Friday, 27 January 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Book 2: Squirrel You Know It's True (#5-8)

"Oh my God.  I'm gonna be the one who brings bluetooth to Asgard!" - Nancy

Whew, well it's been a dark old month on this blog, we've had post-apocalyptic raping and pillaging, World War 2 vampires, depression, a reflection in the what it feels to fight the wrong wars and dead mothers. So lets see January out with some more upbeat stuff and what could be more so than the continuing adventures of the endearing superhero, Doreen Green aka Squirrel Girl.  She's a hero with super strength and agility, the ability to talk to squirrels and summon a great number to help her, a bushy tail and a massively positive attitude to life.  In the previous volume she started college studying computing and she and her squirrel companion "Tippy-Toe" moved in with Nancy Whitehead and her pet cat Mew.  Nancy discovered Squirrel Girl's superhero identity and has quickly become a trusted friend.  Squirrel Girl also met and rather clumsily flirted with another student called Tomas before saving the Earth from Galactus by finding him a planet covered in delicious nuts and no sentient life.  Now in this second (and last of this Marvel NOW run) volume we get to meet The Avengers and see her take on an ancient Asgardian villain while getting some help from an unexpected source.  So without further ado lets carry on.

Nancy is trapped in the top of the statue of liberty while Squirrel Girl and a whole bunch of other heroes fighting invading dinosaurs.  She has company and as they sit and wait for rescue conversation turns to favourite superheroes and who might save them.  Nancy says Squirrel will, and one of the group, an old woman says she has a story about Squirrel Girl from when she was a young girl.  Nancy protests that Squirrel Girl isn't old enough but the old lady continues and we get a Kirbyesque looking story.
Zoinks!
Squirrel Girl saves Captain America from the nefarious mind control waves sent out by a Red Skull bot turning Captain America into a Hydra ally.  Preposterous, that could never really happen. Ahem.  Anyway, the Skull bot is disguised as "Bass Lass" and Squirrel Girl stops the mind control waves and unmasks Bass Lass saving the good Captain in the process.  Huzzah, democracy is safe.  The end.

Nancy is somewhat disbelieving of this story and then a younger man says he has a real story about her, that involved clones.  Someone stole her blood and made a clone of her.  The clone took a Red Squirrel theme versus Squirrel Girls grey and they sometimes teamed up and sometimes they fought.  Oh and also Squirrel acquired a costume that was an alien symbiote.  One of the others says to him, "dude, I think you're thinking of Spider-Man" and the man says oh yes, he totally was.

Nancy looks pained as says people don't have to make up stories about her.  But another pipes up saying he has done legit research on her.  He describes the Squirrel Girl Nancy knows well, but then says she's from the future. "What." says Nancy flatly.  He tells an exciting tale of how she came back in time and teamed up with Nick Fury to take down an army of Doom-bots. Squirrel Girl says Doom's weakness is his ego and his Doom-bots will be built to share them.  She uses her robot to search it's database for a way to get to him and finds "a fear of squirrels and the ability to be easily vexed by squirrels."
Many Squirrel Girls appear!
She uses super-telepathy to summon squirrels to attack them, then gets her robot to call in all the Squirrel Girls from other timelines.  Epic battle commences, but Nancy puts an end to the story. She says Squirrel Girl is real, not something she invented so they could pass the time making up stories about her.  The boy says he did research on the internet about her.

Nancy: "I swear, the internet is like 5% true facts, 85% misinformation and 10% local moms with one weird trick that doesn't even friggin' work".

After another couple of interjections, one in the style of Peanuts (which includes a "totally nuts" pun) and the other of The Dark Knight Returns, Nancy has had enough.   She gives a speech about the real Squirrel Girl pointing out the incongruities in their stories.  One of them asks what makes her so sure, "are you, like her roomate or something?"

Nancy denies it then Squirrel Girl pops her head through the window having sorted the dinosaurs out with the other heroes.  "Oh hey Nancy!  How the heck have you been?" she says to a surprised Nancy. Later with the group safely out, Nancy says she hopes being taken hostage isn't going to be a regular thing now she's friends with Squirrel Girl.   Squirrel Girl says she was just in the wrong place in the wrong time. 
Poor Nancy.
As they walk off together, Nancy tells her about the stories going around about her. Squirrel Girl says "it sounds totally nuts!".  The man who first made the pun is delighted, while the others debate whether she is a robot duplicate and the fact you can't see her abs in her "stupid costume".  And that brings the first chapter to a close.

We start the next chapter with Nancy wearing the "suit" of squirrels again.  She says she doesn't think they are helping her fight and when she punches the squirrels move out of the way.  Disappointed Squirrel Girl has this confirmed by Tippy-Toe.  She said she could have told her before as she had the idea to farm out Squirrel Suits to make Nancy "the general of an unstoppable army of Squirrel Scouts??"

They are standing outside the bank that got robbed in volume one.  The suddenly a humanoid hippo appears and he plans to rob it.   In a flurry of terrible hippo puns another hero arrives to help Squirrel Girl defeat "Hippo the Hippo"  Another man jumps in to help as well.  As the newcomer fights Hippo, the first one introduces himself to Squirrel Girl as "Chipmunk Hunk".   She is super pleased when she realises he is another hero who can talk to animals.
Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi take on Hippo The Hippo.
Incredibly annoyed by the fun they are poking at him Hippo says he never asked to be changed from a hippo in the zoo who was changed into a quasi-human.  He says he has zero education and has to rob banks to pay rent on a place to live that will accomodate his size.  Squirrel Girl agrees with him that it is unfair that he woke up one morning with a bunch of human responsibilities.  Hippo calms down say no one has ever listened to him before, but he is still going to rob the bank.

Squirrel Girl says she can't let him do that, but with his size and strength he should be working for a demolitions company, knocking down buildings for a job.  She tells him to search the internet and he should find something.  Mollified, Hippo leaves, saying he'll give it a go but if it fails he's going to come back and rob the bank.  And he is gone, once again Squirrel Girl solves a problem with her power of helpfulness.

The other hero introduces himself as "Koi Boi" friend to Chipmunk Hunk and similar "protector of the scales of justice".  Nancy almost sighs, and says to Squirrel Girl who she calls Doreen that the two men are only wearing domino masks and takes Chipmunk Hunk's off to reveal Tomas Lara-Perez, from their class.  She says she doesn't know Koi Boi's real name but she's seen him with Tomas in their databases 101 class.  Koi Boi says his name is Ken Shiga, "can we please go somewhere less public to talk about this?"
Nancy is not fooled by the usual disguises.
They go inside and discuss their powers, Ken can talk to fish.  After they leave Nancy grumbles that everyone has superpowers except her.  Squirrel Girl says maybe she does, maybe she can talk to an animal but not know it.  The very next day they will go to the zoo. "And you Nancy Whitehead, are going to chat up every animal there".  Nancy says no chance, but next day they are indeed at the zoo and an embarrassed Nancy, egged on by Squirrel Girl starts shouting at the monkeys, but gets hushed by the monkey keeper. 

Squirrel Girl says they'll try some more animals and as they work their way round the zoo in the lion house their keeper has a heart attack and they escape through the open zoo.  Before Squirrel Girl can spring into action, a humanoid squirrel appears and picks up the lions and tosses them back in their pen.  Later Nancy and Squirrel Girl see a news headline online that "Girl Squirrel" saved the zoo.
"Girl Squirrel" saves the day.
Squirrel Girl tells Nancy she has talked to all the squirrels and none of them know who Girl Squirrel is.  She doesn't trust her, even though Nancy thinks she is just being jealous. "She's up to something" insists Squirrel Girl and she's right.  That night Girl Squirrel starts creeping into peoples bedrooms and speaking into their ears in Squirrel language.  The omniscient narrator translates for us and gets freaked out by the awful things Girl Squirrel is saying to the sleeping people.

In fact they get so upset they quit the comic.  This chapter ends with Girl Squirrel trying to whisper into Nancy's ear but Mew growls at her and sends her packing.  Nancy wakes up just missing her and says to Mew she wishes she could talk, "I gotta met someone named 'Cat Brat'" and kissed her head, bringing chapter two to a close.

The next day Squirrel Girl and Nancy arrive late to their databases class because they broke up several fights on the way there.  The teacher asks her to tell the class what durability is and she answers correctlt much to his annoyance. Then the teacher starts ranting angrily about the sloppiness of students today and one of the students accuses him of selling grades for cash.  A brawl starts up which she, Tomas and Ken try to break up.
Wikipedia knows all.
Later they sit and try and figure out what's going on.  Nancy believes she knows what has happened.  Girl Squirrel is in fact "Ratatoskr"  a being from Norse mythology who provokes people with slanderous gossip according to Wikipedia. 

Squirrel Girl: "Can I just say that it's really satisfying to find out that someone you didn't like for kinda no reason might've been evil all along??"
They debate how they might stop her and Squirrel Girl says to Nancy that they should ask the person who Nancy writes fanfiction about a feline version of - "Cat Thor".  Tomas queries the idea that they are going to walk into Avengers tower just like that.   But off they go, and Squirrel Girl rings the doorbell and is let in.

Inside she introduces them to the Avengers, but Ratotoskr has gotten to them as well.    Squirrel Girl tries to tell them what has happened but gets mocked and ends up knocking them all out.  Thor isn't there, but they phone him up on Captain America's phone.  A quick note, Thor at the moment is in fact a woman because male Thor was judged unworthy of Mjolinir.  He is still fighting with her, but at the moment, she is Thor and he is "Odinson".
Thor and Odinson in the breakfast battle.
Anyway Odinson and Thor are caught up in mass riot at a restaurant between people who like pancakes and those who prefer waffles.  When Squirrel Girl tells him she thinks Ratatoskr is responsible we get a quick history lesson about her.   She was supposed to have been imprisoned because her influence had nearly ended Midgard before. 

Odinson: "This is no mere smack-talking squirrel.  Heed my warning well: Ratatoskr's arsenal includes god-teir smack talking and she wields it readily".

She is the ultimate troll and will ruin humanity and Squirrel Girl alone must stop her. "I kinda thought you might help??" responds Squirrel Girl.  He says that another bears the title of Thor, he doesn't know much about her except the fact, "she kisses well".

Squirrel Girl and the others travel to his and Thor's location where they have finally calmed things by tieing everyone up. Thor says they must go to Asgard and restore the barriers which are supposed to hold Ratatoskr.   They decide to split up, Nancy and Tippy-Toe will go to Asgard with Thor and Odinson to fill them in on what Ratatoskr is like now and Squirrel Girl, Tomas and Ken will stay on Earth to fight Ratatoskr. And off Nancy goes.

Later Squirrel Girl, Tomas and Ken find Ratatoskr.  Ratatoskr denies being Ratatoskr asking them what she has supposed to have done, "do I visit their homes in a single night like some demented Santa Claus, using my special talents to inject messages in their brains, messages that I'm sustaining still, even as we speak?"  Squirrel Girl says she is saying that sarcastically but actually that sounds exactly like what's been going on.
Ratatoskr's true form.
So Ratatoskr drops the innocent act and transforms into a sinister and vicious looking black Squirrel.   Squirrel Girl and Chipmunk Hunk order the squirrels and chipmunks to attack. But Ratatoskr is able to stop them with her evil words much to Squirrel Girl's anger, "Ratatoskr, you are a vile, vile Squirrel".  Ratatoskr says she is just ending the world to make room for something better and knocks Squirrel Girl and the others down with a swipe of her hand.

The next chapter starts with a page of Nancy's pencil drawn comic showing Cat-Thor versus the Frost Giant Schnauzers.  Then we join her, Tippy-Toe, Thor and Odinson arrving in Asgard.   Nancy shows them "the great seer Wikipedia" and its information on Rataoskr.  Thor reads it and says that it says if they donated now his fundraiser would be over in an hour. "Yeah he does that" says Nancy.

The information is valuable, but they can't figure out how she escaped in the first place.   Her prison was forged by Odin himself and the only way out would be through Asgardian manipulation and they don't know of an Asgardian who would do that. Then Loki appears and laconically says it might be his fault.  The others stare at him.  "What?!  I said 'my bad'" he protests.

Back with Squirrel Girl, Tomas and Ken, Ratatoskr has hold of the two men and mind controls them into attacking Squirrel Girl.   Fortunately Squirrel Girl swiped Spider-Man's web shooters when she knocked out the Avengers and is able to stop Tomas and Ken without hurting them.  She fires a tonne of web fluid at Ratatoskr and wraps her in the webbing.  But she uses her mind control to get a crowd of people to pul the webbing off her and Tomas and Ken get free too.
*laughs helplessly*
Back in Asgard, Nancy tells Loki she's a big fan. He asks her to name her favourite celebrity and he'll shape-shift into them. Odinson says they have no time for this frivolity but Nancy quickly says Cat-Thor.  Loki shifts into Thor with a cat's head saying "Nancy Whitehead - where have you been all my life?"

Irritated Odison asks Loki how he was responsible for Ratatoskr's escape.   He says he had many schemes on the go and some took centuries to ripen:

Loki: "And when a fella has so many irons in the fire, it's clear even the most harshest judges of character must forgive him for forgetting one teeny, weeny, tiney, winey little scheme. And therefore in conclusion, that's how come it's not my fault Ratatoskr escaped."

Loki says he doesn't want Midgard destroyed so he'll help them out, but they won't be able to get close to her without her using her powers against them.  Nancy has an idea though.  They can block their ears and use bluetooth to communicate with each other.

Back on Earth, Ratatoskr has Squirrel Girl being held by several people including Tomas and Ken. Ratatoskr says they are loving this because part of them resent Squirrel Girl for being "superior".  Squirrel Girl says using mind control doesn't count, "the real Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi wouldn't do this."  Ratatoskr is about to whisper in Squirrel Girl's ear when Nancy, Tippy-Toe, Thor, Odinson and Lokui appear.
But inspirational speeches should always work!
Nancy hurls Tippy-Toe at Squirrel Girl who puts earplugs in her ear.  Loki uses "Mewnir" to free Squirrel Girl and knock Ratatoskr away from her.  Then Thor uses Mjolnir to temporarily take out Ratatoskr. But Squirrel Girl says they need to break her spell on everyone.   Loki provides her with a megaphone and Squirrel Girl gives an inspiring speech to the bewitched crowd.  Unfortunately it doesn't work and the crowd starts to attack.

Then suddenly Ratatoskr is engulfed in rainbow light and disappears. The crowd stops attacking and mills about wondering how they got there. Loki says he saved the day.  Squirrel Girl's speech did work, Ratatoskr had to direct her attention to reinforcing her mind control and took her attention away from the "Bifrost blocker she had going".  Loki noticed and sent down the Bifrost and now Ratatoskr is back in prison in Asgard and Midgard is saved.

He has returned his head to normal for which Odinson is grateful.  Loki says those who were mind controlled will feel way more jealous than normal for afew day but will be OK. "We did it.  We did it!" grins Nancy.  Afew days later Squirrel Girl, Nancy, Tomas and Ken are hanging out and Tippy-Toe is teaching them how to speak squirrel. Squirrel Girl says if they keep up this level of progress they'll be "unbeatable."
All friends together again.
And that brings the series to an end.  But thankfully the series is not cancelled, after the 2015 universal Marvel reboot, everything is started from number one again.  And Squirrel Girl is back, with the same creative team and the same characters which is great because Nancy is definitely one of my favourite supporting characters in comics right now.  The Cat-Thor stuff had me genuinely having to put the comic down and compose myself I laughed so much.  This is a wonderful comic, Ryan North and Erica Henderson have bought us a fantastic series full of fun where brute force is never the answer and being clever and kind is the way to solve problems.  The final page comes after the letters page and shows Ratatoskr back in her prison being trolled by Loki who has sent her a talking Squirrel Girl doll who says she is updating Ratatoskr wikipedia page to say she is a big baby and Ratatoskr bites its head off in anger which shows Loki remains king of trolls.  There is also a couple of Squirrel Girl stories from prior to this series included in the trade.  But the artwork shows Squirrel Girl as a more traditional looking "sexy" superheroine and lacks the charm of Erica Henderson's more cartoony rendering of her.  I'm so pleased this series has not been cancelled and I shall be following it as it gets released in trades as long as it keeps up these high standards of art and writing. Awesome stuff.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Fury MAX: My War Gone By (#1-13) PART TWO

"I wanted the girl and the war and the victory.  I chose one." - Nick Fury

Time to rejoin our tale of the things a drunken and remorseful Fury has done for his country post World War II.  It's framed with him dictating into an ancient tape recorder in a hotel room in 2009 or so.  The first post covered his involvement in the war for French Indochina, where he was the only person to walk away from a French garrison overrun by the Viet Minh.  Then he was sent to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs to assassinate Castro which went horribly wrong and he only just escaped death by hungry shark.  As Fury hardly ages, the passage of time is being told on the faces and bodies of three supporting characters.  First is George Hatherly, Fury's right hand man, second is Shirley DeFabio a beautiful woman, secretary and then wife to third, "Pug" McCuskey, an up and coming Congressman in a Senate race when involvement the Cuban fiasco very nearly backfired on him. The first half of this maxiseries was pretty glum and it's only going to get glummer and if you are easily triggered by violence against women and children you may want to skip this post all together.  If not, well it's time for Vietnam with a guest appearance from Frank Castle, the man who would go on to become The Punisher.

Back in the present, Fury say that people who are complaining about losses and length of commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq need to shut up and think about "Nam".

Fury: "The greatest American fuck up of all time."

They lost 60,000 US soldiers, three million Vientamese, allowed the Khmer Rouge get a foothold in Cambodia thus killing even more and turned public opinion against soldiers after they came home heroes after World War II.  And they still lost.  The Iraqi and Afghan wars have nothing on those statistics.
Time for another story.
There is a knock at the door and he leaps up, gun at the ready, but it is only the hotel staff checking up on him as he's been there so long.  Then we're in 1970 and Hatherly is telling Fury he can't be his back-up anymore.  His wife is having their fifth kid and "I just don't think I can pull the trigger" he says.

Fury wants Hatherly to stay on the radio, but he has someone else he can call for support. Frank Castle.  It's worth noting in the MAX universe Frank is an even more profoundly damaged man who sacrificed his wife and kids so he could wage eternal war and ended up a broken, burned out shell because of it.  The story of how he made that regretful choice is told in Punisher: Born, coming soon to this blog.

He and Frank fly out and later Frank is at a meeting with three CIA agents and Pug.  They show him a photo of the man they want him to kill, Giap the Vietnamese soldier who let Fury go in 1954. Now he trains the Vietnamese army and they believe if they take him out combat efficiency would fall by 30%.
Frank Castle, pre-Punisher
They are going to drop him and Castle in Laos next night, as US soldiers aren't supposed to be there, they have to be completely "deniable".  Fury has one question, what is the now Senator McCusky doing here? "Oh you know me colonel.  Making introductions, helping things happen.  Facilitating" he responds.

Then we cut to Fury and Castle dropped just outside Laos.  Fury remembers the previous night, having sex with Shirley.  She mentioned Pug and he got pissed off. As he gets dressed she admits that her marriage to Pug is sexless.  He see whores, she finds him repulsive.  But the marriage has other benefits, mainly security.
Way to kill the moment Shirley.
She tells Frank she's spent twenty years following Pug round the world.  And she keeps seeing it again and again:

Shirley: "The locals hate us.  We make such a mess. We always seem to choose some total prick to support."

She admits she's lost track of all of Pug's networking these days. She then says will he come back to bed if she doesn't mention Pug?

Back with Fury and Castle, they are wading through swampy ground then a forest and stumble upon a kid.  Neither has it in them to kill him even though they know he'll raise the alarm.  Fury decides the operation can still go ahead and they let the kid go.  Which proves their undoing as soon after a squad of soldiers attack them.

They are herded to a clifftop and captured despite inflicting heavy casualties on their attackers, Giap says it was the little kid that warned them.  They should have killed him and dumped him because "Frankly Colonel Fury, you gave us all the time in the world".  Castle and Fury are tied up while Giap stands over them lecturing them.  He does apologise for the rough treatment they suffered, those that did it will be "criticised" (killed).
Captured again.
Back at base Hatherly is anxiously listening for any sign of Fury when Shirley comes in to see him.  She kisses him on the cheek and then says she knows they are running "covert ops".  Hatherly says he can't give her any information on the mission.  She says she just wanted to see a friendly face and congratulates him on his latest child, before confessing she can't have any of her own.

This flusters Hatherly, more so when she graphically describes her relationship with Fury. She tells him she'll do her best "to curb my potty mouth" as he blushes.  She then asks outright if Fury is OK, Hatherly says he's got it all under control, he knows "exactly what he's doing".

Back at the interrogation, Giap figures that Castle is the sniper who's been doing so much damage in "Quang Nam Province".   Giap tells Castle "bravo".  Then it's time for a sorry story of CIA corruption.  The three CIA agents started a relationship two years ago with an opium farmer called Nuon Sen who has ties to the Khmer Rouge.   He has photographic evidence to prove it.

The heroin was processed in Cambodia then sent to the US East Coast.  A now dead Vietnamese general was also involved.  The heroin was sold and part of the profits went to Sen and the balance was kept by the three CIA agents.  Giap had planned to show the evidence he had gathered to the world's press, but then had another idea.
Giap outlines his plan.
He leaked through Tra that he knew what was going on and planned to expose it so word would get back to the CIA agents.  Giap would then carefully prepare and capture the people sent to assassinate him.

Giap: "And the gentlemen of the press would get a little spice for their story."

He's going to arrange a conference in Hanoi to present this information, evidence of CIA involvement in narcotics, US Military resources used for distribution and and attempted cover up by murder.

He says they'll make full confessions.  Fury finally speaks saying "not a hope".  Giap says he believes otherwise because he has the means to end the war.  He believes the US has no stomach for continuing the conflict and is looking for means to escape it. 

He says things like this can bring down a government, "and Nixon is not a stupid man." Giap admits to Fury that he will do anything to end this war because "I love my country".  And that Fury should be honest, that he is here because "any war will do."

At base, the CIA agents realise something is amiss and decide to go with Fury's plan B.  Bomb the place and hope to kill Giap that way with Fury and Castle as unfortunate collatoral.  Hatherly is non-plussed then upset.

In their cell, Fury and Castle discuss what they have learned.  Fury is mad he's been used like this. Frank asks if he thinks Giap could end the war. Fury says he's not sure, the heroin will kick up a fuss and half of congress want out, this could be the tipping point.

Fury: "I don't know about ending the war right away, but... it could sure as hell shorten it".

Castle: "Then we better not take the chance."

Next time they are given water, they manage to beat up the men and escape their cell.  Shirley meanwhile is on the phone to Pug trying desperately to get him to intervene over the air-strike, he says he'll try but then just puts the phone down and whistles to himself while reading the paper.
Time for another escape.
Now armed, Castle and Fury attempt to finish their mission.  Fury gets to where Giap is and sets a fire and Castle makes short work of the enemy.  Fury destroys Giap's evidence with the fire.  Giap confronts him and wants to know why?

Giap: "You've damned yourself for what? A few more years of the war you crave?"

Then Giap takes a sniper bullet from Castle to the throat and falls and Fury makes his getaway. He comes out onto a hill littered with the bodies of pretty much everyone there thanks to Castle, even Fury is moved to say "Jesus Christ Almighty".
Frank does what he does best.
Then the American bombs begin to drop as the airstrike starts. Watching from a far, Castle asks if he knew?  Fury says he recommnded it but didn't think they'd take him seriously.  "Whatever works, the job's done" says Castle and they go to their rendezvous.  Fury puts Castle up for a promotion to Captain.

As Pug and Shirley leave Saigon, Pug and Fury chat on the tarmac.  Pug says how interesting it is that the three CIA agent's bodies were found outside a strip club, dead with their throats cut. He says it's senseless.  "Must have made sense to someone" snarks Fury. At least that puts a lid on the drug scandal now.

Pug tells him he tried to call off the airstrike, but shouldn't have meddled in military affairs.  Fury says that's what Pug is all about, making deals, facillitating. Pug says he noted Fury's potential years ago and has kept him on the boil, giving him the "fun and games" he's been enjoying.  As he climbs the steps of the plane, Fury says if he thought Pug was into what those CIA agents were he'd.... "you'd what?" asks Pug, then says "take care of yourself colonel" chirpily to him.

It's now the story really turns grim because here is Ennis challenging his usual view that the men on the ground despite what they are ordered remain fundamentally decent.  But by the 1980's the military corruption had trickled down to use a popular phrase of the time to the rank and file and it's in Nicuragua where Fury admits it was "the one where it all began to go wrong". Well, he concedes, maybe it did beforehand, but it was here he couldn't ignore it any longer.  This story also introduces regular nemesis of The Punisher, the amoral and fiercely intelligent man known as "Barracuda".
Barracuda.
This segment covers the scandal in which US military trained the anti-commnist Nicuraguan rebels The Contras, ostensibly against the communist Sandinistas.  But the cIA was using drugs confiscated during the operations to secretly fund their own department's secret activities.  This is what Nick Fury and Hatherly have been sent out to check in 1984 at the Special Forces base in Honduras. Before they arrive we are introduced to Barracuda about to murder several Sandinistas with a chainsaw.  When he and his team realise it's living legend Nick Fury sent to check them out, he decides to put on a charm offensive.

Back in the USA, Pug and Shirley discuss the situation.  Pug insists the rumours about the CIA's activities are untrue but they have sent Nick Fury to check anyway.  Shirley is very cynical about the activities of the US trained Contras listing off the atrocities she's heard they have committed.  Pug says opposing communism is the most important factor.  Then the doorbell goes.  Shirley gets up to answer it and is bothered by her arthritic hip.  She opens the door and is greeted by the sight of a young, blonde woman, "who the hell is this?" she shouts at Pug.

In Honduras, Barracuda and Fury are chatting.  Barracuda assures Nick all narcotics found are burned.  He tells Nick they don't see a lot of drugs here because the main growing areas are down south. He says most of the Contras joined for "the right reasons" and want their homes back, but Barracuda can't vouch for every single one of them.

He says the US army people here are all "tight" and volunteered to come here as well.  "You talkin' pretty goddamned motivated S.F support" he doesn't think they are the type to use drugs.  Fury comments that their commander Captain Costanzo isn't Special Forces, Barracuda says he isn't but he gets the job done.

Barracuda sucks up to Fury.
Fury says it's outside his remit and Barracuda doesn't have to answer, "but I'm guessing you don't confine yourself to training duties".  Barracuda admits that they do take time of for "a little trigger time" and does Fury want to come along?  Fury doesn't answer and they talk about World War 2 and how Barracuda's dad served in the "tank destroyer battalion" and would talk about Fury a lot and they share a beer as they toast the "Airbourne" divison.

Later Fury is back indoors, talking with Hatherly about what he's discovered. He says he's befriended Barracuda and believes he's the one who calls the shots around here.  He says the one face that doesn't fit is Captain Costanzo, no experience at running a place like this.

Hatherly says an administrator is perhaps what is needed here someone to deal with all the red tape.  Fury says the man is a "clerk" not a soldier.  Hatherly says he's the type of man who'll keep getting promoted.  When was Fury last promoted? And he's sent out all the time, he succeeds for the agency time and again.

Fury: "What I do is survive the fuck ups. Some are mine and some aren't.  But I walk out intact and clean up behind me.  Someone must think that's worth enough bonus points to kep me around."

Then they hear a gunshot, he races out and with the others find the body of Captain Costanzo, shot in the head with cocaine chopped out in front of him.
A sacrifice is made.
Hatherly reads the suicide note in which Constanzo confesses to being addicted to cocaine and no longer believing in what they are doing. He says the arrival of the "hero" Nick Fury conspired to make him want to take his life as he could never measure up.  Because of his betrayal he doesn't deserve to live.

Hatherly: "Someone's trying to tickle you ego".

Fury: "If you mean I'm getting a world class handjob, I'm inclined to agree."

Hatherly says if they visit the address on the note, what will they find? Coke and lots of says Fury. The note only implies the local bandits, nothing about narcotics being run out of the army bases, "nothing linking the drugs to the U.S. at all.  Never mind the Contra funding" says Hatherly.

Fury sends Hatherly to check the address anyway, he wants whoever is watching them thinking they took the bait.  He and Hatherly are on their own now, with no idea who to trust.  He's going to make it look like he went with him, then slip back and have the Huey pilot drop him wherever he dropped Barracuda.

He wants to check him out when there is no one telling him he is coming.  Hatherly asks if he's just after some time in the field, "I know you're never happier than when you're humpng the boonies with a rifle in your hands".  Hatherly asks if he wants him to come back with Fury, but Fury says no, and that fifteen years ago Hatherly told him "you haven't got that kind of courage anymore." Later Hatherly has left and Fury gets aboard the chopper and asks to be dropped off where Barracuda was last.

Back with Pug and Shirley, she is incensed that Pug has asked his young mistress to come and and visit him in their home.  Pug points she and Nick Fury have been sleeping together since they got married.  She sits painfully and says it hasn't happened for a long time now.
Pug tells Shirley the facts of life.
Pug goes on to say he knows she found him repulsive on their wedding night.  But enjoys the privilege it brings. She sought another outlet, so did he.  Nastily he tells her that she owns nothing, everything they have is in his name.  She leaves him and she is left destitute.  He then tells her he even tamed Nick Fury:

Pug: "He goes wherever I want.  And does whatever I tell him.  Essentially for being allowed to live life in the combat zone.  And you are you."

He leaves her dumbstruck saying she should pour herself a drink.  It might be a little early but it's never stopped her before.

The chopper drops Fury off, but before they can take off Fury puts a grenade in the engine and tells them they are about to have an engine fire and orders everyone to bail.  It blows up.  Fury orders them to stay by the wreckage until he finds the others so no warnings can be sent.

Barracuda and his crew are sitting chatting about crude stuff.  The redneck goes on about white superiority so Barracuda knocks him over with his dick.  Then he gets a radio message that the chopper hasn't come back and immediately suspects Fury.
There are no words.
Fury arrives at a scene of total devastation.  Barracuda's mob wiped out a whole village.  The corpses are strewn about and horrific things like a baby torn from it's mothers womb laying on the ground.  Fury regards it with sorrow, "Jesus fucking Christ Almighty" he says.

We then jump to Nick Fury aiming his rifle at Barracuda and his gang who are aiming right back, "go the fuck ahead" goads Barracuda.  Then they drag out Hatherly who had been grabbed at the address he was sent to.  "Go to daddy" sneers Barracuda as they let him free.

Fury says the shit goes north, the money goes to the Contras.  Barracuda says he gets his cut, "s'all I know".  He tells Fury if he puts this in his report the Pentagon will come swarming down, finding out all the shit they didn't know they were involved with.  Fury says they set it up, found a U.S. connection and run it because:

Fury: "...you and your assholes aren't an A-team. You're nothing but a fucking drug gang".

Barracuda says the place is swimming in drugs, "good business where you find it homes".  Everything was fine, but "no you gotta get all Nick Fury an' go to work, ain't you?"

Fury asks about Captain Constanzo's "suicide".  Of course it was nothing of the sort, they offered him up as a sacrifice because they knew he would fold if Fury turned the heat up, "shit, we spent his life like a nickel" says Barracuda.

Fury asks what now?  Barracuda says he isn't about to kill the living legend that is Fury, it would bring down a shitstorm.  He says Fury can go home and file his report.  Hatherly in tears shouts that they have acted shamefully and dishonoured the uniform.  Barracuda pauses, then kicks the dead baby at him and scowls, "fuck the uniform. Feel me?"
Truly a despicable human being.
Fury reports back to Pug and says he knows all about the drug money funding going on.  Pug says that's a "scurrilous" thing to suggest.  Then he asks how they are supposed to operate when the government won't fund the fight against communism in their backyard.  Fury says the place is "no fucking threat."

He says the place is just peasant farmers trying to stay alive. As he said before, treat people like shit and they start to buck and he says he's getting "pretty sick of us backing the assholes they buck against".  Pug says he doesn't think there is no threat from communism out there, but if there was no threat, what would that mean?

Fury: "It would mean we've been prolonging the war.  By whatever means neccessary. For other reasons".

He says Pug has interests in arms, jobs, profits.  But Pug throws it back and says "what's yours?"  He says both of them have the interests of American interests and the love affair with the gods of destruction, who resonates more with more strongly with the warmongers here in Washington? "Which of us is worse?" he says to Fury.  Then he laughs and says that's if all the "preposterous" things he's claimed were actually true.

Sometime later in Miami, Fury and Shirley drown their sorrows together, as she commiserates that Pug:

Shirley: "He's got me in the same way.  I don't have it in me to give up what I've got. I guess neither of us are the people we thought we were."

She says she's seen the reports, she's complicit, but Fury says he is the one "in love with it". Shirley then invites him to have sex, but he brushes her off saying he has an early start.
Shirley discovers she isn't attractiev to Fury anymore.
She says she must have got too old for him, he can find "tighter pussy" anywhere.  He tells her to knock it off and remembers what a "spitfire" she was when they first met in the bar fight.

Shirley: "Oh sure.  I was a spitfire.  I was a doll. I was whatever suited you, nevermind who I actually was.  Now you can't even look at me you son of a bitch!"

Fury gets up and leaves.  Sadly Shirley says to herself, "we could have saved each other from him. From it all."

We return to Fury in the present.  He says he gave it five years, then tracked Barracuda down to a hotel room where he was sleeping with a sex worker.  He put out the lights and using infra-red goggles beat the living shit out of Barracuda with a baseball bat, "sometimes the uniform fucks back" he said as he left, but he knew even at the time it was an empty guesture, worth about "as much as my next shit".

We jump forwards again to 1999.  Hatherly is lying in a hospital bed on life support while Shirley tells him her woes.  She is humiliated by the fact her husband's "whore" now lives with thim.   She says the more she thinks about her shitty life the more she thinks she couldn't have changed it even if she had got serious with Nick Fury.

Hatherly: "I always thought you were lovely"

Shirley: "You did?"

Hatherly: "Always.  There, there darling.  Roads not taken.  Don't cry."

Then it's Hatherly's funeral.  His kids don't want anything to do with Fury because he never visited Hatherly in hospital.
Hatherly's funeral.
But a young woman introduces herself as Courtney, Hatherly was her grandfather.  She said her grandad told her not to think badly about Fury not visiting him, he can't stand hospitals, with all the sickness and weakness, "you don't have that sort of courage"  she ironically echoes. She says her grandad was great, Fury starts to say he was a good friend but she cuts him off.

She tells him there are limits to her understanding, "so please.  No more platitudes for the fallen you've failed."  But she wants to know something, he had kept most of his work secret, but at the end of his life he opened up and seemed to suggest it had all gone wrong and been completely pointless.  They had started with the best of intentions, can Fury tell her what those intentions were "not so much what he did, but why". He stands silent.

Later as he contemplates the war memorial, an old man comes up and introduces himself as Letrong Giap.  The bullet that passed through his neck didn't kill him and he survived the airstrike although no one else did.  He says he is there for the Smithsonian conference on Cold War historical studies. He thinks Fury is there for that too, but Fury says he's not.

Giap says it is a fine memorial, one where you can touch the names. He says he would like his country to have one too, but it would never be big enough to incorporate all the war dead, "such a waste and all for nothing" he says.  As they walk together, Fury says that "you won".  Giap says the coming of the communist utopia was never realised because they brought the cruelty they fought the war with into peacetime.

He saw his comrades grow corrupt and rule with violence, fear and oppression.  He had degraded himself and sacrificed thousands, and for what?

Giap: "Perhaps that is why the likes of you and I are spared.  So we might witness the full extent of our follies"

Giap says they are both bound for hell, but he hopes Fury finds a comfortable place to wait and holds out his hand.  Fury pauses, then shakes it.
A handshake across the years.
At Pug and Shirley's house, Pug is having sex with his live-in girlfriend.  Shirley however has had enough.  She put a bullet through the woman's eye, then holds the gun to Pug's head and orders him to have sex with the body.  He complies in panicked terror.

Shirley: "I could have been a good man's wife.  Not the thing you bought to decorate your arm.  Not Nicky's easy lay.  But sweet Jesus look where I am now".

And she pulls the trigger, killing Pug instantly.  She calls Fury on his mobile and rambles that she "got away from him".
Shirley has had enough.
She carries on telling Fury about the time in Saigon she thought he was dead.   She went out and "blew a kiss on the wind" and then the phone goes silent.  Later we see three dead bodies being removed from Pug's house.  Fury is there, absolutely grief stricken.

And we return to Fury in the present.  He says that was years ago, and no matter how many times he lies down "I just don't seem able to die. I keep waking up in the morning". He says this recording will probably be seized and fired into the sun by the agency.

We then return to him speaking with Hatherly's grandaughter and he answers her question as to why her grandad did what he did. When they first met in Saigon back in the 50's, Fury asked what him he thought when he saw the American flag and we finally hear Hatherly's reply via Fury:

Fury: "He told me it had to do with the debt we paid to the past, and the responsibility we owed to the future.  He said it was right there for all to see.  Blood on the bandaged wounds of brave men.  And all the stars in the sky".

The final sentence is spoken in the present as Fury finally stops dictating, looks tired and distressed and suddenly very old and the final panel ominously foregrounds his pistol. The end.
When it's cold, I'd like to die.
Sad, and powerful stuff.  It really brings home how futile the fight against the threat of communism really was, with Fury able to walk and talk with his one time nemesis and find that events he was involved with are now the subject of historical study.  With Fury barely aging as time passes, we get to see it in the faces of his friend, his lover and his controller.  All the sacrifices he made to be able to constantly be at war is shown to have led to a life as hollow as that of Frank Castle as the Punisher in Ennis's run on the series. Pug is a consumate political animal with Fury as his enforcer, much as Fury might like to deny that.  And he also exercises absolute power in his own household, with his control over Shirley and her fear of being alone driving her into a long term marriage with a man who sexually repulses her and finally who she hates enough to kill after degrading Pug the way she feels he degraded her.  Only Hatherly, the one who managed to balance his war work with life outside of it and raise a large family seems to have had a happy life dying peacefully in his sleep.  This is a real downer of a book, that's not to say it's not powerful, moving and incredibly well written, because it is.  But it doesn't leave you feeling anything but sorrow and pity for the people in it.  Goran Parlov's art is subdued and detailed, like the script there is no brightness, no comicbook levity it's all played totally straight.  What's all the more depressing is the realisation that it's all based on real life, the intent reminds me of the J.G Ballard quote "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror".  These are crimes that need to be returned to for each new generation, a comicbook being one of those ways, Ennis is all about remembering what the military does for good or bad and has always hated the politicisation of the military as coporate interests and war profiteers got involved at a high level, spinning the threat of communism into a way to earn money and influence.  This book is a hard read, but it bristles with passion and anger and if you are into Ennis's work especially the Punisher MAX run, then this is well worth seeking out, either as two softcovers or one sumptious hardback.

Man, this month has got super-dark.  I think this calls for Squirrel Girl.  Join me and her in a few days time, let's lighten things up a bit (a lot).

Monday, 16 January 2017

Fury MAX: My War Gone By (#1-13) PART ONE

"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. 

We start in 1954, with Fury meeting another CIA agent called George Hatherly in French Indochina. There job is to watch the place, because if the French lose their grip, "[they say] the whole of South East Asia will go communist".
Fury and Hatherly meet in 1954
Hatherly asks if he isn't better informed being the agency's station chief out there.  Fury says he thought it was all about the blood debt owed by World War II, but it's all Empires  and colonies, "business as usual".  Hatherly says he missed WWII he was just a little too young.  Fury says someone thought he must have done something wrong to end up here.

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.
Later Fury and Hatherly are at a party thrown for the Congressman.  Fury grumbles that he's not on a fact finding tour, but a vacation.  Hatherly says maybe not, Congressman McCusky is seen as something of an up-and-comer and very anti-communist.   McClusky is then introduced to Fury.

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.
In two days time he will be escorting a convoy to Son Chau and would be honoured if Fury came with him to witness what they have been up against.   He says bluntly to hold Indochina they need more US backing, their forces are stretched while the enemies grow stronger.  Fury tells Hatherly that they are flying out tommorrow and he will need to check out a weapon.

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
Then we cut to the convoy riding out a couple of days later. They are driving through Viet Minh territory and they arrive at the Son Chau fort.  "Hell of a place to have to defend" says Fury. Talking to one of the soldiers it is discovered that the Colonel supposedly in charge has left.

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.
She laughs and says she's not and when Fury confesses that what he wants is to be where the war with the Soviets starts, she says they have the bomb now and this sort of thing he's engaged in now is probably something he's going to have to live with and they start having sex again.

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.
We then jump to Fury arriving at the Son Chau fort where Hatherly had gone back to. He had wanted to kill Stienhoff but had just got himself badly beaten instead. They have to stay overnight, and Fury manages to sort it so what happened with Hatherly won't leave the base.  Then when Steinhoff appears and accuses Hatherly of being crazy because all he did with the "kikes" was line them up and shoot them, Fury punches him very hard in the face.

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.
They mortar the base then charge inside it.  The defenders barely have time to arm themselves and there is chaos and blood and fire and smoke.  Hatherly takes a bullet to the shoulder but the defence is successful and the attackers repelled, for now.  However they get news that Dien Bien Phu has fallen.  There is widespread panic as things are slipping out of France's grasp.

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.
He says he's going to submit a report on Steinhoff to the State Department, but Fury says it'll be buried.  "He's a monster" says Hatherly. "He's a minnow" responds Fury.  The war has been over for nine years, can't he see how the new pieces are falling into place?

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 at the embassy, Pug admits his frustration that Hatherly came back and not Fury as the French have written off the Son Chau garrison now.  Pug says he imagined great things in Fury's future.  Shirley says some people are beyond politics and can't be "tamed".    She goes to the balcony and sends a kiss on the wind to Fury before accepting the offer to stay for a drink with Pug.

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.
Then we jump forward to Cuba, as Fury sits in his hotel room with three sex workers sleeping on the bed next to him, he keeps on dictating. "Cuba.  Christ.  What a clusterfuck that was" he says.

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.
Really though the war was won by the grunt in the trench, or the navy gunner who kept on firing at the kamikaze pilot, the kid who climbed into a B-17 for his last mission and came home with his guts spilling out, "again and again, for what seems like forever".

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.
Hatherly says he should be in D.C. planning this sort of stuff.   Fury just says they've rushed the plan they do have. That's because the best Cuban pilots are in Russia training in MiGs and when they get back this airforce won't last five minutes. Also the hope is the invasion will spark an uprising but Castro is getting more popular by the minute.

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.
Next day Fury meets with Pug and the anti-Castro Cubans on Pug's yacht. Fury suggests The Bay of Pigs as the best landing area for the invasion and goes to point out the good and bad points of it.  But Pug interrupts saying the Cubans know the details of the operation, they are here to get a look at him.

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.
While that is happening the failure of the Bay Of Pigs invasion is taking place and the Anti-Castro Cubans are not happy by the way things are turning out.  Pug tries to reassure them as they get more aggressive that they should trust the people on the ground.

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.
The invading infantry are mowed down leaving the sea red with blood.  Fury says to Hatherly to get ready. He gets Castro in his sights and then they are spotted.  A Cuban tank blocks the shot and Hatherly misses.  Fury hits the tank driver and it careens out of control into the building they are standing on, which partially collapses.  Fury takes a rifle butt to the back of the head and everything goes dark.

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.
Elgen tells Hatherly he'll contradict every word if Hatherly tries it.  He take responsibility for the shot and "so help me God.  I will make them kill me". He says they came here to help free these people, "that's the point of this country.  To make things better".  He says they can't weaken or fail or it's back to kingdoms and empires.

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.
And that brings my look at this half of the collection to a conclusion.  I have thoughts about Nick Fury I'll share in more detail after the rest of the book, because coming up is the big one - Vietnam - and a guest appearence by Frank Castle.  Fury's messy exploits in French Indochina and Cuba make for compelling reading and Ennis has created a very human set of characters to orbit round the Eternal Soldier that is Nick Fury.  Hatherly the kindly young man and expert sniper.  Shirley the tough but vulnerable to anxiety about the need for stability in her life.  And Pug the not yet quite detestable politician using anti-communist feeling to ride his way up through the US political establishment.  As usually there is a sense of authenticity to Ennis's writing and as usual he doesn't judge the soldier on the ground carrying out the orders of those more politically motivated types above them.  Check out part two in a few days time as things gradually fall apart for everyone.