A Tale of Two Furys
Firstly for those who need reminding, Sgt. Fury was a comic book series created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Published by Marvel Comics from 1963 to 1981, it was originally inspired by the English special forces.
Secondly, the English commandos were arguably the first special forces-style unit specifically created by a national armed force. They were comprised of a rag-tag pack of real life mongrel mavericks. A primary aim of taking a very different form of covert warfare took them to the back yard of the Nazis. They, in turn, preened and posed in their Boss outfits and regimented designer threads.
It’s no surprise that the commando model appealed to the genesis comic book legends who, with this series, focused on heroic everyday humans. They immortalized the commandos in print as a supplement to the growing ranks of super-powered superheroes. In the process, they created an iconic range of story lines and characters. They inspired and entertain the Baby Boomer generation and their offspring, doubtless well aware of the actual stories of their forefathers at war.
The Howling Commandos
In addition to the rugged, uncompromising, and inspirational every man leader Fury, his elite special unit of US Army Rangers nicknamed the Howling Commandos. They consisted of characters that were both archetypes and ground breaking culturally given the politics of the time:
- Corporal Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader “Dum Dum” Dugan – The satirically misogynistic former circus strongman, Dum Dum is Fury’s uncompromising good right hand.
- Private Isadore “Izzy” Cohen – Master mechanic, is arguably the first demonstrably Jewish American comic book hero. Izzy is a master mechanic.
- Private Gabriel Jones – An African American serving in an integrated unit, though the U.S. armed forces were not in real-life integrated until after the war, in 1948.
- Private Dino Manelli– Modeled after Dean Martin. A swashbuckling movie actor, born in Italy, Dino enlisted to give back to the country that gave him so much. He is fluent in both Italian and German.
- Private Robert “Rebel” Ralston – An ex-jockey from Kentucky Bluegrass country.
- Private Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton – An iconic name, loosely modeled after real life Commando and movie actor David Niven. This British soldier replaced Juniper in issue #8 (July 1964).
- Private Jonathan “Junior” Juniper — In an unusual and daring move for comics at the time, Junior was killed in action after a few issues (#4, Nov. 1963). As one comics historian wrote in 1999, “Today that’s no big deal, but in 1963, comics heroes simply didn’t die; not permanently, anyway. Suddenly, with the death of ‘Junior’ Juniper, the series acquired some real cachet. It now played like a true-life war drama where people got killed and never came back. You wondered who would be next.
- Private Eric Koenig – A defector from Nazi Germany who joined the squad in issue #27 (Feb. 1966).
That cast first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (cover dated May 1963), but still reads like a lineup to rival contemporary movies of the day like The Magnificent Seven or Dirty Dozen. They certainly had and still have plenty of untapped storytelling mileage. Yet, oddly, no filmmaker has been able to exploit this potential fully.
To date, they have only had bit parts in X-Men animations, the odd Avengers appearance and, of course, little more than a stylish cameo in Captain America: The First Avenger in which they were largely shorn of their character.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series also featured little more than occasional glimpses of the Howling Commandos when they really could have featured much more prominently.
It is more than a little ironic that Nick Fury, the archetypal snarling war horse NCO has, in the process of the evolution of the Avengers narrative been completely re-imagined and overhauled by the studios. Some will point to a promotion as he has morphed into the leader of Marvel’s super-spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. Yet others will opine that Nick Fury now bears little realistic relation to Sgt. Fury at all, and appears to have no Howling Commando link.
And that’s a real shame.
In yet another sizeable nod to celebrity, it is widely reported that the original Hollywood manifestation of Fury was to cast him in the literal image of George Clooney who was to play him. But that didn’t work out. The crazy Clooney idea aside, without any disrespect at all to Samuel L Jackson, who is as brilliant as ever in the Marvel role, the Fury who is imperious in black leathers has more, stylistically, in common with the cool vibe of Sgt. Fury’s original enemies, than the legacy character himself. Nick Fury shares little more than a name with the source character and while that fits the latter day narrative, for me, that’s a travesty.
I’m no reactionary or conservative, far from it. I’ll confess, however, that I’m frankly bored with the politicization of the characters to create social marketing stand-out, buzz, and to attract fresh audiences. But I am a fan of the Avengers and the contemporary characterization and story lines. What saddens me, however, is the lost potential of the original characters.
What Was & What Could Be
Look at that Howling Commandos character list again. It reads like a cast-list for a film I would really like to see. And I mean to see them clad in their camouflage and fatigues, their battldress and their syntax and their norms of the age, not the pseudo-Matrix blended version of the, now cliched, black-suited vanilla-flavoured notion of cool. I want to see the Howlers and their back story brought properly to life on the screen, not as bit-part understudies and bullet-spewing toters of one-liners for the headline actors and demigods.
I really want to see a proper Sgt. Fury and Howling Commandos film or film series.
I don’t want their legacy to be sacrificed and their essence cast to the cutting room floor.
Why is that too much to ask?
And while I’m banging this drum for the classic characters, isn’t it high time Cyclops had a better script writer and threw off the horns that have cuckolded him while Wolverine and the cult of Jackman have laid his leadership, love life and starring role to waste? Come to mention it, wouldn’t it be nice if Hawkeye and Hawkman could recover some of their true superhero cache? Or the Beast and Thing given a storyline and a prominent role that restores their action hero creds? Maybe even as part of a further incarnation of the Avengers?
In fact, while we’re waiting for the ranks of the Avengers to swell, and for the real Sgt. Fury to step forward, isn’t a decent Fantastic 4 film long overdue?
Well that’s perhaps a debate for another day..