Contents: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) to #23 (October 1965); and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #1 (1965)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, and others
Key First Appearances: Nicholas “Nick” Fury, Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan, Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, Dino Manelli, Robert “Reb” Ralston, Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer, Pamela Hawley, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, Bull McGiveney, Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Captain Savage
Overview: Following the United States entry into World War II, the First Attack Squadron runs the missions that no one else wants to take. Whether it’s dropping into the Nazi territory, tracking down a Resistance spy, or conducting a daring rescue, Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos are the go-to squad for Captain Sam Sawyer. Wahoo!!
Nick Fury leads a rag-tag group of men into battle each issue, whether they are fighting in Europe, Northern Africa, or even the Pacific Islands. While Fury’s crew does not go after Adolf Hitler every month, they do attract a Nazi rival in Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad, a team specifically assembled to stop the Commandos.
The Commandos are not on call 24/7, so they do get some leave time to go to London to relax and unwind. Fury even finds time to find the first love of his life, Pamela Hawley. She makes Fury more human and provides a reminder to Nick for what they are fighting for in Europe.
What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting book to look at and consider its merits. At the time this book started, the Marvel Age was growing by leaps and bounds. Already the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Iron Man have been introduced with hints that they are all part of the same universe. Later in 1963, we would get Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, So for Stan Lee & Jack Kirby to introduce a war book, at a time when Marvel was limited to publishing just eight titles per month, this seems like a strange move to make. Maybe Marvel wanted to keep a war comic on the racks just to stay competitive with the Distinguished Competition.
In terms of Sgt. Fury, this group of characters works well together. As with any of the ongoing war comics, you need to be less critical of the time line, knowing that the U.S. troops had a small window to be fighting in Europe. While Kirby’s art is stellar, I really believe the true hero of this book is Dick Ayers, whose art really shines in this book. The characters become more unique and distinct when lined up together. The stories are a mixed bag – Lee drops in too many anachronisms – but this is worth the read just for the art.
Meet the Commandos: In addition to Sgt Fury, the other members of the First Attack Squadron include:
- Corporal Dum Dum Dugan serves as Fury’s right-hand man in the trenches and on furlough. Dugan lives for battle, preferring war to spending time at home with his wife and mother-in-law.
- Private Izzy Cohen is the mechanic and explosives expert for the squadron.
- Private Gabe Jones is an African-American serving in an integrated unit. In reality, the U.S. armed forces were not integrated until President Truman signed the orders in 1948.
- Private Dino Manelli is a movie actor modeled after Dean Martin. Being fluent in both Italian and German, Dino is often sent on missions to impersonate Axis soldiers.
- Private Reb Ralston is an ex-jockey from Kentucky and an avid poker player.
- Private Junior Juniper was killed in action in just issue #4. It added a sense of realism to the book, that any of them were expendable. (However, given how many of the Commandos were also appearing in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., readers would know which ones were safe going forward.)
- Private Pinky Pinkerton is a British soldier attached to the squadron to replace Juniper. Much like Dino was a stand-in for Dean Martin, Pinky is a stand-in for David Niven.
Footnotes: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos ran for 167 issues. Beginning with issue #80, the even-numbered issues featured a reprinted story, while the odd-numbered issues featured a new story. With issue #120, the series only reprinted stories and did not create any new stories. The title ended with issue #167 (December 1981).
If you like this volume, try: the Secret Warriors series from 2009 to 2011. Spinning out of the Dark Reign events, Nick Fury has created new teams within S.H.I.E.L.D. to respond to threats. These are various individuals with some kind of powers, such as Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake. The Secret Warriors team takes on those covert missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot publicly handle. Many of the concepts here have been incorporated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv series. One of the story-arcs in the Secret Warriors series was The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos, which can be found in issues #17-#19, and involved many of the surviving Commandos reuniting for a dinner. This was such a well-done series from Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman.