Wiley of West Point
Classic Comic Books Home Page
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
The Wiley stories are close in format to one page newspaper Sunday comic strips. The first four issues of All-American Comics contain four such pages; the later issues each have two pages. The stories form a continuously unfolding serial, like a Sunday strip. If they ever get collected into a book, the whole series should be reprinted. The stories are fairly even in quality. The tales in issues #5 and #6 deal with sports, and are a little weaker than the others. But #7 starts a strong sequence, dealing with visitors to West Point from the imaginary European country of Lubania.
Wiley is a young factory worker who passes a tough entrance exam to get into West Point. Later stories show his frail but loyal mother. He is the sort of working class hero with whom people could identify. Despite this background, he hardly looks tough, big or rough, the way working class characters were sometimes portrayed in Hollywood movies. Instead, he is a leading man type.
Wiley's perennial nemesis is the upper classman, Baxter. Wiley keeps running inadvertently afoul of him. There are signs that Baxter is not a bad person. Rick clearly wanted to portray all the cadets as good. So Baxter is just a typical tough upper classman. He is drawn as a contrast to Wiley: he is black-haired, while Wiley is blond; his hair is straight, while Wiley has a curl in front; he is a bit bigger than Wiley. Baxter is quite handsome. He and his fellow upper classmen are highly muscular.
The Wiley stories are in a long tradition of prose fiction about school life. They are not really like the other "adventure" series in the early comics, which tended to feature their heroes fighting bad guys around the globe. There are no bad guys in Wiley; instead, we get an in-depth look at West Point. The Wiley stories are a little closer in feel to the school stories of young athlete Pep Morgan. However, Pep's tales largely focus on sports, whereas Wiley includes every aspect of West Point life in its scope.
There was nothing especially new in 1940 about stories about West Point cadets. The popular silent film West Point (1927), directed by Edward Sedgwick, was shot on location, and featured one of the biggest male stars of its day, William Haines. This movie concentrates on football, while the Wiley tales look at boxing. Outsiders to West Point might be most interested in football, especially the big Army-Navy game that is the climax of the film. By contrast, the big boxing match between Wiley and Baxter seems attended mainly by their fellow cadets. Such a contest might have been an emotionally important part of life for the cadets themselves, even if it meant nothing to the public at large. The Wiley stories definitely have the feel of an insider's point of view. They often reflect intimate experience: what going to West Point actually felt like. Rick shows not just events, but the characters' reactions to events. We always know exactly what his characters are feeling, and how they are reacting to the world around them. The stories have a very vivid, "you are there" quality.
The Wiley stories deal with the hero's life as a plebe, and take him through his first year of life at West Point. In #11, he and the other cadets graduate from their first year, and turn into full fledged cadets. #12 shows Wiley at the hop (dance) used to celebrate the graduation. The story shows no signs of ending here; the last panel announces further developments to come, and Rick almost certainly intended continuing the strip. But no more episodes appeared. Either it was canceled by the editors, or Rick suddenly dropped it.
The abrupt cancellation of the Wiley series leaves some issues unresolved. Baxter and Wiley should have an almost obligatory meeting, showing them becoming friends after the big boxing match. This never happens.
Rick is good at conveying a wide variety of uniforms. These include various types of cadet uniforms. Also the Army MP uniforms shown in #10.