‘Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos’: Reviewing A Rugged Retcon

Most mighty Marvelites have seen Nick Fury before. His appearances in several MCU films and on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ensured his reputation as one of Marvel’s hardest working heroes. But, although Samuel L. Jackson‘s portrayal of Nick Fury is always fun to watch, this article refers to the original Nick Fury as portrayed in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby‘s classic run on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a grisly portrayal of life in the US Army … with superheroes!

Before we begin, though, let’s …

Sgt. Fury
The Howling Commandos getting a rare bit of R&R

Although the team changes a bit over the years, this is the original lineup of the Howling Commandos. And, what a lineup! Although not a complete cross-section of American men of the time, with a Jewish machine gunner, an African-American bugler, an Italian movie star, and a diminutive southerner in their company, this group acts as a nod to some of the cultures that made the US what it was in the ’40s.

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But, if you thought Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was only a war comic, you thought wrong. The commandos have more than one run-in with super-powered folks, including the poster boys for patriotism Captain America & Bucky. That’s a story for a different day, though. Today I’m reviewing the first story-line from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (cover date May, 1963), “Seven Against The Nazis!”

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos: “Seven Against The Nazis!” – Comparable Series

As I said in another review, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos is similar to Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins‘s run on The Invaders. The subject matter is a bit different though: whereas Captain America and his team of Invaders use their superior brawn and super-powers to deal with villains, Sgt. Fury and his men must rely on their wits, determination, and a lot of ammo to keep them alive. But, the spirit in which the stories are told is similar: war is Hell so we need heroes, super-powered or not, to protect us from despotism.

Also unlike The Invaders and most other superhero story-lines, Fury and his men are a group of reluctant heroes. They’re continually called upon by their Executive Officer, the ironically named “Happy Sam” Sawyer, to go on suicide missions. Although the team always falls in line, they usually relent with resignation, unlike, say, Golden Age Cap and Bucky who seem to love participating in dangerous missions. Specifically, “Seven Against The Nazis” is an interesting story-line because it involves a real-world military maneuver, the Normandy landings of June 6th, 1944, also known as D-Day.

Having served in the military during WWII themselves, both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee may have drawn on their experiences when they worked on this title. Stan the Man seems to corroborate this idea in his introduction to Volume One of the collected edition of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, “Maybe I relate to them so much because ‘King’ Kirby and I both served in World War II. Jack was a fightin’ infantryman with the Third Army and I was attached to the Signal Corps. […] I don’t haveta tell you, it’s an experience you never forget.”

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos: “Seven Against The Nazis!” – Super-Cameos

Sgt. Fury
“And keep that verdammt Blazing Skull away from me!”

Although there aren’t any super-powered cameos in “Seven Against The Nazis,” this story, once again, shows some high-profile names. The aforementioned “Happy Sam” makes his first appearance in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1. And, making yet another appearance in a Marvel wartime retcon is Der Dummkopf himself, Adolf Hitler.

In later issues, readers also see the monocoled villain Baron von Strucker, an early version of the original Baron Zemo, and, the two best friends in the US Army, Captain America and Bucky.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos: “Seven Against The Nazis!” – The Plot

After readers get a peek at Sgt. Fury’s unique command style, which involves firing live rounds at his men as they wriggle face-down in the mud, the team ships out to France in order to rescue a French soldier named Labrave. Labrave, captured by Nazis, knows details of the plans for the Normandy landings. The Howlers must rescue Labrave before the Nazis torture the information out of him.

Losing shreds of their uniforms in a John McClane fashion with each dangerous maneuver, the team falls in with a group of resistance fighters. Manelli, steals a fallen Nazi officer’s uniform, and uses it to rescue a group of captive French civilians. The resistance fighters suggest the commandos search Louviers for the captive Labrave, so they leave for Louviers in a stolen Nazi truck.

When the Howlers arrive in Louviers they blow a good chunk of it away. With guns perpetually blazing, the commandos infiltrate the Nazi stronghold and rescue Labrave. After a brief wrap-up in which we learn that Labrave will lead the French resistance, “Seven Against The Nazis” closes on a flash forward to June 6th, 1944. Seven familiar figures lead the charge. They give their identities away with their unmistakable battle-cry: “Wah-hooo!”

Rambling Through The Retcons

Captain America: White
Sad? Check.

Don’t worry, True Believers, I’ve got still more Marvel-ous Golden Age retcons to review. Check in next week for a review of Robert Morales and Kyle Baker‘s mini-series entitled Truth: Red, White & Black.

Like “Seven Against The Nazis,” Truth: Red, White & Black sees Marvel characters in a historical setting. Sadly, unlike the Normandy landings, the historical setting used as the backdrop for Truth: Red, White & Black isn’t one that inspires any pride in the US government. As I mentioned in a previous review, the historical event that inspired this story was the brutal Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

Like I did before I read it, you may wonder how Marvel characters could fit into such a gruesome scheme. All I can suggest for now, True Believers, is to read on …

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Michael Bedford
Under intense scrutiny by the Temporal Authorities, I was coerced into actualizing my capsule in this causality loop. Through no fault of my own, I am marooned on this dangerous yet lovely level-four civilization. Stranded here, I have spent most of my time learning what I can of the social norms and oddities of the Terran species, including how to properly use the term "Hipster" and how to perform a "perfect pour." Under the assumed name of "Michael Bedford," I have completed BA's with specialized honours in both theatre studies and philosophy, and am currently saving up for enough galactic credits to buy a new--or suitably used--temporal contextualizer ... for a friend.
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