Who exactly are the Howling Commandos? Turns out that they are an expendable team of awkwardly named monsters held captive by S.H.I.E.L.D to be deployed only in the direst of situations.
Essentially, the Howling Commandos are a group of misfits brought together under a somewhat competent commander. How can Marvel revive such an odd-ball roster of characters? Is this just a discount Guardians of the Galaxy sans the space setting? Most importantly, is it good?
Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D #1 (Marvel Comics)
Right from its explosive start, Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 embodies the spirit of a team story. The group of characters assembled is a diverse selection of obscure Marvel characters. There is a strong leader (“the highly advanced Life Model Decoy robot” Dum Dum Dugan), a sarcastic genius, a stumbling, incompetent fool, and a terrifying “ace in the hole” creature. On the surface, the team structure feels kind of overdone. All of those archetypes are represented in Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, and in the Avengers; so what differentiates this team from any other group of Marvel Superheroes? Each archetype has a little bit of a twist that makes the team less cohesive, thus producing more tension and drama. The leader is challenged by a contradictory, younger figure. The genius is a behemoth, worm kinda thing, that from the looks of it would be unable to help the team in the field. The fool is a zombie! Why would they even take along a zombie?
All of these zany characters translate into a big hot mess. There’s some pleasant confusion as the team tries to coordinate their members for the first time — and it’s actually pretty refreshing to see superheroes struggling to work together, instead of the seamless teamwork that we’ve been accustomed to expect from the Avengers or similar mainstream teams. The best part is that the comic doesn’t end neatly; the Commandos’ first mission together is an utter failure! This demonstrates a humility and a realistic quality that isn’t so easily come upon in stories of all-but infallible super-humans. None of the characters in this comic are without fault; in fact all of them are far from perfect. Watching them stumble around and make mistakes is simply delightful and in the end very satisfying.
One concern I have about this specific grouping of characters is that some of them are very similar appearance-wise. As a result there were pages where it was pretty difficult to understand who was where doing what. Of course there are the obvious exceptions to this: Dum Dum, hit-monkey, Vampire By Night, but the rest of the roster seem to blend a little bit.
Writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Brent Schoonover certainly present an ambitious opening to the series as well as a solid job introducing their audience to the core group of characters. I did feel a touch overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters introduced in this issue, especially because I was only familiar with one, relatively minor member of the cast. Perhaps the opening issue could have told a smaller story then incorporated more characters as the series progressed.
I didn’t find the art in this issue to be remarkable. It did a perfectly acceptable job setting the stage and carrying the action and had a few moments of explosiveness, but overall it was nothing to write home about. I feel like there is a very talented artist at the helm of this book in Schoonover; he seems like he knows how to draw a funny book. What I would love to see in future issues, however is more risk-taking. The comic would be much more appealing if we saw some more of the landscape in which the action was taking place, or some more challenging textures. That would elevate the art from serviceable to quite enjoyable.
One of the more satisfying pages of the comic
Is It Good?
In short, yes. Although there are minor fixes to be made, this team of zany characters appears to be worth following. I hope that the creative team finds it’s groove and starts pumping out more crazy fun.