Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cute and Brutish

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #30 (Marvel, May 1966, 12 cents)
"Incident in Italy!" Editing: Stan Lee, Writing: Roy Thomas, Art: Dick Ayers, Delineation: John Tartaglione, Lettering: Sam Rosen.

The character Nick Fury has had a long and prosperous history in the Marvel universe, and this early pre-SHIELD incarnation is a strong bridge between the war comics of the past and the superhero comics—as well as movies and TV—of today. Largely a team book similar to DC's Blackhawk, Fury is accompanied by a group of soldiers as diverse as America itself, including Italian-American Dino Manelli.

This issue finds the Commandos parachuting into Italy to help fight Mussolini and the fascists. They surrender and are taken to a prisoner of war camp, where they meet their contact Major Carlo, a partisan and, as chance would have it, Mussolini's cousin. With the help of the beautiful Sophia, the Commandos plot to appropriate some stolen treasure buried on a farm.

A few Commandos get the spotlight: British Pinkerton gets handy with his umbrella; the southerner Ralston shoots down a dive bomber; and Manelli translates some documents and gets the girl, pledging to cast her in a movie—perhaps Boy on a Dolphin? The issue also features a two-page letter column.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #31 (Marvel, June 1966, 12 cents)
"Into the Jaws of... Death!" Edited: Stan Lee, Written: Roy Thomas, Illustrated: Dick Ayers, Inked: J. Tartaglione, Lettered: Sam Rosen—"so what else is new?"

After training in an underwater obstacle course ("We spend more time in the water than Johnny Weissmueller!"), the Howlers are called on to rescue Captain Sawyer from a Gestapo post in occupied France. There, the SS hopes to persuade Sawyer to reveal information about the Allied plans for Operation Overlord, or D-Day. They do not, and he does not.

Highlights include another opening splash page in which all of the Howlers are represented; the Bob Dobbs-like Sawyer in action ("As a knot-tier, you make a good weinerschnitzel!"); waking up "a bunch'a sleepin' Krauts" upon arrival; and Pinkerton's umbrella, Reb's lasso, and Gabe's trumpet (shades of Baby Snoot!). Ayers's art is still pleasing, if not as impressive as the previous issue, and there's another two-page letter column.

Read Also: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 and #25.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #37 (Marvel, December 1966, 12 cents)
"Into the Desert... to Die!" Editor: Stan Lee, Scripter: Roy Thomas, Artist: Dick Ayers, Inker: John Tartaglione, Letterer: Sam Rosen.

Issues of Sgt. Fury from this time period are wonderful. Each follows a similar structure: They open with a splash page featuring the Howlers, and each end with some post-adventure repartee and a caption setting up the next issue—kind of like Hardy Boys books ending with intertextual references to the next book in the series. They are self-contained examples of solid comic storytelling.

In this issue, the Howlers parachute into the deserts of North Africa to capture the Desert Hawk. (There was even a technical advisor, former paratrooper Johnny Hayes, then Marvel's circulation manager.) They meet Sheila, the Hawk's daughter, after mustachioed Dum Dum Dugan is captured. The Howlers free Dugan and the Hawk himself from an underground bunker.

Page 2 explicitly identifies each Howler, including Eric Koenig, who took the place of Dino Manelli. (Oh, no! What happened to Manelli?) Be sure to look at the way Ayers draws faces and facial expressions. His manner with characters' likenesses is cute and brutish, even when depicting women. A two-page letter column caps the issue.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #38 (Marvel, January 1967, 12 cents)
"This One's for Dino!" Editing: Stan Lee, Script: Roy Thomas, Art: Dick Ayers, Inking: John Tartaglione, Lettering: Bob Agnew.

Phew! Dino's not dead, just elsewhere—and he's written a letter to Fury and the Howlers. Wounded in action, Dino returned to the States, where he's making training films in Hollywood. The surgeon who could perhaps repair his right leg was caught in the blitzkrieg of Denmark and is now held prisoner on the island of Danton in the Baltic. The Howlers go AWOL to rescue him.

This is an issue about proving oneself. Nisei Jim Morita proves Japanese-Americans fight for the US, too. Eric Koenig proves himself as a pilot and Dino's replacement. And Happy Sam proves himself an advocate of the Howlers by supporting their personal—and risky—mission.

There are a couple of excellent artistic elements: Page 4 in its entirety, but especially the first panel; and the fourth panel on page 15.

Read Also: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #35.

Availability: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #30-31 were collected in Marvel Masterworks: Sgt. Fury, Vol. 3. #37-38 were collected in Marvel Masterworks: Sgt. Fury - Volume 4.

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