Marvel at this Navy Superhero: Don Winslow

Review by Bill Doughty

The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy, A Collection of High-Seas Stories from Comics’ Most Daring Sailor
Edited by Craig Yoe (Dead Reckoning, 2018)

Thank goodness for Naval Institute Press and Dead Reckoning! They have revived the nearly forgotten comic book hero from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s in “The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy, A Collection of High-Seas Stories from Comics’ Most Daring Sailor,” edited by Craig Yoe (Dead Reckoning, 2018).

Super clean, incorruptible, invincible, multi-talented and always-serious avenger Don Winslow goes on adventures against Nazis, crime lords, pirates, The Scorpion (and his sidekick “Rubberface”), Long Hair (with his elaborate combover pompadour and mullet), and the notorious Singapore Sal:

“The wily wench known as Singapore Sal is as slippery as an electric eel and twice as shocking! Don’t miss her next encounter with Don Winslow!”

Don Winslow, usually with his Robin-like sidekick, Red Pennington, and most often in a button-down service dress uniform tackles a sea monster, climbs Mount Everest, fights corruption, clears mines, defeats kidnappers, locks up spies, and takes on a tribe of giant super-model-like cannibalistic Amazon women:

“They say that woman is the weaker sex, but when Don Winslow and Red Pennington wind up on Amazon Island, they find it’s quite a different story … and this is it!”

Of course, how Winslow defeats the cannibals, who are about to make a meal out of Red Pennington, is cringe-worthy in its chauvinism yet revealing of the time. I won’t ruin it for you but it has to do with vanity being able to bring down anyone in power.

Winslow with fists seemingly made of iron (and asbestos) can fight his way out of fires, armed enemy fighters, and even against a polar bear:

“The ominous perils of the spine-chilling Arctic outstretch icy talons to trap Don Winslow in an epic struggle against the elements in the Arctic Expedition!”

Don Winslow was the creation of Lt. Cmdr. Frank Victor Martinek, USNR, a former FBI agent and executive at Standard Oil and a national director and chairman of publicity for the Navy League of the United States.

One hundred years ago, in 1918, Martinek, who had been stationed in Washington D.C. decoding encrypted messages, was promoted to command the intelligence division of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in Siberia, helping Russia, then an ally of the United States.

After reading a Popeye comic strip in a newspaper, Martinek wanted to create a serious and action-oriented character involved in intelligence work to help with Navy’s recruitment efforts. His character Don Winslow would eventually serve in both the Navy and Coast Guard, and apparently in all type commands; flying aircraft, operating submarines and driving boats and ships.

At the beginning of this carefully curated compilation Yoe offers a fascinating history of the work inspired by Fawcett, Detective Comics, and Marvel in Don Winslow of the Navy.

“From time to time the Lt. Commander (Martinek) would also claim that he consciously created Don Winslow to warn of the growing threat of war, to, in his words, ‘arouse America to the danger that threatened us from the Aleutians to the China sea.’ In 1919, Martinek had begun writing a series of articles for the Chicago Daily News warning of Japan’s desire for world domination, but his musings were ignored or written off. On another occasion, he added, ‘Unless selfishness, greed and intolerance – living by the code of I, me and mine – are destroyed and replaced by mutual understanding, faith, and fraternal helpfulness, there will continue to be wars and America must be prepared for any eventuality.'”

Martinek and a team of artists and collaborators created a hero with core values who until now was lost in the dim light of the last century.

But, as Yoe says, “Here we are at long last, ready to rectify the mistake that left Don Winslow a forgotten hero! Valor, righteousness, the intelligence, the unwavering patriotism, and selflessness of the ideal Navy man.”

According to Gary Thompson, Dead Reckoning’s Assistant Acquisitions Editor and Graphic Novel Lead, “This is one of the first books to come out from Dead Reckoning, the new graphic novel imprint from the Naval Institute Press. We publish fiction and nonfiction with a special focus on military history, history, and stories of the high seas. For years we have worked to develop this imprint to bring a unique voice to the graphic novel market, and to give creators a home for stories they have long thought were unwanted. With this book and the others coming out in our debut catalog, I believe we are taking the right steps to achieve that goal.”

(A version of this review appears on Doughty’s Navy Reads blog:

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