Friday, October 5, 2018

Forgotten Books: SGT. FURY and his HOWLING COMMANDOS Volume 1 (2006)

Though Stan Lee is and will always be best remembered for breathing life into long-underwear heroes, I've always thought his finest hour was his scripting for Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howlers. Good as those superheroes are, there's something inherently silly about running around in a gaudy costume and battling costumed villains.

Compared to that stuff, the Sgt. Fury saga is almost a slice of real life. Sure, it too is a fantasy, but it's rooted in the real world, and fueled by the wartime experience of Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. It's filled with characters you can almost believe existed, fighting battles that don't have to be contrived just to fill panels with action.

These stories first appeard in 1963 and '64. By the time I discovered Marvel Comics, Sgt. Fury was in his fourth issue, along with FF 19, Spider-man 7 and X-Men 2 (the first number 1s I managed to pick up were Avengers and Daredevil). So it was very cool to finally read those first three installments, and see what I missed. 

The banter Stan puts into the mouths of the Howlers is much the same as you'll find his superhero mags of the time, but rings truer from these truer-to-life heroes. And I'm convinced Stan knew that too, and was inspired to produce his best work. 

The first seven issues (and the thirteenth, closing this volume with a visit from Captain America) were pencilled by Jack Kirby, which I consider the highpoint of his career, too. After being spoiled by Kirby, it's a tough transition to the less-distinctive style of Dick Ayers. But the Stan Lee dialogue is a sharp as ever, sharp enough to carry the series through over a hundred missions. 

In this volume, Fury and the gang protect the secret of D-Day, spoil the Nazis plans for an atom bomb, ruin Rommel's day, snatch a hero from under the bombing of Okinawa, prevent an invasion of England and perform other less glizty but equally heroic deeds. All in a day's work. 

Googling around, I see that there at least five Fury volumes in the Marvel Masterworks series, but a search of WorldCat shows not a single library in the English speaking world in possession of volumes 2 through 5. What the heck is up with that? They have tons of lesser works, and are buying more every day. No way can I afford the big bucks for the hardcovers, or even the $16.99 for Kindle copies. You can do me (and yourself) a solid by asking your local library to buy them, so I mooch them from InterLibrary Loan. Thanks!


James Reasoner said...

The first seven issues are one of the best runs of any comic book, ever, with #6 (that's the Desert Fox issue, isn't it?), being one of the best comic books ever. I reread these in one of Marvel's black-and-white Essentials volumes, and they hold up just fine.

Cap'n Bob said...

To my way of thinking these guys were just another superhero group. Despite all the explosions and bullets they accomplished their victories with their fists. Of course, I'm looking at the comics from the 1969-73 era. Maybe the earlier ones showed people being shot or blowed up real good.

TC said...

It's true that Sgt. Fury and his squad often acted more like superheroes than soldiers. At times, the only difference between them and the Avengers or the Fantastic Four seemed to be that the Howlers wore fatigues instead of colorful spandex-type costumes. WWII was portrayed as a romp.

Not always, though. The deaths of continuing characters-Pvt. Junior Juniper in #4 (1963) and Pamela Hawley in #18(1965)- were obvious attempts to bring some realism to the series.

Roy Thomas began writing the scripts in 1966, and Gary Friedrich in 1967. Both toned down the bravado, and stories like "The Informer" and "The Deserter" were grim and (by comic book standards) relatively realistic.

Mike Britt said...

I liked those early issues because they were almost a replay of favorites the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and Boy's Ranch...but with Stan Lee standing in for Joe Simon on the writing chores.

Stephen Mertz said...

I was a big fan (as in regular reader) of the Howling Commandos. Thanks for the memories!