War Games

Fury: Peacemaker #4 (of 6)


This is proving to be a slightly more interesting miniseries than expected, though let me say up front that my interest is almost solely caught up in relating this material to other parts of writer Garth Ennis’ career. Beyond that level, it’s a jumpy, but decently made WWII yarn, poppier than what you’d see in either of the War Stories collections but not particularly far removed from them in pure visceral heft. Darick Robertson’s pencils keep things grounded, though Jimmy Palmiotti’s inks occasionally seem to add a bit of stiffness to certain sequences (I’m thinking more of issue #2 here - sometimes the look of the series seems more 'trapped in amber' than what else I've seen of Robertson's pencils). There's really not much done with the fact that lead character is Marvel icon Nick Fury, whom Ennis characterizes as essentially Frank Castle with less of a fondness for narration, and some of the harder edges smoothed down. He's still in possession of both his eyes, though he does enjoy a good cigar, and there's a few mentions of his other wartime affairs nestled away throughout the story. But really, it's Garth Ennis writing WWII.

But the more I look at this book, the more I have to compare it to Ennis' similar works, as I think there's some difference present, something maybe attributable to the story's particular venue. Put simply, this is Ennis savoring his most cherished combat themes, apart from nearly as much nagging morality as before. The War Stories shorts generally present tales of combat, many of them focusing on men caught between their monstrous killer instincts and their desire to remain moral humans. Some of them live and some of them die. But there's almost always buried underneath the notion that war itself is a filthy pursuit, albeit one that can unlock a certain ecstasy for select souls, something awful and awfully pleasurable hidden within. All of us? Maybe.

Fury: Peacemaker might indeed transform into that kind of story by its end. But for now, given what's seen in this issue in particular, it seems Ennis is intent on delving deeper into collateral themes, notions still pursuant to the thrust of the Ennis wartime bibliography, but more easily visible here inside the perpetually combat-attuned superhero milieu. Nick Fury is not a superhero here, but he's a larger-than-life character living in a world that supports adventures as big as the people who have them. Thus, this is a story about manful honor and 'good' combat, about fine soldiers bonding and going on fine missions, and hardly getting lost in the fog of war's awfulness. Indeed, one of them strikes against the awfulness of war itself, by taking on one of history's most instantly recognizable wartime atrocities.

Yes, Sgt. Fury encounters the Holocaust this issue, though not directly. As those who've been following this series know, there's been a strongly vignette-based structure in place for the early chapters. Issue #1 sees a green(ish) Fury narrowly escape the 1943 obliteration of his unprepared crew, his life spared after the battle by Generalleutnant Stephen Barkhorn, a noble, brilliant German fighter who gives him a drink once the battle is done and generally acts like a prize warrior. "A word of advice, Sergeant. If you want to be good at this? Learn to enjoy it." In the next issue, Fury does learn to enjoy it, with the aid of British fighter Peter Kynaston, who runs an irregular band of behind-the-lines killers, "war without army," a style of approach that opens Fury up to the joy of pure combat (and maybe inspires his own howlin' commandoes). Again, there's much talk about the fun of combat, the drive of pure action.

And present through it all, is Ennis' love for the technology, the tactics, the play of historical killing. Sure, a sassy prostitute that Sgt. Nick fancies might be blown up in a bombing of London, but it's hardly worth pausing over when there's more action to get to. It's pop war, pure and simple. Modern pop war, yes, as we do have to talk about things like animal urges and politics and the like in a semi-mature style, but this is Sgt. Fury, not War Stories. This is the Mighty Marvel Manner! "Hell with it. All I'm really looking forward to is getting back to the war; nothing else matters next to that." So goes Fury in issue #3, in which we jump ahead to 1944 as he and Kynaston are reunited for a covert mission to kill Barkhorn, now a Field Marshal, and more hyped than ever for his amazing tactical skills. And sure, there's gory combat ahead, paratroopers getting shot before jumping and getting bloodily tangled up in their chutes, but it's suspense, not geared toward showing us horror but filtered through Fury's own hungry gaze.

Fury and company don't find their target in this issue. What they do find is no less than a plot to end the war instantly, on the part of Barkhorn. Apparently, he caught a first-hand glimpse of the Nazi death machine, civilians gunned down and knocked into pits, and he became so disgusted with the German war effort that he resolved to assassinate Adolph Hitler, use his prodigious popularity to seize control of the nation, and instantly bring the war to an end. The suggestion is that Barkhorn simply couldn't stand to see the honor of combat besmirched in such a way; war is all about killing, but killings can be honorable, and the mass extermination of civilians doesn't factor into such an equation.

And really, it's almost the logical conclusion of Ennis' fascination with battlefield honor and such that he'd put one of his (almost absurdly) perfect soldiers on a quest to end the war itself because it no longer fits his vision for what beautiful war should be. There's no need to sink into despair in the Marvel Universe, trapped in an endless loop of killing and uncertainty - here is the place for pure combat comics, and a tall-standing man willing to fight back against the very realities of a historical widespread campaign, the atrocious facts of the matter but a sad blot on the glories of tactics and tanks. Somebody should do something about that! And somebody does.

Naturally, the rest of the book will hinge on Fury's own reaction. There's still time for anything, and it'd be a curious bit of subversion for Fury to prolong the war on a purely philosophical level, his love for combat blocking out his other instincts. More likely, we'll get concerns as to Barkhorn's fitness as a leader, and maybe some of Fury's own moral murkiness. It can easily turn into the War Story it seems to be on the surface, don't get me wrong. But for now, it looks more like a delighted enthusiast's idealizations writ large, the proudest of all military fictions fighting against history itself, for the pride of everything.

Which isn't all that much different from acting like a superhero after all.