Back in the present, Fury say that people who are complaining about losses and length of commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq need to shut up and think about "Nam".
Fury: "The greatest American fuck up of all time."
They lost 60,000 US soldiers, three million Vientamese, allowed the Khmer Rouge get a foothold in Cambodia thus killing even more and turned public opinion against soldiers after they came home heroes after World War II. And they still lost. The Iraqi and Afghan wars have nothing on those statistics.
|Time for another story.|
Fury wants Hatherly to stay on the radio, but he has someone else he can call for support. Frank Castle. It's worth noting in the MAX universe Frank is an even more profoundly damaged man who sacrificed his wife and kids so he could wage eternal war and ended up a broken, burned out shell because of it. The story of how he made that regretful choice is told in Punisher: Born, coming soon to this blog.
He and Frank fly out and later Frank is at a meeting with three CIA agents and Pug. They show him a photo of the man they want him to kill, Giap the Vietnamese soldier who let Fury go in 1954. Now he trains the Vietnamese army and they believe if they take him out combat efficiency would fall by 30%.
|Frank Castle, pre-Punisher|
Then we cut to Fury and Castle dropped just outside Laos. Fury remembers the previous night, having sex with Shirley. She mentioned Pug and he got pissed off. As he gets dressed she admits that her marriage to Pug is sexless. He see whores, she finds him repulsive. But the marriage has other benefits, mainly security.
|Way to kill the moment Shirley.|
Shirley: "The locals hate us. We make such a mess. We always seem to choose some total prick to support."
She admits she's lost track of all of Pug's networking these days. She then says will he come back to bed if she doesn't mention Pug?
Back with Fury and Castle, they are wading through swampy ground then a forest and stumble upon a kid. Neither has it in them to kill him even though they know he'll raise the alarm. Fury decides the operation can still go ahead and they let the kid go. Which proves their undoing as soon after a squad of soldiers attack them.
They are herded to a clifftop and captured despite inflicting heavy casualties on their attackers, Giap says it was the little kid that warned them. They should have killed him and dumped him because "Frankly Colonel Fury, you gave us all the time in the world". Castle and Fury are tied up while Giap stands over them lecturing them. He does apologise for the rough treatment they suffered, those that did it will be "criticised" (killed).
This flusters Hatherly, more so when she graphically describes her relationship with Fury. She tells him she'll do her best "to curb my potty mouth" as he blushes. She then asks outright if Fury is OK, Hatherly says he's got it all under control, he knows "exactly what he's doing".
Back at the interrogation, Giap figures that Castle is the sniper who's been doing so much damage in "Quang Nam Province". Giap tells Castle "bravo". Then it's time for a sorry story of CIA corruption. The three CIA agents started a relationship two years ago with an opium farmer called Nuon Sen who has ties to the Khmer Rouge. He has photographic evidence to prove it.
The heroin was processed in Cambodia then sent to the US East Coast. A now dead Vietnamese general was also involved. The heroin was sold and part of the profits went to Sen and the balance was kept by the three CIA agents. Giap had planned to show the evidence he had gathered to the world's press, but then had another idea.
|Giap outlines his plan.|
Giap: "And the gentlemen of the press would get a little spice for their story."
He's going to arrange a conference in Hanoi to present this information, evidence of CIA involvement in narcotics, US Military resources used for distribution and and attempted cover up by murder.
He says they'll make full confessions. Fury finally speaks saying "not a hope". Giap says he believes otherwise because he has the means to end the war. He believes the US has no stomach for continuing the conflict and is looking for means to escape it.
He says things like this can bring down a government, "and Nixon is not a stupid man." Giap admits to Fury that he will do anything to end this war because "I love my country". And that Fury should be honest, that he is here because "any war will do."
At base, the CIA agents realise something is amiss and decide to go with Fury's plan B. Bomb the place and hope to kill Giap that way with Fury and Castle as unfortunate collatoral. Hatherly is non-plussed then upset.
In their cell, Fury and Castle discuss what they have learned. Fury is mad he's been used like this. Frank asks if he thinks Giap could end the war. Fury says he's not sure, the heroin will kick up a fuss and half of congress want out, this could be the tipping point.
Fury: "I don't know about ending the war right away, but... it could sure as hell shorten it".
Castle: "Then we better not take the chance."
Next time they are given water, they manage to beat up the men and escape their cell. Shirley meanwhile is on the phone to Pug trying desperately to get him to intervene over the air-strike, he says he'll try but then just puts the phone down and whistles to himself while reading the paper.
|Time for another escape.|
Giap: "You've damned yourself for what? A few more years of the war you crave?"
Then Giap takes a sniper bullet from Castle to the throat and falls and Fury makes his getaway. He comes out onto a hill littered with the bodies of pretty much everyone there thanks to Castle, even Fury is moved to say "Jesus Christ Almighty".
|Frank does what he does best.|
As Pug and Shirley leave Saigon, Pug and Fury chat on the tarmac. Pug says how interesting it is that the three CIA agent's bodies were found outside a strip club, dead with their throats cut. He says it's senseless. "Must have made sense to someone" snarks Fury. At least that puts a lid on the drug scandal now.
Pug tells him he tried to call off the airstrike, but shouldn't have meddled in military affairs. Fury says that's what Pug is all about, making deals, facillitating. Pug says he noted Fury's potential years ago and has kept him on the boil, giving him the "fun and games" he's been enjoying. As he climbs the steps of the plane, Fury says if he thought Pug was into what those CIA agents were he'd.... "you'd what?" asks Pug, then says "take care of yourself colonel" chirpily to him.
It's now the story really turns grim because here is Ennis challenging his usual view that the men on the ground despite what they are ordered remain fundamentally decent. But by the 1980's the military corruption had trickled down to use a popular phrase of the time to the rank and file and it's in Nicuragua where Fury admits it was "the one where it all began to go wrong". Well, he concedes, maybe it did beforehand, but it was here he couldn't ignore it any longer. This story also introduces regular nemesis of The Punisher, the amoral and fiercely intelligent man known as "Barracuda".
Back in the USA, Pug and Shirley discuss the situation. Pug insists the rumours about the CIA's activities are untrue but they have sent Nick Fury to check anyway. Shirley is very cynical about the activities of the US trained Contras listing off the atrocities she's heard they have committed. Pug says opposing communism is the most important factor. Then the doorbell goes. Shirley gets up to answer it and is bothered by her arthritic hip. She opens the door and is greeted by the sight of a young, blonde woman, "who the hell is this?" she shouts at Pug.
In Honduras, Barracuda and Fury are chatting. Barracuda assures Nick all narcotics found are burned. He tells Nick they don't see a lot of drugs here because the main growing areas are down south. He says most of the Contras joined for "the right reasons" and want their homes back, but Barracuda can't vouch for every single one of them.
He says the US army people here are all "tight" and volunteered to come here as well. "You talkin' pretty goddamned motivated S.F support" he doesn't think they are the type to use drugs. Fury comments that their commander Captain Costanzo isn't Special Forces, Barracuda says he isn't but he gets the job done.
|Barracuda sucks up to Fury.|
Later Fury is back indoors, talking with Hatherly about what he's discovered. He says he's befriended Barracuda and believes he's the one who calls the shots around here. He says the one face that doesn't fit is Captain Costanzo, no experience at running a place like this.
Hatherly says an administrator is perhaps what is needed here someone to deal with all the red tape. Fury says the man is a "clerk" not a soldier. Hatherly says he's the type of man who'll keep getting promoted. When was Fury last promoted? And he's sent out all the time, he succeeds for the agency time and again.
Fury: "What I do is survive the fuck ups. Some are mine and some aren't. But I walk out intact and clean up behind me. Someone must think that's worth enough bonus points to kep me around."
Then they hear a gunshot, he races out and with the others find the body of Captain Costanzo, shot in the head with cocaine chopped out in front of him.
|A sacrifice is made.|
Hatherly: "Someone's trying to tickle you ego".
Fury: "If you mean I'm getting a world class handjob, I'm inclined to agree."
Hatherly says if they visit the address on the note, what will they find? Coke and lots of says Fury. The note only implies the local bandits, nothing about narcotics being run out of the army bases, "nothing linking the drugs to the U.S. at all. Never mind the Contra funding" says Hatherly.
Fury sends Hatherly to check the address anyway, he wants whoever is watching them thinking they took the bait. He and Hatherly are on their own now, with no idea who to trust. He's going to make it look like he went with him, then slip back and have the Huey pilot drop him wherever he dropped Barracuda.
He wants to check him out when there is no one telling him he is coming. Hatherly asks if he's just after some time in the field, "I know you're never happier than when you're humpng the boonies with a rifle in your hands". Hatherly asks if he wants him to come back with Fury, but Fury says no, and that fifteen years ago Hatherly told him "you haven't got that kind of courage anymore." Later Hatherly has left and Fury gets aboard the chopper and asks to be dropped off where Barracuda was last.
Back with Pug and Shirley, she is incensed that Pug has asked his young mistress to come and and visit him in their home. Pug points she and Nick Fury have been sleeping together since they got married. She sits painfully and says it hasn't happened for a long time now.
|Pug tells Shirley the facts of life.|
Pug: "He goes wherever I want. And does whatever I tell him. Essentially for being allowed to live life in the combat zone. And you are you."
He leaves her dumbstruck saying she should pour herself a drink. It might be a little early but it's never stopped her before.
The chopper drops Fury off, but before they can take off Fury puts a grenade in the engine and tells them they are about to have an engine fire and orders everyone to bail. It blows up. Fury orders them to stay by the wreckage until he finds the others so no warnings can be sent.
Barracuda and his crew are sitting chatting about crude stuff. The redneck goes on about white superiority so Barracuda knocks him over with his dick. Then he gets a radio message that the chopper hasn't come back and immediately suspects Fury.
|There are no words.|
We then jump to Nick Fury aiming his rifle at Barracuda and his gang who are aiming right back, "go the fuck ahead" goads Barracuda. Then they drag out Hatherly who had been grabbed at the address he was sent to. "Go to daddy" sneers Barracuda as they let him free.
Fury says the shit goes north, the money goes to the Contras. Barracuda says he gets his cut, "s'all I know". He tells Fury if he puts this in his report the Pentagon will come swarming down, finding out all the shit they didn't know they were involved with. Fury says they set it up, found a U.S. connection and run it because:
Fury: "...you and your assholes aren't an A-team. You're nothing but a fucking drug gang".
Barracuda says the place is swimming in drugs, "good business where you find it homes". Everything was fine, but "no you gotta get all Nick Fury an' go to work, ain't you?"
Fury asks about Captain Constanzo's "suicide". Of course it was nothing of the sort, they offered him up as a sacrifice because they knew he would fold if Fury turned the heat up, "shit, we spent his life like a nickel" says Barracuda.
Fury asks what now? Barracuda says he isn't about to kill the living legend that is Fury, it would bring down a shitstorm. He says Fury can go home and file his report. Hatherly in tears shouts that they have acted shamefully and dishonoured the uniform. Barracuda pauses, then kicks the dead baby at him and scowls, "fuck the uniform. Feel me?"
|Truly a despicable human being.|
He says the place is just peasant farmers trying to stay alive. As he said before, treat people like shit and they start to buck and he says he's getting "pretty sick of us backing the assholes they buck against". Pug says he doesn't think there is no threat from communism out there, but if there was no threat, what would that mean?
Fury: "It would mean we've been prolonging the war. By whatever means neccessary. For other reasons".
He says Pug has interests in arms, jobs, profits. But Pug throws it back and says "what's yours?" He says both of them have the interests of American interests and the love affair with the gods of destruction, who resonates more with more strongly with the warmongers here in Washington? "Which of us is worse?" he says to Fury. Then he laughs and says that's if all the "preposterous" things he's claimed were actually true.
Sometime later in Miami, Fury and Shirley drown their sorrows together, as she commiserates that Pug:
Shirley: "He's got me in the same way. I don't have it in me to give up what I've got. I guess neither of us are the people we thought we were."
She says she's seen the reports, she's complicit, but Fury says he is the one "in love with it". Shirley then invites him to have sex, but he brushes her off saying he has an early start.
|Shirley discovers she isn't attractiev to Fury anymore.|
Shirley: "Oh sure. I was a spitfire. I was a doll. I was whatever suited you, nevermind who I actually was. Now you can't even look at me you son of a bitch!"
Fury gets up and leaves. Sadly Shirley says to herself, "we could have saved each other from him. From it all."
We return to Fury in the present. He says he gave it five years, then tracked Barracuda down to a hotel room where he was sleeping with a sex worker. He put out the lights and using infra-red goggles beat the living shit out of Barracuda with a baseball bat, "sometimes the uniform fucks back" he said as he left, but he knew even at the time it was an empty guesture, worth about "as much as my next shit".
We jump forwards again to 1999. Hatherly is lying in a hospital bed on life support while Shirley tells him her woes. She is humiliated by the fact her husband's "whore" now lives with thim. She says the more she thinks about her shitty life the more she thinks she couldn't have changed it even if she had got serious with Nick Fury.
Hatherly: "I always thought you were lovely"
Shirley: "You did?"
Hatherly: "Always. There, there darling. Roads not taken. Don't cry."
Then it's Hatherly's funeral. His kids don't want anything to do with Fury because he never visited Hatherly in hospital.
She tells him there are limits to her understanding, "so please. No more platitudes for the fallen you've failed." But she wants to know something, he had kept most of his work secret, but at the end of his life he opened up and seemed to suggest it had all gone wrong and been completely pointless. They had started with the best of intentions, can Fury tell her what those intentions were "not so much what he did, but why". He stands silent.
Later as he contemplates the war memorial, an old man comes up and introduces himself as Letrong Giap. The bullet that passed through his neck didn't kill him and he survived the airstrike although no one else did. He says he is there for the Smithsonian conference on Cold War historical studies. He thinks Fury is there for that too, but Fury says he's not.
Giap says it is a fine memorial, one where you can touch the names. He says he would like his country to have one too, but it would never be big enough to incorporate all the war dead, "such a waste and all for nothing" he says. As they walk together, Fury says that "you won". Giap says the coming of the communist utopia was never realised because they brought the cruelty they fought the war with into peacetime.
He saw his comrades grow corrupt and rule with violence, fear and oppression. He had degraded himself and sacrificed thousands, and for what?
Giap: "Perhaps that is why the likes of you and I are spared. So we might witness the full extent of our follies"
Giap says they are both bound for hell, but he hopes Fury finds a comfortable place to wait and holds out his hand. Fury pauses, then shakes it.
|A handshake across the years.|
Shirley: "I could have been a good man's wife. Not the thing you bought to decorate your arm. Not Nicky's easy lay. But sweet Jesus look where I am now".
And she pulls the trigger, killing Pug instantly. She calls Fury on his mobile and rambles that she "got away from him".
|Shirley has had enough.|
And we return to Fury in the present. He says that was years ago, and no matter how many times he lies down "I just don't seem able to die. I keep waking up in the morning". He says this recording will probably be seized and fired into the sun by the agency.
We then return to him speaking with Hatherly's grandaughter and he answers her question as to why her grandad did what he did. When they first met in Saigon back in the 50's, Fury asked what him he thought when he saw the American flag and we finally hear Hatherly's reply via Fury:
Fury: "He told me it had to do with the debt we paid to the past, and the responsibility we owed to the future. He said it was right there for all to see. Blood on the bandaged wounds of brave men. And all the stars in the sky".
The final sentence is spoken in the present as Fury finally stops dictating, looks tired and distressed and suddenly very old and the final panel ominously foregrounds his pistol. The end.
|When it's cold, I'd like to die.|
Man, this month has got super-dark. I think this calls for Squirrel Girl. Join me and her in a few days time, let's lighten things up a bit (a lot).