Like me, my brother Ken would occasionally pull books out of the Big Bin of Somewhat-Older Comics at the local drugstore. As he was into war comics at this time and the bin held only Marvel books, there was only one place for him to turn: SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS. It was a bit of a weird series–not to say that the DC war titles were especially realistic, but they were certainly more realistic than the cartoonish romps that Fury and his boys got up to. That’s a packed cover, too–it almost looks as though the Howlers are having to duck to avoid the logo as they ski downhill. And somebody figured that specifying that the book contained Blazing Battle Action would help sell it, pushing the main logo down into the art area even further. The cover copy is pretty silly as well.
By this time, SGT FURY was on the wane, and it had been converted into a reprint book. Even in that form, it would only run for another few years. But it did mean that the stories therein were crafted during the prime period of Marvel’s rise in the 1960s. This particular issue was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Dick Ayers, who was a mainstay on the series. (And Stan Lee still gets top billing, despite supposedly being away on vacation when this book was done.)
It didn’t bother me at the time, but I have to say that I am today troubled by the cartoonish manner in which Adolf Hitler and most of the other Nazis are portrayed in this series. It’s certainly in keeping with the propaganda of the era, but in some way I think it helps to minimize the very real evil these human beings perpetrated, and to make it seem like something that couldn’t possibly happen again today. Scores of appearances in post-war issued comic book stories have turned Hitler and his followers into characters less realistic than Doctor Doom or Magneto–the difference, of course, being that they were real and actually did those horrific things.
Anyway, in this issue, forced to go in for check-ups in the infirmary, one of the members of the Howling Commandos is secretly brainwashed by a Nazi spy posing as the physician. This plan was laid out and supervised by Hitler himself, so important is it to remove these seven G.I.s from the battlefield. Thereafter, the Howlers get a mission into Norway, where the Nazis are attempting to create Heavy Water for their A-Bomb project. The Howlers need to destroy the facility and the product–but they have no idea that one of their number is now an unwitting turncoat, giving the enemy information about their progress and position.
As a result, despite their formidable battle prowess, the Howlers are ambushed and captured, and lined up for execution. But the Howlers survive by–no joke–backflipping out of the way of the firing squad’s bullets and then making a run for it, picking up weapons along the way so as to set up a counter-offensive. Fury and his boys are able to drive the Nazis into retreat–but Fury himself is now worried by the notion that he may have a traitor in his midst.
And Fury is right to worry, because the leader of the attackers, Colonel Schleicher, calls out a code-phrase, and suddenly Izzy Cohen is in a daze, and pointing his weapon at the rest of the Howlers. With the only way out being to gun down their own friend, the Commandos stand down, and Schleicher and his men move in. He decides to have Izzy himself gun down Fury and the rest of the Howlers–but the hypnotic conditioning, while strong, isn’t powerful enough to make Cohen murder his friends.
Snapping out of the hypnotic trance, Izzy clobbers the Colonel, setting off a wild dust-up between the Howlers and the Nazi soldiers–who, being Nazis, don’t really stand a chance. Izzy himself gets to beat the holy hell out of Colonel Schleicher, explaining that every man has certain lines that he just won’t cross, no matter how much hypnosis he might be under. Then the Howlers complete their mission, blow up the Heavy Water, and are back at base in time for a clean wrap-up where they all get 72 hour furlough passes for their efforts.
This issue also included one of the ubiquitous advertisements for Hostess treats, in this case Twinkees. Just for fun, I’m including it here, as it’s one of the more preposterous entries in this series. These ads ran for a few years, not just in the Marvel titles but the DC books and a few otter companies as well. For decades hereafter, people have done parodies and references to these ads, since they were so prevalent–but I suspect that much of the audience of today has no idea about them.