Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was the Marvel Age of comics’ entry into the war genre. Comics covering action during World War II have existed since the war was actually being fought, but there has always been nostalgia about the efforts of the good men who fought against Hitler and his ilk. Stan Lee with Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers created a group of WWII combatants unlike any seen before or since. The Howling Commandos were completely off the wall and extreme in their personalities and looks. They weren’t by-the-book soldiers, but rather a strange assortment of characters that were the best anti-Nazi force the allied forces had. They took on great challenges and succeeded despite overwhelming odds by using their unique talents and quick thinking to fool their opponents and pull off win after win.
I’ll try to give you somewhat of a feel for the individual members, but they’re hard to describe. (It’s better to go ahead and read the comics.) Nick Fury works his men hard and never smiles, though we know he really cares for the men. Dum Dum Dugan is huge and always complains about his wife and mother-in-law. Dino is a famous American actor who uses his talents, including his ability to speak Italian and German, to infiltrate the enemy lines. Percy is the proper British gentleman, who wields an umbrella in addition to a smg. Izzy is a great mechanic and munitions expert. Reb is a southerner and has some ridin’ and ropin’ skills. And Gabe is a jazz trumpeter who plays a bugle to distract and intimidate the opposition. The group is known for being rather diverse, especially because Gabe is black and the US Army wasn’t desegregated until well after WWII. But it works to perfection in this comic. Just ignore the historical inaccuracy.
The Commandos manage to be light-hearted and fun while tackling some serious issues, including war and death and the toll upon people in occupied countries. The Commandos often subdue their opponents without killing them, and the violence is very toned down. Having been created in the 60s, there wasn’t a lot of violence allowed in comics. Stan, Jack, Dick, and the others involved in this comic have been praised by many a fan over the years, and I don’t know if I’ve said anything new, but I’m glad I got around to reading these comics and I’d say it’s the best non-superhero comic Stan Lee helped create. One last note: the final comic in the Essential collection is a Howlers’ reunion during the Korean War. It was amazing the feeling of nostalgia I had despite the fact that I hadn’t waited years between this tale and the WWII stories! Excelsior indeed!!