Friday, June 13, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #4

"Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(November 1963)

Lord Ha-Ha is Percy Hawley, a member of the British aristocracy who is broadcasting anti-British propaganda from a radio station in Berlin. A Nazi collaborator, he specifically taunts the Howling Commandos in every broadcast at the behest of the SS. Their aim is to get Fury and his men so damn angry that they'll attempt to infiltrate Germany, where they can be captured. And it nearly works, too...

The actual reason Fury's squad heads after Lord Ha-Ha is that his father, Lord Peter Hawley, believes that his son has been brainwashed into helping the enemy, and entreats the US Army to get his son back.

My disappointment this issue is that after the Howlers parachute into Germany, they disguise themselves as circus performers, and it only lasts for two pages. Two wonderful pages, but I would have loved to see an entire issue of this. What can I say? I love the circus. (Dum-Dum must love it, too; this is the first issue so far where he doesn't make a single crack about his wife. Figure he must be in a good mood.)

When Fury and his men recover Percy Hawley, it turns out he's not brainwashed at all, but a true believer in the Nazi cause. While the Commandos are holed up in a seaside house at Bremerhaven, waiting for their extraction rendezvous, Percy attempts to signal a passing Nazi tank brigade, but is killed in the confusion. There's a firefight, and a man goes down.

Junior Juniper is cut down in battle. And he's dead. This isn't a Marvel death, this is for real. It's interesting how his death is treated. On the one hand, you can tell the men feel terrible about the loss. Junior was the youngest and the most innocent member of their squad. On the other hand, he went down fighting against the Nazis, and that's heroic. There's a moment to mourn and a moment to celebrate, before Izzy Cohen brings us back to reality and the dangers of wartime with a bitter "We're all expendable!"

On his return to Britain, Nick Fury finds himself in the position of delivering the news of Percy's death to his sister, Pamela Hawley. Earlier in the issue, Nick and Pamela had met during an air raid; she's a Red Cross nurse. They're clearly developing feelings for one another, so Nick decides to lie and tell her that her brother died a hero. Better a pleasing lie than a hurtful truth.

Stray observations:

:: This issue's bold inker is George Roussos, credited here as G. Bell. He started in comics in 1939, and assisted Jerry Robinson on Batman inks. He worked all over the Golden Age map, from National to Timely to Lev Gleason, Avon, Hillman, Fiction House and EC. Marvel's colorists aren't being credited at this time, but he's said he often colored the issues he inked. I don't know Marvel's history of coloring; was it in-house at the time? Do we have Roussos to thank for giving us the first issue of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos where Gabe Jones is African-American the whole way through? He became Marvel's full-time colorist in 1972.

:: Lord Ha-Ha is based on a series of propagandists who broadcast out of Hamburg during World War II. They were all called Lord Haw Haw.

:: Nick Fury's one weakness...
...social gatherings.

A breezy issue of Sgt. Fury. It's not quite the rollicking riot the first three issues were, but it's found its routine and is now, it seems, going to explore the characters a tiny bit. At least, they've given Nick Fury a love interest, and we've experienced a painful death. How those will affect the book going forward, I guess we'll see. And I can't wait for more. In the current Marvel stable, I'd say this is my third favorite series after Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Next: the returns of Dr. Strange and... Captain America?

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