This issue of SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS was also the byproduct of a 3-Bag purchased in a toy store or a department store. I had an uneasy relationship with SGT FURY at this time. I felt motivated to read it because Nick Fury was such a key character within the Marvel Universe (though nowhere near as omnipresent at that time as he eventually became) but I wasn’t at all interested in war comics. And for all that SGT FURY was a war comic in perhaps the loosest way possible–it bore much more of a resemblance to the firm’s super hero titles, albeit with guys in fatigues and carrying guns–it was still closer than I really liked. So this particular book ended up with my younger brother Ken, who has a passing interest in war books, until years later it rejoined my collection.
One of the series launched at the very start of the Marvel Age, SGT FURY was by this point on its last legs. More than twenty issues earlier, it had run its final original story (which we profiled here:)
and ever since had been trundling along as a reprint series. Using these older stories meant that the Art and Editorial costs for the title were minimal, and that (coupled with a feeling that Marvel should be maintaining a toehold in a variety of genres as a bulwark against some unexpected turn in the marketplace) was enough to keep the book in business for a few more years.
As an adult, I have different misgivings about SGT FURY (and war comics in general.) I don’t love the way they frame war as a grand adventure, a bloodless romp in which the good guys win and nobody really gets hurt. I also don’t love, as I’ve spoken about before, the manner in which Adolf Hitler and his real-world cronies are often depicted as comical foils, thus somehow undermining the very genuine horror of what they did and what they represent. But that’s a lot of pressure to put onto the shoulders of any one comic book, so putting all that aside, let’s dive into this issue as though it were simply the adventure series that it’s trying to be.
In terms of the quality of the presentation, SGY FURy was looking and reading a bit better than it had in recent years. The writing had passed into the hands of Gary Friedrich, who welcomed the assignment. Gary wasn’t often used on the super hero titles, but he seemed to excel at more genre work, and he eventually began to produce a series of stories that examined different aspects of war and the soldiers who fought in them–a series that was not incredibly subtle about its parallels to the then-ongoing Vietnam conflict. On the art side, regular penciler Dick Ayers received a mighty power-up from the inking of John Severin. Severin was an accomplished artist on his own, but his work was never quite as dramatic or bombastic as was preferred at Marvel. So Ayers handled the storytelling, and Severin made the end pages look much stronger. It was a good combination, and one that would carry over to other Ayers assignments such as HULK.
This story featured the return of the Blitzkrieg Squad, a kind of Axis opposite number to the Howling Commandos made up of soldiers specifically chosen to counter the Howlers’ particular strengths. So their ranks contained a strong man, a musical, a duelist, and so forth. Originally, the group had been assembled by Baron Strucker, but strucker had gone on to become a more important villain on his own both in the SGT FURY series and NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. So here, he’s replaced by Colonel Klaue, who sports an artificial hand made out of steel. Despite this, there wasn’t any relationship between him and the Fantastic Four’s recurring for Ulysses Klaw of which I’m aware (or if there was, it was established many years later.) The issue opens with the Blitzers escaping from a British prison, contacting the homeland, and being given the mission of eliminating the Howlers. The Nazis have an invasion force all ready to sweep into England and capture the home base of the First Attack Company–they just needed a bunch of guys to be the spearhead of the attack, and the Blitzers are it.
So it’s a grudge match battle between the two groups–and we’re not even going to get into how absurd it is that a seven-man team of Nazis can not only stroll into the Howlers’ base but take it over so completely. This was nothing that the Howlers themselves hadn’t done a dozen times in reverse in previous stories, so we’ll give the Blitzers some credit. Colonel Klaue is able to capture the squad’s C.O., Happy Sam Sawyer, which means it’s up to fury and the boys to recover him unharmed. Apart from that, much of the narrative is about bouncing the Howlers and their Nazi counterparts off of one another. I must admit, I have to love the ridiculous duel between Howler Gabe Jones and his rival, Otto, who use their musical instruments as weapons against one another (“It’s a cinch that Otto won’t think about chasin’ us! Not after I cut down on him with a real Harlem high note!”) It’s patently absurd, even within the broad context of this series, and that makes me admire it for it’s gumption. Again, this is closer to a super hero fight than any genuine military battle.
So the whole thing becomes a back-and-forth between both squads, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I tell you that Fury’s boys come out on top. Klaue and the Blitz Squad is captured and Happy Sam gets to join in the action once Fury shows up to rescue him. But nobody got killed or even really hurt–Klaue was wounded severely enough to make him unable to fire on Fury, yet he’s marching away hale and hearty on the final page (Fury even fires a few rounds at him and his men, which does seem a bit excessive. But they’re Nazis, so they kind of have it coming.) And that’s the wrap, save for Klaue vowing that he and the Blitz Squad will be back. And they would–just not in the pages of SGT FURY and not for quite some time.