The Howling Commandos and the Sliding Timeline

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The Howling Commandos and the Sliding Timeline

I’ve always been fond of the Howling Commandos, Stan and Jack’s mid-60s creation that gave us a WWII “ethnic diversity squad” in the Mighty Marvel Manner. The Howlers have been confirmed to appear in the upcoming Captain America movie.

Now one way this gets interesting is that while the original Howlers used the traditional white guy Nick Fury, the movie will (presumably) use the Sam Jackson version. The classic Howlers were already notable in having an anachronistically integrated squad — thanks to Private Gabe Jones (plus an Irish Catholic, a Jew, an Italian, a Kentuckian, a German, and a gay British guy). But having a black non-com in charge of a mostly white squad of Rangers? Even more anachronistic . . . but interesting.

In the comics, Stan and Jack eventually did a “modern” version of Nick Fury, a superspy Colonel 20 years post-war. Lee and Kirby were both WWII vets, and they were never shy about making middle-aged guys their leading men (Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Dr. Strange).

But like most characters linked to WWII, Nick and the Howlers were gradually hit by the sliding timeline, the convention that comic book characters don’t age in real time, but rather have all of their adventures squeezed into a 10 to 15 year period. For Richards and Grimm, this meant that by the late 70s, references to their service in WWII were dropped, and they were both stuck in somewhere in their early to mid 40s. For Nick Fury, it was either time to say he was a Vietnam vet or mention that he’s been taking youth serum for several decades. Marvel went with the youth serum.

But unless I’ve missed it (and I don’t miss this kind of thing), there has never been an explanation about the other Howlers — several of whom appeared fairly regularly as SHIELD agents. In the late 70s, this just meant that they were a bit over the hill. I have a couple of “Captain America” comics from the early 80s in which they have one last adventure, most of them looking like very fit 60ish guys. But time marches on for these old soldiers as the war fades into history, so now, not only do we have Dum Dum Dugan still out there kicking ass at approximately 95 years old, but all of Dugan’s adventures as a SHIELD agent happened sometime after his 80th birthday.

By | 2017-03-17T01:00:46+00:00 June 17th, 2010|Categories: Article|Tags: , |4 Comments

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  1. CT February 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Add the Sea Devils and Blackhawks to that list. And probably the Losers. Maybe someone like Adam Strange or Captain Comet as well.

    Actually, the more I think about this readjustment period for Cap along with the comment from Christian in a previous post, I worry a touch about the Avengers movie and how they'll deal with bringing him into the modern day in a believable way. He'll be such a fish out of water and have no context or idea how anything works, he'll be a horrible choice to lead the team. Unless they explain that adaptation is a part of the super-soldier serum.

  2. PLee February 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    There was a Cap comic a couple of years back where we saw him save the life of America's youngest combat pilot in WWII . . . George Bush.

    You're right — waking up in 1965 is very different than waking up in 2010.

    I've grown accustomed to the JSA being linked to WWII, but I think attaching them to the very beginning of the sliding timescale (so their adventures were always "20 years ago") would also work.

    At this point, you need something Silver Agish to fill the ever-widening gap between the end of the Golden Age and the start of the sliding timescale . . . really, the second half of the 20th century. DC could do this with some of its oddball Silver Age stuff. Metamorpho, Doom Patrol, Challengers, and the Metal Men running around in the 1960s (without being overshadowed by the JLA) actually has a lot of appeal.

  3. CT February 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    This is the same problem that DC has with the JSA members they can't seem to kill off or let go of. I've long thought that DC should have taken advantage of one of their many reboots and dropped references to WWII all together. Just make it "The Great War" or whatever and place it on the sliding timeline, too. This war happened and it always happened 25 years ago.

    Of course, that would be kind of weird to see Jay Garrick stories set in the time period of 1985 during "The Great War."

    The other thing I begin having a problem with is Cap. He drops into the ocean in '45 and gets found in the 60s. Twenty years lost is a shock, but not too terribly far removed. Now are they saying he was found in the mid-90s or even 2000? That's quite a difference in time. I'm not sure that someone could easily get reacclimated to the world all that quick, nor do I think the government would be quick to reenlist his services. Strom Thurmond would probably be the only guy left in the government who would have remembered him. Might have even served with him.

  4. PLee February 25, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Speaking of gay British WWII comic heroes . . . strangely, Marvel has three: Pinky Pinkerton of the Howling Commandos, Union Jack, and the Mighty Destroyer. I initially attributed this to the fact that comic writers gave British characters broad, exaggerated upper-crust mannerisms which could be read as . . . festive.

    But if you actually read the first appearance of Pinky, he is very clearly targeted by some other soliders as seeming effeminate.

    And the first issue of Invaders (mid-70s) gives us Union Jack and Destroyer as old school chums, but there's a scene where one catches the other and the look into each other's eyes, smiling, and Roy Thomas goes on and on about the connection between them . . . Roy might not have realized he was writing about a gay couple (they were not explicitly identified as such until decades later), but it can be read that way.

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