Balladeer’s Blog’s 2020 theme of Top Twenty lists continues with this look at the 20 best pulp stories featuring Frederick C Davis’ hero the Moon Man (1933-1937). The Moon Man was really police detective Stephen Thatcher, who often circumvented the massive corruption in Great City by taking the law into his own hands.
Donning a black outfit and a helmet made of one-way Argus-glass, Thatcher went into action as the Moon Man, defeating and robbing criminals – both blue-collar AND white-collar – and using their ill-gotten gains to help the suffering poor of the city. This made him hunted by both the crooks and the cops years before the Green Hornet came along. For more on the Moon Man click HERE
THE SINISTER SPHERE
Villains: Crooked millionaire Martin Richmond and Kent Atwell, who is embezzling from a charity.
Story: This very first Moon Man story perfectly establishes the background of the tales. The Moon Man robs from a crooked millionaire and has his sidekick Angel (Ned Dargan) distribute the loot among Great City’s poor. Stephen Thatcher’s lady love Sue McEwen has no idea her beau is the romantic Moon Man.
Sue’s father Gil and Stephen’s father Peter are the city’s top cops and have been trying to catch the elusive Robin Hood figure for months. MM also recovers thousands of dollars stolen from a charity by a white-collar criminal.
THE SILVER SECRET
Villain: Corrupt Judge Benjamin, Great City’s secret crime boss.
Story: Great City’s former District Attorney – an honest man forced out by the many bought and paid-for politicians in charge – is killed by the underworld but his extensive files on police and political corruption were not found.
The Moon Man enters the hunt for the explosive documents and manages to maneuver them into the hands of Great City’s few honest officials. Respected Judge Benjamin is exposed as the secret crimelord of the metropolis.
Villain: Solo, a costumed armed robber.
Story: The Moon Man and his sidekick Angel raid the Seven Arts Club, a secret gambling hall where Great City’s criminals and “respectable” tycoons mingle and network. He’s beaten to the massive haul of plunder from the illicit casino by a robber calling himself Solo.
This man is no Robin Hood like our hero, so MM tracks down and kills Solo then shares the stolen money with the city’s poor all while eluding the police at every turn.
Villain: Gangster Ivan Orzag.
Story: Organized crime boss Ivan Orzag is trying to fill the power vacuum left by the fall of Judge Benjamin. In the process he and his thugs shoot police Captain Peter Thatcher, leaving him near death in the hospital.
Stephen dons his Moon Man outfit to bring down Orzag and his men. In the process he steals $100,000 (in 1930s money) from the would-be crimelord and gives it to the poor. Peter Thatcher recovers and all ends well.
Villain: Rav Corsi, leader of a gang of armed robbers.
Story: When the Moon Man robs $12,000 from Rav Corsi’s gang of thieves and uses it to keep a ghetto clinic open, Corsi wants revenge. He and his gang capture and torture MM’s sidekick Angel in an attempt to nab his boss, too.
Corsi plans to turn the Moon Man over to the cops in return for immunity from criminal charges. Amid a heavy snow-storm blanketing Great City, everything culminates in a shootout along Murder River, so-named for all the dead mob victims fished out of its depths.
MARK OF THE MOON MAN, CRIMSON SHACKLES, BLOOD BARGAIN and THE BLACK LASH
Villains: The Red Six
Story: These four stories dealt with the Moon Man’s epic clash with the Red Six, stylish masked villains who blackmailed several Great City figures into helping them pull off spectacular crimes. Anyone who gets out of line is killed with the villains’ incurable poison, which distorts the victim’s face into a macabre smile that matches the bronze skulls that the Red Six leave as calling cards.
Among the blackmail victims is our hero himself. The villains have proof that he is really the Moon Man and threaten to expose him if he doesn’t cooperate. MM and Angel plot to bring down the Red Six from the inside and recover the blackmail material.
The Red Six’s crimes include looting priceless art from a museum and kidnapping the governor. This popular storyline also features Sue McEwen at last learning that her fiance Stephen Thatcher is really the Moon Man.
Villain: The Rattler, a costumed robber and murderer.
Story: The nationwide roving supervillain called the Rattler brings his criminal talents to Great City to tangle with the vaunted Moon Man. The Rattler is noted for pulling off lucrative robberies and injecting rattlesnake venom into anyone who gets in his way.
The game of move and countermove between our hero and this new villain becomes personal when the Rattler injects Angel with snake venom. This necessitates a race against time to catch the criminal and recover the antidote in order to save Angel’s life.
FINGERS OF FEAR
Villain: Thayer Barron, crooked millionaire.
Story: Thayer Barron uses his hold on Police Commisioner Mead to get him to fire Sue McEwan’s father Gil for failing to catch the Moon Man after all this time. Barron is secretly the new crime boss of Great City and wants our hero caught to end the costumed crimefighter’s interference with illegal activities.
MM and Angel prove that Thayer Barron has a hold over Commisioner Mead through his son, who owes a huge gambling debt to Barron’s mob.
Villains: The Racetrack Gang
Story: Four men rob the Great City racetrack of over $40,000. They are pursued by the cops AND by the Moon Man. A three-way shootout results in which our hero blows away all four crooks after they kill two cops and wound three others.
The cops recover the stolen loot, forcing the Moon Man to rob it from THEM to use the loot in order to prevent a free clinic from closing. In all the chaos an innocent man is mistakenly arrested for being the Moon Man. Stephen Thatcher and Angel clear the man by pulling off a high-profile robbery at a posh country club but are nearly captured by the police when something goes wrong.
THE SINISTER SNATCH
Villains: The Franky Funk Gang
Story: The Moon Man and Angel take on a gang of World War One veterans using the skills they learned in the military to launch a crime spree. The six-man Franky Funk Gang uses a commando raid and some tear-gas bombs to kidnap wealthy newspaper publisher Whitman Gibson. The crooks make their getaway in an early Auto-gyro (open-cockpit helicopter).
It turns out that Franky Funk and his men also deal in and distribute counterfeit pharmaceuticals of dubious content, not caring about the dead and hospitalized victims of the phony drugs. MM kills or captures all the gang members and tells the recovered Gibson to give the $10,000 reward to an orphanage.
THE BLEEDING SKELETON
Villain: The Skeleton, another costumed supervillain.
Story: A white-clad, skull-masked criminal called the Skeleton has been pulling off robbery after robbery for months in Great City. Neither the Moon Man nor the cops have been able to catch him. After a few clashes between MM and the Skeleton the latter announces he will capture our hero and turn him over to the police.
A three-way urban hunt results as the hero and villain stalk each other while being stalked by the cops in turn. In the end the Moon Man wins and also helps the poor with the fortune the Skeleton had stolen over the months.
Villains: The Lew Reddock Gang
Story: The long-hiding members of a robbery gang band together to find the never-recovered $200,000 from their armored car robbery 8 years earlier. The Moon Man wants that money for the suffering poor of Great City and tries to keep up with the crooks as they search for the loot.
Naturally our hero wins out and uses the recovered money in his usual compassionate way.
ROBE OF BLOOD
Villain: The Fire Bug
Story: A psychotic arsonist called the Fire Bug is plaguing Great City. With the Moon Man on his trail the arsonist springs a trap on our hero. The Fire Bug imprisons the Moon Man in the vault of a bloated rich pig he was robbing, sets fire to the mansion and informs the police that MM is inside.
Our hero must get out of the vault before his air runs out, escape the raging inferno of the mansion AND elude the cops who are surrounding the place.
THE WHISPERING DEATH
Villains: The Whisper Killers
Story: Great City is being terrorized by a five-member masked gang called the Whisper Killers. They’ve been performing hit-and-run robberies while wielding their specialized weapons – double-barreled guns which shoot needles that sport a poison so lethal that the slightest scratch is fatal.
The Moon Man has his chance to corral the gang when they raid a radio station during a live broadcast in which thousands of dollars in prize money are being handed out.
Villains: The Gas-Mask Gang, a trio of robbers.
Story: When eccentric millionaire Mrs Ashworth Pendleton passes away, she is being buried wearing the Pendleton Necklace, valued at over $200,000. At the cemetery the Gas-Mask Gang attacks the party of mourners, neutralizes all the police and the security men with tear gas and makes off with the necklace.
Angel proves crucial to defeating the gang, recovering the Pendleton Necklace and helping Stephen Thatcher preserve his secret identity.
Villains: Vito Barone and Marcus Fernand, rival crime bosses.
Story: A gangster war is rocking Great City. The competing mobs led by “the prince of crooks” Marcus Fernand and his foe Vito Barone are waging war on each other with the Moon Man plundering loot from both sides at will.
The two bosses declare a truce in order to join forces against their mutual enemy the Moon Man. Our hero must bring down both crime organizations while eluding Lieutenant Gil McEwan’s latest ingenious trap for him.
Villain: Curtis Skoda, the new crime boss of Great City.
Story: This final Moon Man tale – outside of fan fiction and tribute stories – served as an appropriate send-off for the character. The Moon Man steals thousands of dollars from Skoda’s safe AND thwarts the crimelord’s operation to intimidate the members of a Grand Jury considering charges against the villain. Meanwhile, Sue McEwen and our hero’s sidekick Angel pressure Stephen Thatcher to give up his dual identity for good.