Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Marvel Years 03.05 - May 1963

Until now I've only been reading the super-hero comics published by Marvel in the 1960's. I've skipped the cowboy stories, the romance stories and the anthology stories, even though most of them were written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber. I decided to add "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commados" to my reading list for three reasons. The main reason is that Nick Fury and several of his Howling Commandos later appeared as members of SHIELD, 20 years later in the Marvel chronology. The second reason is that the first 41 issues of this comic series have been praised as the best war comics ever written. The third reason is quite simply that I've never read them before.

According to Stan Lee, the comic's title is the result of a bet he made with Marvel's publisher Martin Goodman. Stan bet that he could write a comic with Jack Kirby that sold well even though it had the worst title he could think up. As a publisher with bills to pay I would never have taken such a risk, but Martin allowed Stan to write a comic with this ridiculous title and it was a smash hit.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1

Title(s): Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos
Seven against the Nazis

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Adolf Hitler

This is a single story split into two parts that have been given individual titles. The Howling Commandos are based in England. They travel to France to rescue a resistance leader who knows the exact date of the D-Day attack. The comic's last panel takes place on D-Day itself, 6th June 1944.

This is the first depiction of Adolf Hitler in Marvel Comics in the 1960's. It can be argued that he's Marvel's most evil villain.

There's a two page feature introducing the Howling Commandos which I've decided to reproduce in full. Many of the comic pages that I reproduce in my Marvel Years reviews are copyrighted. I do this to encourage my readers to buy the comics, either the reprint editions or the online versions from Marvel.com. If any of the copyright holders object to individual images, please read my disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

My original intention was to add the Sgt. Fury comic series to my regular reading list, but I've now changed my mind because I consider it non-canon, with the possible exception of the first issue. Here is an explanation of my decision:

In Sgt. Fury #1 the Howling Commandos are presented. There are seven of them, including Nick Fury himself. This story takes place in June 1944.

In Sgt. Fury #4 Jonathan Juniper is killed, reducing the number of Howling Commandos to six.

In Sgt. Fury #6 the Howling Commandos fight Erwin Rommel in Africa. This must have taken place before Rommel left Africa in March 1943, but Jonathan Juniper is already dead.

I would have no problem with the stories being printed in a non-chronological order, i.e. late war stories being published before early war stories. What disturbs me is the contradiction of characters being dead in 1943 but alive again in 1944. Despite the quality of the Sgt. Fury stories I've classified the series as non-canon.

Fantastic Four #14

Title: Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Puppet Master, Sub-Mariner

Regulars: Alicia Masters

This isn't exactly a super-villain team-up story. The Puppet Master takes control of Sub-Mariner to make him attack the Fantastic Four. What he doesn't reckon with is Sub-Mariner's love for Susan Storm, which eventually breaks the control. Love is stronger than all. After the battle we see the three participants in the tragic love triangle standing together.

This issue shows yet another new power of the Human Torch. He can fly in a spiral to create a warm air funnel that sucks people through, sucking them in and carrying them to another place. Is this scientifically possible? I have my doubts.

Amazing Spider-Man #2

Title: Duel to the Death with the Vulture

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Vulture

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan (unnamed)

This comic contains two stories. In the first story it starts to become clearer how Peter Parker's so-called spider sense works. It warns him about danger, but it also acts as a type of radar to detect evil villains.

This story shows Peter Parker become a free lance photographer for the Daily Bugle. We also become acquainted with NOW magazine, a full colour magazine published by the Daily Bugle. It's not clear whether it's published weekly or monthly, but I assume the former. In future issues this magazine is rarely mentioned (only another twice in comics written by Stan Lee, according to the Marvel Database).

Title: The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Aliens

Regulars: Flash Thompson, Liz Allan (unnamed)

According to the comic's title the main villain is called the Tinkerer, but he's actually just one member of an alien race.

This story is significant for being the first time that Spider-Man began to use his famous comic banter. While fighting with villains he continually tells jokes, as if he's not taking the fights seriously.

Tales to Astonish #43

Title: The Astonishing Ant-Man versus the Mad Master of Time

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Time-Master

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #92

Title: The Day Loki Stole Thor's Magic Hammer

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin, Heimdall

Villain: Loki

This issue contains the only appearance of the Goddess Fricka, Odin's wife. In the following stories Odin has no wife, and there's no explanation what happened to Thor's mother. In later years other authors tried to connect her with the Goddess Freyja. For me that's non-canon.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Tales of Suspense #41

Title: The Stronghold of Doctor Strange

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Doctor Strange

The Doctor Strange in this comic is a scientific genius who has nothing to do with the master of the mystic arts who will first appear in Strange Tales two months from now. Or does he? If you look at the cover you'll see a strong similarity in the cape and the cowl. Did Steve Ditko deliberately imitate Jack Kirby's design? It's possible.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Strange Tales #108

Title: The Painter of a Thousand Perils

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: The Painter (Wilhelm Van Vile)

The Fantastic Four do not appear in this issue. The people who attack the Human Torch are only painted replicas.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #114 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Love Romances #105 (Stan Lee, various)
Kid Colt Outlaw #110 (Stan Lee, Jack Keller)
Two Gun Kid #63 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers)
Gunsmoke Western #76 (Stan Lee, various)

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