There were more than a few early issues of SGT FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS in that box of about 150 Silver Age comics that I purchased for fifty bucks back in 1988. And the reason for that no doubt was that it wasn’t a super hero series. While all of these books have appreciated in value over the years, at the time, there was relatively little interest in them among collectors. so they tended to be plentiful and cheap. That cover gives a good idea of the strengths of each collaborator. Artist Jack Kirby depicts a riotous fight on the deck of a warship that seems intense and overwhelming. But scripter and editor Stan Lee adds in a few jokes in the cover copy and balloons, which leavens the danger with humor. It’d still be an exciting cover even without that text, but it was really the spirit of that copy that made this book Marvel.
SGT FURY could be a fun series, but it was less a genuine war book than it was an emulation of the sorts of movies that glorified the war effort. Fury and his men weren’t soldiers, they were super heroes, utterly unstoppable. And every story contained some degree of almost tall tale impossibility–in this one, the Howlers travel from England to Okinawa during the war in time to help rescue a captured ally. That just doesn’t seem plausible given the technology of the era, to say nothing of the fact that there was a war on. But that was the buy-in for reading SGT FURY: you needed to check your suspension of disbelief at the door.
So after a brisk preamble that’s an opportunity to quickly characterize the Howling Commandos and get across the flavor of the series, Fury’s C.O. “Happy” Sam Sawyer lays out the squad’s latest mission. There’s a noteworthy Colonel, Phil “Pillbox” Parker, who was captured behind enemy lines on Okinawa. The trick here is that an Allied assault on the island is planned in 72 hours. So it’s the job of Fury and his men to fly to the Pacific, go in on Okinawa and rescue the Colonel, all before the shelling starts and the place becomes a full-on war zone. Again here, I’m skeptical that an outfit stationed in England could have even made the trip in that time, but that’s why these are comic books, after all.
A quickie stop-off here for a look at another one of those three-cover House Ads that Marvel was doing on the regular in this period. It’s a pretty exciting trio of books.
And so, the Howlers head for the Pacific in a stripped down bomber–according to Dino Manelli, there aren’t even any seats. Along the way, they wind up having to knock out some attacking planes with their firearms as the bomber is now unarmed. But finally, they make it to the vicinity of Okinawa–where their bomber makes a landing on an aircraft carrier in another sequence that strains credibility just a little bit. The sub that’s to take the Howlers ashore is being captained by a man who is only referred to in this story as “The Skipper”, but who would in later years grow a name and get a series of his own: CAPTAIN SAVAGE AND HIS LEATHERNECK RAIDERS. It is an unfortunate reality of the era that the enemy soldiers are routinely referred to derogatorily in this story as “Japs.”
And the story sadly takes what in retrospect is a surprisingly uncomfortable turn. As none of them speak the language, Fury and the Howlers snatch up the first Japanese soldier they see. By a coincidence, this turns out to be the leader of teh camp in which the captured Colonel is imprisoned–why he was standing around in the middle of nowhere for Fury to jump is anybody’s guess, but he’s drawn as a not-very-flattering stereotype that wouldn’t have been out of place in teh era in which this story was set. Anyway, in order to get inside the camp, the Howlers dress Izzy up as the captured commander, taping back his eyes and bandaging his mouth as though he had been injured and thus cannot speak. It’s a bold, some might say ridiculous, gambit, but it was par for the course for the Howlers.
Time out for another three-fer ad, this one touting that year’s spectacular Marvel Annuals. A big portion of SGT FURY #1 was reprinted in the MARVEL TALES Annual despite the fact that the series was only ten issues old at this point and it had seen print only a bit over a year earlier. Such was the growing following for the new Marvel books.
So, shaky as it is, Izzy’s ruse gets the Howlers into the camp unsuspected, though some of the Japanese officers look at Izzy askance. When the High Command learns who has been captured, they order all of teh prisoners transported back to Japan for interrogation. So Fury, the Howlers, the Colonel and the other POWs are loaded onto an enemy destroyer. This is where they make their break for freedom. Despite not having a single weapon among them, Fury and the Howlers overpower the sentries who are on guard and release the prisoners. Since they’re aboard ship, Fury decides that the best and sanest course of action would be to capture the entire Destroyer and sail it back to friendly waters. Which they proceed to do, somehow, in what is perhaps the least plausible part of this already bonkers story. (As seen above, Gabe Jones is still being colored in the strange off-purple that Marvel was using for the skin tones of black people in these early days. It’s a weird look, but at least he was represented.)
And then, the last page is the wrap-up, with the captured Destroyer having rendezvoused with an American aircraft carrier. Pillbox Parker wants to give Fury a battlefield commission, but the Sarge won’t accept it–he doesn’t want to be a ramrod, he wants to fight the war bare-handed. And so that’s what he’ll continue to do. Once the Howlers make it back to England, it’s back to business as usual, with Fury getting chewed out by Happy Sam and given a three-day pass whether he likes it or not. So we close out on a typical Stan Lee comedy beat in which Fury’s girlfriend Pam Hawley doesn’t believe his wild accounts of what he’s been getting up to. And why should she? I just read the story and I don’t believe them either!
Lastly, the issue has a single page letters page, which includes a letter from future Marvel superstar Dave Cockrum. Dave would be enlisting in the Navy not too long in the future, so it makes sense that he’d be following SGT FURY as well as the Marvel super hero titles. Stan also talks about the reaction to new Howler Percy Pinkerton, who had debuted in issue #8. If you didn’t notice Percy in this story, that’s because he’s pretty much just drawn into the background throughout the episode. Sure, it can be difficult to juggle so many characters in a single adventure, but one gets the impression that Stan and Dick either just forgot about Percy or else were deliberately downplaying his involvement until they got a sense as to the reaction to him.