Thjs was yet another issue of SGT FURY that I got in the box of around 150 Silver Age comics that I’d purchased from a dude that I met at the Post Office for $50.00 cash money in 1988. While that box was a treasure trove of material, none of the issues in it were of any particular note. There were no “keys” as collectors would put it, even though some of the books held some intrinsic value nonetheless. And so it was the titles that were most often deemed “worthless’ by collectors that made up much of my haul. SGT FURY was definitely one of them, it was likely the least-appreciated foundational Marvel title of the era by collectors due to the fact that it wasn’t a super hero book.
But the DNA of a super hero title was infused all throughout SGT FURY in terms of the exploits of its lead characters. They were fighting a war on the surface of it, but what they were really doing was having amazing over-the-top and bloodless adventures in a WWII period setting. The stories didn’t even try to be real in their plotting, they were much more interested in making the characters themselves colorful and vibrant. So it wasn’t anywhere near as grounded as DC’s bevy of war titles (which were ridiculous in their own way, but tended to eschew super-heroic antics when telling their stories) but it was a lot more energetic and fun. SGT FURY was more like watching a war adventure movie than reading about an actual war.
The issue opens with the Howlers enjoying a little bit of R & R at a local Pub when the area comes under attack by German V-1 rockets–or “buzz bombs” as they were commonly called due to the sound they made before impact. While the Howlers all get away without a scratch, the area is demolished. Back at base, “Happy” Sam Sawyer gives Fury a new assignment: he is to seek out and locate the base that is the source of the V-1 attacks on England so that Allied bombers can put the place out of action. So it’s a quick glider hop across the English Channel into Germany for our boys, just another day at the office for the Howlers.
A pause here as usual to present one of Marvel’s fabulous House Ads showing a quartet of just-released or soon-to-be-released classics that no Marvelite would want to miss. The line was overall very strong at this moment, and all four of these specific issues are real winners.
Being the Howling Commandos, Fury’s boys get into a firefight almost as soon as they hit the ground in Germany. Of course, these eight guys are able to fight off a battalion on the routine, so it isn’t a huge problem. What’s more difficult is that they haven’t been able to find any sign of the V-1 launch site. Needing a new strategy, Fury tells Dino Manelli that he needs to pretend to defect to the enemy side, in the hopes that he’ll be taken to the nearby concealed base. He’s an actor, and of Italian descent (he’s meant to be a caricature of Dean Martin, in case that wasn’t screamingly obvious) so he’s the only one Fury figures can pull this ruse off. Fury doesn’t bother telling the other Howlers about Dino’s mission because that would ruin the story, and because he says he wants it to look good when Dino makes his move. And indeed, the other Howlers are horrified that Dino has suddenly turned traitor and thrown in with the enemy. Nobody really questions it as a ploy for a second, which gives you some idea as to how highly they hold Dino in esteem.
Quick pause here for another cool four-up House Ad. If you’re wondering about that FANTASTIC FOUR cover, it was one that used one of Jack Kirby’s photo-collages as a background, and so I suspect that the fear was that it wouldn’t reproduce well at this size and on this paper/ But it’s interesting that they wanted to include FANTASTIC FOUR among these ads anyway, as opposed to slotting in another cover instead. By that same token, the line was then so small that there wouldn’t have been a whole lot of other options if they’d gone that route.
And Fury’s plan comes off without a hitch–save for one minor detail. Manelli is convincing in his role as a turncoat, and he is brought to an S.S. Headquarters where he learns that the rockets are being fired from train cars that are always on the move, which is why the Allies haven’t been able to locate their base. Dino is then able to clobber his captors, steal a Nazi uniform, locate the train in question and plant a radio on it that will send a signal for the bombers to hone in on and destroy it. And that’s what they do. Mission accomplished, except for an exfiltration back to base, right? Wrong. Because Fury himself was blasted and taken prisoner while the rest of the Howlers withdrew, and so the only person who knows that Dino’s been faking is now M.I.A.
Dino is able to scam his way to piloting a German plane and making his way back to England and to base–but he isn’t welcomed as a hero for his bravery. Rather, his friends all attest to the fact that Manelli had deserted under fire and gone over the enemy side. And the only person who knows any different, Fury, is missing and presumed dead. Now, I don’t know how these guys figure that the V-1 launch site was finally bombed apart from dumb luck, but it’s pretty clear that everybody is behaving like a moron at this point to make the plot work. Anyway, Dino’s going to be facing a firing squad as a result.
And a pause here for a pin-up page featuring Sgt. Nick Fury. These sorts of pin-ups were fairly common in the early 1960s and were more welcome than another page of ads.
Nick Fury, of course, isn’t dead, but he is ina prisoner-of-war camp. And he’s frantic about what must be happening to Dino since he realizes that he’s the only one who can reveal the truth of Manelli’s mission. So, determined to save Dino, Fury stages a fast break-out (it’s especially fast given how close to the end of the issue this is. One gets the sense that penciler Dick Ayers ate up too much space at the front of the story and then realized he was really going to have to work to cram the rest into the pages remaining. An occasionally failing of the “Marvel method” of production.) In the space of the final three pages, Dino is on trial while Fury digs a trench to freedom with a spoon (!!!) then manages to fight his way across Germany and back to England, arriving just in time three panels from the end of the story to proclaim Dino’s innocence and to save his life. So haphazard is the pacing of this ending that Lee winds up writing a long caption in the second-to-last panel basically apologizing for not being able to depict the relief of the Howlers and how they welcome Dino back to the fold (to say nothing of Dino slapping them all in the face for believing that he could go bad.)
And the book wraps up with the typical two-page Tell It To Fury letters page. At this point, Lee is changing the letter salutations to Dear Stan and Dick, illustrating Ayers’ position as the regular artist of the series.
The letters page also includes the Special Announcements Section, which is now hosting an early version of the Marvel Checklist that will become one of the backbones of the eventual Bullpen Bulletins page. The big news here is that the next issue of SGT FURY is going to guest star Captain America and Bucky. This would have been Bucky’s first actual story appearance in a Marvel title–he’d been shown for a panel here or there, and everybody knew that he’d been killed in action when Captain America was frozen in suspended animation. But this was readers’ first opportunity to see him in action. What’s more, it served to further cement SGT FURY in as a title that mattered to the early Marvel continuity–even if you were solely a super hero reader, you had to keep an eye on it regardless, which was more than could be said for the western or girl humor books.