff, a German Foreign Legionnaire who is throwing around a couple of men in a defensive position.
Steinhoff and Fury chat for a bit, Steinhoff has respect for Fury being as he was in the Airbourne Division. Then they discover Steinhoff was with the second SS Panzer division and if the West German army reformed they wouldn't want him, "I killed too many Jews". This makes Hatherly turn and say "what?"
The next chapter begins with Shirley and Fury having wild sex. Fury says they came back after two days because Hatherly met someone he didn't like, and "I figured I bring him home before he got himself killed". She asks about the report he's going to write and when Fury hesitates she asks if he thinks she's "fishing for Pug?"
|Fury and Shirley start their affair.|
Then we cut to Fury sitting outside a bar talking with Pug saying "the French can't hold". Pug asks if more support would help, but Fury says it's "good money after bad." He says the soldiers on the ground are doing a good job, but the commanders seem to think this is a good old fashioned colonial war and it's not. They are stupidly not taking the enemy seriously.
Fury: "The Viet Minh aren't a rabble of sneaking little backstabbers. They're a well-organised battle-tested army doing exactly what they should: fighting superior forces with guerilla tactics".
Pug says but if the French are superior..? Fury says that their bases are built in all the wrong places and he doesn't think Dien Bien Phu can hold out despite what Lallement says.
Fury says that the Viet Minh emerged four years ago and killed five thousand French soldiers, leaving their heads on spikes along the road. Pug says he appreciates Fury's straight talk but folk back in Washington still want to support the French because of the fear they'll all go commie.
Fury: "Congressman, I don't know if it's really a question of communism. This is a European colony in Southeast Asia; if you treat people like shit eventually they will buck".
Pug starts to say he'll keep needing a man on the ground as the situation develops then Shirley turns up, she brightly hands Pug a message while secretly passing one to Fury which says, "Hatherly on flight to Hanoi this A.M."
|Hatherly off getting into trouble.|
Steinhoff isn't floored though and punches Fury back saying he's better than Hatherly. He knocks Fury off his feet and when he gets up punches him again. The Major in charge tries to call Steinhoff off but Fury then hits him across the back of his head with an assault rifle. Now Steinhoff is floored and Fury starts to choke him. They wrestle on the ground when suddenly the Viet Minh attack.
|The Viet Minh attack.|
Lallement says that Fury is stuck there for now as Son Chau will almost certainly be attacked next. Fury goes to see Hatherly lying bandaged up. Steinhoff is standing over him saying he thought Hatherly was brave and could have been a real "Hitler Jugend". He leaves Fury with him, and Hatherly says "he has no idea there is anything wrong with him, does he?" Fury scowls and says it's time he talked "the facts of life" with Hatherly.
Later they are sitting outside watching the French aeroplanes futilely bombing the nearby area. A relief force probably isn't coming, so Hatherly comments "that's why we've got Nazis on our side". Fury says they didn't all get hanged at Nuremburg. Hatherly says they are evil and should be wiped from the face of the Earth.
|The unfairness of war.|
Hatherly says Steinhoff doesn't deserve redemption and Fury says he doesn't understand, Steinhoff doesn't want to redeem himself, "he wants to keep on fighting. Because he's a soldier and it's all he knows". Hatherly asks if he sympathises with him. Fury angrily says of course not and asks what the fuck he thought he was doing coming all the way out to confront Steinhoff?
Hatherly dodges the question by saying Fury did the same. Then they discuss the previous nights battle and Hatherly admits he might have hit one of their own. Fury says the same. Then a helicopter arrives to take Fury back home, but Fury insists Hatherly is flown out instead. Just before the helicopter takes off Fury growls at him, "let this be the last time your conscience gets the better of you. Clear?" And Hatherly is gone to safety.
There is going to be a supply drop that afternoon so they'll be ready for another attack. The long term? Things aren't looking so good. Then the ammunition dump goes up. It wasn't hit by a plane, it was sabotage. Then they spot a suspicious looking soldier walking towards the command tent, before they can stop him, he blows up. It hits Fury, Lallement and Steinhoff full force.
Lallement is mortally wounded, Steinhoff and Fury manage to pick up weapons as the base is overrun with Viet Minh. Fury realises it is hopeless and stops fighting as Steinhoff is beaten to death by the enemy soldiers.
|The fort is lost.|
Back with Fury and against all odds, he is still alive. The leader of the Viet Minh who now hold the base introduces himself as "Captain Letrong Giap". He says he regrets Lallement's death as he had respect for him, and has respect for Fury as well.
He tells Fury they have won the battle and maybe now the war as well. But he fears for the future fate of his country being held by outsiders:
Giap: "... this is not a place that the west can come and work out its frustrations. Not without incurring a terrible price in blood. This is not French Indochina Fury. It is not French anything. This is Vietnam".
And he allows Fury to leave and along the road are all the heads of the garrison's soldiers stuck on spikes. Fury looks at his broken pistol, then starts silently walking.
|Nick Fury is spared.|
Fury: "It was the agency at its most stupid and most arrogant. There were so many hidden agendas that the right hand lost sight of what the left was doing from the get-go... but it got me where I wanted to be: right back in the goddamned frontline".
With Indochina proving conventional wars couldn't be fought anymore and both sides having enough nuclear bombs to fry the planet several times over, it was clear the battles were going to be via proxy wars.
So the US, the Soviets and China picked their countries and psychopaths backing them with arms and training or installing psychopaths of their own. The main problem was too many of the likes of him had started in "special operations" and had convinced themselves they beat the krauts and Japs by stealth alone, "we were a stiletto to the heart not the baseball bat to the head the army kept blindly swinging".
|Next up: Cuba.|
But special forces would find evidence for missions they were needed to carry out just to sell the notion they really were special, "and somewhere along the way we got the idea there was nothing that we couldn't do." Then the flashback begins, 1961 Fury and Hatherly are running exercises training anti-Castro Cuban forces in Guatemala.
After an exercise, Fury complains to Hatherly that he doesn't like the idea of not going with the soldiers when they launch their attack on Castro. Hatherly says the US can't be seen to be intervening. Fury points out the aircraft they are supplying haven't been disguised properly, "devil is in the detail".
|Training and supplying anti-Castro Cubans.|
He says he told all this to Pug but it was in front of one of the leading anti-Castro Cubans. Not very diplomatic. Then he asks Hatherly why he seems so happy. Hatherly says his wife has just given birth to a son, he's a father now. Fury says he can have the week off while he goes to Miami to speak with Pug about the invasion.
Then it's more wild sex with Shirley time as they take a bath together. She teases him about him getting her to use her influence on Pug to get what he wants. She also tells him Pug is pretty much a shoe-in for Senator now. She says if the Cuban thing works out he was a tireless crusader against communism, if it doesn't, he was just here for the marlin.
She says this is the last time they can sleep together, Pug has asked her to marry him. This takes Fury aback somewhat. She says he is nice and treats her well. She is fond of Fury but they both know he's not the marrying kind and she takes her leave of him.
We then cut to Pug and Hatherly chatting in a Miami bar, Hatherly is travelling home to D.C. but his plane broke down so he is waiting for a replacement. He congratulates Pug on his nomination. Pug asks him for his candid opinion of Fury. Hatherly says he's a war hero and a brilliant soldier, he saved his life and there is nothing Hatherly wouldn't do for him. Pug says yes a war hero, but of what war? A colonial one that wasn't their's to begin with? He says Fury needs to draw the attention of the right people at the right time.
|Fury is given the go ahead to assasinate Castro.|
One of the Cubans says Kennedy is living in a fantasy, "whoever heard of a discreet invasion?" Another says the important thing is their airforce wipe out the Cuban's one. The bearded Cuban says the enemy should lose its head, Castro is a coward who will run back to his bunker they say. "Assassinate Castro" says Fury. That's exactly what they want, no stupid CIA messing about with poison, "we want a man who will look him in the eye and put an end to him".
Pug cheerfully says Fury will get Agency permission to do so and Fury agrees. He and Pug go for a walk, Fury says Hatherly better cancel his week off, this is a two man job and Hatherly is an excellent sniper. He could probably use a radioman as well. Pug comments it's getting less "deniable" by the second. They arrive at the pool where Shirley is swimming, she gets out and leaves them to keep talking and Pug grins at Fury saying "that's mine".
We're back to Fury in his hotel room, he says that there was supposed to be a diversonary landing away from the Bay of Pigs but it was cancelled. The air strikes didn't wipe out the Cuban planes and that the resistance should have been warned so it could time an uprising with the invasion, they were never told. Still two days after the invasion, he, Hatherly and Elgen the radioman were dropped into Cuba.
|The attack on Cuba is in full swing.|
Fury and Co. set up in a building with a clear line of sight to where Castro is projected to be, Elgen tells them there could be a problem: no one is answering his hails. Fury tells him to keep trying. Curfew is keeping the streets deserted, but Fury is suspicious about all the empty government buildings.
They hijack a Cuban military vehicle and the man tells them Castro is taking charge of defence personally. So they drive out there and witness the air battle which the invaders are losing. Things on the ground are confused but Fury says Castro will be at Giron, they have a choice. Keep moving in the open or take the swamps.
Hatherly can't believe what's happened to the men they trained. Fury says taking out Castro might make things easy for the next lot. Then they are discovered and attempt a getaway from the soldiers. They escape and climb onto a nearby buildings roof, they can't fight their way to Castto so they are going to wait for him to come to them.
Fury: "He comes down here. He starts crowing for the cameras. That's when you blow his goddamn head off."
Listening in on the fiasco are the Floridan Cubans. They tell Shirley to fetch Pug as they look on grimly. Pug however has done a runner.
|Everything goes tits up.|
He comes to and he, Hatherly and Elgen are tied up together and being told outright there isn't anything that won't be done to them. The man standing over them wants to know who fired the shot aimed at Castro. He has one of the invaders strapped to a table with his head in a vice, "think it over. Take your time" he says.
Back with Shirley, she is trapped with the Florida Cubans who want to know where the hell Pug has gone. They realise he fucked them over because the CIA botched the invasion. Shirley says it's time for her to leave, when one of them tries to stop her, she strikes out at him but he punches her in the face and knocks her down. She crawls away and gets a gun from her handbag and points it at him telling him the safety's off.
Cut back to Fury, the man with his head in the vice has had it crushed so his eyes are bulging out and his bones are crushed but he is still alive. Nick lashes out yelling at them and is beaten down. As the Cubans leave them to stew, Fury says he's testing a theory that the Cubans haven't hit them in the faces yet. His theory is the Cubans want a show trial so are keeping them alive for that reason.
They talk and Hatherly on finding out Elgen is married says he's going to confess and do whatever they say so the two of them can go home. Fury says "Hatherly, we're supposed to be deniable". Pug won't help get them back.
|Caught by the Cubans.|
Later that night the three of them are dragged out to a pier, someone is thrown in before them and sharks immediately rip him apart. Then Elgen gets thrown in. In a rage Fury knocks down his captors and bites the leader's nose off. Hatherly kicks a couple in the waters as well. They cut each other loose and go to rescue Elgen.
Shirley meanwhile has caught up with Pug. He apologises saying he didn't think they'd turn on his secretary. He says he had to start protecting himself from the fallout from the Bay of Pigs immediately. She tries to walk out on him and he wheedles, "Don't leave old Pug alone in the world. It's a cold, cold world to be alone in" he says and she stops and looks pained.
She sits and takes a drink while he complains that the CIA didn't seem to have been very well organised and "it's coming out that they might have told him one or two little white lies". He says the President isn't a teamplayer having cancelled the follow-up airstrikes. Shirley just drinks in silence.
We rejoin Fury, Hatherly and Elgen. They are on a small boat, Elgen is in a very bad way, he's lost both his arms. Hatherly tries to comfort him, but Elgen looks at Fury and Fury looks back, then kills Elgen with a pistol shot to the head. Hatherly screams at him, "what about his wife?". Fury just says "she'll get a folded flag. She'll never have to know". The wind will take them to the Florida Keys by tommorrow.
|Fury makes an hard choice.|