Wednesday, January 18, 2012

161: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #8

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #8
May 5, 1964

  • Well, this is a first! When Stan needed to come up with a retroactive arch-nemesis for Captain America in Avengers #6, he created Dr. Zemo. (The "Baron" title would come later.) And what better way to show how long this villain has been around than by showing us his beginnings in World War II? You've got to admit that's a pretty cool idea - and even better, both this and the Avengers issue came out on the stands during the very same week of May 5, 1964! That said, despite being the focus of the Howlers' mission this time out, he doesn't actually appear in the story until the last five pages. Fortunately, that doesn't impinge on the issue's success in the slightest, and it's a highly enjoyable tale.

    Zemo's missing his distinctive pink hood; clearly, this adventure
    must predate that terrible glue catastrophe.

  • But there are actually two reasons why this is something of a milestone issue, because the Howling Commandos gain a new member! You may recall that in issue #4, "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh", the Howlers lost one of their own, "Junior" Juniper - a genuinely shocking occurrence for the time. While stationed in England, however, they're joined by British soldier Percival "Percy" Pinkerton, who initially is mocked by other soldiers for his more erudite speech and manners - quite different from the generally gruff, working-class American troops we've seen thus far - but who quickly dispels such doubts with his ability to take down his attackers in no time flat, and otherwise prove himself on the field of battle.

    Introducing Percy.

  • You want controversy? We've got controversy! See, back in 2002, Stan Lee turned some heads when he revealed that he had always written Percy as gay. The times being what they were, and specifically in an artform under the strict scrutiny of the Comics Code Authority, Lee could never make it explicit - or even mildly hinted at, for that matter - but this was (Stan claims) his intention; simply a hidden aspect of Percy's character that informed Stan's writing. And yet, if this was in fact the case, then it was certainly a closely-guarded secret, one that Stan didn't even reveal to Sgt. Fury stalwart Dick Ayers. So what's the answer? Was Stan just making something up in that interview to get attention? Possibly. On the other hand, the Howling Commandos are such an unfamed piece of Marvel lore - absolutely unknown to pretty much every "person on the street" you might wish to ask - that it would be an extremely odd thing to invent. As with so many questions we have about the Silver Age, it's something we may never discover a definitive answer to ... but it's an idea worth keeping in mind, and continuing to wonder about, as we read future issues.

    Whoa!  Don't get this guy angry.

  • Having co-created a damn fine war comic with Stan, Jack Kirby has now left the battlefied, and will return briefly only a couple of times hereafter. A significant factor might be that, starting with this issue, the comic is going monthly! (Was that perhaps more than Jack could give, while juggling his other responsibilities?) Instead, stepping into the breach, as alluded to above, is penciller Dick Ayers. The transition isn't a seamless one - the change in art styles is a bit jarring, at first - but we can assume any wrinkles will be ironed out pretty fast; after all, barring the occasional fill-in, Ayers remain on the series for the remainder of its run, pencilling in total nearly one hundred issues over the next several years! Not a bad record, especially for someone who seems to be close to Jack in terms of enormous output; after all, at this time he's currently drawing the lead features in Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish, as well as the adventures of Two Gun Kid! Like I said: Not bad, not bad at all....

    This is one of three explosions depicted in the story, all of them
    uncluttered by narration or dialogue.  It really helps sell the terror of war.