BHOC: SGT FURY #138

Another issue of SGT FURY that my younger brother Ken bought out of the drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comic Books, likely at the same time he got yesterday’s issue. The series had a more attractive logo by this point, but I must confess that, in this era of reprint titles and with SGT FURY itself running nothing but reprints, I initially thought that BLAZING BATTLE ACTION might be the title of the series. And eventually, this book came to reside with me as well.

By this point, Stan Lee had turned the writing of the strip over to his protege Roy Thomas, meaning tat for the first time it was being scripted by somebody who had never served in the military. But Roy made up for this lack of personal experience by being a huge WWII buff and having an excellent working knowledge of the conflict and the era in which it took place–a better grasp, honestly, than Stan had. Artist Dick Ayers continued to be the visual backbone of the book. Dick was only a passable super hero artist much of the time, but he was in his element on westerns and war comics.

The issue opens, as so many SGT FURY tales did, with the Howlers on the training course, keeping their fighting skills in trim. Among them now is new recruit Eric Koenig, a reformed Nazi who had switched sides in a previous issue and joined the Howlers. He’s subbing in for Dino Manelli, who had been shot and is laid up recovering. Eric is eager to prove his loyalty and worth to his new comrades, but he gets more than he bargained for wen Happy Sam Sawyer tells Fury that their next mission will be to venture into Switzerland to prevent a top Nazi strategist from getting to Italy–he’s traveling through Switzerland by train. More critically, he’s also being guarded by a long-time friend of Eric’s, and so the new Howler is haunted by the thought that his first mission may require him to kill his old friend.

So into Switzerland go the Howling Commandos, and we’re treated to a few sequence showing just how they manage it. The most typically ridiculous is a moment where, traveling by cable car across the border, the Howlers find themselves stuck in mid-air, the operators having figured out that they are Commandos and called in a Nazi air strike on them. Percy Pinkerton uses his ever-present bumbershoot to slide down the remaining length of the cable to ambush the cable car operator and rescue his friends. This sort of glorious nonsense is what separated SGT FURY form all of the other war comics–it didn’t even pretend to be realistic in its depiction of warfare.

Fury and the boys are swiftly able to locate their quarry, but for reasons that seem sketchy they can’t grab him up or assassinate him in Switzerland, which is neutral ground. Rather, they need to wait until he crosses the border into Italy. That seems like nonsense, but roll with it. Eric’s command of the local language helps get the Howlers onto the train transporting Ludwig Von Baum to Italy, under the guise of ferrying much-needed medical supplies to the Axis troops there. Turns out that pretty much everybody on the train is a secret Nazi soldier in disguise, though–which makes things a bit easier for our guys once the carnage breaks out, as they don’t need to worry about accidentally shooting innocent civilians.

Fury’s boys go into action, sending Koenig up ahead to take over the locomotive while they attempt to locate their target on the train. There’s plenty of absurd heroics on hand here, as the Howlers mix it up with the mostly-ineffectual Nazi troops. Eventually, Koenig’s friend Wilhelm pulls Von Baum up to the top of the train cars, looking to make their escape–but he finds himself confronted by his old friend, now working with the Howlers. But Eric can’t bring himself to shoot Wilheim and throws his gun away. Wilheim, of course, being a cartoonish Nazi, has no such sentiment in his heart, and he intends to plug Eric.

But the day is saved by Gabe Jones, who blows a bugle note that distracts Wilhelm long enough for Eric to get the jump on him. The train gets stopped before it leaves Switzerland, and the Nazi troops, who revealed their colors before fighting it out with the Howlers for some reason, are all taken into custody, including Von Baum. So the Howlers get out of dodge and make their way back to base–and Fury tells Koenig bot that he knew that Eric and Wilhelm were old friends and that he understands why Koenig threw away his gun. Koenig is overjoyed to be judged not just as a soldier but as a man, and becomes a regular part of the Howling Commandos team. And with that, the issue wraps up.

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