Thursday, December 30, 2010

99: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #4

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #4
September 4, 1963

  • "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh". Dumb title, right? Sounds like exactly the kind of hyperbolic, over-the-top villain name that Stan has been coming up from the beginning. Only one difference: This bad guy was based in true fact. From 1939 to 1945, an English-speaking radio broadcaster - derisively dubbed "Lord Haw-Haw" by the British press - spouted Nazi propaganda on the German airwaves, which was then transmitted to other shores until the last days of the war. And yet he peppered his broadcasts with nuggets of otherwise accurate information, one of the only sources providing reports on attacks and movements in Germany and behind enemy lines. As a result, Lord Haw-Haw was able to use this steady trickle of information as incentive for Allied forces to listen to these broadcasts, where the mocking tone and carefully laid disinformation could demoralize the troops and crush their spirits.

    Nazi lies.

  • In this fictionalized version, Lord Ha-Ha is the brother of Pamela Hawley, a Red Cross worker who Fury meets in London during a bombing. Her father, Lord Hawley, is convinced that his son is being forced to make these broadcasts against his will, and thus enlists the Howling Commandos to liberate him from the Nazis and thus win the Allied forces a significant propaganda victory. Sadly, by the tale's end it turns out that Haw-Haw is a traitor, does believe in the Third Reich ... and is yet mistakenly killed by his own side, the Nazis, while trying to escape the Howlers' custody. The demoralizing broadcasts may have been silenced, but Lord Hawley and Pamela have lost a brother and son - and to them it's a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

    Circus antics.

  • Marking this as still a transitional issue, however, is the fact that even amidst the story's pathos there's yet room enough for Howling hilarity. On the outskirts of Berlin, the Commandos come across their contact, a female lion trainer, whom they meet while she's chasing her escaped lion. Yes, really. And her circus is to be their base of operations! Oddly, this ridiculous setting only lasts a few pages: just one of those bizarre occurrences the Howlers have to deal with in the pursuit of their goal.

    Tragic loss.

  • But all of this pales before the event that makes this issue so memorable: the death of Howling Commando "Junior" Juniper. While such a thing might not be too surprising today, in the relatively lightweight comics of the 1960s the death of a major character was something that just didn't happen. And as Fury dourly points out at the end, they lost two men that day - "Junior" Juniper and Pamela's brother. Not to put too fine a point on it, this changes things: What had previously been an unrealistic, over-the-top comic full of wa-hoo action divorced from reality, would forevermore be tinged with at least a sense of grim consequence and stark realism. In this as in other ways we've seen, the comics were gaining a maturity never before seen....

    Downer ending.