Nick Fury and his loyal crew take the fight straight to the enemy in this classic of the war comic genre. This tome collects the first 19 issues of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers’ groundbreaking series.
The first thing you will notice about this series is the tone. While it deals with some heavy subject matter, it does it in a way that is just so unabashedly fun.
That’s because Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this series to be war comics for people who didn’t like war comics. Rather than focusing on the kind of jingoistic “there go our boys” mentality shared by so many books like it, Lee and Kirby stuck to the tried and true Marvel way of writing their characters. Even though each of these soldiers have a comic-friendly gimmick or special skill of their own, they’re portrayed as real people. They have hopes and fears and bad days, just like the rest of us. Even the tough as nails Sgt. Fury is really a big ol’ softie at heart.
Rather than existing in a static version of the war, these characters could die. No one was safe, just like in the real war. Sure, the Commandos are hilariously better than the Nazis at just about every turn, but the series still had a real sense of stakes.
It was ahead of its time in other regards, too. The very first issue features a female leader of the French Resistance. Her gender is never addressed in any of the ways you’d expect a book from this period to do. There’s no, “How about that? A dame running an army!” She shows up, kicks some butt, gives an order, and the Howling Commandos get to work. It’s a great bit of forward-thinking on Stan’s part, especially at a time when most of Marvel’s female characters were damsels in distress or nagging molls like The Amazing Spider-Man’s Betty Brant.
Having been created using the tried-and-true “Marvel Method,” wherein Stan Lee would usually present the artist with an outline, then add dialogue to the completed comic to make sense of the illustrations, there are the occasional odd storytelling beats. In particular, Lee occasionally had a habit of over-explaining what’s happening in a particular panel, with a narration box and a word balloon leaving no room for artistic interpretation.
However, this isn’t as prevalent here as it was in some of the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. For the most part, Lee and Kirby work well together in telling coherent Commando stories without stepping on one another’s toes. I mean, this is one of the greatest creative teams in the history of the biz, after all!
Kirby’s artwork is perfectly suited to the series, by the way. The Commandos never waste a second in the field, so Kirby’s habit of illustrating characters in a constant state of motion really adds to the forward momentum of each story. Even in pages that are chockfull of dialogue, the stories move at a brisk pace. The action never feels repetitive, which is good, because this series contains a lot of action.
For fans of classic Marvel, this book is a must-buy. Even when things look darkest for Nick Fury and his team, the stories are fun and heartfelt, featuring a can-do attitude that is so important for tales of this type. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood while seeing these fellas charging into battle with a grin and a “WAHOO!”
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