TFMSR 015: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #13 …

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #13, December 1964. Art by Jack Kirby and Chic Stone. TM & © MARVEL

Click on the images in this post to see them larger on your screen!

This is another one of those books I love almost solely for its cover, which is by Jack Kirby (inked—I think—by Chic Stone). Sure, it was a kick in the pants to see Kirby return to Sgt. Fury (he pencilled the first seven issues and the covers for the first 20, some of which are wonderful), and to see Captain America team up with Fury and the Howlers. But that cover … my oh my, it’s a masterpiece, one of Kirby’s best-ever Cap covers.

Captain America’s re-introduction in the Marvel Age of Comics started with an appearance by a bogus Cap in Strange Tales #114 (center). Simon & Kirby’s first issue (far left) was published in late 1940; the real Cap returned in Avengers #4 in early 1964.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #13 was released on October 8, 1964, with a cover date of December of that year. Two months earlier, Captain America made his Marvel series premiere in Tales of Suspense #59. Cap’s return to the burgeoning Marvel Universe was slow in coming. The Human Torch—or at least a new iteration of the character—was present at the beginning in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961; Sub-Mariner returned six months later in FF #4. But the missing character in Timely’s (Marvel’s original comics company name) trinity, Captain America, slowly worked his way back into the newly-named company, starting with a bit of a bogus appearance in the Human Torch story in Strange Tales #114 (cover dated November 1963). This turned out to be a fake Cap—you can tell by the red briefs he’s wearing—who is ultimately foiled by the Torch. But this issue did show a Captain America who was a very talented gymnast, and co-creator Jack Kirby clearly missed his signature Marvel character, created with partner Joe Simon way back when in 1940; his drawings of “Cap” (actually an older Human Torch foe called “The Acrobat”), show him in incredible action poses, running, jumping, and fighting like the legendary Simon & Kirby tales from the early 1940s. The Strange Tales story ended with Stan admitting: “You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!”

The letters must have been hot and heavy for Cap’s return, because less than five months later, the “real” Captain America returned in Avengers #4 (cover-dated March 1964), discovered in a block of ice by none other than his old Timely pal, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The Avengers thaw him out and he lives again, surviving on the basis of the super-serum that runs through his veins which kept him a state of perfect suspended animation (the ice helped, too, no doubt). Within a few months, Cap started the above-mentioned series in Tales of Suspense.

Cap’s new ongoing series began in Tales of Suspense #59 (November 1964). Cap made a big splash with this Kirby splash page, crashing out of a window towards the reader.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos premiered on March 5, 1963 (cover-dated May), a few months shy of the other two big 1963 premieres from Marvel, The Avengers and X-Men (both of which came out in July). Fury was written by Stan Lee and drawn by jack Kirby for the first seven issues, with issues #1-3 inked by Dick Ayers (good!) and #4-7 by George Bell (bad!). Ayers took over the pencilling chores in issue #8, still inked by the incredibly clunky and heavy-handed Bell (aka George Roussos), and the book took an almost immediate downturn, at least in the art. Kirby still handled the covers, though, and some of them are busy masterpieces, particularly #s 14, 16, 17, and 20. Stan and Jack seemed to enjoy telling stories about characters who didn’t have superpowers and capes, while simultaneously reminding us of what Marvel was all about. House ads for Sgt. Fury proclaimed, “Action in the Fantastic Four style!” And “First, the Fantastic Four! And now, in the same inimitable style, by the same writer and artist … Another group of fabulous characters!” Lee also inserted both Reed Richards and Ben Grimm into Sgt. Fury #3, thus firmly placing the book into the Marvel Universe (before it was actually called that).

The original art for page 1 of Sgt. Fury #13, side-by-side with the printed version.

Some of Jack Kirby’s great covers for the early issues of Sgt. Fury … the artist seemed to have an affinity for all this World War II action.

Both Lee and Kirby served in World War II, but only Jack saw action; he landed on Normandy Beach two months after D-Day, and fought his way through Europe until being hospitalized due to frostbite on his feet. He spent a year in the hospital but recovered, going home in January 1945. I’m sure like a lot of veterans, he carried his war experiences with him for the rest of his life, even if he kept quiet about them, but it certainly came across in his war comics work, including Foxhole (published by Simon & Kirby’s own Mainline Comics in the 1950s) and “The Losers” for DC’s Our Fighting Forces comic in the 1970s. For some of Kirby’s recollections about his time in action during the Big One, click here.

Issue #13’s story—”Fighting Side-by-Side with Captain America and Bucky!”—detailed Cap and his kid sidekick, Bucky Barnes, behind enemy lines across the English Channel, trying to stop a Nazi arms build-up. But they can’t do it alone and Cap requests aid from Fury and the Howlers, via the always harried Captain Sam Sawyer. Fury isn’t too keen on the concept of Captain America, telling Sawyer, “ Who’s that fancy-pants costume clown think he is, requestin’ me?!” Cap, Bucky, and Fury and the Howlers don’t actually meet up in action until page 17 of this longer-than-usual 23-page tale, when they encounter each other on a prisoner train with Bucky masquerading as a Hitler youth member. This lack of a team-up makes the story a bit anti-climactic, to say the least, and the remaining pages have Cap (out of costume for the big explosive finale) and Fury and company battling their way out of Nazi-held territory and (spoiler alert!) blowing up the tunnel under the English Channel that the Nazis have been building (hence the troop and arms build-up in the area), pictured in an early Kirby one-panel photo collage.

From Sgt. Fury #13 … Cap & Bucky are introduced via newsreel (far left); the climactic battle and big blow-up in the tunnel under the English Channel is reminiscent of the 1960 film, The Guns of Navarone—at least to me!

As mentioned, it’s that cover that makes this issue so near and dear to me, with it’s incredibly dynamic Cap pose and typical Stan the Man cover hyperbole: “Guest starring (In answer to the the greatest reader demand in Marvel’s history!): Captain American and Bucky!” “Displaying the thrills and action which made them the overwhelming stars of the Golden Age of Comics!” To me at least, it’s kind of funny that Lee seemed so tentative in bringing Captain America back. With Kirby firmly entrenched at Marvel and Cap fondly remembered as his most famous creation from the Golden Age, I wonder why there was a certain level of hesitation; did Stan think the patriotic ideal of Captain America was too old-fashioned for the 1960s? In 1964, full-blown protests against the Vietnam War weren’t prevalent yet. And the whole idea of Cap’s return, as a man from a different era, clearly out of step with his new place in time, definitely helped ease him into the Marvel Age of Comics. But Cap’s first stories were anything but easy; Lee and Kirby almost immediately plunged him back into World War II era stories in his Tales to Suspense run, after a few beautifully-drawn but “fight of the month club” modern era stories. It would take a couple of years until Cap found his footing in ToS and eventually, after he graduated to his own title in 1968, that whole “trapped in a world he never made” thing—common to both Cap and Howard the Duck—would come home to roost with Steve Englehart’s stories chronicling Cap’s disillusionment with America.

Writer Gary Friedrich and artist/inker John Severin took Sgt. Fury to new heights; thankfully both creators signed up for a long run with the Howling Commandos.

Sgt. Fury remained a Marvel monthly for many years, drawn by Dick Ayers. Stan Lee wrote it up to issue #28, revealing more and more about Fury and the Howlers, including how Nick lost his eyesight in one eye (spoiler alert: it wasn’t caused by a cat from outer space). Roy Thomas took over with issue #29—one of his first regular series gigs— revealing the Howlers’ origin in #34, and hung around until issue #42, when Gary Friedrich started writing the series. John Severin joined in on the art with issue #44, and the title took a quantum leap forward in quality. Severin pencilled and inked issues #44 through #47, but for some reason Stan Lee didn’t like his pencil work, and Ayers was back starting with issue #48, with Severin continuing to ink. But just as he did with Herb Trimpe on Hulk, and his own sister, Marie, on Kull the Conqueror, Severin improved every penciller he ever inked. He stayed on the book until issue #81, but with issue #80, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman decided Sgt. Fury could become a partial reprint book, so every other issue was a reprint. Severin inked #81 and was out. Ayers continued as penciller, and Gary Friedrich—who told such rich, ongoing stories with complicated multi-issue arcs, such as the Eric Koening traitor storyline, and who inserted anti-war sentiment in tales like “The Peacemonger” (#64) and “The Deserter” (#75—probably the series high point)—went away for a while, returning to the series in issues numbered in the 90s, wrote #100, and continued with the on-again, off-again reprint title until almost issue #120. Sgt. Fury, of course, eventually became Colonel Nick Fury (introduced in Fantastic Four #21), and then the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales #135, thus becoming another character that spanned the complete history of Marvel Comics, from its 1940s roots as Timely into the 1960s and beyond.

I have a soft spot for these Sgt. Fury comics, especially the ones written by Friedrich and inked by Severin. I think #67, with the story called “With a Little Help from My Friends,” is my favorite issue, with great art and an imaginative color scheme on a few wordless pages (probably colored by Marie Severin), which isolates characters and action by color (yellow, red, green, and blue). It’s about Fury’s quest for vengeance against former Howler Eric Koenig—whom he believes to be a traitor—and a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It’s also—to me, at least—an issue that exemplifies the great art team of Dick Ayers and John Severin.

2023 is the 60th anniversary year for both Avengers and X-Men, but it’s also Sgt. Fury’s 60th birthday. Marvel is publishing a second Epic Collection featuring issues #20 through 37, but there probably isn’t going to be a Mighty Marvel Masterworks edition of Sgt. Fury; that newer reprint series is being marketed to a younger audience with a smaller format and lower price point, and all that goose-stepping and swastikas in those old 1960s comics won’t go over very well in this day and age. The Sgt. Fury series remains a guilty pleasure of mine, one that I look back on fondly, and issue #13 certainly seems to be one of the high points of that 120+-issue run, thanks to those two major Marvel heroes: Captain America and Jack Kirby.

Next time: Nowadays he’d undoubtedly be called “The Composite Batman,” since that character is DC’s bread-and-butter moneymaker, but back in World’s Finest #142 (June 1964) , a strange accident caused by lightning turns janitor Joe Meach into “The Composite Superman,” with all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes! It’s a favorite tale of mine written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by the great Curt Swan.

To read all the “Tales from My Spinner Rack” posts, click here!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: