Thursday, June 9, 2011

145: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #7

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #7
March 3, 1964

  • It's sad to say, but this is Kirby's last issue as regular penciller for the title. Against all odds, he & Stan have created a war comic that's a successful blend of action, humor and pathos - but now, it seems, it's time for him to move on. And so we ask: What prompted this? Was it dissatisfaction with the work? Did it not appeal to him as much as the bombastic and over-the-top cosmic stories starring characters like the Fantastic Four and Thor? Were his talents just being spread too thin? As it happens, the true answer may be that he was simply a victim of his & Stan's own success on the title - as, beginning with the very next issue, the comic will finally go monthly! And while Jack was a veritable speed demon on art, an additional monthly comic might have been more than even he could handle, in a way which a bimonthly one was not.

    Fury strikes.

  • Oddly enough, this farewell story for Jack is one that doesn't play to his typical strengths of wall-to-wall action, but is at its heart a quieter, more cerebral story. One night, while Fury and his Howlers are on a mission with the French underground to destroy a strategic ammo dump, all hell breaks loose. Nick suddenly has an unexplained change of heart, yells that they have to stop, and strikes his accompanying superior officer to make his point. This, as the cover indicates, is all that's needed to get Fury court-martialed - but since a bomb struck the company amidst the chaos, leaving him concussed and with a case of amnesia, he can't remember why, and thus has no defense!

    I like the creativity found in the visual storytelling above; remove all
    the dialogue and you'd still have a scene that's distinctive and clear.

  • In an interesting move, this story thus becomes more a courtroom drama than the "stealth missions and gunfire" war comic we've come to expect. The departure is a welcome one, however, and is done with both distinction and subtlety. For instance, the prosecuting officer actually seems a decent guy, and although he believes Fury is guilty, he genuinely forgives Nick's emotional outbursts. Quite different from the underhanded prosecutors we often see cast in this role! The highlight of the issue, though, comes from the character witnesses called upon, who give us our very first glimpse of Nick's youth as a troubled young orphan in (we can surmise) the 1920s.

    To no one's surprise, Fury was a scrapper even in his teens.

  • In fact, the only downside to the story comes in the resolution. As mentioned, Fury's case is made nearly impossible by the fact of his amnesia - a plot device eye-rollingly convenient even in the best of times. But, as the clock ticks closer to his conviction, and German air forces converge on the site of the court martial, we wonder: What did Nick know? How will it come out? Had the ammo stock the Howlers were to target been sabotaged by Allied forces, designed to destroy the Nazi fighters at the time of use? Will the natural progress of events show Nick to be vindicated, in the proverbial nick of time? Sadly, the answer is no. Instead, the court is caught in the blast of some German bombers, and Nick's poor head - jarred for a second time - dislodges the amnesia, providing him once more with the answer he needs. Y'know, once was convenient enough. Twice in the same story though? That's the kind of cheap ploy usually seen only in cartoons - and it has the unfortunate effect of reducing this otherwise compelling story to the level of one.

    This unusually serious tale still manages the rare moment of comedy.