Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (Vol. 1) #6

Credits:

Cover Date: March 1964

Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, George Roussos

“The Fangs of the Desert Fox”

Plotters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Scripter: Stan Lee

Penciller: Jack Kirby

Inker: George Roussos (credited as George Bell)

What’s Going On?

The Howling Commandos are tasked with taking out the Desert Fox —- Erwin Rommel, himself! But when an injury sidelines a Howling Commando, his replacement’s bigotry threatens to sink the mission.

Details:

  • The Howling Commandos have been tasked with killing Field Marshall Rommel in Africa. Sgt. Fury immediately comments on how impossible that mission sounds.

  • While training for the mission, the Howlers practice parachute jumps. Dino’s ‘chute didn’t open right away, though; he didn’t die, but he broke his leg when he landed.

  • Since the mission cannot be delayed, Dino is replaced by George Stonewell. Stonewell happens to be a bigot, being rude to Dino and Izzy, and flat-out awful to Gabe.

  • Fury doesn’t tolerate bigots, and he lets Stonewall know it.

  • On the mission, Stonewall’s attitude becomes a problem. When Fury orders for the German radio operator to be taken out, Gabe is in the best position to get the job done. Stonewall interferes, makes too much noise, and allows the operator to send out a radio SOS.

  • Gabe wants to knock Stonewall out for putting the squad in such danger (and being an asshole), but Fury won’t abide infighting during a mission.

  • The Commandos manage to survive that mistake, and eventually find themselves facing an enormous army.

  • Fury gives Stonewell a chance to redeem himself. The mission is to get Izzy close to Rommel. Stonewell, once again, lets his prejudices and pride torpedo the mission.

  • Izzy Cohen saves Stonewall’s life when he gets injured, and Gabe later provides the blood for a transfusion.

  • The mission to kill Rommel is cancelled while the Howlers recuperated from their botched mission. Apparently, the Allies learned that Rommel would be involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler soon.

  • Stonewall was reassigned to a different company after the mission. He was no less prickly than before, but he did take a small baby step toward being a less awful person.

Is It Good?

Surprisingly, yes. Is this an incredibly heavy-handed approach to bigotry? Most definitely. But putting such a moralistic tale in Sgt. Fury was a brilliant idea. Not only does the story conflate intolerance with cowardice and incompetence, it also has Nick Fury —- the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to an alpha male at this point —- explicitly denounce bigotry, in no uncertain terms. This sort of story would have felt preachy in any other Marvel title; maybe the diverse cast of this book makes it feel a little less like lip service. Anyway, bigots and racists suck, and it’s nice to see a comic book in 1964 point that out.

Continuity:

  • Apparently, Nick Fury is in love with Pamela Hawley. That didn’t take long.

  • The assassination plot referenced in this comic is the July 20, 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life. Rommel’s support of the plot, as far as I know, has never been proved. The assassination attempt was eventually dramatized in the film, Valkyrie.
  • In case it wasn’t apparent already, this comic clearly doesn’t follow the chronology of World War II —- or the Marvel version has a different timeline than the real war. The first issue of this series took place just before D-Day (so, early June 1944), but this issue shows Rommel in Africa; Rommel left Africa in March 1943.

Comics Are Goofy:

  • Stonewall’s bigotry is always shown in a poor light, but Stan and Jack clearly wanted to make sure he was completely unsympathetic. Not only is Stonewall a bigoted glory hound, he also blames others for his failings. That may not seem like a huge deal —- it’s clearly not a good trait, but it’s not usually the stuff of villainy —- but in a war comic, the only worse sins are betraying your country, going AWOL, and/or beating women.

Well, That Aged Poorly:

  • Arabic people are apparently Caucasian. It’s not an impossibility, given the small sample size that we see in this comic, but I doubt it.

Behind the Scenes:

  • According to GCD, Jack Kirby pencilled this issue, but Stonewall’s face was altered throughout the issue, probably by George Roussos. That certainly explains why Stonewall looks so different than the rest of the characters in this issue, but it doesn’t explain why the changes were deemed necessary.
  • Here’s my theory: Kirby, whose many talents don’t include subtlety, probably drew Stonewall with an evil-looking face; Kirby’s villains were never handsome or charming. This story wouldn’t work nearly as well if Stonewall had looked like a villain, so Stan Lee has George Roussos redraw Stonewall’s facial features to be more conventionally handsome, and thus make his transgressions more insidious.

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