SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #8; July 1964; Marvel Comics Group;
featuring "The Death Ray of Dr. Zemo!", edited and written by Stan Lee (credited
as "Ex-Sgt. Stan Lee"), pencilled by "Ex-Corp. Dick Ayers", inked by "George
Bell" (no military rank given, and actually a nom de guerre for George
Roussos) and lettered by Sam Rosen. (This review actually based on the reprint of
the story appearing in SPECIAL MARVEL EDITION #6, Sept. 1972.)
Review by Civilian Bill Henley
The EC war comic books edited and written by Harvey Kurtzman, probably the
best examples of the genre ever done, were justly famed for their sense of
realism and historical accuracy. DC's war comics edited by Robert Kanigher had
less to do with historical reality, but at least claimed a certain gritty
pseudo-realism. Marvel's Silver Age entry in the war genre, SGT. FURY (and its
shorter-lived spinoffs, CAPT. SAVAGE and the Bronze Age COMBAT KELLY) made no
such claims. As I noted in my previous review of a SGT. FURY issue (of
issue #4, review now available on the Silver Age Reviews Yahoo site), SGT. FURY
was pretty much unabashed war fantasy, having about the same relation to the
reality of World War II that the New York City seen in the contemporary Marvel
stories, with their superhero vs. villain battles and alien invasions, had
to the mundane reality of 1960's New York. This issue was a particular
example, featuring not only the fantasy element of a "death ray" that was unknown to
real-life WWII ordnance, but the introduction of a villain who
simultaneously appeared, older but no wiser, as a costumed bad guy in the Marvel comics of
This issue was also notable for the intro of a new Howling Commando--
perhaps the *only* one who had a *genuine* claim to the name "Commando", as it
happened-- and a new artist. After seven issues drawn by Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers
took over with this issue and stayed with the SGT. FURY title for almost the
entire remainder of its run (which totaled 167 issues through Dec. 1981,
though the later issues were predominantly reprints). Ayers was a mainstay of
the tiny "Marvel Bullpen" at the time the Silver Age superhero titles were
launched, and in addition to inking early issues of Kirby's Fantastic Four, he
pencilled many early issues of the Human Torch and Ant-Man/Giant-Man superhero
series. However, Stan Lee seems to have felt that Ayers' style wasn't flashy
enough to sustain a superhero series, and as new artists joined the Bullpen
they got the superhero assignments, while Ayers was shunted to the small war
line and the fading Western genre.
On the splash page, Fury and his Howlers are trying to advance up a castle
stairawy, opposed by a Nazi SS squad led by the fiendishly grinning Zemo,
firing the "death ray". Fortunately for our howling heroes, though the range is
nearly point-blank, Nazis have just as bad aim with death rays as they do
with more conventional weaponry. Alongside the story title there is a blurb;
"Special Notice: Pay Particular Attention to DR. ZEMO! You'll Also See Him in
Other Marvel Mags Such As AVENGERS #6 (dated the same month, July 1964).
As our story begins, "a company of crack S.S. troops are marched into (a
U.S. Army camp on the east coast of England) as prisoners of war!" As the
once-mighty Aryan supermen are herded into prison camp with their hands clasped
behind their heads, watching soldiers speculate just who was able to capture
such "big, mean and well-trained" enemy troops in one piece. The answer, of
course, is Sgt. Nick Fury, along with his squad of Howlers, which at the moment
is a man short, having lost a member, Pvt. Junior Juniper (the only Howler
to die permanently in the run of the series) in issue #4. Spottng a new
promotion list, Pvt. Izzy Cohen complains that other guys got the promotions while
the Howlers were "makin' like heroes across the Channel". Cpl. "Dum Dum"
Dugan suggests, "Relax, Izzy! We're waitin' till they need SIX-STAR GENERALS!
They wouldn't embarrass us with anything less!" Hearing the rumor that they
are due for a replacement for Junior, the Howlers comment that "he better be
a real fire-breather!" Hearing the comment, Sgt. Fury's response is,
"ANYBODY'd seem like a fire-breather next to you goldbricks! Ya capture one crummy
S.S. company, and ya think you're heroes!"
Fury's growling is interrupted by the appearance on the scene of a British
soldier whose style of uniform is unusual even by the standards of the
Howlers, who aren't exactly sticklers for the details of proper uniform. The Brit
wears a brown British uniform with red beret, glasses, cravat and, as an
accessory, an umbrella. Dum Dum comments, "Ain't that about the CUTEST-LOOKIN'
soldier you ever did see!", but Dino Manelli warns, "Don't let him HEAR ya, Dum
Dum! Some of those British guys are tougher than they look!"
Southern-fried Reb Ralston concurs, "Maybe he IS tough! AH wouldn't have the nerve to
carry an ol' UMBRELLA lak that!" The Howlers' ragging on the new guy is
confined to sotto voce comments, but some other G.I.'s start engaging in open
mockery. One of them asks if the fey-looking Britisher has a name, and gets a
reply: "My name is PERCIVAL PINKERTON! My most intimate friends and immediate
family call me PERCY!" "Do they call ya that before, or after they stop
laughin!" Perceiving that the feckless G.I.'s are "making sport of me", Percy
decides to deliver a lesson that "good manners are the mark of a gentleman".
Using his umbrella as a weapon, Percy grabs his tormentors and hurls them
around until they beg for mercy. This display of prowess impresses the onlooking
Howlers, and Dum Dum asks, "Say, Percy, you're okay! What outfit are ya
with, anyway?" "Oh, didn't you KNOW? I've been transferred to the First
Attack Squad of Able Company! I'm your new REPLACEMENT! I assume that makes me a
Howler...whatever on Earth THAT means!"
I mentioned earlier that Percy could be said to be the only *real* Commando
in the whole First Attack Squad. The reason is that, in the real WW!!, the
word "Commando" was used only for British and British Commonwealth troops.
The U.S. Army equivalent special forces were known as "Rangers".
I seem to remember reading recently a comment by Stan Lee that his intent in
introducing Percy was an early effort at political correctness, introducing
a character who was implied (though certainly not, under Comics Code rules of
the time, ever specifically stated) to be gay, but was still tough and
brave. I don't know whether that was really Stan's intent at the time, or for
that matter whether gay activists would consider being represented by a
character with Percy's fey mannerisms to be a compliment. But anyway....the Howlers
decide they approve of their new addition and carry him to their barracks on
their shoulders; "Percy, you aint exactly what we EXPECTED, but you're
OKAY!" "Too bad he talks a foreign language!" "It only SEEMS foreign 'cause yoah
from BROOKLYN, Iz!"
But while the Howlers prepare a reception for Percy, Sgt. Fury gets the word
from Capt. Sam Sawyer about the real baptism of fire for their new
replacement; a mission into Nazi Germany to capture "from under Hitler's nose" a
scientist named Dr. Zemo who has "invented something that could beat us if he
isn't stopped!" As the Howlers are rousted from their plans for a trip to town
and put aboard a PT boat for a nighttime run to the Nazi-occupied Continent,
Dum Dum becomes momentarily disenchanted with their new recruit when Percy
asks, "I SAY, Corporal! This is devilishly exciting! Do you chaps ALWAYS have
such colorful missions?" "Percy, do me one little favor, willya?" "Of
course, Corporal! What is it?" "SHADDUP!" But the Howlers may never even make
it to the starting line of their mission, as a Nazi sub periscope pops up in
the path of their PT boat. Nick Fury (who seems somehow to have acquired
naval rank and command of the PT boat) orders, "Open your throttle...full speed
ahead...COLLISION COURSE!" The onrushing boat snaps off the sub's periscope,
leaving the sub crew blind. Then, when the sub surfaces and starts to aim
its deck guns at the PT boat, Fury sends the German-speaking Dino Manelli on a
mission to the onshore German gun battery. Scragging an unwary Nazi guard
("Bah! A vaste of time! Who vould dare to attack US? The Fuehrere sad the
enemy has no will to fight! They KNOW ve are the master race!" Dino takes
his helmet and shouts orders in German for the gun battery to attack the
"English submareine" out in the water. The German artillery, supposedly trained to
"obey first and think later", obligingly fires at and sinks their own sub.
(Actually, real WWII historians report that Nazi German soldiers were trained
to react with initiative and not just obey orders blindly. They served a
dictator, but they didn't conquer half the world by acting like badly
programmed robots.) Dino then puts the gun battery itself out of action by tossing a
well placed grenade, and the Howlers can land on shore. Of course, if
they've only crossed the English Channel in a PT boat, they're in occupied France
and have a long, long way to go before reaching a target somewhere in Nazi
Germany, but such geographical technicalities are of no concern to our Howlers.
What is of concern is an oncoming Nazi tank on the roadway, and the
trumpet-tooting, African-American Howler Gabe Jones decides it's his turn to be the
hero. (Gabe's presence is, of course, yet another historical anomaly in SGT.
FURY; in real life the U.S. Army was still segregated during WWII, and black
troops tended to be relegated to support roles rather than combat. At one
point Robert Kanigher boasted that he introduced the black Jackie Johnson into
Sgt. Rock's Easy Company before Gabe appeared in SGT. FURY-- and didn't make
Jackie a horn-blowing stereotype-- but he too ignored that a typical Army
outfit wouldn't had a lone African-American soldier serving with it back then.)
Gabe hurls a grenade into the hatch of the tank and disables it, but gets
blown sky-high himself. He miraculously survives, but needs immediate medical
attention. (Gabe himself however is unfazed; "How about that? My horn's
not even scratched! How lucky can ya BE?") Carrying Gabe to a nearby town,
the Howlers break into a Nazi first aid station and demand that the German
medic in charge treat Gabe, or else. At least in comic books, even Nazi doctors
are mean mothers; "Your threats do not frighten a member of the MASTER RACE!"
However, when Fury lights a stick of dynamite and threatens to blow them
all up together if the good (?) doktor doesn't help, he breaks down; "NO!! I
don't want to die! I'll do ANYTHING!" (Why it wouldn't be just as effective
to threaten to shoot the Nazi doctor himself, without threatening the rest of
the Howlers with mass suicide, isn't clear.) Gabe submits to treatment, but
asks, "Here, Percy! Hold my horn! I don't want that Ratzi breathin' on it!"
While all this has been going on, however, other Nazi troops pursuing the
Howlers have caught up with them, and in order to make their escape, the
Howlers dress in the clothes of the German medical staff and take the doctor
hostage driving a staff car,, demanding that he help them get past a checkpoint.
(How they are going to explain Gabe as a German medic is an interesting
point....as is the fact that even in disguise, Dum Dum is unwillig to remove his
battered derby with the U.S. Army corporal insignia on it.) Under the Howlers'
guns, the doctor tells the Nazi guards that they are escaping a commando
attack and that the commandos are holed up at the corner of Blitzen Lane. The
German commander is puzzled, "Why did he keep VINKING at me? Must be
something wrong mit his eye!" but nonetheless obligingly fires his heavy guns at the
corner of Blitzen Lane, thereby blowing up the German ammo dump located
At last, after letting their medical hostage go, our heroes arrive at the
castle where Dr. Zemo is doing his dirty work. But how will they gain entrance
to the heavily guarded facility? Now Percy is the one who has an idea.
Approaching a German guard armed only with his umbrella, Percy boldly claims,
"Why on Earth are you still doing guard duty, old man? Haven't you heard that
the bally war is OVER? We've WON, y'know! That's why I'm here!" "Ach du
lieber! It MUST be true! No Britisher vould be able to get this far mitout
even carrying a GUN!" The guard doesn't actually surrender, but he lets his
guard down enough to allow Percy to hurl him out of the way with his
indefatigable umbrella. (There is a tiny grain of authenticity in this otherwise most
improbable scene. Until very late in the war, the Nazis had more respect
for the British as adversaries, who they had been fighting since the very start
of the war, than for the Johnny-come-lately Americans who were considered
untrained and inept soldiers. If such as ruse was going to work at all, it had
a better chance of working with a British soldier than an American G.I.)
Next, Dum Dum distracts the rest of the guard force by firing two submachine
guns at random. As the guards lower the drawbridge and race out to deal
with the "crazy man", the rest of the Howlers enter the castle, followed by Dum
Dum who doubles back behind them. Fury gives the order, "Lower that
drawbridge, soldier!", and the Howlers, not being mindless automatons like the
comic-book Nazis, oblige by *raising* the drawbridge, which was what Fury actually
had in mind, in order to keep the Nazi guards from re-entering the castle.
And so at last, with six pages left in the story "The Death Ray of Dr.
Zemo!", we finally encounter Dr. Zemo, who has been watching all this on an early
model TV set in his lab. "They outsmarted my sentinels! But I still have my
PERSONAL GUARD! Zemo sends his guards off with the warning, "if ONE
commando escapes, you'll all pay with your LIVES!", but despite this incentive, the
Howlers manage to subdue the guards with flying fists and shouts of
"Wah-hooo!" Zemo's response, watching on his TV hookup, is "BAH! They fight like
DEMONS! They have overpowered my elite guard! [but] It is all IN VAIN! Much as
I dislike soiling my own hands on inferior beings, I, PERSONALLY, shall
destroy them mercilessly!" Meanwhile, the Howlers are conducting a door-to-door
search of the castle. One door, tried by Reb Ralston, turns out to be an
electrifed booby trap. Fortunately, "If Ah wasnt wearin' RUBBER-SOLED BOOTS,
Ahd be colder than a carpet-bagger's heart!" When Zemo addresses the Howlers
directly on his intercom system and invites them to surrender and receive as a
reward a "quick death", Gabe Jones (miraculously recovered from his earlier
injury) sends a blast from his horn into the intercom speaker that is so
powerful it disables the entire system, robbing Zemo of his ability to track our
heroes by sound. When the Howlers are trapped within one of those
moving-wall rooms so beloved of movie serial writers, the mechanically minded Izzy
Cohen manages to disable it.
"Those accursed commandos have beaten me at every turn! But STILL I shall
destroy them! I have the greatest weapon in history at my command!" And so,
with 3 pages left, we finally get a glimpse of... the Death Ray of Dr. Zemo!
"This is the new weapon that shall win the war for the glorious Third Reich!
It took me YEARS to create! It is the only one of its kind in existence!
And now, it shall serve its master by DISINTEGRATING my enemies!" Curiously,
however, when Zemo faces his foes from the top of a staircase as they
advance up the stairs, he does not literally disintegrate his enemies by using his
ray on their fragile human bodies. Instead, he disintegrates the marble
staircase beneath them, causing them to fall in disarray. But now it is Reb's
turn to be the hero, as he pulls out his trusty lariat (isn't he a Southerner,
not a Westerner?) and uses it to grab the death ray out of Zemo's grasp. The
now unarmed Zemo flees and persuades one of his last remaining guards to
cover him while he reaches a small airplane, promising the guard great rewards
for helping him escape. However, not only does Zemo not come through with the
reward, he even takes off without the hapless "dolt" of a guard, leaving the
disillusioned guard to sob, "You are a NAZI! When you make a promise, you
cannot break it...you cannot...." (Again, this depIction of a typical Nazi
officer as despising and betraying his soldiers is not very historically
accurate. Descriptions of the German SS and Wehrmacht indicate that there were
fairly good relations between officers and soldiers in those forces, with
actually *less* tendency for the officers to regard themselves as a superior and
privileged class over mere enlisted men, than in the Allied armies. It's a
mistake to assume that the bad guys are bad all the time about *everything*.
Again, an army which not only trained its soldiers to act like mindless morons,
but alienated its common soldiers by treating them like scum, probably
wouldn't be as successful as the Nazi Germans were.) Reb thinks they have
succeeded in their mission anyway, since they have the only working model of Zemo's
Death Ray. However, Fury orders Reb to "DROP IT!" and all the Howlers to
flee the castle. "Due to months of intensive battle training, on record, Fury's
squad obeys him blindly!" (Lesson of this story; blind obedience is bad for
Nazi bad guys, but good for us good guys.) The whole castle blows up, and
Fury explains he figured correctly that given all Zemo's remote controls, he
figured the mastermind would have a means to blow up his death ray by remote
control if he lost it. And so it seems the Howlers have actually failed in
their mission, since they don't have the death ray and there's no clear reason
why the escaped Zemo can't just build another one (and then, presumably,
thousands more to arm the Nazi armies). Nonetheless, our heroes seem pleased
with themselves as they make their way back to England ("another adventure in
itself, but we'll save that for some other time!", the caption advises.) Back
at base, some of the other soldiers ask Percy how his first mission with
Fury's squad went, and the overhearing Howlers wonder, "Here's where we find out
if we inherited a loud-mouthed bragging wind-bag!" But Percy insures his
fellow Howlers' continued affection by modestly demurring, "Dont ask ME, chaps!
Ask the Howlers! THEY did all the work!" "And so it was that a quiet
Englishman, with an ever-present umbrella, joined the ranks of the most colorful,
fighting squad in the annals of World War II!"
Come to think of it, compared to this story's depiction of World War II, the
average Marvel superhero yarn was a sober and accurate depiction of typical
American life during the 1960's. But speaking of Marvel superhero yarns, as
promised on the splash page, Zemo showed up the very same month as leader of
"The Masters of Evil" in AVENGERS &6. It was revealed that after escaping
the Howlers, the Nazi scientist had a further encounter with Captain America,
during which a red mask got permanently stuck to his face by "Adhesive X".
(From what we see in this story, Zemo didn't have such a handsome face that
losing sight of it was a permanent loss to male beauty.) After spending the
postwar decades hiding out in South America, Zemo emerges to get revenge on
Captain America by melding the Avengers' greatest foes into a super-villain team.
After several more AVENGERS appearances, Zemo eventually dies in battle
with Cap, but his son reappears to become a nuisance up to the present day, as
leader and then adversary of the villains-turned-heroes, the Thunderbolts.