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 Commander Benson on August 2, 2013 at 5:52am

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

I recall reading---I can't remember where---Stan Lee's going on record as admitting it was a mistake to publish "Commission in Korea" for that very reason:  it undercut much of the drama Sgt. Fury had built up as being a series in which any character could die.  Not only do we see that all of the then-current WWII Howlers survived the war, but Captain---Lieutenant Colonel, in the Korea tale---Sawyer survived, as did Captain Simon "the Skipper" Savage.

 

Since "Commission in Korea" ends with Fury receiving a battlefield promotion to officer status and a caption in the last panel informs the readership that this was the event that started Fury on his rise to the rank of colonel, that he held in his Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, I'm guessing that Stan wrote it to explain Fury's rank in Fantastic Four # 21 and Strange Tales # 135.  And that goal caused him to overlook the fact that he was diluting the drama from the WWII Fury series.

 

Incidentally, "Commission in Korea" is also responsible for another common "But I Always Thought . . . " misconception.  Numerous Fury-related sites cite this tale as the one in which Fury was promoted to colonel.  He was not, of course; he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and had to work his way up the officer ladder.

 

 

Comment by Philip Portelli on August 2, 2013 at 8:09am

Hadn't Dum Dum Duggan and Gabe Jones shown up in SHIELD by the time of the Korean story being published?

Comment by Commander Benson on August 2, 2013 at 9:23am

"Hadn't Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones shown up in SHIELD by the time of the Korean story being published?"

 

It's a near thing, Philip, but I don't believe so.

 

The first then-modern-day appearances of Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents came in Strange Tales # 137 (Oct., 1965).  From the cover date, that issue probably hit the stands sometime in the last two weeks of August, 1965.

 

There is no month attached to the cover date of Sgt. Fury King Size Annual # 1---which carried the story "Commission in Korea".  Simply the year, 1965.  Typically, Marvel released its King Size Annuals in the summer, so Sgt. Fury King Size Annual # 1 might have come out before Strange Tales # 137, but at the latest, it would have been around the same time. 

 

I was unable to track down the actual date when either magazine hit the stands.

 

So I went to my copy of Sgt. Fury King Size Annual # 1 to see if I could find any clues.

 

First, I have to backtrack on a statement I made in my previous post.  The caption tacked on to the last panel of "Commission in Korea", after Fury has been promoted to second lieutenant, does state that this event marked the start of Fury's rise to the rank of colonel.  But it does not mention S.H.I.E.L.D.  It states that Fury was a colonel while assigned to the C.I.A. (as shown in Fantastic Four # 21).

 

So "Commission in Korea" does not, itself, reference S.H.I.E.L.D. or Fury's involvement with it.  This is the first hint that "Commission in Korea" was written before Dugan and Jones were "advanced" to the then-modern day.

 

The last two pages of Sgt. Fury King Size Annual # 1 are full-page advertisements for the then-new "Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." series in Strange Tales.  But it only features the covers of issues # 135 and 136.  That suggests that Strange Tales # 137 was still in the preparation stages.  That's the second hint that Dugan and Jones hadn't appeared in the then-modern day, yet.

 

That's why I believe the answer to your question is, "No, they hadn't." 

 

In fact, it's quite possible that the decision to include former Howlers Dum Dum and Gabe in the S.H.I.E.L.D. series hadn't been made at the time "Commission in Korea" was written.  But once the Korea story was published, and Stan Lee realised that he had just guaranteed that the regular line-up of Howlers would survive World War II, he saw no reason not to include two of them as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

 

And, of course, the third Sgt. Fury King Size Annual, in 1967, saw all of the regular Howlers alive and kicking in the present day---along with now-Major General Sam Sawyer and now-Master Sergeant Bull McGiveney.

Comment by Fraser Sherman on August 2, 2013 at 10:38am

And Dum-Dum and Gabe remain active today, which is a real head-scratcher. It's been established Fury is on an immortality serum, but Marvel consistently portrays the surviving Howlers as just as fit and healthy (there have been fan theories advanced, but nothing in canon, or very convincing). Of course, this is well beyond the scope of this blog.

Comment by Commander Benson on August 2, 2013 at 11:31am

My theory?

The real Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones died decades ago.  (If there's any justice in life, they both passed away peacefully in their sleep at ripe old ages.)

 

The Dugan and Jones that we have seen involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. for the past twenty years or so are advanced LMD's which Fury had made years and years ago, probably not too long after Dugan and Jones joined S.H.I.E.L.D.  And he activated them after his friends died, or got too old or sick to participate in S.H.I.E.L.D. missions.

 

Nobody knows they're LMD's but Fury (and maybe a couple of technos), and nobody in the organisation asks, because---well, if the boss can be so old and still be so relatively youthful, why not his two best buddies?

 

It's Fury's way of dealing with the fact that he'll outlive all of the people he knows and loves.  Deep down, he knows "Dugan" and "Jones" are LMD's.  But they're so lifelike and identical in personality to the real thing---they even retain the memories of the genuine men---that Fury is able to subsume his knowledge of their artificiality and treat them like they were the real Dugan and Jones.  And because they're such perfect copies of the two men, they behave and perform just like the real thing.

 

Fury probably doesn't even think about it; to him, they are the real Dugan and Jones.

 

 

Comment by Philip Portelli on August 2, 2013 at 11:32am

Actually Gabe Jones is dead in the MU. At least, I think he still is! Anyway, he died along side Eric Koenig in Secret Warriors #19 (Au'10). Technically he would have been 90 years old, assuming he was 20 in 1940.

Comment by Commander Benson on August 2, 2013 at 11:57am

I was willing to buy that the former Howlers were still able to go into action as late as their appearance in Captain America # 273-4 (Sep. and Oct., 1982). 

 

They would have all been in their mid-sixties then.  I could rationalise that they were all still in reasonably fit condition as being due to the fact that, after the intense physical training they underwent as commandos, daily rigourous exercise would still be part of their lifestyle.  (Hell, up to the day he died, I would have thought twice about squaring off against Jack LaLanne.  I'm half a foot taller than he was and he probably would have twisted me into a knot.)

 

The part that made me squint a bit was the idea that none of the Howlers contracted a serious debilitating disease.  Or a heart condition or arthritis or any of the other common declines that old age is heir to.

 

I could buy that in 1982.  But as the 1980's gave way to the 1990's, and then the next century, I just couldn't squint that hard.  Time would have caught up to them (except for Fury, of course) eventually---regular vigourous exercise or not.  They should all be dead or incapacitated by extreme old age by now.

 

Of course, Marvel could always come up with some pseudo-scientific miracle that explains their relative good health and longevity.  But I feel, in a way, that's cheating.  The cachet of the Howlers was that they weren't super-heroes; they were just dedicated American soldiers, no different than you or me, had we undergone the same training.  They should remain firmly rooted in reality, or at least, as close to reality as the Marvel universe permits.  Keeping them alive through some sort of alien science/magic spell gimmick takes them out of that reality.

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on August 2, 2013 at 12:27pm

For my part, I just think "Sgt. Fury of the Howling Commandos" is a different character than "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Comment by Andrew Horn on August 2, 2013 at 12:48pm

Well considering the whole Samuel Jackson effect I'd say that we have no other choice :)

Comment by Fraser Sherman on August 2, 2013 at 2:20pm

I remember when DC revived the Blackhawks in the mid-seventies, Hendrickson being older than the rest of the team was a plot point: He gets a heart attack and had the series run on, his daughter was going to take his place.

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