Sargent Fury and the Howling Commandos

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos are a fictional World War II unit in comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963). The main character, Sgt. Nick Fury, later became the leader of Marvel's super-spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D..

The elite special unit of US Army Rangers nicknamed the Howling Commandos consisted of Corporal Thaddeus Aloysius Cadwallander "Dum Dum" Dugan, Private Gabriel Jones (an African American serving in an integrated unit, though the U.S. armed forces were not in real-life integrated until after the war, in 1948), Private Robert "Rebel" Ralston, Private Dino Manelli (modeled after Dean Martin), Private Isadore "Izzy" Cohen (the first demonstrably Jewish American comic book hero), and Private Jonathan "Junior" Juniper — who, in an unusual and daring move for comics at the time, was killed in action after a few issues (#4, Nov. 1963). He was replaced by Private Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton, a British soldier, in issue #8 (July 1964). Later, Private Eric Koenig, a defector from Nazi Germany, joined the squad in issue #27. Occasional other members would join for an issue or two before being killed, transferred, or otherwise leaving (such as Fred Jones in issue #81). Also daringly for the time, the series killed Fury's girlfriend, British nurse Pamela Hawley, introduced in issue #4 and killed in a London air raid in #18 (May 1965).

Publication history

Stan Lee has described the series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos as having come about due to a bet with his publisher, Martin Goodman that the Lee-Kirby style could make a book sell even with the worst title Lee could devise. Lee elaborated on that claim in a 2007 interview, responding to the suggestion that the series title did not necessarily seem bad:
It did at the time. First of all, it was too long for a title — we didn't have any that were six words. And 'Howling' was a long word, and 'Commandos' was a long word. I got the name 'Howling Commandos' because in the Army there was a group called the Screaming Eagles. And I loved the sound of that. So I figured we'd have the Howling Commandos.
Comics-artist contemporary John Severin recalled in the early 2000s that in the late 1950s, Kirby had approached him to be partners on a syndicated, newspaper comic strip "set in Europe during World War Two; the hero would be a tough, cigar-chomping sergeant with a squad of oddball GIs — sort of an adult Boy Commandos", referring to a 1940s wartime "kid gang" comics series Kirby had co-created for DC Comics.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos followed an elite special unit, the First Attack Squad, nicknamed the "Howling Commandos" and stationed in a military base in England to fight missions primarily but not exclusively in the European Theatre of World War II. Under Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer, Fury was the cigar-chomping noncom who led the racially and ethnically integrated unit. The series ran 167 issues (May 1963 - Dec. 1981), though with reprints alternating with new stories from issue #80 (September 1970), and only in reprints after issue #120 (July 1974). Following several issues by creators Lee and Kirby, penciller Dick Ayers began his long stint on what would be his signature series; John Severin later joined as inker, forming a long-running, critically acclaimed team. Roy Thomas succeeded Lee as writer, followed by Gary Friedrich, for whom this also became a signature series.

Friedrich began as a co-scripter of issues #42-44 (May-July 1967). The Friedrich-Ayers-Severin team began in earnest, however, with #45 (Aug. 1967), the first of what would be several of the series' "The" stories: "The War Lover" was a shaded exploration of a trigger-happy soldier and the line drawn, even in war, between killing and murder. Daring for the time, when majority public sentiment still supported the undeclared Vietnam War, the story balanced present-day issues while demonstrating that even in what is referred to as "a just war", a larger morality prevails. While war comics at this stage were less overtly jingoistic than in the 1950s, Friedrich's allegorical approach was ahead of movies and television as well, occurring years before M*A*S*H would tread similar ground. Friedrich's story also marked the first time since the early Lee-Kirby Furys that such provocative humanism appeared in a full-length comic-book tale, rather than in the occasional "very special" short stories that represented the preferred length at rival DC Comics. Subsequent "The" stories included "The Assassin", "The Peacemonger", and the un-romanticized AWOL drama "The Deserter" (#75, Feb. 1970), based loosely on the real-life case of WWII Private Eddie Slovik. The story "The Man who Failed" tells how the British member of the squad had wasted an inheritance and was redeeming himself by courage in battle.

Friedrich continued through #83 (Jan. 1971), with the late part of this run having reprint issues between new stories, and again for the even-numbered issues from #94-114 (Jan. 1972 - Nov. 1973).

Sgt. Fury ran concurrently with two other, short-lived Marvel World War II series, Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders (later titled Captain Savage and his Battlefield Raiders), which lasted 19 issues from 1968-1970; and Combat Kelly, which lasted nine issues from 1972-1973. The Howlers guest starred in #6 and #11 of the former series, and #4 of the latter.

Fictional character biographies

Nicholas Joseph Fury was the eldest of three children born to Jack Fury. His father was a United States citizen who enlisted in the United Kingdom's Royal Flying Corps during World War I. Jack had enlisted in 1916 and was stationed in France. Given the rank of lieutenant, he reportedly shot down Baron Manfred von Richthofen early in the Red Baron's flying career, and was a highly decorated combat aviator by the end of the war in 1918.

Discharged after the War, Jack returned home, married an unnamed woman, and became the father of three children. Jack's first wife died when Nick was a very young child; Jack married a second wife, but shortly afterward also died while Nick was in childhood. Nick, probably born in the late 1910s or early 1920s, was followed by Jacob "Jake" Fury (later the supervillain Scorpio, who co-founded the Zodiac cartel), and their sister, Dawn.

All three children grew up in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, New York City, New York. Nick was an amateur boxer. With his friend Red Hargrove, he eventually left the neighborhood to pursue his dreams of adventure, eventually settling on a daring wing-walking act. Their death-defying stunts caught the attention of Lieutenant Samuel "Happy Sam" Sawyer when Fury and Hargrove were training British Commandos in low-level parachuting. Sawyer was serving with the British Commandos in 1940 and underwent training by Fury. Sawyer enlisted them for a special mission in the Netherlands. Nick and Red later joined the U.S. Army, with Fury undergoing basic training under a Sergeant Bass at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Both Fury and Red were stationed at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii when the Imperial Japanese Navy ambushed the base on December 7, 1941, and Red was among the many killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sawyer, now a captain, recruited select U.S. Army Rangers to his "Able" Company. Sawyer assigned Fury the command of the First Attack Squad, nicknamed the "Howling Commandos". They and the Second Attack Squad (the "Maulers", led by Sgt. "Bull" McGiveney with Cpl. "Ricketts" Johnson), and, later, Jim Morita's Nisei squad were stationed in a military base in England to fight specialized missions, primarily but not exclusively in the European Theatre of World War II, eventually going as far afield as the Pacific Theatre, Africa, and, once each, in the Middle East and on the Russian front. Fury fell in love with an English nurse, Pamela Hawley, who died in a bombing raid of London before he could propose to her.

The Howling Commandos' earliest chronological (but not first-published) assignment occurred in the autumn of 1942. They were to recover British rocket scientist Dr. MacMillan from a German military base in occupied Norway. Their success brought the attention of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who incorporated the unit into the British Army with the title of "Commandos".

The Howlers fought against the likes of German General Erwin Rommel and inter-squad bigotry, often in the same story. Antagonists included Baron Strucker, Captain America's nemeses Baron Zemo and the Red Skull (Adolf Hitler's protégé), and other Axis villains. The Howlers encountered Office of Strategic Services agent Reed Richards (later Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) in issue #3 (Sept. 1963), and fought alongside Captain America and Bucky in #13 (Dec. 1964).

They reunited for missions in the Korean War, where Fury received a field promotion to lieutenant, and the Vietnam War, each in a summer-annual special, as well as at a present-day, fictional reunion gala in issue #100 (July 1972).

Bibliography

  • Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-167 (May 1963 - Dec. 1981)
  • Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)
  • Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos King-Size Special #2-7 (1966 - Nov. 1971)

# 5-7 are reprint-only, except for 10-page framing sequence in #6

  • Marvel Masterworks: Sgt. Fury #1 (2006)

Footnotes

References

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