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"Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Nov. 1963; Marvel Comics; featuring "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh!", edited and written by Stan Lee, pencilled (and probably co-plotted) by Jack Kirby, and inked by "George Bell" (aka George Roussos).

Review by Bill Henley

Continuing my reviews of Silver Age Marvels, here's one that is slightly memorable for me because it was the first issue of SGT. FURY I ever saw. While I wasn't especially a war comics fan, when I became a dedicated Marvelite a little later, I bought and read every issue of FURY along with the superhero mags. (I drew the line at the Westerns and MILLIE THE MODEL, however....though Larry Lieber's RAWHIDE KID actually wasn't a bad read.) Stan Lee billed SGT. FURY as "The War Mag For People Who Hate War Mags". Re-reading this story, I note that he could also have billed it as "The War Mag For People Who Don't Give a Damn About Historical Accuracy.". However, Stan was pretty up-front about the fact that SGT. FURY was a fantasy, with little more connection to the reality of World War II than the Marvel superhero comics had to do with the mundane reality of 1960's New York City.

On the cover by Kirby, Nick Fury bursts through a plate glass window into the midst of a banquet of Nazi soldiers and bigwigs, with his Howlers following close behind. But one of them, not for long; a small cover blurb informs us, "SPECIAL! One commando will fight no more after this nightmare mission!" On the splash page, the blurb is "TIME: World War II; PLACE: Heart of bomb-torn London; EVENT: a surprise daylight AIR RAID by Hitler's dreaded LUFTWAFFE!" and the splash scene is a reaction shot of the seven Howlers-- looking a bit more spic and span than usual for their leave in the big city. As the Howlers and London citizens scatter for shelter, Nick Fury shakes a fist at the bombers and shouts, "DROP 'EM, you yellow rats! Soon, it'll be OUR turn and we'll see how YOU can take it! Because you're gonna get it back, IN SPADES!" Then Fury hears a cry for help from a pretty, dark-haired uniformed Red Cross nurse who is trying to aid a boy injured in the bombing. Fury picks the boy up and is led by the nurse to an air-raid shelter in an underground subway station. After bringing the boy to safety, Fury wants to go back outside to look for the other Howlers, but the nurse puts her foot down; "I said you stay here! That's an ORDER!" "Guess you're right! I can't fight dive bombers with cuss words!" (Especially since the Comics Code won't let you use any real cuss words....) As the nurse wonders, "When will they realize we'll NEVER surrender, no matter what?" Fury responds, "That stiff upper lip routine ain't just a sack of hot air, is it? You Englishmen really MEAN it!" And in the sky above, the "valiant, outnumbered R.A.F." pounds the Luftwaffe bombers until the German flight leader commands, "ACHTUNG! Back to Berlin! MACH SCHNELL!" and his RAF rival exults, "We've jolly well BEATEN the blighters!"

(In reality, of course, the Blitz and the Battle of Britain were long since over by the time American troops began arriving in England after Pearl Harbor. Not to mention that Luftwaffe bombers hitting London would have been based in occupied France, not Berlin.)

Once the all-clear is sounded, Fury shrugs off the thanks of the pretty nurse in order to rush off and rejoin the Howlers, while reflecting, "Oughta have my fat HEAD examined for runnin' out on that livin' doll...but what chance would a slob like ME have, anyway?" Hitching a ride back to the Howlers' base on Britain's east coast, Fury finds the Howlers safely back in their barracks and glad to see their beloved sergeant has also survived the air raid. Fury shows his appreciation for their concern by snapping them to attention and giving them a chewing out. An added irritation is the barracks radio which is broadcasting from Berlin the sneering tones of the aristocratic Englishman known as "Lord Ha-Ha". "What lame-brained nitwit went and turned that crummy TRAITOR on?" "Aw, Sarge....we all like to listen to Lord Ha-Ha just for LAUGHS!" As Fury grumbles some more, in Berlin Lord Ha-Ha finishes his propaganda broadcast and is praised by his Nazi masters. He asks why his handlers want him to make a special point of taunting the Commando troops, and is told, "They are a THORN in your side! If ve can provoke them enough, maybe they will try to steal into Berlin to silence you! Then ve vill TRAP them!"

Some time later, Sgt. Fury is summoned by his commanding officer Col. "Happy Sam" Sawyer and presented with one of the most difficult and unwelcome assignments of his career-- attending a fancy tea party held by an English lord! Why would the rought-edged sergeant be invited to such an event? Sawyer doesn't know, but he gives Fury the "word from upstairs"-- be there, whether he likes it or not! Fury goes off grumbling, and his mood isn't improved any when the Howlers notice him shaving and otherwise sprucing himself up, and set out to help him-- "You'll be a livin' doll!"-- while Dum Dum Dugan and Izzy Cohen dance around singing, "SARGEY-WARGEY'S GOT A DATE! Tra-la-la-la-la!" The half-dressed topkick fires a gun at Dum Dum and Izzy, sending them fleeing the barracks. (I think actually shooting at one's troops would have been considered something of an overreaction even in the old days before the Army became a "kinder, gentler" institution....)

Arriving at Hawley Manor, even Fury is impressed by the sprawling mansion; "MAN! He sure didn't buy that with trading stamps! What a great spot for a POOL ROOM!" Fury is startled to discover that his host's daughter Pamela Hawley is the Red Cross nurse he aided earlier. But he is not there just to receive her gratitude--- there is also a Howler mission in the offing. It seems that her brother, Sir Percy Hawley, is the notorious "Lord Ha-Ha"! The Hawley family believe that Percy has been tortured into aiding the Nazis, and they want Fury and the Howlers to infiltrate Berlin and rescue him. The Allied brass want the same, since freeing "Ha-Ha" and getting him to broadcast for the Allies would be a great propaganda victory. "So all I gotta do is slip into Berlin with six Howlers, and whisk that crummy traitor back to England, right out from under the noses of a hundred thousand hand-picked storm troopers, huh?" "You SAID it, soldier! And be QUICK about it, because I've got some real TOUGH jobs lined up for you when you return!"

And so, that very night, the Howlers are carried to the outskirts of Berlin by an American bomber and parachute to the ground, where they encounter a squad of German police hunting a fugitive. But not a human fugitive-- an escaped lion from a circus! The police find the lion and prepare to shoot it, over the protests of the beautiful female lion-tamer, but the Howlers emerge from hiding to rout the police, for the lion-tamer is also their German underground contact and the traveling circus will be their base. Aboard the circus train, the Howlers assume the guise of performers, and Dum-Dum adds a fillip to their mission as he casually hurls a bundle of dynamite from the train to destroy a nearby railroad gun.

Arriving in Berlin, Fury and German-speaking Dino Manelli don German uniforms and visit the city radio station, seeking the whereabouts of Lord Ha-Ha from a plump female Nazi clerk. Dino employs his movie-star charm; "You mean a beautiful fraulein like you, with such big, blue luffable eyes, cannot do a little favor for a lonesome storm-trooper?" "Don't lay it on too THICK, you ham!" But the ploy is successful, and they learn that following his broadcast His Lordship is enjoying dinner at the palatial mansiion of a gauleiter (local Nazi official). And so, the Howlers arrive stealthily at the mansion and dispose of the outside guards; "Ain't it a serious breach of etiquette to pay a visit without an invite?" "Yeah! I'm worried sick about it! Don't breathe a word to Emily Post!" Even as Lord Ha-Ha previews for an appreciative audience his next radio talk about the cowardice and atrocities of the Allied Commandos, the "cowardly" Howlers burst into the room to seize the radio traitor. Fury and Dum-Dum grab the protesting Lord Ha-Ha, while Reb Ralston, Izzy Cohen and Junior Juniper fight off the Nazi bigwigs. Their escape is seemingly cut off when Nazi troops hurriedly set up a machine-gun nest on the lawn outside, but Dum-Dum and Dino rise up from hiding to disable the enemy. (Oddly, Dum-Dum is said in the caption to have been hiding outside all along, though he was seen on the previous page inside the building helping grab Ha-Ha.) Finally, Gabe Jones decoys some more arriving troops by blowing his trumpet to attract their attention and then hurling a grenade into their midst. "Where'd you learn to shoot, man? In a PENNY ARCADE? Okay, you HAD your it's MY inning! HEADS UP, master race!" As the Howlers flee with a struggling Lord Ha-Ha in tow, Gabe exults "MAN! Didn't they look great trying to dive into foxholes that weren't there!" and then urges, "HEY! Call off the war for a while, Sarge! My mouthpiece needs tightening!" "Your HEAD's gonna need tightening if you don't get the lead out, Mister!"

After Izzy Cohen does emergency repairs under fire on the Howlers' shot-up auto, the squad escapes pursuit by detouring through a swamp where the Nazi troops' heavier vehicles get stuck in the mire. As bullets whiz through the car, Lord Ha-Ha begs the Howlers to surrender, but Dum-Dum responds, "Hey, Iz! Ever HEAR that there word?" "Naw! What in blazes does it MEAN, Dum-Dum!" Reaching a hideout in an "abandoned house on the Bremerhaven coast", the Howlers wait for a submarine to arrive to pick them up, as Fury asks Lord Ha-Ha, "Tell me something...what makes a Joe like you turn traitor?" "I do NOT consider myself a traitor! Every man fights in his own way for what he believes in! I believe in the glorious destiny of Der Fuehrer's Third Reich!" "Just like I thought! Hawley, you're a NUT!" Then a routine German tank patrol passes by the scene. The Howlers are safely hidden from view, however....until Lord Ha-Ha grabs an automatic rifle and flees the house, firing the rifle to attract the attention of the Nazi troops. But instead of rescuing him from his "rescuers", the German tankmen think he is a madman with a gun and shoot him down. Realzing there are enemy troops in the house, the tank crews blow it apart as the Howlers flee. It looks like this will be the Howlers' last stand, facing a platoon of tanks with only small arms; "Iz, you can forget that sawbuck you owe me!" "Thanks, Reb! Like I always said, you're all HEART!" "C'mon, Gabe! Let's hear those saints go marchin' in one last time, ol' buddy!" "It's curtains for ALL of us, but at least we're goin' like HOWLERS!" But then, as shell bursts explode near the Howlers, they realize the shells are coming not from the tanks, but from the American sub that has arrived to pick them up. The sub blows the tanks up with its deck guns and then makes the pickup. But it is too late for one Howler-- Junior Juniper, the youngest member of the squad, who is fatally wounded. (Over the history of the SGT. FURY strip, Junior will also prove to be the only member of the squad to die and stay dead, though one or two others were "comic-book dead" at some point and then got better. And this, of course, is probably the biggest departure from reality in the series.... real combat soldiers, let alone "special operations" specialists like the Howlers, never led such charmed lives.) As the surviving Howlers ride a raft out to the sub, Fury reflects, "We lost TWO men this time out....Junior, and Lord Ha-Ha!" "Aw, that rotten traitor wasn't fit to shine Junior's shoes!" "But it won't be easy to tell his sister!" And indeed, when Fury finally is reunited with Pamela Hawley, he does not tell her the whole truth; he allows Pamela to think her brother was not a traitor at heart, and when asked how Percy died, Fury tells her, "You'd have been PROUD of him, Pam! He went like a hero! I was there!" As they walk off together, Fury ponders, "How can I tell her the truth about him? What good would it do? I'd face a regiment single-handed sooner than hurt....this one girl!"

In later issues, Pamela Hawley herself would be "killed in action" in an air raid, inspiring Nick Fury to a paroxysm of revenge, and Junior's place in the squad would be taken by Percy Pinkerton, a foppish but courageous Englishman. (In real history, *all* the Commandos were Englishmen or British Commonwealth troops-- the term "Commando" was applied only to British troops. The U.S. Army equivalents were known as "Rangers". Somehow, though, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING RANGERS doesn't have the same ring to it. Besides, Tomahawk over at DC might have objected.)

(And there really was a British radio propagandist for the Nazis who was popularly known as "Lord Haw Haw", but his real name wasn't Percy Hawley, he wasn't a real lord, and he didn't get killed in an Allied commando raid. His name was William Joyce, and he was captured, tried, and hanged for treason by the British after the war.)

No lettercol in this issue yet, but there are house ads for AVENGERS #3 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #7, as well as a page depicting "Weapons of War! Combat Rifles of World War II"