BHOC: SGT FURY #143

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.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: SGT FURY #143

  1. I got a few issues of Sgt. Fury in the early ’70s, but I never collected it on a regular basis and war comics didn’t particularly appeal to me either, much for the same reasons you give. I did become a history buff, though I never cared about memorizing the hardware aspects of warfare but rather the multiple reasons wars took place and the people involved and the suffering inflicted. I rather disliked that Roy Thomas made canon in the Marvel Universe that the original Human Torch killed Hitler. It just brings out the absurdist aspects of the interplay of very powerful fictional characters with actual historical events. Early in the war, Siegel & Schuster did a one page Superman story for publication in newspapers and in which the Man of Steel rounds up Hitler, Mussolini & Tojo to be held to account by a world court, but then the 4th wall is broken to admit that as a fictional character Superman couldn’t do any such thing to the warmongering tyrants of the world — that it was up to real flesh blood people to actively oppose them, whether by joining a branch of the military, buying war bonds, or whatever. In the Marvel Universe, the Human Torch could have as likely ended WWII in 1939 as in 1945. As Alan Moore made a point of detailing in Watchmen and Miracle Man, a world with god-like super-powered people would become very different from the real world.
    Also it’s notable that although the first Iron Man story was set in Vietnam, Marvel otherwise mostly avoided stories depicting their heroes taking an active part in that war. During the ’60s, I think there was only one other Iron Man story set in Vietnam, and one each for Captain America & Thor; Daredevil was shown doing a show for G.I.s in Vietnam, and Spider-Man’s #1 fan and Peter Parker’s #1 pain, Flash Thompson, was drafted and served there, and Englehart created the half-Vietnamese, half-German character Mantis for the Avengers and set a couple of stories dealing with her past there, but otherwise Lee, rather wisely it seems to me, chose not to make a big thing of Marvel superheroes leading charges into North Vietnam, saving democracy from the godless commies. Maybe Lee just go a good sense that what worked for comics comics during WWII, might not work so well during this more current war.

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    1. I’m not sure he did have a sense of that — his stories set in Vietnam are painfully bad and very heavy-handed. Cap’s “The Strength of the Sumo” reads to me like a repurposed WW II story which Stan simply updated in the dialog, so we get a Sumo wrestler as a Viet Cong general (the NVA, the North Vietnam armed forces, apparently didn’t exist on Earth-616). I blogged about it here: https://atomicjunkshop.com/i-became-head-of-the-pentagon-because-of-my-fame-as-a-luchador-no-seriously/

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  2. I thought Hammond killing Hitler was a Timely comic originally but Google says 1954 so I guess thats Atlas?

    As to war comics, they just plain never have interested me. As a kid I bought a lot of Big Two fantasy, sci fi, and western books were hit or miss but never war stories. Heck, I think I lke hooror and romance comics less but I’ve followed some of both while I believe skimming a war comic is the most I’ve ever done. That extends to film and TV because M*A*S*H is the only war theme anything I’ve ever watched.

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  3. The Blitz Squad never made sense — there’s obviously no combat benefit to having a member simply because he plays music just like Gabe does.
    I just reread the issue where Fury’s sweetheart Pam Hawley dies and it packs some punch. But then we get Fury taking revenge next issue and the characterization of the Luftwaffe leader behind the attack that killed her is laughable, malevolently gloating about killing off innocent women and children as if he were Captain Nazi in a WW III Captain Marvel comic (Roy Thomas parodied the buffoon portrayal of the Axis in his 1980s Alter Ego comic).
    On a minor note I’m surprised nobody ever did anything else with the Hawleys (other than Pam meeting a time-traveling Dr. Strange once) — they seem the kind of supporting character later generations of writers love to recycle.

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