Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Howlers - Baron Zemo!


With the ninth issue Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos enters a new phase. To begin with, the title proves so successful that it goes monthly. But sadly that means that it becomes impossible for Jack"King" Kirby to stay on as regular penciler and those chores are handed off to longtime inker Dick Ayers. Ayers is an artist with a venerable and illustrious record but there's no doubt that his arrival is a step in a different direction. But in this transition issue there is still plenty of Kirby to discuss, for one thing the cover is a dandy. It features a Nazi villain named Baron Zemo and this story is is debut, sort of.

Sgt. Fury by Dick Ayers
The Howlers get a new recruit to take the place of the lost Junior Juniper who had died in battle all the way back in issue four. The new guy is a British soldier named Percival (Pinky) Pinkerton and he comes with an affected manner, a red beret and an omnipresent bumbershoot which often is used in combat. He proves himself as the First Attack Squad is sent once again behind enemy lines to capture a Nazi scientist named Baron Zemo. This adventure is specifically designed to showcase each Howler and one by one they get their moment in the sun as the team fights its way across the Germany to get to Zemo's ancestral castle where they find the villain armed to the teeth with many high-tech weapons, none more dangerous than his "Death Ray", the very weapon which prompted their attempt to capture him. But Zemo is able to escape the Howlers, though they get control of the Death Ray itself, though that proves momentary as when Zemo flies away in his own plane his booby-trapped Death Ray explodes and takes much of his castle with it. The Howlers barely escape and make their way back home.


But as it turns out this is the first in what is a double debut for the notorious Baron Zemo. In the pages of The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with some delcious Chic Stone inks, Baron Zemo is still alive in the modern Marvel Universe and we learn that he is the man responsible for sending Captain America and Bucky Barnes on their epic rocket trip which ended up with Cap being frozen for years before being found and thawed by the Assemblers. Zemo now wears a hood, one bonded permanently to him by dint of his own invention "Adhesive X". He holds a grudge against Cap and has long feared his return as he lords it over some natives in the wilds of South America. He learns that Cap is back and quickly organizes the first Masters of Evil conclave to fight the Avengers who protect Cap. The Radioactive Man, the Black Knight and the Melter all attack New York City using both their own powers and Adhesive X guns and the Avengers try to intercede. Giant-Man and Cap get stuck to some pavement and must contact the imprisoned enemy of the Human Torch, Paste Pot Pete to get access to a chemical which will undo the effects of Adhesive X. He comes through and they confront the Masters of Evil again, switching up opponents and using the Teen  Brigade led by Rick Jones to substitute tear gas for the Adhesive X remedy.


When the Masters of Evil are finally defeated, Baron Zemo and Cap face off before the villain tries to escape in his weird helicopter with what he thinks is a cure for his situation but soon his aircraft appears to fall out of the sky presumably the tear gas having taken effect.


But apparently the Avengers did not capture him as he shows up the very next issue, again back in his little South American kingdom where he recruits the Execution and the Enchantress to become the new Masters of Evil and they confront the Avengers again.


Later he is instrumental in giving power to Wonder Man, a creation he hopes will give the Masters the edge with the Avengers, but of course Wonder Man turns on the villains especially Zemo.


Zemo is a thorn in the Avengers' side for several issues of the early run.


But finally he and Captain America face off in a final battle which proves deadly for the notorious Nazi scientist and justice is served at long last.


Now to see an alternate version of the mighty battle from Avengers #6 check out this Marvel Super Heroes adaptation from 1966. Likely this was the first version of the story (which eliminates Bucky, Rick Jones, Giant-Man and the lovely Wasp) I ever encountered. The ending is a bit different too. But that delicious Kirby artwork is fully on display.


Now that Jack Kirby is gone from the Howling Commandos comic, it does lose a little steam. I admire Dick Ayers, but his ability to inject the excitement into the series falls far short of what Kirby had done with the book. This title had some of Kirby's best work and though Ayers will become a mainstay with the title and to some extent develop his own more muscular style (and is later joined by the great John Severin) which proves quite successful there is always the question of what might have been.

But Kirby is not quite done. There is one more Kirby drawn Howlers issue and it co-stars a certain Living Legend. One more to come.

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8 comments:

  1. One of the kool aspects of the early Marvel Age was how we could see both younger and current versions of characters, all of whom seemed to revolve around Nick Fury as both 1940s Sgt Fury and 1960s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
    Zemo, Baron Strucker, Captain America, and Reed Richards all met up with both incarnations of Fury, while Ben Grimm met Fury's Marine counterpart Captain Savage (who also battled Strucker).

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    1. In a way the Marvel movie universe did something similar with SHIELD being the glue between the movies in the early installments. Smart.

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    2. Weird Trivia: The comics version of "The Origin of Hydra" (including the chronological first appearance of their green/yellow hooded uniforms, logo, and motto) occured in the never-reprinted Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #4!
      While aspects of it have been mentioned elsewhere, it's only here that we discover Hydra was actually conceived as a secret Japanese operation which Strucker co-opted by killing the original Supreme Hydra!

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    3. It's always been a mystery to me why those Captain Savage issues, which hold up extremely well in story and art have never been reprinted.

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  2. It's impressive that Stan and Jack could come up with an arch-villain of this caliber out of nowhere. He was introduced as an important part of Cap's history and was underscored by having a simultaneous debut in two books. That gave him a lot of gravitas to begin with, and then you have the horrific gothic idea of being imprisoned by his mask in a way that not even Dr. Doom had to endure. Arch-foes like this were an important part of what made Marvel work (and lesser villains a reason why some strips worked less well.) It was quite a leap when they actually killed him off, though of course they found ways to revisit Zemo in later stories.

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    1. Baron Zemo has always been a fave. The second generation Zemo who eventually started the Thunderbolts is a great character, perhaps better than his evil dad.

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  3. Would I be showing my age if I say that the first thing I thought of when seeing the cover of Avengers #7 was "Ah! Enchantress! Marvel Value Stamp!"

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    1. You and me both. A lot of those classic poses made the stamps and getting them connected to the actual comics sometimes took years. The GCD makes it almost too easy these days.

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