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Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson
Max Comics/Marvel, 2002
(exclusive to Shaking Through)
It's a sad state of affairs when writers fall into ruts. It's an
understandable occurrence, certainly, especially in the comics medium,
which is much more prone to formula and repetition than other media. But
it's sad nonetheless, especially when it befalls a maverick writer, one
whose new and inventive takes on tried-and-true characters and concepts
initially sets him apart as, if not a visionary, then certainly the
clichéd "breath of fresh air."
With Fury, unfortunately, this malady has officially infected the
celebrated Garth Ennis, whose penchant for over-the-top violence and
sexual tomfoolery has been a highlight of his work on such titles as
Vertigo's Hellblazer and, of course, his own wickedly funny and
disturbing Preacher. You'd think, wouldn't you, that those
credentials would make Ennis a perfect fit for Max, Marvel's new "mature
readers" line? You'd also think, given Ennis' love of stories involving
war and soldiers, that he'd be the no-question choice to shepherd a title
starring Colonel Nick Fury, Marvel's veteran warhorse soldier and spy.
That's undoubtedly what the powers at be at Marvel thought, as well, since
the first six issues of just such a series have been recently collected
into trade paperback format. But as it turns out, those powers that be
have made a bum call. Because Fury, for all the potential of its
creators and even its borderline-trite premise, is as formulaic an
endeavor as the most generic assembly-line superhero comic.
The story, such as it is, is simple enough: Fury, a former World War II
hero (don't ask), has over the years risen through the ranks of the United
Nations military/espionage organization Shield, serving as its head
for quite some time. But with the coming of the 21st century,
corporatization has come knocking on Shield's hallowed doors. Long
forced to loan himself out to other agencies like the DEA to get his
adrenaline fix, Fury finds a slick new bureaucracy has slithered into
place, moving Shield's day-to-day operations out of its fantastic
floating helicarrier and into a sleek high-rise building and relegating
Fury himself into a meaningless job title -- and thus, irrelevance.
That this doesn't sit well with the aging action junkie is a given, but
Fury isn't driven into action until Rudi Gagarin, a drinking buddy and
Russian contemporary of Nick's, commandeers Napoleon Island, a sliver of
land with strategic value to the U.S. that's in the midst of some
political upheaval. With only the most grudging support from his new boss
Li and the nameless superiors above him, Fury assembles a team and heads
to Napoleon Island to prevent Gagarin from exploiting the situation to his
own twisted ends.
To Ennis' credit, he seems to be trying to make a point here. The twist
here is that Gagarin isn't your usual power-hungry, James Bond-ian
megalomaniac bent on ruling the world. Like Fury, he's a relic from
another era who's just looking to extend the good old days of countless
glorious battles. He's an action junkie hooked on gunplay and political
manipulation, chasing the elusive dragon of a time when his kind, and the
things he's good at, were considered important. And Fury, for all his
noisemaking about being different from Gagarin, realizes with some shame
and poignancy that at heart, he's not so different at all.
But whatever larger political or social statement Ennis seeks to make is
sabotaged by a gleefully sophomoric approach to storytelling that he's
frankly pursued with better results in the past. As in every Ennis tale,
there's a significant amount of sudden and gratuitous violence, with
characters exploding in a hail of gunfire and an off-panel account of male
rape. And in the climactic face-off between Fury and Gagarin, teeth are
graphically displaced and part of Fury's cheek is bitten off, revealing
the row of his teeth beneath.
Such indulgent gore is to be expected, and indeed is a part of Ennis'
now-familiar style. But Fury also finds him blatantly re-cycling
ideas he's used before: There's a disturbingly deformed mercenary known
only as "Fuckface," and an annoyingly peppy boy -- Fury's ward Wendell --
who exists for no purpose other than to suffer physical indignities (he
suffers a massive hernia, and the resulting operation doesn't go well) and
make Fury seem unsympathetic in his resigned annoyance. Both characters
vividly (too vividly, actually) recall Preacher's Arseface,
suggesting that Ennis has reached the bottom of his bag of tricks, or is
simply cashing his checks and churning out sub-par regurgitations of past
Darick Robertson's artwork, while sketchier and less-defined than on
DC/Vertigo's Transmetropolitan, retains an appropriate clarity and
spare, photographic feel that serves both the action and expository scenes
with a workmanlike functionality not entirely dissimilar to that of Ennis'
preferred partner Steve Dillon (Hellblazer , Preacher,
The Punisher). Robertson truly finds his stride here toward the end of
tale, as Gagarin and Fury slug it out in explicit detail.
Ennis deserves points, one supposes, for attempting to flesh out a
heretofore two-dimensional character who's seen more action than even the
venerable Captain America. While he does succeed in expanding Fury's
emotional palate (especially at the end), a knee-jerk reliance on empty
shock value and misanthropic violence stunts any impact or resonance he
might have achieved.
The Punisher: Army of One
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