Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of B.C. Boyer’s neglected 1980s superhero the Masked Man. For Part One click HERE
ECLIPSE MAGAZINE Vol 1 #8 (January 1983)
Villain: Frankie the crimelord.
Synopsis: Once again the underrated B.C. Boyer writes and illustrates a tale that toys with narrative structure and with superhero themes in a way that puts the reader in mind of Will Eisner’s iconic creation The Spirit. Or in mind of the brilliant and innovative work of Ethan Van Sciver, Richard C Meyer and Jon Malin today.
In this second story featuring the Masked Man (Dick Carstairs), his newspaper reporter friend Barney McAlister is still serving as the hero’s Doctor Watson – publicizing the figure’s adventures like Watson did with Sherlock Holmes. The masked crimefighter has been adding to his reputation by clobbering and corraling many of the city’s most violent criminals.
Like an old west gunfighter, the Masked Man’s fame has motivated plenty of would-be tough guys in the criminal ranks to try making a name for themselves by killing him. Even a few random wackos try their hand at bumping off our hero, convinced that it will bring them notoriety and a fortune when they sell the book and movie rights to their story.
After spending his days as a mundane Private Investigator trailing cheating spouses for their suspicious partners, tracking down deadbeat dads, etc, Dick Carstairs dons his mask and takes to the night-darkened streets, risking his life with every step he takes.
After bringing down a cocaine ring, the Masked Man learns he has provoked the wrath of a dangerous crimelord known only as “Frankie.” No surname has ever been learned, despite his position as the usurping head of one of the Five Families.
Next, when our hero busts up a stolen car network one of the thugs involved literally dies in a panic over what punishment Frankie will inflict on him for letting the hated Masked Man shut down the criminal operation.
Dick Carstairs and Barney McAlister put their respective investigative skills to work by going undercover to the Blarney Stone Bar, an underworld dive in the inner city, trying to scare up some information on the elusive Frankie. They learn that he’s a former boxer and, unusual for organized crime bosses, he takes a very hands-on approach, often doing his own killing, one-on-one with his victims.
The bulk of this tale is taken up with the Masked Man’s well-rendered and picturesque running fight with a muscular, moustachioed, gun-wielding hood. This is presumably Frankie himself, indulging his fondness for murdering his worst enemies personally.
This brutal, thrilling tussle set against a gritty cityscape is up there with Ross Andru’s work on The Amazing Spider-Man in the 1970s. Ultimately the Masked Man emerges triumphant over this incredibly deadly sparring partner. In Doombot fashion, though, it turns out he is not really Frankie, just another of his subordinates.
The real Frankie, in hat and trenchcoat, has been observing the battle from the shadows. The enigmatic figure now lights up a cigarette and strolls off into the night to plague our hero another day.
Comment: Once again, B.C. Boyer gives hidden depths to a seemingly simple story. The attempts at verisimilitude, like with the unstable loons trying to kill our main character for imagined Rupert Pupkin-style fame, are effective. And Barney’s wary awe of his friend Dick’s righteous fury when he becomes the Masked Man is intriguing.
McAlister’s wry sense of humor is fun, too, like when he ponders the absurdity of the bland name “Frankie” for their quarry. “I could understand Big Frank, Frank the Kingpin or even Doctor Death … but Frankie? Next we’ll have some terrorist leader of a fascist country named “Bernie.”
(I’d be obliged if anyone could tell me if Boyer named the crimelord “Frankie” as a shoutout to Frank Miller, who by 1983 was two years into his legendary run on Daredevil. The Masked Man’s adventures have a certain air of urban danger that often reminds me of Miller’s work. And Miller DID do some free-lance artwork for Eclipse Comics in the early 80s.)
After these first two stories in the black & white Eclipse Magazine, the Masked Man moved to the pages of the full-color Eclipse Monthly, where he became the most popular feature.
NOTE: Assorted online entries about the Masked Man say that he performs his superheroics just to give his reporter friend Barney some news to write, but that is not true. Not only is there NOTHING like that in the actual stories but it would defeat the whole purpose of Dick Carstairs’ crusade if it was true.
I’LL REVIEW THE NEXT MASKED MAN STORY SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY LOOK AT HOMBRE, SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPTIC COMIC BOOK FROM THE 1980s, CLICK HERE .
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