Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paneled Goods: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos

Did you watch Agent Carter last week? Peggy Carter and her Strategic Scientific Reserve cohorts head overseas and meet up with her World War II buddies the Howling Commandos. It was a pretty violent episode showing the Russian Black Widow program turning young girls into sleeper assassins. You had neck breaking, a little girl stabbing a dude in the chest and several people getting wasted on the mission. Neal McDonough reprises his role as Corporal Dum-Dum Dugan along with comic book staples Junior Juniper, Pinky Pinkerton and Happy Sam Sawyer. It kind of bothers me that they pronounce his name Doo-gan versus Duh-gun since it's Duhm-Duhm, right? Goes with that double alliteration motif Snazzy Stan Lee and Jumping Jack Kirby were always pulling in the 60's. In the comics, Happy Sam Sawyer is their screaming Commanding Officer but like Nick Fury in the movies, he's been turned from a white guy to a black guy.

Being a comic book reader and World War II studier, I always dug Marvel's Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos' mix of action, humor, tough brotherly love and globe trotting adventure. DC's Sgt. Rock was a little bit more grounded and "realistic" just following the battle weary company on one mission in drab Europe to another. Square jawed, cigar chomping, no nonsense Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos were always being sent deep into enemy territory to rescue somebody or on a suicide mission to destroy the latest weapon of mass destruction all while having ridiculous personalities and spouting blowhard banter then getting into bar fights in their free time. The series took some risks for the time like killing off a member of the team in only the 4th issue, having Fury's lady friend get killed and being racially integrated with black, Italian and a Japanese member. There was also some goofy stuff like the Nazi's forming their version of the Commandos with Aryan counterparts or Percival "Pinky" Pinkteron carrying around a useful umbrella and Gabriel Jones tooting a trumpet during battle. What makes it fun to read is it's sense of adventure and derring-do that only 1960's Marvel could offer. Where else could you see an elite unit of Commandos attacking a castle to fight a Doctor with a Death Ray or team up with Captain America and Bucky?

Reading through some loose issues I picked up at Cons and some I have digitally, there's not many dull moments as the Commandos rescue a Czechoslovakian scientists family so he'll keep working with the Allies, stop a counterfeiting operation that could jeopardize D-Day, attack a Japanese base to rescue one of their own, take on Baron Strucker's Blitzkrieg Squad and much more. There's big action sequences with machine guns, grenades and explosions on the battlefield along with rough and tumble bar room fights with faces being slammed into walls, heads shoved into lights, bodies being thrown out windows and knuckle sandwiches galore. It's also non-stop banter and one liners with these guys. Plenty of "Shaddup!" and insults like "Wooly-Faced Water Moccasin" and "over-fed chowderheads". Some of the more memorable core team is made up of "mother hen" Corporal Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan, a former circus strongman with a penchant for bowler hats and a striped undershirt. Private Gabriel Jones is a black, trumpet playing musician who gets shrapnel to the leg a lot while Private Dino Manelli is an Italian immigrant turned Hollywood movie star who enlists to pay back the land of opportunity. Then you have southern accented Robert "Rebel" Ralston who does a lot of the Howling in the form of "Wah-hoo!" and Percival "Pinky" Pinkerton, a British replacement for the killed in action Junior Juniper, who sports an ascot, glasses and red beret along with his umbrella and penchant for saying "ruddy" all the time.

While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started on the comic in 1963, Dick Ayers would pencil 95 issues over 10 years with Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich taking over scripting duties after Lee left to focus on the superhero books. All in the series ran for 167 issues from 1963 to 1981 but after 1970, original stories alternated with reprints and after '74 it was strictly reprints. So with my copies being reprints we get a surprising amount of ads for bodybuilding from the likes of Charles Atlas and Joe Weider along with the always awesome Hostess comic strips where Spider-Man "Spoils a Snatch" and catches a flying thief with the power of Delicious Hostess Cup Cakes with irresistible creamed filling and moist devil's food cake!

"Hold still, pal! This'll only hurt a minute! "Nothin' personal about this, understand? I just hate the sight of ya!" "Heads up, old bean!" "Pardon mah Boot suh! WAH-HOO!" "Okay Hans, take five!" all followed by assorted punching, kicking and kayoing! See ya next time, ya bunch of clown apes!

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