The series was only nine issue old, and already somebody–presumably editor/scripter Stan Lee–felt it necessary to raise the stakes even further. This SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS cover promises something unbelievable–and without even reading the story, you can likely intuit the outcome. SGT FURY was a weird title. It was created in response to the continuing success of DC’s “Big Five” war comics, but it was less a legitimate war book than a war movie on paper–with larger-than-life cartoonish heroes and villains, a clear division between right and wrong, and nobody (largely) getting all that hurt. It was one of those bit of popular culture that helped make war seem like an adventure, like a game. I’ve spoken before about my ambivalence towards a lot of how WWII was treated in comic books, mythologized to the point where it was easy to forget that it was an actual conflict that impacted on actual human beings.
By this time in the run, Jack Kirby had left the series, moving on to start up AVENGERS and X-MEN while continuing with other key assignments. His artistic replacement was Dick Ayers, who often worked as his inker in those days. Ayers was a decent artist, but he lacked the excitement and over-the-top quality of Kirby. But he’d been there from the beginning, and so there was for many years a concerted effort to find him work, even when more and better artists came into the company. SGT FURY was considered something of a less important title, only a step up from the girl humor strips like MILLIE THE MODEL and the westerns, and so it was a book that Ayers made his own for a long stretch. His staging was often peculiar–Fury’s body has some really weird proportions on this splash page, for example–but he was always genuine with his storytelling. Ridiculous events became believable because he drew them so.
Like this story, for example. After a preamble that introduces Fury and the Howlers and their individual characterization, matters get down to brass tacks. Fury and his boys have been hand-selected for a mission that will end the War–by infiltrating into the heart of Nazi Germany and capturing Adolf Hitler himself! Nothing to it, right? Well, given how easily the Howling Commandos are parachuted behind enemy lines, it kind of makes one wonder why the U.S. hasn’t tried this sort of thing before. But anything that would get in the way of the story being fast-moving was discarded, including plausibility. Anyway, the Allies have info on a time and place where Hitler is going to be giving a big speech, and that gives the Howlers a chance to jump the Fuhrer and make off with him. Just another day at the war.
A quick pause here for an always-welcome Marvel house ad, this one pimping early issues of DAREDEVIl and AVENGERS. These cover ads were always enticing to me, especially when I’d run across them years after the fact, and they’d give me glimpses of what was going on in the other Marvel titles at that particular time.
The Howlers link up with the underground and make their way to Berlin, where Hitler is planning on making his speech. This sort of thing is exactly what I’m talking about. Hitler is portrayed here in buffoonish fashion, a cartoon villain with an exaggerated, comical accent. This was de rigueur in the propaganda of the war years, cartoons and films and so forth. But this is two decades later, and he’s being positioned as a comical dodo rather than an actual real life person who was responsible for setting up death camps and ferrying millions of people to the grave. I don’t know, I find this impulse in the storytelling to be too facile, but that’s probably just me. Anyway, as Nick and his guys get into position and await their opportunity, who should Fury bump into but his old sparring partner Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. Strucker had only appeared once before this, but it was an encounter that caused him a great deal of embarrassment, so he recognizes Fury almost immediately. The guys are in the soup now!
And, in fact, after a typical Howling Commandos row where punches are thrown but there’s very little gunfire and the good guys seem to be having a grand old time fighting, only Fury and Izzy Cohen are able to escape, the rest of the Howlers are captured and detained. Fury still has a mission to accomplish, and so he isn’t really supposed to think about going back for the others. But he hatches a plan to kill two birds with one stone. With absurd easy, Fury and Izzy break into Baron Strucker’s office and waylay the Baron. Then, they use him to gain audience with Hitler himself–at gunpoint, Strucker convinces the Fuhrer that for propaganda purposes, it would be a good idea for him to personally attend the execution of the Howling Commandos. Fury’s in the room and he’s got a gun–why he doesn’t just shoot Hitler then and there is a mystery, but chalk it up to him wanting to get his men out of their jam as well.
You can practically fill in the rest of the blanks yourself, without any help from me. The Howlers stage an attempted break-out that gives the story a bit more action, but are unsuccessful. But Fury, Izzy and their underground contact are able to infiltrate the firing squad along with Strucker and Hitler, the former of which is remarkably cowed and passive the entire time, which seems bonkers. At the crucial moment, they clobber the firing squad, giving the Howlers a chance to make a break for it, and it’s Wah-Hoo! time all over again. Grabbing Hitler, the Howlers requisition a car and race away from Berlin with their captive in tow–and dodging shots from the Nazis, who don’t attack too heartily for fear of accidentally harming their Fuhrer.
Another House Ad, this one for two of the early Marvel Annuals. It includes MARVEL TALES ANNUAL #1, which reprinted a portion of SGT FURY #1. This was in issue #9, so even with a bimonthly release schedule, you do the math. As Marvel began to pick up more and more readers (and because its distribution all throughout the 1960s was spotty at best, lousy at worst), there were constantly new readers who had missed the earlier tales and who wanted to get caught up. But that window of time between the initial printing and the reprint is astonishingly short.
Quick as a wink, Fury and the Howlers are back in England with their prisoner, and the war is finished, right? Wrong! Because, of course, what they’ve netted isn’t the real Hitler at all, but rather one of his many stand-ins. Since he’s a bad guy, he fears facing his people in public, because they all hate his nefarious actions (though not enough to, you know, stop following him). But the mission is still a victory, because the Allies can use this as proof that Hitler is afraid of his own people! Hooray! And the story ends with the Howlers headed back to barracks double-time, where new adventures will await them.
And the issue wraps up with a single page letters page that looks as though its contents were edited from letters actually sent to FANTASTIC FOUR and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which carried regular letters pages. Stan was just beginning to roll out letters pages throughout the entire line at this point. This issue includes a missive from Dave Cockrum, who would go on to have a career as a Marvel artist and who is likely best remembered as the co-creator of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, as well as one from Richard Green, better known in fan circles as “Grass” Green, one of the more popular fan artists of the period. He’d do some work for Marvel down the line as well, but only a pittance as compared to Cockrum.