Comic books are pop culture periodicals, and that means periodically they're forced to confront real-world events and social issues head on. Some comics manage to address current happenings thoughtfully and end up valuable time capsules of opinions on the issues of the day. Others are junk, using headlines tacked onto typical nonsensical stories for sheer novelty value. Guess which one this is?
It's 1967. The war in Vietnam is heating up. Americans are burning draft cards and protesting in record numbers as controversies erupt around American militarism, conscription, civilian casualties, and the use of napalm. Meanwhile the comic book world, along with the hardhats and Archie Bunkers, looks back nostalgically to the last American war that ended well (for America). Can we send our World War 2 heroes in to win Vietnam? Will their adventures become a collector's classic? No, and no.
One thing nobody - not even hippies - were protesting was how terribly talky comic books were getting. Just try to wring some drama out of the tons of verbiage weighing everything down here on the splash page alone. It - like victory in Vietnam - is truly a struggle!
The .45 caliber bullet travels at 830 feet per second, and if you think that's fast, try to imagine how quickly Nick Fury is spitting out dialogue as he leaps over one blast of gunfire and sends another burst heading into a luckless Victor Charlie, who only has time to mutter one sentence before dying.
Hey guys, did you know that some racist terms at one point weren't considered racist? Or that terms that would get you absolutely destroyed in say, Harlem or Watts, are merely humorous commentary while battling guerrillas in Vietnam? That's what we call the law of the jungle... bunny. Wait, what's that? This term was already racist in 1967? Sigh. Sgt. Fury just milkshake ducked.
But let's go back to the beginning of our adventure, as we're reminded that in 1967 Nick Fury was director of SHIELD, a vast super-spy agency tasked with defeating HYDRA and inspiring scripts for films that will one day generate billions of dollars. So the question is, what is Nick Fury doing roaming around Vietnamese jungles blasting Charlie, and also, when exactly did he become Samuel L. Jackson?
Reality intrudes as President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives to inform SHIELD of the threat of the... wait for it... North Vietnamese Hydrogen Bomb. You'd think a guy that had to fake a Gulf Of Tonkin incident as an excuse to send in the Marines would LOVE to tell a disapproving world all about an ACTUAL casus belli (look it up, kids).
Oh no, LBJ would NEVER want to escalate the Vietnam War by bombing North Vietnam, which was actually happening as this comic book was being written, drawn, printed, distributed, sold, and read. Nope, the only way to stop this threat is to call the Fantastic Four... or the Avengers... maybe the X-Men... no, definitely untrained middle-aged World War Two veterans. The only way.
And so the next five pages of this exciting adventure comic are filled with scenes of Nick Fury calling people on the telephone.
One of the former Howling Commandos is Dino Manelli, who from the start was a bargain basement Dean Martin, and is *still* a bargain basement Dean Martin. Now I know what you're thinking, you're thinking that this means somewhere in the Howling Commandos is a bargain basement Jerry Lewis. Don't we wish!
Another one of the former Howlers is found in Brooklyn where he's putting his former army training to good use. Do YOU want to learn skills and talents that will help you in civilian life? The Army can help! Or, if you want to stay out of the army, try college. It worked for Peter Parker!
Okay ya yowlin' yardbirds, time to take the excitement level of this blistering action story and kick it up a notch! So, go to bed. Nighty-night.
The former Howling Commandos are assembled waiting for LBJ to show off his scar, or his dog, or to talk about how we're running a god-damned Murder Inc. in the Carribbean. No, wait, that's later. Anyway, in case you don't know who the Howling Commandos are, from left to right that's Eric, Gabe, Izzy, Percy, Pinky, Patsy, Froggy, Spanky, and "The Stick". Just the team to infiltrate (checks notes) an Asian nation.
Sure, we have a fifteen billion dollar helicarrier staffed by thousands of high-tech intelligence operatives trained to infiltrate and neutralize worldwide threats, all of whom could easily accomplish this mission. But that wouldn't be any fun, would it? Good luck, you guys!
Also back from World War Two is the Howling Commandos' former Captain, now General Sawyer, whose job in this comic is to talk a lot and obscure any chance of the artist having to actually draw a map with Vietnam on it. We wouldn't want anyone to know what it looks like or where it's located in the world. Plenty of time to learn about it after you're drafted.
And SIX PAGES LATER the Howlers are finally in Vietnam getting into their Vietnamese peasant disguise, because nothing says "Vietnamese peasant" like a giant red-headed Irishman, a blonde Kentuckian, a black jazz trumpeter, and an Italian-American TV star. Vietnam, the great melting pot.
The VC attack is repelled, not by firepower, but by the weird, desperate insults. "Stink-weed sniffers?" That's the best we can come up with? No wonder this war was unpopular.
What did the Edsel ever do to you, German Howling Commando? Was it not utilitarian or efficient enough for you?
Now GET SOME SLEEP! This comic is well aware that it's full of middle-aged dads who need their naps!
We have to go all the way to Haiphong harbor to get characters willing to acknowledge the growing unpopularity of the Vietnam war. Who are promptly scuba-kicked! Take that, peaceniks!
A lot of people talk about "yellowface" today, but only this comic had the guts to actually go there.
Oh nothing, just learned the national anthems of all one hundred and sixty five nations, just in case he needed to blat them out on a bugle someday. That's how Gabe Jones rolls.
THE DISTANT RUMBLING OF GUNS MINGLES WITH OUR MARCHING SONG! Either sing along, or take your cyanide tablets. Your choice.
"I wonder who these eight Westerners are, wandering into our top secret nuclear facility? Surely they are merely atomic scientists here to aid us in our quest for world conquest. No need to check their IDs." Things were going swell until New Guy Hoàng over there had to get all nosey.
If only the super spy organization they came from had thought about giving them papers showing they were, say, visiting dignitaries from non-aligned nations. But that isn't what the readers want, the readers want to see the Howling Commandos erupt in a furious blaze of unnecessary dialogue!
Vietnamese, German, they're pretty similar, right?
If you can't kick one soldier while punching another and shooting a submachine gun with your free hand, well, there's no place for you in the Howling Commandos. I'm sorry.
It takes a whale of a charge to explode a hydrogen bomb! You know, like the explosives used inside the core of the weapon itself that compress the fissionable material, those explosives that are right there, right in front of you... or you could just do it the hard way. Whatever, Izzy.
Twenty whole minutes. Plenty of time to escape the potential blast radius of a thermonuclear weapon!
"By the Holy Buddha" is definitely an exclamation that an atheist Communist would totally say, sure.
"Sawed-off log warts," on the other hand, is not anything anyone ever said, ever.
The Howling Commandos escape the blast which destroyed the busy port city of Haiphong in a firey nuclear explosion. Fortunately, the city was rebuilt in time to be bombed again in 1972 during "Operation Linebacker II."
There's always the chances of an ambush in Vietnam. Of course these days it's probably somebody handing out pamphlets for Nah Trang resort hotels or trips to the caves at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Things have changed a little for visitors!
A "Charlie Trap" - kind of like a "Charley Horse," but a little more painful. Especially when they start with the body shaming!
So thirty six pages later this comic has looped all the way back to the beginning, just because it knew you really wanted to see how much more of Nick Fury's shirt could get ripped off.
FUN FACT: after thirty eight pages, countless rounds of ammunition, and a city-destroying nuclear detonation, Nick Fury getting hit on the head here is the single solitary injury any one of our heroes suffers in the course of these adventures. Curse the luck!
Oh no, now the whole blasted war's gonna get "stepped up"? As opposed to what, exactly? Gonna drop eight million tons of bombs instead of merely seven?
I'm sorry, just a little salty. We could have TEN Moon bases by now for what all those munitions cost.
Anyway, looks like it's curtains for Nick Fury and his old WWII buddy "Bull" McGiveny, who basically exists to make Fury seem classy and handsome, they're going to be shot and there's no way the Howling Commandos would ever disobey orders and rescue their leader, no sir.
I'll give Dick Ayers this, at least he isn't drawing the Vietnamese like caricature Orientals. In fact, I'm not sure exactly who these people are supposed to be. Maybe there are times when portraying recognizable ethnic features has narrative value, maybe?
But it's time to bid farewell to Indochina and its feisty natives, whatever phenotype they may belong to. Let's get the heck out of here and back to the 1940s!
WAKE UP! GO TO SLEEP! WAKE UP! This comic spends more time putting us to bed than it does destroying the enemies of democracy! But after 43 solid pages of howling, exploding, shooting, and insulting, the likes of which few men ever know, I think we're all entitled to a nap. Hit the sack, ya yowlin' yardbirds!
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