If soldiers and thieves have one thing in common, it is the allure of one last job.
For fifty years, Col. Nick Fury has been both a soldier and a thief as the leader of the Howling Commandos and as THE Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. This life has taught Fury that there is always more work to be done. The world will always need to be saved.
But at the turn of the century and the Cold War over, to everybody else, it would appear that the world has been saved. The Bomb isn’t a threat and the Soviet Union has fallen. In peacetime, there is no need for things like the helicarrier or spies and commandos. Now is the time of PC, surveillance specialists, and long titles with little meaning. Aggression has become passive; wars are fought by robots and computers. This is what Nick Fury fought long and hard to protect and now, he’s having second thoughts about it.
This is the world of Fury, Marvel’s MAX mini-series from 2002, written by Garth Ennis with art by Darick Robertson. There is no place for an old soldier like Nick Fury, who only answers to himself. The world wants to tell him who to be, where he can smoke, how he can fight or if he can even fight at all. The ship is being run by the bureaucrats now, in this case, it’s Mr. Li, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top suit. Even the men who used to serve with Fury, like Dum Dum Dugan, think it is time for Fury to step down, enjoy the peace he helped keep.
Only when Fury is at home does he allow himself to drop his guard and reveal his own secrets. After his opening conversation with Li, Fury returns to his apartment and plays the messages on his machine. This is a recurring event throughout the book, Fury’s outside life invading him in his apartment.
One message is from Dugan, the old friend attempting to stop the soldier from fighting. When Fury hears this message, he ignores it the way a man can only ignore his friend when they’re in the right. Under Robertson’s pencils, Dugan looks like an aged Gene Hackman. His red hair has gone grey and is receding, his trademark mustache droops. Dugan drives a Range Rover, drinks decaf coffee, no longer smokes cigars. He is the neutered pet that Fury fears becoming, what happens when a soldier stops fighting.
The next message comes from Fury’s enemy, Rudi Gagarin. Rudi is the one person who can bring Fury back to his old life which is why this is the only message that Fury actually listens to with interest. Fury undoes his tie and smirks at his old enemy’s voice. The new state of peace allows these two old soldiers to meet as friends, no longer held to the old Hydra vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. dynamic, which is what ultimately brings Fury back into the fold.
The last message is from Wendel, Nick’s “nephew” and bonafide lost cause. Wendel represents the lost generation of wimps and weaklings that will never be tested by the same fires that forged Nick. Wendel comes into Fury’s life as the son of an unknown soldier who died in Fury’s arms. They share the classic deathbed scene, with Fury promising to watch out for his son. Now, Wendel has grown into the embodiment of failed promise, a social outcast beyond Peter Parker before that fateful spider bite. More than once, Fury wishes for the merciful release of Wendel’s death, but is unable to follow through.
Fury is the first collaboration between Ennis and Robertson, who would go on to co-create The Boys four years later. You can see the framework of The Boys within the series. It is not a stretch to imagine that Billy Butcher is a young Nick Fury, their black and white ideals of good and evil match up pretty well. Neither takes any bull from anyone, but Fury is a little more self-aware than Butcher, a little more able to acknowledge his guilt. With a heavy sigh and great shame, in the closing moments of the first chapter, Fury admits “Christ Almighty…I want another war.”
Ennis really digs into the PC world of today, decades removed from the last big fights of the world. He drowns character dialogue in regulations and corporate speech. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not sexy, it’s an office. The agents are office drones who spy from cubicles. Ennis reflects the real world and it critical of it, as he elevates politeness and bureaucracy to comedic heights. But ultimately, the brave new world of corporations is just as entrenched as Communism or Hydra, and just as much of a pain in the ass to Fury.
For Robertson, this is one of his first projects after he broke onto the scene with Transmetropolitan, which had just finished it run in 2002. After five years in the future, Robertson comes back to the present in style, rending the bloody action in graphic detail that is a hallmark of all the artists that Ennis works with.
Robertson’s art, at times, resembles a much rougher Ed McGuinness. His male figure isn’t big as much as it is imposing. His soldiers are hunks of muscle, even past-his-prime Fury has the build of a tree trunk. And Robertson gets to make his first addition to the Garth Ennis gallery of messed-up villains in the form of “F*ckface,” Rudi’s chief enforcer. F*ckface is a mouthless, one-eyed hulk who somehow was disfigured while shark-fishing. It will eventually take a grenade to his throat-chest to take him down. But even as F*ckface murders people with his bare hands, Robertson makes the giant seem sympathetic, a victim of his size and child-like intellect.
In the past 13 years since this book, the world of Marvel had changed and Fury along with it. The original Nick Fury now out of commission, wandering the Moon following last year’s Original Sin, replaced by his son. Eventually, the sins of Nick Fury consumed him. This series, while graphic with its violence and language, gives us a reminder of what Fury is really all about; a soldier who fights, a man with conviction, a devil on the side of the angels.