Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1-5
Issue(s): Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #2, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #3, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #4, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5
Even while Marvel was in the middle of its Silver Age Superhero revolution, it was still publishing titles in other genres, like Rawhide Kid and Millie the Model. So even though we think of 1963 as the year that introduced Iron Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers, it's not that surprising to see the launch of a war comic as well.
What makes these generic war comics of interest to us is the introduction of Sgt. Nick Fury and his supporting cast. These comics will soon be brought into the main Marvel universe (possibly as early as issue #3) and Nick Fury himself will be a significant character in the Marvel age (Rawhide and Millie will also eventually be brought into mainstream continuity, although neither were as central a figure as Fury).
Fury's "Howling Commandos" (a name inspired by the Screaming Eagles) are best described by quoting from the satirical Dave Barry Slept Here:
The best evidence we have of what World War II was like comes from about 300 million movies made during this era... From these we learn that the war was fought by small groups of men, called "units," with each consisting of:
And that nails the composition of the group in this series as well, with the addition of young Jonathan "Junior" Jupiter, who fits the sacrificial lamb trope, and the rather unique Dum Dum Dugan, a former circus strongman who still wears his circus stripes and a bowler hat.
The Italian, Dino Manelli, was an action movie star prior to signing up for the war, and his acting skills and the fact that he speaks German and Italian factor into the plots of many these stories. He's based on Dean Martin.
The Southerner is Robert "Rebel" (or "Reb") Ralston, and being Southern he's of course just as likely to go into battle with a lasso instead of a gun. That's helpful considering this is a Comic Code approved book, meaning despite being a war book nearly all of the combat is non-lethal.
Izzy Cohen is Jewish, and while his introductory blurb mentions "the sorrow in his soul when he remembers the fate of his relatives in Europe at the hands of the mad little man with the moustache!", things are kept generally light in these stories and there's little mention of the Holocaust.
The African-American is Gabriel Jones. Jones' inclusion is interesting since he is Marvel's first African-American character of any prominence, and the US Army wasn't integrated until after WWII (which isn't to say that an exception couldn't have been made for this special commando unit; the topic is never discussed in these issues). The inclusion of Jones was apparently so unusual that the printer ignored colorist Stan Goldberg's instructions and made him a white guy for issue #1. Gabe is rarely shown firing a gun. More often he is blowing his horn even in the midst of battle. It's sometimes used comically as a non-lethal attack, like Reb's lasso. He was said to be a jazz trumpeter but presumably he's using the trumpet like a bugle most of the time. It get can pretty annoying.
Fury's personality admittedly strains the "but Caring" part of Dave Barry's label.
The only guy tougher than Sgt. Fury is his boss, "Happy" Sam Sawyer.
In terms of the stories, well, if i said that Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (sans the violence) might serve as a tribute to this comic, the problem would be that the movie wasn't over-the-top enough. In these five issues alone, the unit sees more action behind enemy lines than most soldiers problem saw during the entire war (I'll mention that while Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all in World War II themselves, only Kirby was on the front lines). Reading the stories today, there's a sense of humor to them that makes them quite enjoyable in their ridiculousness. I imagine some of that would have been over the head of a kid reading in 1963, but there's plenty of direct humor as well.
In issue #1, to rescue a French resistance fighter that has information about D-Day, the Commandos invade occupied France and seemingly take on the whole German army.
They also meet Marie Lebrave, daughter of the captive resistance fighter. I thought she might be a regular character but that turned out to not be the case.
But issue #1 was nothing compared to issue #2, where they first take out another German division...
...and then free a concentration camp...
...before sabotaging German's entire nuclear weapon's program.
Issue #3 has the Commandos deflecting a platoon of German invaders just for the introductory opening scene.
Then they get into a barfight that has to be stopped with a tank.
For the actual plot of the issue, the Commandos head back into enemy territory to meet up with a "Major Richards", who, per a narration panel, will later become Mr. Fantastic.
Reed Richard's appearance is the first indication that the stories occurring in this series have anything to do with the universe being built in Marvel's super-hero line. This would be confirmed three months later in Fantastic Four #21 when Fury shows up in the modern age. Richard's appearance is complicated in light of Marvel's sliding time scale. It was entirely feasible in 1963 that Reed was in World War II 20 years earlier, but it's not really compatible with the idea that the FF's initial rocket launch always takes place some seven years from the current date. The MCP still lists Mr. Fantastic as appearing in this issue, and i'm not aware of what retcon, if any, explains this.
Richards gives the Commandos the mission of helping a US Division stuck at "Massacre Mountain". The daunting nature of this challenge merits a panel that almost feels like it could have come from a non-satirical war comic, if not for the fact that the Commandos have already defeated hordes of Nazis at this point.
Things get more serious in issue #4. Fury meets a nurse named Pamela Hawley who helps victims of German air raids.
Her brother has defected to the Nazis and acts a propagandist under the awesome pseudonym Lord Ha-Ha.
Pamela is convinced her brother is acting under duress, so Fury agrees to go "rescue" him. Ha-Ha is killed by his own stupidity during the action, but Junior Juniper is also killed.
The death of Junior was fairly significant for an ongoing book, but the purpose of it is spelled out pretty clearly: it's to demonstrate that all the Howlers are potentially expendable. In reality, Junior added the least to the series so far, and was possibly created to die, although that assumes that Stan or Jack was plotting four issues ahead.
Despite the death of a regular character, the tone of this issue isn't any more serious than its predecessors.
Issue #5 opens with Fury training the Commandos extra hard after Juniper's death, in a scene that is again more comic than tragic.
Fury is also now shown to be dating Pamela Hawley.
The issue also introduces Baron Strucker.
Much is made of his being a master of weapons, something you hear a lot about during his early appearances but feels so out of place to someone like me, who was introduced to him when he was less hands-on and more of a mastermind (but i love the dog).
Strucker lures Fury to enemy territory for a duel...
...and has his defeat photographed for propaganda purposes.
In the rematch, Dino points out that Strucker is using one of the oldest tricks in the book.
The Commandos are then forced to flee, leaving an unconscious Strucker behind.
Manic fun, but mainly of interest because these characters are all brought into the modern Marvel Universe.
Per min's comments, a typical Howler training session:
The early issues also have little one page features highlighting various military hardware.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I have these issues in my Essential Sgt. Fury trade, and how i break them up will be a little bit arbitrary. The stories takes place during WWII, prior to D-Day, but beyond that there's no real attempt at synching things up with actual history.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos
Inbound References (8): show
Marvel really loved to come up with storylines that involved shooting up the French underground.
Happy Sam does not live up to his moniker.
Dum Dum is much rowdier in these Howler issues than i've ever known him to be.
"Hug that mud before I part your hair with hot lead!!" he shouts as he's shooting at them with a machine gun, drawn like he's three sheets to the wind and having a grand ol' time. when Fury comes to tell him to quit it, he asks if he can just shoot at them one more time.
Posted by: min | December 29, 2006 4:54 PM
i forgot to point out the "them" who Dum Dum's shooting at with abandon are his own men.
Posted by: min | December 30, 2006 6:51 PM
There actually was a British pro-Nazi propagandist called Lord Haw-Haw during WW2.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 20, 2012 6:49 PM
That's the greatest thing anyone ever told me.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 20, 2012 7:03 PM
The chronology in these issues is completely impossible to match up with real history. In the first issue, they're rescuing a member of the French Resistance who knows about D-Day. In the third issue, they're going to Italy to rescue a trapped division with the help of the partisans. But in issue 6, they're going to North Africa to kill Rommel. Rommel left North Africa in March of 1943. If D-Day is fifteen months away, then why is it so important to rescue this guy? The plan probably will change several times over the next year. And how many details of the plan could they have told the guy fifteen months in advance?
Posted by: Michael | October 20, 2012 10:15 PM
Marvel Database says #1 takes place in 1941. It gets confusing about when stories set in or made in the golden age are placed but you can come up with your own theory.
Posted by: Spencerdude1000 | October 21, 2012 12:15 AM
Sgt. Fury #7 says that Fury became a Commando after his friend Red Hargrove was killed at Pearl Harbor, which was on December 7, 1941. So even ignoring the other facts Michael presented, 1941 would be a tight fit for issue #1.
Any other time period and i could just ignore topical references due to Marvel's sliding timescale! The good news (for my sanity) is that i'm making only minimal attempt to line up historical events between this series and other Golden Age era books, like the Invaders, since i know this series isn't even internally consistent.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 21, 2012 12:42 AM
It is almost impossible for any American unit to be active in the European Theater in 1941. There were various units in the Pacific fighting of course, but any transfer of units to Britain wouldn't happen until 1942, and no land units fighting until Operation Torch landed units in North Africa in November 1942.
Of course, there were plans to land troops in France in both 1942 (Sledgehammer) and 1943 (Roundup). They were to be done in case the Red Army collapsed, and a second front was needed to keep the Soviets in a fight. If we want to keep the internal Howler chronology, it is possible this is the "D-Day" they are talking about - not the 1944 Overlord operation.
Not sure how to square Massacre Mountain with real history. Is it possible that the mountain in Italy isn't in Italy proper? Maybe instead it could be Italians surrounding a mountain in Tunisia which was then occupied by the Axis? Given the disaster at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, units could easily be left behind enemy lines and need rescuing. If so, all this could be taking place during Operation Torch and still logically lead to an attempt to capture Rommel later.
Posted by: Chris | October 21, 2012 2:04 AM
Dino's ability to speak Italian with the local civilians, and the fact that he remembers the countryside from his childhood, are factors in the Massacre Mountain story. But i think generally what you're suggesting is the only way to square this series with actual history - the events referenced may actually refer to other, similar, sometimes fictional, events when necessary. It's a special sub-clause of the Topical Reference rule for the Golden Age.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 21, 2012 2:21 PM
While Tunisia was a French protectorate, there were lots of Italian citizens living there - far more than the French, although not as much as the natives. Since Dino originally grew up in Italy, it's entirely possible his family visited Tunisia, or perhaps even lived there for a time. Even today Italy has many connections with Tunisia.
It sounds like this may be the best option to keep the Howler issues in chronological order yet remain within the historical timeline.
Posted by: Chris | October 21, 2012 4:21 PM
Keep in mind that the Blitzkrieg Squad fight the Invaders before the Invaders go to fight Thor during the battle of Stalingrad. Stalingrad ended on February 2, 1943, so this has to be before Kasserine Pass, which took place in mid-February. Otherwise, your idea might work-a unit could easily have gotten cut off in Tunisia a month or so before Kasserine.
Posted by: Michael | October 21, 2012 5:37 PM
Just wait till the stuff mentioned on the Nazi's expanded history on Marvel Database plus the stories that don't have Nazis in them. Then the Golden Age timeline gets really complicated.
Posted by: Spencerdude1000 | October 21, 2012 8:31 PM
Michael, that's a good idea. I don't know of any American units that were associated with the British 8th Army, but if it was a good enough idea to put Bogart in an M3 tank in Sahara then it can work for the Howlers. At least it gives the chronology more flexibility.
Posted by: Chris | October 21, 2012 8:53 PM
This has to be said but Dugan's sleeping pose...just badass.
Regarding "white Gabe Jones": it was rare enough to have an African-American character at this point in comics, but to have someone color him in white in his first appearance is just...bizarre. You have to give Stan Lee the gall for doing it even if it was just for the sake of a diverse troupe to command, but it does make one wonder what he failed to tell the colorist when the first issue went to press. (it wasn't one of those "let's make the Hulk green cause we're out of gray" situations...this is just weird)
Posted by: Ataru320 | October 27, 2012 8:32 PM
Dum Dum's reference to Tony Curtis in the panel above is a total anachronism -- Tony was enlisted in the navy at the time and had yet to begin his career onscreen.
Posted by: Gary Himes | October 16, 2013 1:33 PM
Looks like Kirby may have been basing Nick Fury on Frank Sinatra in NEVER SO FEW.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | October 17, 2013 9:57 PM
"Rawhide and Millie will also eventually be brought into mainstream continuity"
I think the most insane manifestation of Marvel's later desire to shoehorn almost every non-mainstream continuity Timely/Atlas/Marvel story into mainstream continuity was taking the "teen romance" title Patsy Walker, having the main character become Hellcat, and then retconning all of her earlier comics away as fictional stories her mother had written about her.
Posted by: ParanoidObsessive | July 15, 2014 1:07 PM
After all is said and done, can someone give an estimate as to the actual dates that these stories took place on?
Posted by: Dan Spears | June 25, 2015 2:27 PM
I too have noticed similarities between Nicky Fury and Frank Sinatra, and I'm wondering whether Gary Himes (or anyone else) has further thoughts on the subject, esp. what he sees as the "clues" to Kirby's being inspired by the character in "Never So Few."
(I don't suppose Gary is still paying attention to comments he wrote two years ago, but Dan Spear's recent comment gives me hope he may be.)
Posted by: Chris Z | June 29, 2015 9:23 PM
I see it was Jay Patrick who made the comment about Frank and Nick. My apologies to both Jay and Gary. (Gary's comment about Tony Curtis was also interesting.)
Posted by: Chris Z | June 29, 2015 9:26 PM
Did Kirby base the Commandos on the Rat Pack perhaps?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | June 30, 2015 8:11 AM
Dan, i just wanted to apologize for never responding to you. As you can see in my comments above, i didn't try to line things up too much with real world dates, because it doesn't seem like it would really be possible even if we did fudge things like making their incursion to Italy really be Tunisia. I think Stan and company didn't worry too much about historical accuracy.
(Chris Z, i've never seen Never So Few but someone else may respond.)
Posted by: fnord12 | June 30, 2015 8:17 AM
Nathan, I dimly recall reading somewhere that Kirby based the Howling Commandos on his interactions with fellow soldiers when he served during Workd War II. I can't find the exact reference, but in the Jack Kirby Collector #27, Ray Wyman, Jr. recalls Kirby mentioning what an impression the diversity of his fellow soldiers made on him:
"But I did appreciate the opportunity to meet all sorts of people from all over the country. It was a great opportunity, I can tell you. There were guys from Florida, Michigan, Utah, Texas—I don’t think there was one state that wasn’t represented there. The experience helped me appreciate the variety of the country, in the people, the language, and culture."
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | June 30, 2015 8:32 AM
Thanks, friends, for these kind replies!
Nathan, the possible connection between the Rat Pack and the Howlers is what inspired my original question. Aaron is surely right that Kirby's wartime experience figured pre-eminently in his conception; but even in the quote posted (BTW, I love the Kirby Collector) Jack is only talking about the regional diversity of America. Its ethnic mix is something Jack would have experienced in his youth on the Lower East Side; but the idea of a team of such people, and the specific types depicted, was not much in evidence at the time, except in the high-profile activities of the Rat Pack. Sammy, Dean, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop are precisely analogous to Gabe, Dino, Pinky, and Izzy (Dino is explicitly modeled on Dean Martin; Gabe is possibly a cross between Sammy and Louis Armstrong), with Rebel and Junior providing regional U.S. types (South and Northeast). Dum-Dum suggests a parallel source of inspiration: Little John, from Robin Hood. It's not hard to imagine Kirby seeing the Howlers as 20th-century Merry Men. (Had the Sinatra vehicle "Robin and the 7 Hoods come out earlier than 1964, the analogy would be perfect.)
Posted by: Chris Z | June 30, 2015 2:08 PM
It's indeed a good thing that Lee, Kirby and Co. had broader plans for Nick Fury to stamp his considerable footprint as a character in the Marvel Universe. Had he and the Howlers been restricted to wartime stories, the series may likely have suffered from comparisons to Bob Kanigher's seminal (and, let's face it, similar) Sgt. Rock and Easy Company over at the Distinguished Competition.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | October 4, 2017 10:00 PM
The Earth/Universe/Paradise X series made an attempt at addressing characters like Reed Richards and Ben Grimm being WWII veterans. as I recall, the idea is that Marvel Time expands and grows new layers like rings in a tree trunk and in each layer things move on, so that, to paraphrase, "in the more recent timestreams, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm aren't WWII veterans anymore."
And, as mentioned above, Tony Curtis made his first film appearance in 1949, so nobody would be comparing anyone to him in 1941.
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | January 5, 2018 2:52 PM
Comments are now closed.
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