Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5959-9 (HB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top, rowdy and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunchand The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963; one of three action teams concocted by creative men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the comics publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when TV espionage shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Mission: Impossible and the James Bond film franchise became global sensations.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics and tales, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: people and places grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable. The artist had served in some of the bloodiest battles of the war and never forgot the horrific, heroic things he saw (and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at numerous publishers). However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences couldn’t help but seep through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – sadly – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic and was quickly moved on, leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire original run of the series (95 issues plus Annuals) until its transition with #121 (July 1974) to a reprint title. This version carried on until its ultimate demise in December 1981, with #167.

Former serviceman Lee remained as scripter until he too was pulled away by the developing Marvel phenomenon, after which a succession of youthful, next-generation writers took over, beginning with Roy Thomas who provides welcome background and informative anecdotes in his Introduction, after which this fourth ferocious hardback and eBook compendium re-presents Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #33-43; spanning August 1966 to June 1967).

Crafted by regulars Thomas, Ayers and inker John Tartaglione, the action opens with ‘The Grandeur that was Greece…’as the squad are despatched to aid partisan and freedom fighters keep Greek treasures and historical artefacts out of Nazi hands. Unfortunately, it’s an elaborate trap that leaves many good men dead and the unit captured with only Fury free to save them…

Bloodied but unbowed, Fury then reviews his barnstorming early life and ‘The Origin of the Howlers!’ before #35 sees him infiltrate the heart of Nazi darkness to stage a ‘Berlin Breakout!’ of the captive Commandos, with the assistance arch rival Sgt. Bull McGiveney and old comrade Eric Koenig: an anti-fascist German with plenty of reasons to fight the Reich…

With the mission deemed a qualified success, ‘My Brother, My Enemy!’ sees Koenig join the squad, replacing a Howler who didn’t return intact. His first official outing takes the team to neutral Switzerland to intercept a Nazi strategist en route to Italy, burdened with the secret that their fanatical target was once his dearest childhood friend…

Issue #37 takes the squad to North Africa in search of charismatic Nazi rabble-rouser The Desert Hawk inciting attacks on British forces. The fiend’s capture reveals a shocking surprise when the warriors find themselves ‘In the Desert… to Die’

Wounded in escaping Berlin, one Howler has been recuperating in Hollywood. His recovery would be greatly aided if a certain doctor could be extracted from occupied Scandinavian island Danton. That and the title ‘This One’s for Dino!’ is all you need to know, after which #39’s ‘Into the Fortress of… Fear!’ focuses on action as the Howlers are despatched to invades a highly-fortified base and destroy a new super-weapon. The site is commanded by steel-fisted fanatic Colonel Klaue, but even he is no match for the Howlers…

After a far from lengthy recovery period, Dino returns in time to cheer on our heroes as they save a French Resistance leader in ‘…That France Might be Free!’, before Klaue returns, leading the Commandos’ arch enemies the Blitzkrieg Squad. The mission also involves an unlikely spy inside the Allied ranks base who pays the ultimate price for the ‘Blitzkrieg in Britain!’

It isn’t named as such, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder grips a Howler in ‘Three Were A.W.O.L.!’, which saw the first script contributions of future scribe Gary Friedrich. When a veteran hero absconds, Fury goes after him, leaving his squad in the unwelcome charge of Bull McGiveney in a demolitions mission deep inside occupied Europe. When the absentees return, it’s only just in time to save them all…

The unlikely escapades pause here with a return trip to North Africa and a brush with Rommel, as ‘Scourge of the Sahara!’ (By Thomas, Friedrich, Ayers & Tartaglione) finds the weary warriors in pursuit of a protype super-tank that could reverse the Desert Fox’s failing fortunes…

Adding lustre to these military milestones, this volume also includes a selection of readers’ designs for the Howlers’ unique unit arm patch (Shoulder Sleeve Insignia for all you army buffs), and a gallery of original art covers and pages by Ayers & Tartaglione.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, practically anti-war explorations of combat and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
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