This second Marvel Masterworks hardcover volume collects Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos issues #14-23 and Annual #1, originally published in 1965. The artist on all these stories is Dick Ayers, one of the mainstays of the "Marvel Bullpen" in the 1960s. In addition to inking the legendary Jack Kirby on numerous occasions, Ayers also penciled many stories himself. He was a good superhero artist, but both his strengths and his interests obviously lay with other genres, namely war comics and Westerns. Some of his best artwork saw print within the pages of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.
Several artists ink Dick Ayers' pencils in these issues. Among them is Frank Giacoia, whom Ayers has stated was his favorite inker to work with. Giacoia's finishes of Ayers' pencils work very well indeed. There is also an unexpected artistic collaboration in issue #15, with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko inking Ayers' pencils. The finished results are unusual but effective. It's quite interesting to see how Ayers and Ditko, who have very different styles to their artwork, go together here.
The adventures of Nick Fury during World War II were always more slapstick than "Saving Private Ryan," and there is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor to Stan Lee's scripting of these issues. On occasion, I did wish that Lee had adopted a more realistic, gritty tone in these tales. That said, when he wanted to, Lee could turn in an emotionally riveting script, such as in issue #18's "Killed in Action" and #23's "The Man Who Failed." Story-wise, those are probably the two strongest issues included in the collection.
Ayers wrote an informative introduction to his volume wherein he details his working relationship with Stan Lee on the series, and explains the origins of "The Man Who Failed." Ayers really should be credited with co-plotting these issues, and it's nice that he was given the opportunity to explain exactly how he was involved in the creative process.
Perhaps if Sgt. Fury had also been reprinted in the black & white softcover Essentials format, I might have picked those up instead. But so far they have not, leaving the hardcover Marvel Masterworks as the only opportunity to read these stories, apart from tracking down & buying expensive back issues. That said, the production values on the book are of a very high quality.
In any case, this book is a very nice showcase for the wonderful artwork of Dick Ayers.