Deck Log Entry # 160 A Forgotten Gem: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos # 7 (May, 1964) (Part One)

“The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury”

 

Editor and writer:  Stan Lee  Art:  Jack Kirby (pencils), George Roussos (inks)

 

 

It was January, 1963, and Marvel Comics was a title short.

 

Publisher Martin Goodman had ordered the cancellation of The Incredible Hulk after its sixth issue.  The Hulk was one of his editor Stan Lee’s pet characters and Stan argued against giving the Emerald Behemoth the hook.  But Goodman wasn’t listening.

 

The Incredible Hulk wasn’t selling.  At least, not up to Goodman’s standards.  Under the arrangement Marvel had with its distributor, Independent News, it could release only eight titles per month, and Goodman wasn’t going to waste one of those slots on a title that was underperforming.  So The Incredible Hulk was out.  But now, something had to take its place.

 

“What else have you got?” Goodman asked Lee.  The publisher wanted something more along the lines of the traditional super-hero, like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.  Their titles were selling better than he’d had any reason to expect.

 

Stan felt that the distinctive voice he had given to Marvel’s line of comics was being underestimated by his publisher.  That was why The Amazing Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four were doing so well, and not because they were, superficially, super-heroes.

 

Nonsense, said Goodman.  Just give me a super-hero with an adjective like “Amazing” or “Mighty” or “Fantastic” in the title, he insisted, and it will sell.

 

Instead, Stan issued a challenge.

 

“I’ll do a war book with the worst title I can come up with,” he told Goodman, “but if it’s done in the Marvel style, I bet it’ll sell.”

 

Goodman took him up on it.

 

Two months later, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos # 1 hit the stands.

 

 

 

That’s Stan Lee’s story, anyway, and he’s sticking to it.

 

However it came about, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos was supposedly a series depicting the adventures of a squad of American soldiers in World War II.  But, truth to tell, for the first several issues, at least, it came off as something closer to what Martin Goodman wanted.   Fury and the Howlers seemed less like G.I.’s and more like super-heroes in khaki.

 

In terms of characters, Lee certainly didn’t win any points for originality.  They were straight out of every WWII movie since the ‘40’s.  The growling, hard-as-nails sergeant and a squad from central casting, with the names Dugan, Cohen, Manelli, Ralston (a southerner), Jones (a black man), and Junior (the youngster).

 

And for them, World War II was a romp.  And there was no reason why it shouldn’t have been. Nothing was more than a minor inconvenience to the Howlers.  A Luftwaffe plane shooting at them?  Dugan blows it up with a hand grenade.  Panzer in their way?  Izzy explodes it with a burst of gunfire.  Entire platoons of German soldiers were mowed down by their seven Thompson sub-machine guns.  Probably because they were the Hollywood kind that never ran out of ammo.

 

Fury and his men certainly had a good time.  When they weren’t barking at each other, the commandos tossed off jokes and wisecracks like they were starring in a prime-time sitcom.  The Howlers could afford to kid around.  They didn’t have a whole lot to worry about.

 

No matter how much German lead was fired at them, it magically missed or, at worst, inflicted an impotent “just a scratch” wound.  Bursting shells shredded their clothing, but never flesh.  Brutal hand-to-hand combat never left the Howlers with anything worse than torn shirts and bruised knuckles.  Bayonet jabs always missed vital organs and arteries.

 

In one issue, Fury’s C.O., Captain Sawyer, sends the Howlers to North Africa.

 

“Me and the Howlers against Rommel’s whole blamed desert army?” Fury replies.  “Now you’re talking my language, Cap!  Do you want me to take the whole squad, or do you want me to leave half of ‘em here---in case you wanna mop up all of Germany with ‘em?”

 

From what the readers had seen the Howlers do so far, it wasn't that crazy of an idea.  You had to wonder why Captain Sawyer didn't just point the wisecracking super-commandos towards Berlin and let them howl their way straight into Hitler’s bunker.

 

 

 

As fans of DC’s Sergeant Rock are quick to point out, it was impossible to take Sgt. Fury seriously.  At the time, the charge was undeniable.   Yet, there were indications that Stan Lee realised that he had gone over the top with his “war mag for people who hate war mags.”  He had to reduce the farcical nature of the series and one of the ways he did that was with the script that saw print in the seventh issue, in a story titled “The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury”.

 

It’s a tale that is anything but a farce.  There’s no way to know that right off, though, because it kicks off with the usual Howler heroics for the first three or four pages, as our boys wind up a mission already in progress.  Instead of heading for home, though, Fury is handed orders assigning the squad to join up with a section of the French Underground commanded by a U.S. Army first lieutenant.

 

The name of the officer in charge---Spencer Parker---gives Fury pause.

 

"Say, could that be ol' 'Skinny' Parker, who I went to school with?" he wonders.  The grizzled sergeant smiles at the memory.  Skinny Parker was that one kid in every class who raises his hand on a Friday afternoon and says, “Teacher, you forgot to give us our homework.”

 

Here, the reader gets an inkling that maybe this Sgt. Fury tale will be a little different.

 

When the Howlers reach the rendezvous point, Fury discovers that, yes, indeed, the first looey is ol’ Skinny Parker from P.S. 138.  The hard-bitten non-com and the austere, patrician Parker get along no better now than they did as boys.  Except that now, Parker is an officer in the United States Army, and Fury has to endure his starchiness.

 

The mission, Parker explains, is to blow up a German ammo depot a half-mile away, and he expects Fury and his men to follow his orders to the letter.

 

When they reach their target, Parker distributes his force among the concealment of hedgerows with the intention of making a surprise assault.  There are no German soldiers in sight, and when the veteran Howlers suggest to Parker that something isn’t right, he waves it off.

 

It means something to Fury, though.  Just as Parker is about to give the order to attack, Nick restrains him.  Before the Howler ramrod can explain, Parker shoves him aside.  The two men grapple for a moment, then Parker orders the men to assault the depot.

 

Fury decks him with a right cross!

 

Nick countermands the attack and orders the men to take cover.  Unfortunately, a passing Messerschmitt has spotted the commotion from the air and drops its single-bomb payload on the frantically diving soldiers.  The bomb explodes, and Fury, the only one still on his feet, bears the brunt of the blast.

 

 

 

Days later, Fury awakens in the base infirmary in England.  Besides the usual starched sheets and bedpans, he sees something not so usual has been added to his hospital room---a couple of burly military policemen, manning the door.

 

Captain Sawyer informs Fury that he’s under arrest.  And the charges are serious.  Striking a superior officer.  Refusal to obey a direct order.  They’re even considering cowardice under fire.

 

The kind of offences that, if convicted, put you on the wrong side of a firing squad.

 

“Why’d you do it, Nick?” demands Sawyer.

 

Fury searches his memory---and comes up blank.

 

“I---I can’t remember any of it!” he replies.

 

 

Now, the reader knows this is going to be a different kind of Sgt. Fury story.

 

A week later, Fury is well enough to stand trial and the court-martial begins.  The prosecution calls its first witness, First Lieutenant Spencer Parker.

 

After Lieutenant Parker recounts the events of the ill-fated mission, the prosecutor asks him to detail his boyhood history with Sergeant Fury.  They grew up in the same neighbourhood, Parker relates, so they knew each other, but they were never friends.  He characterises the young Nick Fury as a hot-tempered brawler from the wrong side of the tracks.  And, yes, they’d had a few run-ins.

 

The prosecutor suggests that, perhaps, the reason for Fury’s actions on the mission was that he has held a grudge against Parker since their youth.  The defense objects and it’s sustained, but the damage is done.

 

On cross-examination, Fury’s lawyer asks Lieutenant Parker one simple question . . . .

 

“But that has nothing to do with it!” protests Parker.  “Maybe I’m not the swashbuckling hero that he is, but I was doing my job!  I was leading my men, carrying out my orders!  Because of him, the mission failed!”

 

Inwardly, Fury agrees.  Being privy to his thoughts, we know that Nick isn’t faking amnesia; he truly cannot remember his actions, nor the reason for them.  But the fact of it agonises him.  He knows Parker isn’t lying.  Fury did what they all say he did, but there’s no justification for striking Parker or refusing to obey his orders.

 

After questioning the medical people who treated Fury’s injuries, the prosecution rests.

 

Fury’s lawyer shifts uncomfortably in his chair.  It looks as bad as it can get for his client and he tells Nick as much.  No matter who he calls to the stand or what questions he asks, they have no valid defence.

* * * * *

 

 

This is a good point to recess the proceedings until the next Entry, when we learn the verdict in the case of The United States Army v. Sergeant Nicholas Fury.

Views: 1266

Comment by Philip Portelli on August 1, 2013 at 10:15am

Still, the amnesia bit is a comic book, TV and movie staple.

I have the Essential Sgt. Fury here but I'm refraining from reading the ending now as I enjoy your Deck Logs too much to spoil your follow-up!

Comment by Commander Benson on August 1, 2013 at 10:21am

Actually, Philip, I expected most of my readers to know how the situation turns out.  (Those that don't get the bonus of learning it.)  What I was aiming for is the discussion that (I hope) results from my analysis of the story.

 

 

Comment by Commander Benson on August 1, 2013 at 10:26am

And, yeah, the amnesia bit is a common trope.  Benson's Law of Popular Television states that, if a television series runs long enough, four things will happen to the hero.

 

There will be an episode in which:

 

1.  He develops amnesia.

 

2.  He is rendered temporarily blind.

 

3.  He encounters an evil double.

 

4.  He is falsely accused of a capital crime---usually murder.

 

At least in the case of "The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury", Fury doesn't suffer total amnesia, which in real life is rarer than hen's teeth.  Having the bomb blast drop a curtain over the events which took place immediately before it is, at least, plausible.

Comment by Philip Portelli on August 1, 2013 at 12:33pm

Two out of four ain't bad!

And he does lose sight in one eye eventually!

And Captain Kirk got three out of four, though it's Spock that went blind once!

Comment by Fraser Sherman on August 1, 2013 at 12:57pm

I know Fury lost the eye in Korea. Did they ever give the backstory?

Comment by Commander Benson on August 1, 2013 at 1:38pm

Actually, Mr.  Sherman, Fury didn't lose his left eye in Korea.  In fact, technically, he never lost it at all.

 

The origin of the eyepatch that Fury started wearing in Strange Tales # 135 (Aug., 1965) stems from his World War II adventures.  The story was told specifically in "Fury Fights Alone", from Sgt. Fury # 27 (Feb., 1966).

 

Early in this tale, a German-thrown hand grenade explodes close to Fury's head, injuring his left eye.  At the end of the story, after Fury returns to England, he is examined by the base physicians.  Their examination reveals that shrapnel from the grenade drove a bone chip from his right zygomatic arch into his right optic nerve (which crosses over from the left eyeball to the right side of the brain). 

 

The oedima caused by the initial injury has subsided, restoring Fury's vision in his left eye to normal.  However, the doctors tell him, the bone chip imbedded in his optic nerve will eventually cause further damage---it could be next week or it could be in twenty years; there's no way to know.  The doctors propose an operation to remove the bone chip, thus eliminating its threat to the sight in his left eye.  But it would take Fury out of the war for at least a year, while he convalesces.

 

Not willing to leave the war effort or abandon his Howlers, Fury refuses the operation.

 

It would be a little over twenty years later when that bone chip worked its way deeper into Fury's optic nerve, nearly severing it, and destroying 95% of the vision in Fury's left eye.  A handy footnote on the last panel informs the readers that this occurred between Fury's appearances in Fantastic Four # 21 (Dec., 1963) and Strange Tales # 135---where he was first seen wearing the patch.

 

Hope this helps.

Comment by doc photo on August 1, 2013 at 1:38pm

Had to chuckle at Benson's Law of Popular Television - mainly because you are right on the money. One of my all time favorite TV adventure shows was Wild, Wild West which I have been re-watching on DVD. I am about three quarters of the way through the second season and I think Jim West has already suffered through all four of the "Laws".

Comment by Fraser Sherman on August 1, 2013 at 2:04pm

I figured if the story was covered, you'd know it Commander, thanks (if I actually read "Korean War" somewhere it was obviously incorrect).

Comment by Richard Willis on August 1, 2013 at 3:10pm

Strange Tales #135 (first eyepatch) was cover dated AUG65, So it was probably on sale in May or June of that year. Sgt. Fury Annual #1, which had the Howlers in the Korean War*. It was on sale some time in the Summer of 1965. This is probably where the confusion started. Since they had shown Fury patch-less in the Korean War, and had also shown him as a patch-less CIA agent in Fantastic Four #21 (DEC63), which was set in 1963. These appearances are why they came up with the delayed blindness in Sgt. Fury #27 (FEB66).

*This also served to remove any possibility that any other Howlers died in WWII, since they were all shown alive in the Korean War.

Fraser Sherman said:

I figured if the story was covered, you'd know it Commander, thanks (if I actually read "Korean War" somewhere it was obviously incorrect).

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on August 1, 2013 at 10:46pm

Commander Benson said:

As fans of DC’s Sergeant Rock are quick to point out, it was impossible to take Sgt. Fury seriously.

 

As a fan of DC's Sergeant Rock, I feel duty-bound to point out that it's impossible to take Sgt. Fury seriously.

 

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

One thought, isn't the tough experienced sergeant and a the in-experienced Lt. another war movie staple?

 

It's also been the basis of more than a couple Sgt. Rock stories, too.

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