Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5

"At the Mercy of Baron Strucker" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(January 1964)

Five issues in, it's about time that Nick Fury stopped facing various Nazi officers and got a real archenemy, right? To that end, Stan & Jack have created Baron Strucker, an aristocratic Prussian who has dedicated his life to weaponry. We first see him dueling an opponent, handily disarming him. There's an elegance to Baron Strucker, and this is important; since the best villains are the hero's opposite in some way, where Fury is rough and unrefined, Strucker is sophisticated and genteel. His mission, straight from Hitler himself, is to find a way to humiliate Nick Fury, the most feared American commando in Europe, in a way that shows Nazi superiority.

Strucker's reputation as a master swordsman precedes him; Fury and his Howlers know who the man is when he challenges Fury to a duel on the island of Norsehaven in the English Channel.

Excellent expressions from Kirby on the challenge.

Look at that face! The challenge rankles him from the first minute. Captain Sawyer turns down Fury's request for transportation, calling this challenge a private matter that the Army has no time for. Of course, Fury finds a way to Norsehaven, anyway...

And is thoroughly defeated.

Baron Strucker, observing noble Heidelberg rules, insists on a toast before the duel, but he has Fury's wine drugged. They cross hard plywood swords in a match where the object is to disarm, not to kill. What Fury lacks in swordsmanship he tries to make up for with brute strength and direct attacks, but as the drug works on him, he loses his strength, runs out of steam, and falls, unconscious, into defeat. Afterwards, a camera crew emerges; the Nazis have filmed the whole thing, and now plan to show it as a propaganda film. Strucker has Fury dumped back behind the front lines and gloats over his triumph.

Fury, a laughingstock in Europe now, gets busted down to private for his troubles, and Dum-Dum takes over the Howling Commandos, just in time for a big push into western Germany, where the Howlers are charged with destroying a rocket base in Dortstadt. And wouldn't you know who's in charge at the base? Baron Strucker.

Fury challenges Strucker to a rematch, but Dino hips him to the drug in the drink. Fury, in a rage, grabs Strucker and easily beats the crap out of him, laying him flat out. Dum-Dum makes sure to get a few pictures to show the world just how tough Fury really is.

His reputation restored, Fury also gets his rank back. When a visiting general wants to meet the famous Sgt. Fury, Capt. Sawyer hastily reinstates the man and puts him back in charge of the Howling Commandos, ready for whatever comes next.

Stray observations:

:: Fury spends the first few pages this issue training his commandos extra hard in the wake of Junior Juniper's death last issue.

:: Dino, training in a stream: "It's gettin' deep! But I'm better off drownin' than lettin' Fury get mad at me!"

:: "Look out with that grenade, Rebel!! Izzy's expendable, but those tanks cost money!"

:: I know it's too early for him, but Strucker's dog looks like Lockjaw:

22 issues of Fantastic Four away...

:: Strucker identifies himself as the "wing commander of the Fuehrer's Death-Head Squadron." The SS Death's Head unit oversaw the concentration camps.

:: Poor Izzy Cohen gets his long underwear shot up by a Nazi plane just before the pilot throws out a tube containing Fury's challenge, which hits Cohen square on his helmeted head.

:: This issue reveals that Sgt. Fury keeps turning down battlefield commissions to officer status.

:: And Fury's also dating Pamela Hawley, whom he met last issue. She's doing her best to teach him manners.

:: The full duel between Fury and Strucker is some of my favorite Kirby art in a while. Clean poses, clear action, just an excellent page and a half.

:: Got to hand it to Fury; during his time as a private, he expects that Dum-Dum will be extra hard on him in retaliation, and resolves to just take it. Further, when the rest of the commandos look to him for leadership, he tells them he's not their sergeant anymore and to respect Dum-Dum's command.

:: "Say, did you commandos hear about the Dortstadt rocket base being demolished?" "Flyboy, where do you think we're comin' back from? A sewin' bee?"

This was a fantastic issue of a great comic. Lots of great character moments with the cast, and Baron Strucker makes a hell of a great villain for Fury, and I can't wait to see more. (Issue #9 will see his return.) I'm more interested here in Fury the man, and this issue let us in more than any other has; the action scenes are always really great, and the characters are incredibly likable, but giving Fury a villain of his own, rather than another of the Allies' Nazi enemies, has a lot of great pulpy, adventurous potential.

Next Marvels: Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm fight over Alicia, and a return to the Nightmare World for Dr. Strange!

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