Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Howlers - Captain America!

The revival of Captain America, a Golden Age Timely creation of Joe Simon and Jack "King" Kirby proved to be a great idea. The other Golden Age greats like the Human Torch who was re-imagined as a teenage hero with the Fab 4 and the Sub-Mariner who at first was a villain of sorts had proven there was still room for these Golden Age concepts to find footing. Captain America, sans his kid partner Bucky was thrust into the modern world. But that didn't mean that there weren't more World War II adventures to tell. The first of these was told in the pages of the thirteenth issue Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos written by Stan Lee and drawn by Cap's co-creator Jack Kirby with regular Fury artist Dick Ayers back on inking chores for one standalone special issue.

When the story picks up we find Fury and his girlfriend Pamela Hawley on a date at the cinema where they enjoy a newsreel featuring the Howlers and a new phenom battleground figure Captain America. Fury is dismissive of this new guy as the couple go to a pub where Fury gets into a fight with his old nemesis Bull McGiveney who had been picking on a familiar golden-haired army recruit we know as Steve Rogers. Later we see Cap and Bucky discussing their next mission and Cap's says that Fury and the Howlers would be ideal to work with on an upcoming mission. Then Cap and Bucky fight their way into enemy territory to investigate a plot to tunnel into the protected island of Britain.

Eventually Fury and the Howlers are given the go ahead to enter the battlefield and they do so with Howlers falling along the road, each either wounded or distracted by battle. Soon only Fury and the youthful Reb Ralston make it to the rendevous and find themselves aboard a train which is shuttling slave labor to work on the the mysterious tunnel. The two discover Cap and Bucky and in two teams they fight to destroy the tunnel and then independently they return to London, both with a profound respect for the others. The Howlers are reunited, all of them having returned safely.

There's no doubt this is a blockbuster of a story. Kirby's artwork is robust and at its action-filled peak. At this stage I preferred Chic Stone's inks to those of Ayers, but there's not much between them, and this is Dick's book after all. It's a strange adventure really as it's clearly decided to cut down on the Howlers and it's strange how they peel off as the story flows along. Cap and Bucky get a lot of page time in this one, especially early in the adventure which at some points you forget it's Fury's book.

Cap had just gotten his own series in the pages of Tales of Suspsense and clearly this delightful blast form the past is a jolt to call attention to that. Soon enough the modern day Nick Fury, the head of SHIELD will be showing up on a regular basis in the pages of Cap's series and now we know how the two rough and tough heroes met.

And that wraps up the Dojo's look at Kirby's work on the Howling Commandos. It's not work I was all that familiar with, some of these stories I think I've never read. They hold up amazingly well and Kirby's art was outstanding on most of the issues, just stellar. He really relished this type of adventure it seemed and it's a shame he didn't do more. But then we'd not have some other great classic and that would be a pity too.

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