Tuesday, April 12, 2011

128: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #6

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #6
January 3, 1964

  • Featuring the Desert Fox - General Rommel! Seriously. For the most part, the issues thus far have only used the setting of World War II as a general backdrop, using fictional analogues rather than historical persons, and generally avoiding famous names or conflicts. So when the Howlers receive a mission to take down Rommel's forces, it's almost as massive as being tasked to Hitler himself! Though the folks at the Marvel Wiki do point out that this makes the chronology a bit wonky, since D-Day (June 6, 1944) occurred at the end of issue #1, and Rommel was long gone from Africa by that point. (And this story can't be a flashback, as it opens with Fury on his way towards a date with Pamela Hawley.) We'll simply have to assume that the particular events of World War II took a slightly different course in the Marvel Universe than they did in our own....

    Kids: Don't try this at home.

  • Since this is such an unusually important mission, the Commandos are sent through an extra bout of training maneuvers to ensure they're in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, it's during these exercises that Dino Manelli's 'chute fails to open during a drop! The Sarge manages to save him through nimble flying of his own, but Dino's rough landing still takes him out of commission. Instead the Howlers receive a new recruit by the name of Stonewell, an arrogant and standoffish soldier who is fluent in German and reacts with disgust upon meeting the Jewish Izzy Cohen and the African-American Gabriel Jones. Has a Nazi agent somehow infiltrated their ranks?! Nope - he's just your standard, garden-variety bigot.

    The vastness of this sight, occurring at the top of a hill
    (and a newly-turned page), is effectively jaw-dropping.

  • One of the noteable things about this story is its unusual realism - for just as every medical drama can't possibly end with the survival of the patient, so too would it be ludicrous for Fury's team to complete every mission. In this particular case, the idea of taking out Rommel had sounded unlikely enough - but when the General's forces finally come into view, the epic scale of their camp make it clear that it's not remotely possible! Fortunately, the Howlers' narrow escape is for the best, as US forces had been trying to catch up with them to call it off; turns out there's an assassination plot against Hitler in the works, and Rommel is one of their key men....

    Note how unbothered Gabe is by Stonewell's contempt.  In the struggles he's faced
    in this terrible war, someone like that's just not worth his time.

  • And so, at the end of their ill-fated, frankly impossible and quickly aborted adventure, the unwelcome Stonewell takes his leave of the Howling Commandos. He and Izzy had been through a trial by fire at Rommel's camp, yet he still gives his erstwhile teammates the cold shoulder as he departs. It's a remarkably subtle bit of storytelling on Stan's part, as the character doesn't receive the dramatic turnaround in attitude we expect ("Forgive me, brave men -- I was wrong!!", etc.); yet neither does he perish in a blaze-of-glory sacrifice, unrepentant or redeemed. Instead, he heads back to whence he come - though there are signs that his attitudes may be softening by this stint, if only now by small degrees.

    A surprisingly nuanced message: Racism and hate can be fought, and
    progress made - but the changes to men's minds are gradual indeed.