The Last Sgt. Fury Story

SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS was a foundational title launched during the heyday of the dawning Marvel Age of Comics in 1963. Rather than being a super hero series like most of the other Marvel books then garnering attention, it was instead a war series–war comics continued to be strong performers for DC and others, and so somebody, likely Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, decreed that it would be a good idea for Marvel to eke out some of that market for itself. There are apocryphal stories about editor Stan Lee launching the series in order to set a bet with Goodman about what was driving the success of their new titles–Lee believed it to be the style and the characterization, Goodman believed in the strength of the names of the series themselves. Either way, SGT FURY didn’t remain a real priority for the firm for long, and within a relatively short time, both co-creator Jack Kirby and Lee himself would have moved on to other things, leaving the book as a training ground for up-and-coming talent.

Like everything that wasn’t a straight up super hero title, the sales on war comics began to decay as the decade wore on–especially in the umbra of the unpopular Vietnam war. At a certain point, in order to remain profitable, SGT FURY became a reprint book every other issue–an act that caused artist Dick Ayers to file a lawsuit against Marvel. He wasn’t getting any payment for the reprints (no creators did at that time) which meant that he was being forced to compete with his past self for assignments. Eventually, Marvel settled and started paying reprint money, as did DC. But none of this did much of anything to reverse the sinking fortunes of SGT. FURY.

By 1974, the series was finished, at least where new stories were concerned. It would continue publication for another 47 issues as exclusively a reprint book. But the final all-new SGT FURY adventure produced during the original run of the title was this one, from SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #120. It was written by Stan’s brother Larry Lieber, then only seconds away from being headhunted by Martin Goodman’s new venture ATLAS COMICS, and illustrated by longtime penciler Dick Ayers.

SGT FURY was always something of a strange egg when it came to war comics. It didn’t really even attempt to take itself seriously, and it depicted war not as the grueling endurance match that it actually was, but more in the manner of an adventure film. The Howling Commandos of the title were colorful stereotypes, whose personalities were sketched in broad strokes. And while there was always a lot of gunplay, nobody really much got hurt along the way, thanks to the oversight of the Comics Code. (There’d be an occasional exception to this, but largely the book was about as bloodless as it’s possible for a war series to be.)

Fury and at least some of his men would outlast their army roots, having been migrated to the spy milieu in 1965 in the NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. strip that ran in STRANGE TALES. Even after that series too ran its course (something that came about even before SGT FURY gave up teh ghost in terms of commissioning new stories) the characters remained in play in the modern Marvel Universe, often turning up in CAPTAIN AMERICA or IRON MAN or other books throughout the line.

But on the whole, the war ended for Fury and his boys here ,in this issue–without any special fanfare or notice.

3 thoughts on “The Last Sgt. Fury Story

  1. Not even Kubert’s masterpieces tempted me to do more than occasionally confirm I still didn’t care much for war comics. Weird in the big picture since I realized closer to present than when they were published that why I love comics so much is I love heroic fiction. What’s more heroic than a soldier in the service of his country? Fury though (and the couple other Marvel series I vaguely recall that were clones of Fury) were just so inoffensive that I found that inoffensive even as a teen so there was added reason not to read them. A shame because I can honestly say I always enjoyed Dick Ayers’ art whenever I would be infrequently treated to it.

    By the by, does anyone else think it’s time to retire every one of the Howling Commandos in stories set in present day? The JSA I could suspend disbelief about their age thanks to semi-continuous publication and often hilarious explanations for their being active heroes at one hundred years of age (or could until post-Flashpoint). The Howling Commandos were just war heroes and I feel they should be left in the past where they don’t need sci fi explanations to how they’re still alive.

    Liked by 1 person

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