When Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee died this week most reports of his death included the super hero characters he created, such as Spider Man, The Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. But the Lee creations that helped me get through summer camp and learn the importance of loyalty and justice all wore military uniforms. In the 1960s, I was addicted to the comic book series featuring Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, a rough, tough U.S. Army unit fighting the Nazis during World War II. Although they had no super human qualities, they represented the machismo and bravado necessary to whip Adolf Hitler’s army pretty much all by themselves.
I collected and kept each issue I could find so I could go back and read about the exploits of Sgt. Fury again and again. At twelve- to fifteen-cents per copy, the price was even in a nine-year-old’s budget. Stan Lee was credited with writing many of the stories. The personality of each commando demonstrated Lee’s desire to show many sides of America to elementary school students like me. “Reb” was a Kentuckian whose dialogue bubbles exuded a southern drawl. “Dum Dum,” the tough guy, spoke with the grammar of stereotypical black and white movie boxers of the 1950s. “Gabe,” the unit’s black member, had been a jazz trumpeter in civilian life and “Dino” and “Izzy” represented New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and America’s Jewish culture. It is my belief that Lee wanted his young readers to know that people of all backgrounds could work together for a common cause.
I was so impressed with Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, I named my dog “Sergeant,” when my step-father found him in the woods near his Jackson, Mississippi marina and brought him home to me. The canine Sergeant proved to be just as loyal and upright as his comic book namesake. He also lived up to the name of Sgt. Fury’s unit when he chose to howl.
Beyond the story lines, some of the most entertaining parts of all comic books were found in the advertisements. The ads for Charles Atlas-style body building programs made all of us kids feel inferior. Kits to start million dollar businesses by selling flower seeds and greeting cards made young would-be entrepreneurs yearn to succeed. And, of course, I would still like to have a pair of “genuine” X-Ray glasses.
Through Sgt. Fury, Stan Lee proved that unbelievable super powers were not imperative in a person’s quest to do right. Fury’s commandos didn’t miraculously fly through the air or leap twenty feet in the blink of an eye. They fought real, historical injustice, teaching a little history along the way.
Text and photos copyright 2018 by Les Kerr.