The Howling Commandos (Comic Books)
In the comics, the Howling Commandos – also known as the Howlers – were, as the name suggests, an elite group of commandos led by the cigar-chomping Sergeant Nick Fury. Second-in-command was Corporal Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader “Dum Dum” Dugan (or Dum Dum Dugan for short), a hotheaded, handlebar-mustachioed tough guy and Fury’s best friend. Imagine a jollier version of Wolverine but with less Adamantium claws and more mustache/fashion sense.
Filling out the remainder of the ranks were Private Gabriel Jones, the first African-American to serve in an integrated unit (in the Marvel Universe, that is); Private Isadore “Izzy” Cohen, the first Jewish Marvel character; Private Dino Manelli; Private Robert “Rebel” Ralston; Private “Junior” Juniper, who was known at the time for dying soon after introduction; Private Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, Juniper’s replacement; and private Eric Koenig, a Nazi defector and the last main character to join the crew.
The comic book known as Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos was famous for its daring depiction of the hardships of war. Characters of import within the series regularly died, which was practically unheard of in comics at the time. For example, Fury’s girlfriend, introduced in issue #4, was killed some fourteen issues later in an air raid, right before Fury was going to propose to her. (Aww…)
Thanks to a secret concoction known as The Infinity Formula, Nick Fury doesn’t age – which is why he’s still in his late forties/early fifties some seventy years after World War II. After the war, Fury became a C.I.A. agent, then a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and eventually the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Strangely, his fellow Howlers, Dum Dum Dugan and Gabriel Jones, have also survived through the decades to become officers of S.H.I.E.L.D. (though the latter was killed off by Mark Millar), and no explanation for their eternal youth has ever been given. The “No-Prize” explanation has always been that Fury either secretly shared the Formula with them or there are residual, second-hand Infinity Formula effects, which would explain why the guy has so many friends.
Side-note: As unlikely as it is, I would very much like to see a cinematic adaptation of the Marvel Godzilla series from the 1970s, which saw the ex-howlers (Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, and others) as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hunting down Godzilla, whom they eventually grew to admire in spite of his status as an enormous atomic dinosaur. Go figure.
The Howling Commandos (Film)
The Howling Commandos of the film are a mish-mash of both the comic book versions of the Commandos and The Invaders.
For those unaware, the Invaders were a group of (mostly) superpowered individuals who fought in World War II, including Captain America and his sidekick, Bucky; the original Human Torch (a fire-manipulating android with a heart of gold) and his sidekick, Toro (a totally human teen who just happened to also have fiery superpowers); Namor the Sub-Mariner and his sidekick, Aqualad; and Union Jack (sort of the British Captain America). Additional characters joined the team later on, including Union Jack II and Spitfire – the original Union Jack’s daughter and son – and the Whizzer, someone you can go ahead and refer to as a complete rip-off of The Flash, as he was created only a year after the scarlet speedster.
Some of you may recall that The Invaders were expected to feature prominently in Captain America: The First Avenger. In point of fact, the Howling Commandos were originally going to be called the Invaders in the film, but when Joe Johnston’s son filmed a companion documentary that referred to the characters as the Commandos, producer Kevin Feige was inclined to agree that the name sounded more appropriate. And so it was.
The Howling Commandos of the film include: Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Dum Dum Dugan, Gabriel Jones, Montgomery Falsworth (Union Jack in the comics), Jim Morita, and Jaques Dernier (the last two joined the Commandos much later in the 1960s comic series). They come together as a team after Captain America saves them from a Hydra-controlled prison camp; Cap hand picks the above members to be a part of his own personal unit in the fight to dismantle Hydra.
Nick Fury is obviously not in the film version of the Commandos because he has yet to be born yet.