Anchors Aweigh! | The Bart Tumey tales

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The above is not a complete list of Anchors Aweigh stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.


Anchors Aweigh!

The heroes of this series are Lt. Commander Don Kerry of the US Navy, and his friend and fellow officer Red Murphy. Both are hugely muscular young men, who have adventures around the world. The series began with "El Diablo", a 10 part serial that ran from Adventure Comics #28 (July 1938) through #37 (April 1939). Anchors Aweigh! then continued running with other plot-lines; the series ended with #52 (July 1940).

The tale of naval adventure was popular in both comic strips and comic books during this period. Don Winslow of the Navy (1934-1955) is the most famous of these comic strips today. Its heroes were Naval Officers Don Winslow and his sidekick Red Pennington; one can see where Anchors Aweigh! got its heroes' first names. Don Winslow was pitted against arch-villain the Scorpion, just as the first ten episodes of Anchors Aweigh! set its heroes against the villainous El Diablo.

In the comic books, the heroes of such naval tales were usually solitary adventurers. The stories dealt not with sea battles featuring the entire Navy; rather they were adventure stories in which one or two people battled vast conspiracies of crooks, spies or villains. The stories were not "realistic"; they were escapist adventure stories of heroes versus crooks. In this, they were very similar to the detective or super-hero stories of the day. While a super-hero might use his special powers to battle a gang, the naval heroes often had nothing more than their own ingenuity to fall back on, just like the detectives of the day. The naval stories did frequently have a shipboard background: large and small boats, cruisers, big destroyers, sea-planes: all figured prominently as settings for the naval heroes. So did exotic ports of call around the world, especially in the tropics.

El Diablo, Part 1 (1938). Writer: Fred Guardineer. Art: Fred Guardineer. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) After arriving at Rio de Janeiro, Don and Red are met by two uniformed young men who claim to be Brazilian naval attaches. Both attaches are gorgeously uniformed, in naval blue dress uniforms filled with braid. Both have three columns of shiny white buttons going up their chest. The two outer columns are tilted diagonally, so that they point up to the men's broad shoulders.

The thriller plot includes a trap reminiscent of Raymond Chandler's prose mystery, "Nevada Gas" (1935).

Both young men, Don Kerry and Red Murphy, are highly regarded by their superiors. They are given orders here by the Admiral in command of their ship.

El Diablo, Part 2 (1938). Writer: Fred Guardineer. Art: Fred Guardineer. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Don and Red interrogate the two men, then go undercover as sailors. Undercover plots were common in the detective series of the 1930's, and also appeared in naval adventures like this. As is typical of the era, Don and Red take on a new profession - common sailor - in their undercover role, instead of pretending to be crooks. This story also has scenes in a jail, where Don and Red talk to the prisoners. All in all, it has strong formal similarity to the detective comic books of the era.

In the first part of this tale, Don and Red are in full officers' uniform. Guardineer uses a highly geometric approach to depicting the naval uniforms worn by the men. They seem almost pure curved surfaces, joined together at steep angles. The effect is to geometrize the musculature of the two men. It makes the males wearing the uniforms look almost like huge, powerful machines. They look as if they were driven by huge engines, and are sources of energy and power. The images also recall Constructivist costumes, and their use of geometric figures to construct clothes. However, Guardineer's forms are not the pure cylinders and cones of much Constructivist art. Instead, they are curved surfaces that invoke the musculature of the human body. Guardineer also integrates the curved surfaces of the uniform officers' caps worn by the men into his designs. Both the body and the cap seem part of an overall, powerful machine.

The uniforms here are US Naval white officer's uniforms. They include peaked caps with curved black visors, which the men wear so that they shade their eyes. The men also wear military ribbons on their chests.

The geometric quality of the uniforms is echoed by many of the backgrounds. These tend to concentrate on regularly repeating, rectilinear grids, formed both by the bars of jails, or by repeating windows.

When undercover here as rough sailors, Don is in a striped white and red shirt, and wears a stiff, visored nautical cap. Red is in a solid green shirt, and soft cap. Red's clothes are less glamorized than Don's, with Don's stiff, erect peaked cap being more militaristic and macho. Here, for the first time, we can see the heroes' hair. Previously, it was entirely concealed by their naval uniform caps. Their US Navy caps are designed to conceal both their eyes and their hair. This is part of the way their uniforms seem to convert the men into dynamic machines. Don turns out to a blond, while we see where Red gets his nickname.

The mystery plot involves some strange and seemingly impossible poisoning events. As in the earlier tale, bizarre traps are sprung on people, from which it is difficult to escape. Both traps involve poison, both cause choking.

El Diablo, Part 10 (1939). Writer: Fred Guardineer. Art: Fred Guardineer. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Don and Red capture El Diablo, revealing his identity, in the final episode of the El Diablo serial. This story is not a "fair play" mystery: there are no clues that will allow the reader to deduce the real identity of El Diablo. Furthermore, the identity is not someone we had seen before during the nine previous parts of the serial; but rather is one of the new characters first introduced in Part 10. Still, the identity has some imaginative aspects. It is also emotionally satisfying. Countless movie serials of the 1930's ended with the revelation of the secret identity of the sinister leader of the gang, and this story is in that tradition.

This story concludes with some vivid male bonding between Don and Red, before they go off to meet their next challenge. Both the art and script are good.

It Ends With an Alligator (1939). Writer: Fred Guardineer. Art: Fred Guardineer. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) While hunting alligators in the Panama Canal Zone, Don and Red are attacked by a mad scientist (what else?). This story takes place deep in the rain forests of Panama, one of the world's most beautiful places. Don and Red are completely alone throughout the tale, and never encounter anyone in these primeval forests, except the anti-social mad scientist who has built a laboratory there. This story is cornball, but it is also sort of fun. Its best image: the bizarre device used to hold Red captive. Once again, the throat is under attack, just as in the early choking episodes of "El Diablo". All of these images have a surreal quality.

Our heroes wear yellow leggings, as part of their naval uniforms. Close-ups reveal the many fastenings on the leggings. These are somewhat unusual, and rarely seen in detail in Golden Age comics.

There are echoes and parallels in various parts of the story. Events that first happen to Red, later on happen again to Don. However, the reaction of the two men is different. The similarities help make events clear to the reader, as exposition. The variations add to the complexity and interest of the plot.

The Bart Tumey tales

Search for Captain Miles (1940). Writer: Bart Tumey. Art: Bart Tumey. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) While searching for the missing Navy officer Captain Miles, Don is caught in a giant sand-pit, used to cage political prisoners. The elaborate landscape in this story is extremely strange. It has the feeling of a dream or a nightmare. Sand landscapes near water are a powerful archetypal world. Much of the running time of this story is taken up by an exposition of the landscape. Later, Kobo Abe's novel Woman in the Dunes (1962) will deal with a man imprisoned in a giant sand-pit.

We never learn which government is holding the political prisoners captive, or for what political activities the prisoners are jailed. Bart Tumey is clearly opposed to such actions against political prisoners. The island is described as being somewhere near the Philippines.

Captain Coffyn's Cutthroat Crew (1940). Writer: Bart Tumey. Art: Bart Tumey. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Don and Red chase Captain Coffyn, a modern-day pirate using a stolen submarine to raid ships. Don and Red trail through the pirates through a whole series of landscapes, including the high seas, boats and islands. There is rainy weather throughout. The various seascapes and landscapes in this tale recall the similar emphasis on landscape in "Search for Captain Miles" (1940).

Don and Red wear Navy blue double-breasted uniforms here, extremely dressy. There is a good close-up of Don (p1), wearing his uniform cap.

Gun-Runners of the WASP (1940). Writer: Bart Tumey. Art: Bart Tumey. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Don and Red are taken prisoner aboard a ship, the Wasp, running munitions illegally. The story puts the characters through a wide variety of situations, all variations on the tale's main premise.

Our heroes wear white double-breasted naval uniforms, along with white dress shirts and black ties.

This seems to be the last episode of Anchors Aweigh!. It is not a farewell episode; the tale is structured as just another adventure. Still, the boys go out in fine fashion here, with an exuberant adventure.

The gun running seems to be involved with nations in Europe, and the early stages of World War II, before the US got involved.