Marvel’s classic old soldier is back in Fury: Peacemaker, the story of Nick Fury’s early experiences in World War II. The comic brings back the creative team that added new depth to the character in the breakthrough mini-series Fury, published under Marvel’s formerly adults-only imprint Max. This new story story, written under the Marvel Knights imprint (a house for Marvel’s “mature readers” material), seeks to explain the origin of a character who was born in war. Similar in aim with Ennis and Robertson’s previous project, Punisher: Born, Fury: Peacemaker attempts to define the circumstances that turned a green sergeant into the cigar chomping head of S.H.I.E.L.D. There are no Howling Commandos in issue 1, and Nick is certainly not the Sgt. Fury that will lead them, at least not yet.
The story begins with the American debacle at Kasserine Pass in Northern Africa. This is the first time the inexperienced and cocky American Army comes face to face with their German counterparts. Sgt. Fury and his squad of rookies are pinned down behind a tank as the Germans decimate the American column. As new difficulties emerge, such as tanks and enemy aircraft, the story flashes back to the soldiers’ training days. They are assured that their backs will always be covered by American tanks and that the only fighters seen in the sky will be Allied aircraft. But all of their training leaves them unprepared and their support is ineffectual against the German assault. Fury’s squad is cut to pieces and he is left wounded in the desert. When he awakens, he meets a German general who offers a word of advice before allowing Fury to return to his lines: “If you want to be good at this? Learn to enjoy it”.
This story offers a refreshing insight into the nature of Nick Fury and the grizzled veteran archetype he belongs to. Often times it seems that these characters emerge from the womb as natural leaders and born killers. The fact that Fury is unable to save his squad and watches his men get slaughtered offers a realistic portrayal of the evolution toward the man he will later become. Just as Captain America’s character is counterbalanced by the scrawny weakling he was before he took the super-serum, so too is Fury made more realistic by the green sergeant who followed his training to the letter and still failed.
The comic also makes an interesting statement about the fraternity of co-combatants. When Fury is captured by the German general, he at first thinks he is to be killed. Instead, the officer offers Fury his canteen and lets him go. Their dialogue is reminiscent of the scene in Ennis’s previous Fury mini-series, when the tired veteran of S.H.I.E.L.D meets up with his former Hydra nemesis for a drink (even though Nick later strangles the man with his own intestines). That Fury learns about war from one of his enemies reinforces the idea that all soldiers, regardless of what side they are on, share a common bond. While Robertson and Palmiotti’s excellent artwork illustrates the horrors of war, the participants are at least given a human face. It is better when the enemy is real than when one is fighting the cartoonish caricature that the propaganda creates. This scene also raises the question of what other forces will contribute to Fury’s development.
The only part of the story that seems problematic comes in the beginning when Fury appears to kill his commanding officer. As bombs explode all around their unit, Fury is depicted pointing a gun at his lieutenant’s head. The lieutenant is clearly unprepared for the reality of war and is begging for someone to save them. While Fury takes aim, he berates his commander and tells him to start leading the men or he will kill him. In a later panel when a soldier asks Fury where the lieutenant is, Fury replies that he “Didn’t make it”. While the story does not explicitly show the act, it does strongly imply that Fury killed his CO (reminiscent of Ennis’ Punisher: Born, where Frank Castle leads his CO into a sniper field with the express purpose of having him shot). While the scene does illustrate Fury’s strong sense of duty and his disgust with his platoon commander’s inability to overcome his fear, it nonetheless doesn’t seem to fit with the character, especially the character at that time. Fury may one day become the leader of the Howling Commandos and will eventually command S.H.I.E.L.D, but he is not that man yet. That he would murder his own commanding officer seems to betray both the very theme of the series and the nature of the character. While this act of murder is satisfying to the reader in the moment, it becomes problematic when placed within the larger context of the series and the mythology of the character.
Nick Fury, like Captain America, is an idealized version of American identity. Whether it is the grizzled old cold warrior or the daring commando fighting the good fight, he is a manifestation of American militarism. Fury: Peacemaker #1 successfully starts the story that will tell how the character, and the things he represents, came to be. Forged in the battles of World War II he, like the American military, will learn from his mistakes and carry on all the way to a position of global power. Despite the problem mentioned above, this comic clearly paves the way for the greater questions and ideas Ennis intends to raise in the following issues.