Topic: Comic Book History
TODAY'S FEATURE - Blog #3151:
Today I want to blog about Memorial Day...And Comic Books!
In particular I want to blog about a few issues from a comic book series I'm familar with, that of Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos, from Marvel Comics.
First though, I want to post a little history of the Holiday that we celebrate in the United States of America. That's because 'Memorial Day' itself has changed since I was a small kid. Sometimes growing up we take things for granted, unaware that 'history' keeps getting 'revised', even Holidays that we celebrate...
You see, 'Memorial Day' is now a United States Federal Holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May. It falls on May 31st this year of 2010.
The Holiday we celebrate today actually was at one time known as 'Decoration Day'. It is now a day to commemorate the U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. That would be all three branches: The Army, Navy and Air Force. I'm not leaving out the Marines, as they are part of the Navy. But they are definitely worth a special mention here. There have been several 'deaths' in the comic books, but I chose this year to honor the Army. More on that below. And yeah, I'm a 'Navy Brat', but I do honor the Army at least once a year during the Army / Navy Footbal Game. But I digress...
This Holiday, believe it or not, was first enacted to honor just the Union soldiers of the American Civil War. At first it was celebrated near the day of 'reunification' after the Civil War ended. Yet, somehow it was expanded after World War I, but not during the Spanish / American War?
Anyways, this alternative holiday name of "Memorial Day" was first started being used in 1882. However it was only after World War II (WWII) that it saw more common usage in the USA.
When I was younger, the Holiday Name 'Memorial Day' wasn't as big of a deal. Actually it wasn't until it was declared the official name by Federal law until 1967 that the 'Memorial Day' Holiday became so nationally known, at least in my personal experience. I was a teenager then, and my Dad was just finishing his service in the Navy.
Then to make things more confusing, on June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the 'Uniform Holidays Bill'. What was that all about? Well it moved three widely celebrated holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday.
This is where we today have these 3-Day Holiday Weekends. That's because the Bill was enacted in order to create a convenient three-day weekend! Sheesh!
I've been talking only about the 'Memorial Day' Holiday. What other holidays were affected? Well, they were George Washington's Birthday, which we now celebrate as "Presidents' Day", plus 'Veterans Day' which I usually blog something about my own family's military service, and of course Memorial Day.
It used to be that we would celebrate Memorial Day on its' traditional May 30th date. It was changed to be celebrated on the last Monday in May. Again with the changes...The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. So as I stated above, history and / or its celebration of it keeps getting 'revised'.
Whew! Now that I've finished talking about the Holiday itself...What about the Comic Books Connection?
This year I've selected 'Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, well...Just three issues actually. The series was actually pretty popular when I was growing up...Even though the Vietnam War did affect its' sales numbers.
Some that don't read comic books think that comic books just 'glorify' war. That couldn't be further from the truth! Sure, there are issues like #13 pictured above that feature Captain America and Bucky, but for the most part this Marvel Comic Book Series wasn't all about glorifying war.
A little 'history' here first:
Sgt Fury was actually first a civilian named 'Nick Fury', one of three children that grew up in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, New York City, New York.
I always wondered where Nick became good with his fists in brawls, especially with Sgt 'Bull' McGiveney of the Second Attack Squad, named the 'Maulers'. It turned out he was an amateur boxer. It wasn't until much later (in issue #34 from September of 1966), that we learned that he left with his friend Red Hargrove to pursue his dreams of adventure. They both eventually settled on a stunt wing-walking aviation act.
I could go on about this earlier history, but it's the above three comic books that I singled out today that are the focus of this blog. Suffice to say that Red was among the many killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The success of the First Attack Squad's first mission headed by Sgt Fury in the Autumn of 1942 was brought to the attention of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was he who incorporated the unit into the British Army itself, and the Squad was given the title of "Commandos".
Even though the early issues, brought to us by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were at times a little far-fetched(?), it was issues like #4 from November 1963, that brought this comic book title to the attention of non-war comics readers.
That's because Private Jonathan "Junior" Juniper was killed in action after just three earlier issues! This was unheard of during the early days of the Silver Age of Comics! Even the front cover (see top left comic book cover), had a a blurb on it stating: "Special! One Commando Will Fight No More After This Nightmare Mission!". Even though the front cover was more about Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh...it was what happened in the interior pages of this comic book that made this issue stand out.
Sure, today that's not such a big deal, but when I was a kid back in 1963, the comic book heroes didn't die. Villains yes, unless they were brought back repeatedly, (like Doctor Doom), but not the heroes. So this was the first 'death' that caught my attention. And it was during a mission. So this comic book death certainly rates a special mention here on Memorial Day.
Then, before we could get over that, the comic book series had its' next death. True, the death was not one of the Howling Commandos, although the front cover of Issue #18, (seen at above right), indicated that it could be one of them, but it is also worth a special mention this Memorial Day Weekend.
A casual browser at the spinner racks of the time just had to stop and pull out the comic book issue that raised proclaimed: "Once Again, Sudden Death Claims ANOTHER Victim! You Will Never Forget the Ending of This Powerful War Masterpiece!".
This issue killed off Sgt Fury's girlfriend. She was the British nurse named Pamela Hawley who had been introduced in issue #4, (Yes the same issue that killed off Junior), and was the daughter of an English Lord. Somehow Sgt Fury fell in love with her, but she was killed in a bombing raid of London before he could propose to her. That was so moving to me back in May of 1965...
Talking about moving issues, the last issue being hi-lited today is that of Issue #13, shown near the top left of this blog. This was before the death of Bucky, who years later turned out NOT to be dead, but at the time we in 1964 knew he was. I'm including him in this Memorial Day Comic Book Connection, because at the time we knew him to be one of those that 'died' in service of his country.
Yes, later on in this series, there would be the occasional other squad members who would join them for an issue or two before being killed, or transferred, but by that time I wasn't reading every issue...although I enjoyed Dick Ayers' artwork. Believe it or not, this title was sparsely distributed on the spinner racks at my local 7-11's out on the West Coast, San Diego area in particular! Maybe because it was a 'Navy Town'?!
That's it for this Memorial Day Comic Book Connection! Hopefully I didn't ramble on too long with the history of the holiday, and the connection that this comic book title has with it!
My thanks to those involved with the early issues of this comic book title, in particular those that brought us these three standout issues: Stan Lee - Jack Kirby - Chic Stone - George Roussos - Sol Brodsky - Sam Rosen - Artie Simek - Dick Ayers.
This title went on for 120 issues, from May of 1963 - July of 1974. Yeah, I believe the anti-war sentiment of the time of the Vietnam War had something to do with the poor sales leading to reprint issues, and then title cancellation...
AND My thanks again to all of YOU reading this blog and our earlier archived blog posts, now numbering over 3,150 in number!
~ Michael D Hamersky @ ComicBookCollectorsBlog.com
Note: Our online comic book store carries many different war titles from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Charlton Comics, and other publishers at: