FURIOUSLY WAHOOIN' AFTER 40
By Jason Versaggi
Now which one of you goldbrick yahoos can tell me who is one of the most underrated characters ever to come out of the Silver Age let alone this man's army? Aww you yardbirds a'gotta be kiddin me, it's none other than Mrs. Fury's boy Nicholas. Sgt. Fury to you non coms. From a collectible standpoint, Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos offers a unique challenge. It was one of the best written and drawn titles throughout its run, yet had to play second class citizen to the already Hall Of Fame roster Stan Lee et al put together at Marvel in the company's Silver Age heyday. In a lineup that already featured Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil, The Avengers, Thor and Antman, Sgt. Fury was still in good standing even if it meant he had to bat second cleanup. As Fury & The Howlers enjoy their 40th birthday, let's take a closer look at one of the brightest creations from the House of Ideas. Who knows? With Marvel's string of hit movies, the silver screen could be the next stop for the Silver Age Sarge. If Dolph Lundgren's Punisher could be updated to Thomas Jane, can David Hasselhoff's Nick Fury successor be that hard to find?
Collectors have begun to realize the significance of Nick Fury's role in the Marvel Universe. He is one of the most prominent characters Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ever created, especially considering he has no super powers. He enjoyed success appearing in two titles at the same time while readers thrilled to his exploits both past and present. The only other character with that accomplishment on his resume is Superman, who was both the Man and Boy of Steel simultaneously. Loyal Marvelites could read about World War II's most irascible Sarge and his Howlers and get to see what ol' Nick was like all "growed up" and polished as master of espionage: Nick Fury AGent of SHIELD. Nick Fury was a one-man genre-bashing machine. He satisfied Marvel's war book quota and allowed Marvel to compete with Sgt. Rock of the Distinguished Competition, and then he graduated into the more up-to-date and sophisticated spy thriller genre. He enabled Marvel to bridge the eras from 1950's war book to late 60's spy craze that evolved with the advent of James Bond. Fury was an amalgamation of the men who created him, as both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby drew on their own military service during World War II to infuse Fury's adventures with realism and honor while still retaining that Marvel wit. It was a formula familiar in Marvel's super-hero books, but was an innovative instrument in a war book.
King Kirby once said: "There was reality in the stories because of my own war experiences. Sgt. Fury had the essence of military life in it."
The creation of one of the most cutting edge and socially fashion-forward war mags of it's time nearly didn't happen as most Marvel lore goes. It was just meant to be. Legend has it that Stan Lee was trying to prove he and his creative team had the right stuff to make the Marvel formula work in any genre no matter what. Well, his Timely/Atlas/Marvel publisher, boss -- and uncle -- Martin Goodman challenged him to put his theory to the test. All Stan Lee did was create the least topical book, a World War II in 1963 and saddle it with the worst title he could come up with. Much to the satisfaction of Mr. Goodman, Marvel's dynamic duo of Stan and Jack had another hit on their hands. The cast of characters they created and crafted (they only worked together on a a mind-boggling scant 8 issues of #1-7 and #13) were so solid that the comic became the most successful war comic the publisher put out under any of it's identities. Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos began its run in May of 1963 and didn't conclude until 1981 - two decades later. But the early days saw tremendous work done by the creative teams and established several Marvel firsts. Howler Gabriel Jones was the first black hero in the Marvel Universe. At a time in this country when civil rights tension was mounting, Marvel was ahead of the curve again by cultivating its ethnically diverse group of supporting characters for Fury to perpetually chew out. Just about every reader could relate to someone amongst the group: Dum Dum Dugan the redheaded Irishman. Dino Manelli, the Italian actor. Izzy Cohen, the first Jewish hero in comics. Southerner Reb Ralston. The bumbershoot brandishing Brit Percy Pinkerton and jazz trumpeter turned bugler Gabriel Jones. Although he was not a super-hero like one of Stan and Jack's other creations - the Black Panther - Gabriel Jones was an integral part of the team Stan and Jack tried to model after the Fantastic Four. By making the group much like a family, the readers developed deeper connections to the characters and saw the creators own war experiences coming through in their work. The camaraderie shared by the men who fought in World War II would make them as much of a family as the readers' if not moreso. This continued on with the new Marvel tradition of making its heroes real. Sgt. Fury #4 saw the death of one of the Howlers - Junior Juniper - and this marked the first time a Marvel hero died in a time when comic book heroes never died. Even the love interest (often played out with games of hard-to-get in the hero books), suffered a tragic fate as Pamela Hawley - who was the Sarge's gal - was killed in Sgt. Fury #18. Although it would seem realistic to expect casualties among those who associated with each other in war torn Europe, the reader would never expect to see the hero's girlfriend get killed off.
Possibly the most overlooked book in the whole run and perhaps the least appreciated comic in all of the Silver Age was Stan and Jack's final collaboration on the title in issue #13. Sgt. Fury #13 has slowly begun to become recognized as a very hard-to-find-in-high-grade issue of significance, as it is an early Silver Age Captain America appearance. It can be argued that it is far more than that. While Avengers #4 is the recognized first Silver Age appearance of Captain America, Sgt. Fury is both the first appearance of the Golden Age Captain America in the Silver Age and the first Silver Age appearance of the Golden Age Bucky. If collectors looked to the numerous notations of DC's Golden Age heroes first appearances in the Silver Age and the popularity those books have attained, why haven't collectors caught on that this book should be the granddaddy of them all? Captain America is one of the most important comic book characters of all time and his appearance here working side by side with Fury and the Howlers is the first Golden Age Captain America story told in the Silver Age. It completely transgressed Cap's reemergence in the mid 50's to fight communism and hearkened back to the early 40's when Cap was a Nazi bustin' super-patriot. A true collector's item classic if there ever was one.
Besides Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, some other giants of the Silver Age contributed their talents to the character. Dick Ayers took over for Jack Kirby for a long stint, and his style never looked more tailor-made for a book. John Severin, who recently came back into the limelight with his great artwork on Marvel's controversial Rawhide Kid revival, elevated Fury and Co. to a grittier style and could take you into the mind of a character through his skill at drawing facial expressions and eyes like none other. Lee and Kirby, however, defined Fury's Universe, much like they did for nearly the entire Marvel Universe. This truly great and ground-breaking series deserves its place in the hallowed Marvel Hall Of Fame. The Sarge has definitely earned his stripes.
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SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS
NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD
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