Sgt. Fury and the Howlers. Artist: Jack Kirby.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1963
Creators: Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)
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By 1963, the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had launched a western, at least a …

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… half-dozen superheroes, and enough monsters with goofy names to populate a Japanese island. Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos was their first and only collaboration on a war comic. Reportedly, it was launched just to prove to Marvel Comics publisher Martin Goodman that the Lee/Kirby style could succeed in any genre.

Marvel wasn't publishing any series set in World War II when (with a cover date of May, 1963) Fury debuted, tho they'd done dozens back in the 1950s. But this one had much in common with its predecessors — lots of bullet dodging, grenade lobbing, one-armed machine gunning and that sort of stuff. Still, fans of Thor and The Fantastic Four followed Lee and Kirby to the new title, encouraged by its slogan, "The war mag for people who hate war mags".

Most comics historians think only the war books Harvey Kurtzman edited for EC Comics really fit that description, but maybe there was something to it. It was certainly done in the Lee/Kirby style, with lots more light-hearted banter on the quiet pages than was customary in that grim genre, and a diverse mix of appealing characters. The Howlers were "Dum Dum" Dugan (a hot-tempered, red-headed Irishman), Izzy Cohen (possibly the first action hero in comic books that was definitely Jewish), "Reb" Ralston (an easygoing guy from Kentucky), Dino Manelli (of Italian ancestry, and reminiscent of actor Dean Martin), "Junior" Juniper (an Ivy League college man, and no relation), Gabe Jones (a black man, anachronistically placed in a mostly white unit), and of course, gruff, dedicated, all-American Nick Fury himself. Junior was killed off early on, and replaced by Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton, a bumbershoot-wielding Englishman. Obviously, most started out as stereotypes, but they developed into individuals soon enough.

Another aspect of that style was frequent use of crossovers. Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), who was known by Fantastic Four readers to have seen combat in World War II, turned up in the third issue, and Captain America himself was plastered all over the cover of #13 (December, 1964). It went the other way, too. An older Fury, by then a colonel, helped The Fantastic Four defeat a Hitler-like villain in that group's 21st issue (December, 1963).

That was Fury's only "present day" appearance as his old self, the army guy slowly rising through the ranks. Always on top of the trends, Marvel converted the older version of him into an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., one of those secret yet flamboyant initialized agencies that were so popular in the mid-1960s (cf. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents). But while this was going on in what was then the present, Fury's adventures as a World War II sergeant continued.

Lee and Kirby stayed with Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos only a little over a year. They were followed by many different creative teams, as Marvel treated it like a second-string title, generally assigning it to whoever was available. Nonetheless, Fury was the most successful war comic the company ever published, lasting until 1981 while titles like Combat Kelly, War Is Hell and even the obvious attempted tie-in Capt. Savage & His Leatherneck Raiders came and went. By that time, World War II was about twice as far in the past as it had been when Fury started.

Maybe that has something to do with why it was eventually dropped. Despite typical comic book explanations for his slow aging, there was no use rubbing the readers' noses in the "fact" that a man as active as Colonel Fury the government agent was around so long ago.

Or it may be that there simply isn't any room in today's comic book market for an ongoing series about soldiers in World War II.


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Text ©2002-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.