Garth Ennis returns to Nick Fury to deliver one of Marvel’s best Max releases. Ennis delivers a story that focuses on Nick Fury wrestling with his inner demons caused from years as a black op. The story begins in the modern day with an embittered and old Nick Fury confessing his battle scars into an old reel-to-reel recorder. Then, we’re taken to a time shortly after World War 2 where Fury believes everything started to go downhill. Shield is now just a pseudo name for CIA’s covert black ops unit. After World War 2, Fury and the readers discover that war has changed, and it’s now become a bureaucratic way of empowering various powers to be. So, a large portion of the story we see Nick Fury struggling with issues about rebels and the CIA creating unwanted revolutions, or the CIA is using the military to run drug deals in order to finance these hidden wars.
Meanwhile, there is rich character development. Garth Ennis peels back the veil and reveals Frank Castle’s motivation. All these black ops required men like Fury and Castle to shoot selected targets. This dehumanization and devalued regard for human life had blurred the lines that separate home from the war zone. When Castle returned home, all that changed was he got to select who his targets were. It’s how he made sense of the world.
We also see Fury have a prolonged affair with a politician’s wife, Shirley DeFabio. Who is a secretary who escaped the mean streets of New York by using and manipulating men in powerful positions. Although their relationship was confined to a bedroom, they needed it so they could still feel something for another human life. However, Nick Fury knows that if he left the war zone to become domesticated he will inevitably follow Frank Castle’s suicide run. There are men who go fight in the war and come back relatively unscathed. Then there are men like Frank Castle, Nick Fury, and Barracuda, whose killer within awakens and their old self never comes back.
Although Garth Ennis has been accused of glorifying excessive violence by Stan Lee himself, it’s how he uses the violence and other mature aspects of the story that define his style. In this story in particular, he uses violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, and so on as red flags of a flawed individual. When Barracuda kicks a dead fetus at Nick Fury, it’s to horrify the readers and show how disconnected and apathetic these soldiers have become. There are graphic depictions of sex but this is the only intimacy we see throughout the whole arc. This is highlighted by when Frank Castle and Nick Fury are on a mission, and we have panels upon panels of complete silence. Garth Ennis also uses real world scenarios such as CIA and Contra forces trafficking coke for the rebels, or the CIA and Contra controversially funding and supporting freedom fighters in various Soviet controlled countries of the world. These real anecdotes pepper the story with more punch and make us question the mentality of a man who had to carry the weight of CIA’s dirty laundry.
Major praise should be given to the artist Goran Parlov for being able to hang in there for Garth Ennis. He managed to not flinch or shy away from the depictions of brutality. Also, Parlov was able to show our characters slowly age from head to toe, from a head of thick hair to thin and grey or from a perky toned body to a sagging and wrinkled sack of flesh. Although his art popped from the pages and was rich with detail, by the end the art made my hands feel dirty.
This is a great series which shows how to do a story for mature readers. It didn’t settle for merely giving the reader mature eye candy. Instead, it brought a lot of heavy political commentary to the table and spoke to the reader like they were adults.