Friday, April 24, 2015

HULK! MAGAZINE #17, #18, & #20

Script: Doug Moench | Art: Bill Sienkiewicz
Inks: Klaus Janson (#17-18) | Colors: Olyoptics® | Editor: Rick Marschall

The Plot: (issue 17) A serial killer called the “Hatchet Man” buys a hatchet and mask and murders a nurse, the ninth in a string. Jake Lockley learns that the latest victim had a note pinned to her body, threatening “Lisa and her lover” and realizes who the Hatchet Man is. Later, Steven Grant explains to Marlene that ten years ago Marc Spector found himself hunting an unstable fellow mercenary named Rand who killed a nurse. Spector beat Rand, but caused him some brain damage in the process.

Marlene insists on helping Moon Knight draw out the Hatchet Man and dresses as a nurse. She walks a path proscribed by Moon Knight and sure enough, the Hatchet Man assaults her. But the police arrive and open fire, winging Marlene. Hatchet Man escapes with her and Moon Knight gives chase into Central Park, where his quarry delivers a hatchet to Marlene’s back. As the Hatchet Man escapes, Moon Knight vows vengeance on him, invoking his real name: Randall Spector.

(issue 18) Leaving Marlene with the police, Moon Knight pursues his brother deeper into Central Park. Hatchet Man kills a wino and takes a nurse’s assistant hostage. Moon Knight saves her, but is injured in the process. Hatchet Man then escapes into a rocky ramble. Moon Knight unmasks himself to appeal to his brother, but the Hatchet Man charged madly at him. Unable to properly counter the attack due to his wound, Moon Knight dodges instead. Hatchet Man is impaled on a gnarled tree branch.

Moon Knight travels to the hospital, where he is informed that Marlene is in critical condition and may not survive the night.

(issue 20) Despondent, Moon Knight wanders the city, encountering alcoholics, swindlers, junkies, and pimps. Finally he saves a homeless woman from being mugged. She tells him the morning’s sun holds great promise for the day. Moon Knight returns to the hospital, where he's informed that Marlene will live.

Continuity Notes: For the first time since the character’s debut, some of Moon Knight’s past is fleshed out via flashbacks. Obviously the biggest revelation is that he has an insane brother named Randall.

Crawley and Gena put in appearances early in issue 17, Crawley informing Lockley about the note on the nurse.

My Thoughts: The greatest Moon Knight story of all time, and Terry Kavanagh would go on to ruin it. But we’ll get to that shortly.

If it was the "High Strangeness" mini-series which got me interested in Moon Knight, and it was the Lupinar story which made me a fan, it was this two-parter and its coda which cemented Moon Knight -- Doug Moench's Moon Knight -- as one of my favorite Marvel characters. It features all the melodrama and pathos you'd expect from the best of Stan Lee, transplanted into a story decidedly more mature and disturbing than anything the Silver Age's constrictions could have allowed.

Moench uses Central Park, that enormous playground for stalkers, rapists, and murderers, as the backdrop of the story. I don't know if the place was as vile as fiction from the era makes it seem, but it's well ingrained in my mind, and I assume in the minds of many others, that if a story produced or set in the seventies enters the park, terrible things are going to happen. And that's certainly the case here, as Moench has a hatchet-wielding stalker routinely killing nurses who dare to walk too close to the park at night.

The twist, however, as noted above, is that the stalker is none other than Moon Knight's brother, Rand. Sure, it's a coincidence, but if you can get past that one tiny issue, this is a fantastic story. We get the usual Moon Knight bits, such as a visit with Gena and Crawley, and Marlene serving as our hero's gal Friday. There's no Frenchie to be found here, but his presence isn't missed, nor is it required for the tale Moench is telling. In fact with the helicopter at his disposal, Frenchie would make tracking the Hatchet Man simpler for Moon Knight, no doubt the reason for his exclusion.

"Nights Born..." is a poignant and gritty Moon Knight classic, and easily my favorite story starring the character. The script is tight and the artwork is brilliant. Bill Sienkiewicz may not quite be ready to ink himself yet, but the Klaus Janson collaborations are truly moody and beautiful. If I have one complaint against the story, it's simply that I find the coda a little aimlessly muddled and unnecessary. But that's a tiny blemish on what is otherwise a masterpiece.

...Which was completely and utterly destroyed a decade-plus later when then-regular MOON KNIGHT writer Terry Kavanagh revealed that the Hatchet Man was an imposter, modified by plastic surgery and implanted with Rand Spector's memories, sacrificed to allow Rand to secretly join a cult, gain superpowers, and plot a way to kill his brother.


Seriously, Kavanagh. What did comics ever do to you?


  1. I haven't read this, so I'm just going off your summary and notes, but I can't decide if I'd like the story as is or if Hatchet Man wasn't his brother. The latter eliminates the coincidence and makes it a bit more chilling, the former creates a more personal stake for the character and the series (and thus the reader).

    Probably the former, if for no other reason than the world building it does for the character, coincidence be damned.

    I don't know if the place was as vile as fiction from the era makes it seem

    I'm no New Yorker, so I can't say for certain, but it's certainly been my understanding that the New York of the 70s and 80s was a far cry from the family-friendly tourist town of today, and that going into Central Park (esp. at night) was pretty dangerous.

    Like, even in the early 80s, I think Times Square was still all porno theaters, adult bookshops and crackheads, and it wasn't until the early 90s that a concerted effort was made to clean things up.

    (Incidentally, does this story comprise issues 17, 18 and 20, or 17-19? Your title suggests the former, your plot summaries the later. And you're missing credits for the third issue, whichever it is).

    1. It is 17, 18, and 20. Presumably 19 was a fill-in or maybe the main Hulk story took up the entire magazine. In any case, I messed up on my summaries. I've now fixed it; thanks!

      I guess I could've been clearer on the credits, too. It should be Sienkiewicz and Janson together for 17-18, with Sienkiewicz solo on 20. Not sure what happened. I was looking for the most succinct way to present that info, and misrepresented it instead. That is now fixed as well.

      As far as the Hatchet Man business, I can buy into the coincidence. It's possible that Rand is actually in New York trying to get Marc's attention, though I believe the story remains vague on that. He leaves notes on his dead nurses, but they could be the ramblings of a madman as easily as a cry for attention from a specific person.

      If Hatchet Man wasn't his brother and was just a random guy, I could live with that, though it wouldn't be as poignant/haunting. But the thing that really irritates me is, to quote myself, that he "...was an imposter, modified by plastic surgery and implanted with Rand Spector's memories, sacrificed to allow Rand to secretly join a cult, gain superpowers, and plot a way to kill his brother." That's just about a dozen bridges too far, and completely destroys the pathos of this story. (Though I'll admit that it's in keeping with the nature of nineties!)

  2. I remember reading this in THE HULK magazine, and seeing the gory artwork when I was a kid and I was BLOWN AWAY! It was VERY adult and VERY creepy, especially for an 8 year old! I LOVED it! The entire Hatchet Man character, look and the scenes of the nurses being slaughtered were REALLY like NOTHING I'd EVER seen before. It really stuck with me for years, and I looked it up as an adult many years later, always remembering it, and found it to be just as creepy as I had remembered it. And yeah, I think the whole imposter thing kinda pees all over it. it certainly weakens it in my estimation.

    1. I agree; as I said above, this is pretty much my all-time favorite Moon Knight story. I love all the HULK! backups, but this one is the cream of the crop.

  3. My favorite comic of all time, I was born in 1975 and the first time I read it was in Hulk. Had to relocate recently and moved from my old flat losing this "Chef d'oeuvre"
    I totally agree with both of you and I'm so pleased to know that overseas there are a few people loving Moench work.
    A big thank you for your incredible blog !!!

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Always happy to come across fellow vintage Moon Knight fans.