Apologia: I may not always reply to your comments but it doesn’t mean I don’t read and appreciate them.
My oldest surviving friendship in Glasgow is with Alex Harvey, whose rock star father wrote the song referenced in the title of today’s post. I recently read the Marvel Masterworks collection of the early Howling Commandos tales. War comics, along with Romance and the very prolific Westerns, are among the Marvel titles I rarely – if ever- read. Just over forty years ago in MWOM #220, Nick Fury’s battle diaries were serialised in b/w from December 1976. Weirdly, although this was the long-distant period immediately before Louise Jameson’s Leela joined Doctor Who, those British weeklies feel quite recent to me! Last December, I fell asleep twice during Rogue One and berated it as a poor imitation of a genuine war film – one that might feature some real acting.
Here’s a breakdown of the contents of the book:
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos is an explosive, dramatic introduction. Junior Juniper is a typically Kirby name and the group echo the diversity of other Kirby gangs- foremost, the Boy Commandos but also the next generation of the Newsboy Legion and the Dingbats. In a tense mission to rescue a Free French leader, resistance fighter Marie Labrave (!) looks a lot like Kirby’s first Agent Carter.
Seven Doomed Men: the Howlers infiltrate a concentration camp to foil experiments with heavy water. The story ends with a mushroom cloud but unlike wartime stories at Bronze Age DC, there is no handwaving to suggest history has been rewritten.
Midnight on Massacre Mountain: the strange atomic world of WWII Marvel is referenced again. Marvel After a pub brawl in Stratford-Upon-Avon, an MP asks if the Howlers are fed on H-bombs. On an Italian mission, the squad uncover an SS officer impersonating a war correspondent. We also meet Reed Richards of the OSS! I can easily imagine Wolverine being retconned into this story at some point.
Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh: this is the first Fury story I ever read- although I’m not sure where: an annual, perhaps?- and it’s significant for several developments in the Fury Formula established thus far. We are introduced to aristocratic Pam Hawley who will be Nick’s sweetheart until her tragic exit in one of the most moving episodes of the series. Her brother, the eponymous propagandist, is a thinly-disguised portrayal of the traitor William Joyce. The Howlers travel to Berlin to capture him, as part of a circus troupe ( an early Marvel trope). Death is foreshadowed in the circus ring: ” Some way for a Howler to die…” and the prediction is fulfilled by baby-faced Junior Juniper. This is probably the highlight of the Kirby run.
At the Mercy of Baron Strucker: this is the second Fury story I ever read. It appeared in the Pow annual above, alongside the debut of both the Looter ( later the Meteor Man) and the FF’s Invincible Man. Fury, driven by guilt over Junior’s death, is demoted after he is lured into a duel with Bavarian baron and weapons master, Strucker. Stan and Jack borrow the duel from Hamlet but locate Jutland (Denmark) is in the English Channel! Strucker is a cheat and a hissable baddie, the antagonist the series needed, who would return in Steranko’s SHIELD as Supreme Hydra; his descendants would include the terrorist twins Fenris (and a new Swordsman).
The Fangs of the Desert Fox: Dino is injured and replaced temporarily by the bigoted George Stonewell. It’s a rather ground-breaking “message” story where Jazz player Gabe gives the racist a blood transfusion. Some Arab allies in the desert also communicate the brotherhood theme.
The Court Martial of Sgt. Fury: does an amnesiac Fury bear a lifelong grudge against a superior officer? Flashbacks to Fury’s youth make for an interesting change of pace in a courtroom drama.
The Death Ray of Dr. Zemo: This is the first issue by Dick Ayers and it’s also notable for Marvel’s first ostensibly gay character, the David Niven-esque Percy Pinkerton ,who is Junior’s replacement. Certainly, his colourful name and his imitation by American soldiers might very vaguely imply Percy’s sexuality but really, to me, he’s just depicted as another effete Britisher. We are also introduced to a treacherous, hoodless Nazi scientist with a disintegrator ray. I wish Stan and Jack had stuck to his adhesive obsession. Heh.
Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler: Fury inveigles Strucker into a mission to kidnap the Fuhrer – but it turns out to be a double.
On to Okinawa: Jewish American Izzy impersonates a “Jap” and the Howlers compare him to Marlon Brando ( who wasn’t on Broadway until 1944! ) perhaps as a reference to Teahouse of the August Moon.
The Crackdown of Captain Flint: a by-the-book new commanding officer ends up becoming more like Fury- down to the stubble and see-gar- in a mission to smash a rocket convoy.
When a Howler Turns Traitor: In another mission to stop V-1 rockets, Dino poses as a deserter but ends up facing the firing squad until Fury turns up in the nick of time.
Fighting Side-By-Side with Captain America: Kirby returns for a dynamic team-up with Cap’n’Bucky. Pam and Nick watch a newsreel of the Sentinel of Liberty and Nick grouses; Steve Rogers drinks in the Pig and Whistle and the action alternates between the two leads. Gabe is injured for the second time in thirteen issues. The story involves a secret tunnel built to invade Britain. It’s blown up in an early example of Kirby Kollage. After the Ayers issues, it’s refreshing but there’s a lot of plot and character crammed into these pages
The Ayers episodes simply aren’t as strong as the Kirby adventures. There’s more slapstick and comedy and a flavour of Apokolips in Jack’s stories. Some Howlers seem redundant: Rebel Ralston the jockey and Izzy Cohen the mechanic, play little part in the stories. Dino, the Dean Martin analogue, is often the second lead but supporting characters like Pam, “Happy Sam” and “Bull” McGivney are memorable. I was surprised by how entertaining the series was and I would recommend it to fans of Sixties Lee and Kirby.
So now, the only continuing Marvel stories of the Sixties I haven’t tried are seafaring exploits of Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders. But I think I’d rather experience Kirby’s work on the Losers at DC instead. Coming up soon: Spy Smasher; Walt Simonson’s earliest sagas of Bronze Age Thor; the dystopian 1990s as experienced by Deathlok the Demolisher.
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