Garth Ennis hits home runs with with 'Fury' and 'Shadow'

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Two graphic novels set in the past jumped out at me recently, and when I checked the credits I knew exactly why they were so good.


The first is Fury Volume 1: My War Gone By (Marvel, $21.99), starring Nick Fury – not the one in the Avengers movie, but the original (white) one, who fought as a commando in World War II and Korea (See: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos), was a CIA spy in the Cold War and was the long-running second director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the first one having been assassinated nearly immediately).


If you’re wondering how one character can have done all that, it’s because Fury is virtually immortal, having been exposed to something called “The Infinity Formula” in one of his many adventures. Nobody really waves that idea around as a “super power” or anything; Fury’s just a constant in the Marvel Universe without anybody ever asking why, or ever knowing where he is or what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. He’s the ghost in the machine at Marvel and a potential (and dangerous) guest star in any book from Avengers to X-Men – which is kind of cool, really.


Oh, and in case you’re wondering, he has a black son also named “Nick Fury,” who has taken his place at S.H.I.E.L.D. to bring the comic books in line with Marvel movies, where Fury is famously portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. But the white one is still around, with that juicy back story just sitting around waiting to be explored.


Which is exactly what fan-favorite writer Garth Ennis has done, in an adults-only series called Fury MAX. Ennis is the perfect guy for this; he has a real knack for re-creating the world of the ‘40s, as evidenced by previous triumphs such as War Story for DC and Battlefields for Dynamite. He’s famous for disliking superheroes, and for gritty fare such as a well-received run on The Punisher for Marvel that was essentially the basis for the Punisher movies. I didn’t just love those projects; I absorbed them through my pores.


Which is why Fury MAX is so exciting, because it’s to my mind Ennis’ best work yet. My War Gone By collects the first six issues, the first three set in Vietnam around the time of Dien Bien Phu (look it up if you don’t know) and the second three in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs fiasco.


To my relief, Fury is no superman in these stories; in fact, he’s almost incidental and gets banged around quite a bit, surviving for the most part due to luck. Instead, it’s history that’s the story, and these two black eyes in America’s past are something not often covered in high school.


Ennis is ably abetted by artist Gorlan Parlov, who depicts the mud and blood of the battlefield in as gritty a fashion as I’ve ever seen it. There’s only one more volume in the Fury MAX series to come, but I’m salivating in anticipation – and boning up in my early 1960s history.


The second book is The Shadow Volume One: The Fire of Creation (Dynamite, $19.99), starring the famed avenger of pulp and radio, in a 1930s story that begins in New York but very quickly moves to occupied China. This serves a triple purpose: It puts The Shadow at the beginning of World War II (when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931), it puts a spotlight on the origin of The Shadow (he entered a mysterious Tibetan cult in the 1920s as soldier of fortune Kent Allard, but emerged as – something else) and it gives us the search for Uranium 235 (necessary for atomic bombs) as a Macguffin for all parties to chase.


And wouldn’t you know it, Fire of Creation is written by Garth Ennis. Now, don’t write my opinion off as simple fanboy love; there’s a lot of Ennis’ work I don’t particularly care for. Like, just about anything set in the modern day. Both Preacher and Hitman – famous books that others love – left me a little cold. But I don’t know of anyone who writes a more convincing World War II atmosphere; Ennis re-creates the era with such attention to detail and such amazing familiarity it feels a little like time travel.


Plus, it’s The Shadow the way he’s meant to be. Listen, kiddies, the pulp heroes weren’t your daddy’s superhero! They were a bloodthirsty and murderous lot that make Batman look like a wimp! And the king of them all is The Shadow, who at times seems a bit more than human with his abilities to “cloud men’s minds” and out-think his foes – but he also seems a bit less than human in how he revels in slaughtering his enemies, especially close up with his twin .45s.


Fire of Creation hints at the reasons for all this by alluding to The Shadow’s origins, without completely revealing all. And that’s all for the best, as it preserves the crime noir atmosphere that Ennis is a master at creating and which artist Aaron Campbell portrays very well.


I don’t often gush, but I will on these two Ennis outings. I read both of them at a sitting, unwilling to leave the worlds he had so meticulously re-created. And I still want to go back to them! These are stories the comics medium was made for, in the hands of some people who know how to use it.


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Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on June 6, 2013 at 11:08am

I just couldn't get into the new Shadow series (which Ennis has already left). I got the first arc, plus the special and annual and although they weren't bad, they weren't anything I could see myself continue collecting. Glad you enjoyed them though.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 6, 2013 at 12:13pm

...I just recently bought FURY #11 , expecting it to be about Nick , Jr. (especially from the cover - oh , and did I mention that I did not have my glasses on ?????????hehehe) , whom I want(ed) to know more about .

  No , it was (I assumed) part 11?? of an 80s-set " Iran/Contra-era " story , perhaps it was just 5 of 6 then , complete with a Brit (um , Ennis a Scot ?????????)'s attempt at American high-level soldiers' cussin'/ethnic epithets (I was never in the military myself , so.........)...........

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 6, 2013 at 1:37pm

...SPOILERS for anything I post here from now on ~ Oddly , Ennis's Shadow incorporates , IIRC , an elemant of the 90s Baldwin movie , that the Shadow , prior to being the Shadow , was a bad'un , and was , so to speak , " shanghied by righteousness " while explictinly putting thee " Lamont Cranston IS NOT the Shadow's true identity " pulp's concept ~ and I felt lucky when the Baldwin picture carefully arranged its dialogue to - leave space for - the " not Lamont " concept whilst not confusing the normals by spelling it out...Kent Allurd ( Um , KENT ?????:-0) , that's the - " true "-e than Lamont , anyway - Man Who Knows What Evil Lurks In.........

Comment by Wandering Sensei: Moderator Man on June 8, 2013 at 12:33am

The Fury book is brilliant beyond words.

Comment by Kirk G on June 8, 2013 at 9:14am

Is that Fury book the one that ends with a naked Nick Fury in a bathrobe leaning over a balcony muttering "God, I miss it....I need a good war."   It seems I flipped through that book when it came out and was startled by the extremes that the character was bortrayed in.   And, IIRC, this was just prior to Nick vanishing from the Marvel Universe cause he's figured out the Secret Invasion was going on, and when under deep cover...deep DEEP cover.

Am I right?

Comment by Captain Comics on June 8, 2013 at 10:00pm

I dunno -- I don't have any internal context for Fury MAX, since I didn't buy it off the shelves. I don't know what went on sale contemporaneously with it. Anyone know?

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on June 9, 2013 at 9:14pm

I would assume (I know, I know) it is different, because the Marvel MAX world is almost always separate from the regular MU.

Comment by Kirk G on June 9, 2013 at 9:37pm

That's what I was being released just prior to the sudden disappearance in the 616 Universe of Nick Fury.

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on June 10, 2013 at 11:28am

This series didn't start until last year, and Secret Invasion was years ago. Maybe there was another Fury Max series going on back then, I dunno.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on June 10, 2013 at 12:06pm

...Okay , Sensi , are you referring to this current?? just concluded?? FURY where the action is taking place in Central America in 1984-ish ?????????


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