Moon Man

First Appearance: Mystic Comics #5 (March 1941).
Golden Age Appearances: Mystic Comics #5.
Modern Appearances: None.
Years Active: 1941-?

"On nights when the full moon shines the mysterious Moonman comes to the aid of those who have been oppressed and cheated by powers out of reach of the law. Like a nameless shadow he comes and goes --- hunted alike by the underworld and the police!"

Our story begins "high above the teeming city in his penthouse, the Moon-Man, master of many sciences and independently wealthy, reads the evening paper." (Our hero's name is written "Moon Man," "Moonman," and "Moon-Man" at various points in the story. I find "Moon Man" more pleasing, so that's how I'll be writing it unless I'm quoting directly from the text.)

Moon Man is reading the paper when he notices a 36-point headline: "35 Orphans Sick!" Below that, in 24-point, "Children Poisoned By Bad Food Served At Christmas Dinner. Inquiry Under Way At Institution."

Moon Man, of course, is not going to stand still for that, and he's not going to let that bumbler Lestrade...I mean, the police handle the investigation: "An outrage! I bet Boss McGool and his secretary know plenty about this - I'll see what I can find out!"

Off the Moon Man races to "the suburban home of Nadia, Boss McGool's secretary." (And we get a nice panel, of Moon Man's Big Red Roadster zipping along, Moon Man's cape flying behind him, and a yellow moon shining down upon the scene.)

Moon Man climbs up the wall of the house and jumps into an upstairs room, surprising Nadia. He says, "Nadia La Sanne - how's tricks, sister?"

She shrieks, "HELP! Oh-h-h-" as he wraps his left hand around her waist and grabs her left hand with his right hand, and then she faints.

Moon Man: "She fainted! Well, I guess I did surprise her. Ah! Her handbag!"

Moon Man grabs Nadia's handbag, somehow knowing that the evidence he wants is inside the bag, and drives back to his apartment (shown in a nice panel, with Moon Man's Big Red Roadster crossing a stone bridge in the city while a locomotive passes under the bridge). Then he "enters his building by way of a secret entrance. In his own private elevator he is carried, car and all, up to the penthouse."

Inside Nadia's purse he (conveniently) finds a receipt for 100 pounds of cheap meat, sold to Boss McGool. So off Moon Man goes to the "orphan asylum," where he checks on the food, and, sure enough, "The meat is rank! McGool ought to go to jail for this!"

Moon Man stops to look in on the sick ward ("Poor little tykes - all sick - I'll see that they are avenged!") and then goes off to Boss McGool's apartment, where Boss McGool--bald, portly, smug- faced and smoking a cigar--is berating the fur-coat-wearing Nadia.

Boss McGool: "I hired you for a secretary, Nadia, because you were able to take care of yourself!"

Nadia: "It was the Moon-Man, Boss. He scared me so I fainted, and then he stole the bill of sale."

McGool: "Well, the Moon-Man won't dare come here."

But, sure enough, Moon Man is standing in the background as McGool says this, and he walks forward, tells Nadia to beat it, and presses McGool for information - "I want details McGool! What are you doing with the money you get to feed the orphanage!"

McGool denies everything, and behind the Moon Man two of McGool's thugs (one with a pencil-thin mustache--what have I said before about pencil-thin mustaches in Golden Age comics? Sure sign of evil, they are) enter the room.

Thug: "Boss, we - j-jeepers, the Moon Man!" (That, from the pencil-thin-mustache guy, who is holding an automatic in his hand.) (Let me tell you, the quality of thugs has only gone up since then, if this guy is an example; what kind of hardened criminal says "Jeepers"?)

Narrator: "The sight of the weirdly masked figure unnerves the gunmen long enough for the Moon-Man to attack!"

Moon Man (as he's knocking around the thugs): "Good thing I wear a costume! It surprised the other guy long enough for me to get a couple punches in!"

When Moon Man is done with the thugs he picks up their gun, trains it on McGool, and slips out the window he entered by, saying "I ought to shoot you like a dog, McGool - but I'm going to put you behind bars, instead! You bought poisoned meat for the orphas, but you'll pay for it! And I'm going to get proof of what I say!"

Moon Man decides that Nadia, the secretary, is the weak link, and so he goes to her house and hides behind some curtains. When she enters, he leaps out and grabs her, holding her close and yelling at her.

She's reduced to tears while he writes out her confession. He makes her sign--well, he doesn't physically force her to sign her confession, but I'm sure that a good lawyer could convince a jury that it was done under duress.

He takes the confession and drives to McGool's apartment, to make him talk-- but McGool is gone. Fortunately (for Moon Man and the reader both) McGool left a railroad schedule on the floor of his apartment, and even marked which train he was taking.

Moon Man speeds to the railway terminal and hops on the train. He runs through the passenger cars, causing various shrieks: "Who th- ? Help!" "Eeee!" "Oh my goodness!" "Aaagh!" He also causes astonishment in the Chinese porter: "Ooohh! It's the Moon-Man!" (The porter is not drawn very stereotypically, though, and isn't given a racist pidgin to speak, which is a nice relief.)

Moon Man finds out from the porter where McGool is, and races down to the end of the car. McGool draws his gun, shouting "Get him, boys!" Moon Man, though, is pure of heart and has the strength of ten Grinches, plus two, and knocks out McGool. He grabs McGool's gun and holds it on McGool's thugs while he uses McGool's body as a shield. Moon Man backs out of the car and, holding on to McGool, jumps off the train, into a nearby river (and we get a nice panel of Moon Man, McGool slung over his back, in mid-air, leaping from the speeding train, with his shadow visible under him).

Moon Man carries the unconscious McGool back to his car, and travels to the nearest precinct station, where he hands over McGool to the cops (who, despite having been described, in the opening description of the strip, as hunting Moon Man, seem to have no idea who MM is) and then goes back to his penthouse. We last see Moon Man reading the paper (still in costume), which has a big headline reading "McGool Jailed For Poisoned Food Guilt."

The Moon Man's only appearance was in Mystic Comics #5, cover-date March 1941. I don't know who his writer was, and I'm sure whoever it was would rather forget about his or her work on Moon Man, but his artist was Fred Guardineer. Fred Guardineer is one of those worthies who did good work for many years, but is forgotten today.

Guardineer started in 1936 and retired from comics in 1955; he saw the beginning of the Golden Age, and its end, and did just about every kind of comic during that time: Westerns, science fiction, supehero, humor, etc. He was one of the first artists hired by Harry "A" Chesler, in November 1936, and did Funny Pages and Star Comics for Chesler (those were two of the very earliest comics of new material; before that there were comics, but they were reprints of newspaper comic strips, rather than containing all-new material). In 1938 he went to DC and did Anchors Aweigh for Adventure Comics, Speed Sanders for Detective, and Pep Morgan for Action. His best-known DC work is Zatara, though, who he drew for the first two years of Zatara's existence. Zatara is another of the Mandrake the Magician imitators (about which I wrote more in my Dakor entry). What Zatara had going for him, though, and what sets Zatara apart from El Carim, Monako, Top, and the rest of the Mandrake knock-offs, was the writing of Gardner Fox and the art of Fred Guardineer. (Guardineer, by the way, is the one who came up with the much-copied idea of having Zatara say his spells backwards.)

Guardineer left DC in 1940 and went on to work for...well, just about everybody. He did a lot of different genres, but he kept coming back to magicians: Marvelo, Tor, Mr. Mystic, and Merlin. After the war Guardineer did cops and robbers strips for Crime Does Not Pay, among others, and from 1952 to 1955 he did The Durango Kid.

Ron Goulart describes Guardineer's art as drawn "in a flat, strongly outlined style and (he) treated each panel as part of the overall design of the page. He favored bright, basic colors. The witches, warlocks, monsters, and madmen he drew for features like Zatara had individuality, and his damsels in distress were pretty and distinctively dressed." (I'd usually try to describe Guardineer's art style myself, but in this case Goulart did it so much better than I could.)

Goulart is right about Guardineer's Zatara; Guardineer will never be reckoned among the greatest of Golden Age talents, but he had a definite flare for magic strips, and his Zatara stories are well worth finding and reading.

His art on Moon Man is...not quite so good. It may be that I'm biased, for I first encountered Guardineer's art on Zatara, and so reading him here was a jolt, and not a particularly pleasant one. He retains his knack for panel composition, though, and by that I mean the blocking and positioning of characters within the panel, as well as the point of view of the panel. The first panel of the strip, for example, has the Moon Man standing on a rooftop, while two gun-wielding thugs point up at him from below; the Moon Man's head and upper torso is framed by a big yellow moon. It's a nice effect. Guardineer also seemed to make a point of putting the full moon in as many panels as possible, both the outdoor scenes as well as those set inside (we see the moon through windows), and so we get a recurring leitmotif which reminds us that the hero of the strip is, y'know, the Moon Man.

Most of the other panels weren't quite that interesting, but Guardineer did throw in one or two nonstandard moments, like a round panel that has the Moon Man breaking through the panel borders.

Moon Man's costume is...different. His shirt is black and long-sleeved, leaving his hands free. On the shirt, over Moon Man's chest and belly, is a yellow circle framed by a "flaming" effect, similar to what you see around the edges of the sun when it's blocked by the moon during an eclipse. It's a nice effect, but it looks like a sun (it's yellow, after all) rather than a moon (which is traditionally colored white, after all) (but then, the moon is colored yellow here, so perhaps there was a coloring mishap, or maybe my microfiche, or the comic it was shot from, was yellowed with age). Moon Man has a black half-hood (that leaves his ears bare), a flowing yellow half-cape that goes down to the top of his thigh, a green neck-clasp (with the initials "MM"), a thick yellow belt, short black boots, and distressingly tiny shorts. It's similar to Hourman's costume, only not as well designed.

This story is, to be frank, not one of Timely's best; it reads like backlog filler--and uninspired filler, at that.

Few of Timely's strips non-Big Three (Captain America (I), Human Torch (I), Sub-Mariner) heroes are, when it comes down it, really that good. What many of them have, however, are individual moments, or even motifs or aspects, which make them worth reading, and usually rereading. Black Widow, for example, is of an exceptionally high quality in two of her four appearances; to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, she is among the best of her time and good enough for any time. Klaus Nordling gave the Thin Man lots of little extras, so that each panel seems to have something neat to look at. Taxi Taylor is so darn goofy you enjoy the strip despite yourself. And so on.

Moon Man, sad to say, has none of that. And when there are none of those small delights to distract the critical eye, one starts looking harder; too hard, perhaps, for these are Grade D backup strips, for the most part, and they were made as filler, to be used when nothing else was available, and so they simply can't bear the weight of a full critical inspection.

So what the discerning modern reader is left with, when reading Moon Man, is a number of moments which pull one out of the act of reading, so that the reader isn't concentrating on the story, but on the flaws in the execution of the story.

With the Moon Man, I kept noticing things like the Moon Man never being out of costume. He actually starts the story reading the paper, in his own penthouse, while dressed in his costume. Not even Batman stayed in his tights all day long. And I think the concept of the costumed superhero is greatly weakened when you have a character who always stays in costume, and doesn't have a civilian identity to return to; it takes the superhero idea that much farther from "realism," and the superhero comic can't take much more distance from "realism" than it's already got.

This in turn made me think about the utterly stock set-up for Moon Man; he's wealthy, he's a master of sciences, he has no background or motivation besides the one-dimensional drive for justice that so many Golden Age heroes had. Admittedly, the times were different, and both the creators and audience of comics had different expectations of their comics than we do today, but it was certainly possible, during the Golden Age, to create characters with depth. The Moon Man, like so many of his Grade D brethren, lacked that quality.

Too, the penthouse set-up, with the secret entrance, the private elevator which takes his car to his apartment--these are all stock pulp hero devices, which would have been most known to readers from Doc Savage's stories. (He wasn't the first to have that sort of set-up--that would be Nick Carter--but Doc is the most famous character possessor of that kind of headquarters.)

It's only an eight-page strip, and so it doesn't do to expect too much from the plot, but it still strikes me as too contrived. Moon Man is too lucky and always knows just the right things to do and the right people to see.

And then there's the strip's treatment of women. Okay, there's only one woman in it, but she isn't treated too well. I suppose you could say that Nadia had it coming; after all, she was a party to the poisoning of the orphans. But Moon Man is rough on her; he grabs her, he yells at her, he bullies her to get a confession. Not exactly the way heroes are supposed to act. She may not be a lady, but still...

Finally, it seems to me that there was the core of a good idea here, but that it wasn't given any attention. I like the idea that the Moon Man only comes out on those nights when the moon is full; it suggests some kind of interesting psychological drive or dysfunction, and could make for some involving stories. But, like the Black Marvel, an interesting concept is introduced, and then nothing is done with it.

In short, some interesting moments and some decent Fred Guardineer art notwithstanding, the Moon Man is just one more strip that makes the reader shrug his or her shoulders.

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