Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #14
"The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!"
writer: Stan Lee
pencils: Dick Ayers
inks: Geo Bell
letters: Artie Simek
This issue hurts my brain for several reasons.
The first is that this issue is supposed to mark the big debut of Strucker's Blitzkrieg Squad. The cover clearly promises this, showing an exciting confrontation between them and the Howlers, and we spend five pages watching Strucker amass and train a crew with skills and abilities exactly equal to those of the individual Howlers, yet there is no confrontation! Apart from Gabe's counterpart playing a flute, the rest just pull levers and throw nets and steel crates to trap the Howlers. We never actually see this "Blitzkrieg Squad" in action, never see them match their abilities against those of the Howlers, etc. By the end of this issue, you'd expect to see the big confrontation, watch the Howlers prevail, and learn that it isn't the individual skills and abilities that matter, but rather the resolve that comes from American rugged individualism, but this story never gets there. We never even learn any of the Squad members' names, never see them in action, and pretty much forget about them so much that, in the last panel, when Dick shows us their faces and Stan promises that they will return, my initial response was, "Who? ...Oh. Uh, why?"
Another thing I didn't get about this issue was the return of Captain Savage. Stan and Dick draw a lot of attention to his return, yet his name is never given, and he doesn't really add anything to this story or even further the plot in a way that some other submarine captain couldn't. Was Stan testing the waters to see if fans would demand to see more from this character? Between this and Happy Sam's taking time off to train some other team a few issues back, it seems like Stan might have been thinking about launching Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders this early on, but (as Cei-U! has aptly pointed out), that title is still three years away.
Then there's the whole continuity problem. The first issue clearly indicates that D-Day was already being planned, leaving me to wonder if continuity was going to make any sense in a series that was clearly intended to be ongoing. But then Stan has this issue begin with the Howlers training for D-Day. It had me begin to think that Stan WAS watching continuity and intentionally setting this title in the final months of the European Theater. But then, in this VERY SAME ISSUE, he responds to a fan's letter by saying:
"Anyhow, you should know by now that our yarns don't necessarily follow any definite chronological order...We just write 'em as we dream 'em up! Okay?"
Here's a hint, then. Don't mention D-Day in your stories! If you don't want us to look for chronology, then avoid the battle that EVERYONE knows definitively ended the conflict in Europe! Granted, the attack on Okinawa was a giveaway to some as well, but how much more stupidly obvious can you be than by repeatedly invoking D-Day? Save it for one of those annuals that take place in the future!
And finally, Ayers' art is really starting to lose its charm. Whereas I originally praised him for his attention to facial detail, his characters' faces are suddenly becoming as wildly inconsistent as Kirby's. Check out Fury in the last panel of page 8, Captain Savage on page 10, Reb on page 12, Hitler on page 19, and even the German flautist across panels on page 5. Inexcusable, considering how consistently we've seen him draw faces before.
The minor details:
- Strucker got his spectacle back. He didn't have one in his last appearance.
- Hitler spends all that time threatening to kill Strucker if he fails in this mission, and yet nothing appears to happen when he does fail. What gives?
- Strucker has now become the Howler's main antagonist by default. Hitler essentially decides to use Strucker to stop the Howlers because he's failed the least miserably in attempting to stop them in the past, so we can be pretty sure Hitler will employ the same logic again. Not sure I like the idea of The Howlers getting a supervillain team akin to The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, though. Isn't this supposed to be a war comic?
The plot synopsis in one sentence:
Hitler orders Strucker to capture The Howlers, Strucker assembles his own team of commandos with skills equal to those of the individual Howlers, he sets a trap for them with fake missiles, they fall into the trap, they get out of the trap, and Strucker looks stupid.
Pretty much an "eh" issue that felt a little too much like a generic superhero team story, not giving enough attention to the charm that makes this title special.
I wonder if Strucker's "Blitzkrieg Squad" truly will return.