Thursday, January 29, 2015


You can't spell "Man-Stalker" without "Multitasker"

Like a lot of the characters published by Atlas-Seaboard during its abbreviated run, John Targitt lived at least two lives. Thanks to the constant editorial rejiggering of the character in the background while the series was still running, the police detective ultimately turned costumed super-vigilante was in fine company among all of the other characters whose modus operandi and environment was turned upside in a last-ditch effort to find an audience.

Unusually for an Atlas-Seaboad type, though, Targitt ended up with three incarnations, each one at least somewhat subtly draped over the character – and trust me, subtle was not something Targitt normally did well.

Before retelling Targitt’s complicated origin, it’s worth remembering that Atlas-Seaboard was happy to borrow liberally from the popular cinema of the day, mashing up two or three movies to get a comic concept launched. Heck, line editor Larry Lieber went and admitted so much in an in-book editorial. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that Targitt was clearly inspired not only by Death Wish and Dirty Harry (A lettercol hack nails the book on the similarity to the former and the book itself admits to the latter), but pretty much every guns-and-get-the-baddies film playing the cineplex that month.

FBI Agent John Targitt is seeing his wife Kyle and daughter Maureen off on a trip to see the in-laws when their plane surprisingly blows up! Retrieving a charred newspaper from the faming remains, Targitt susses out a Bostonian drug connection behind the blast and goes shooting his way up through the Beantown mob.

Why it sometimes rains fish.
It’s about halfway through the book that the creative team – counting among them personal idol Jeff Rovin and accomplished illustrator Howard Nostrand – get their tongues irretrievably stuck in their collective cheeks, and the book takes on a cartoonish level of violence (reminiscent, it’s worth saying, of Eisner’s The Spirit as much as anything, intentionally I’m sure). There’s certainly something to a grenade blowing up two gunsels in a fishmongers shop accompanied by a haddock-strewn BLOOEY!

As the wry asides increase, so too do the stakes. Over the next three issues, Targitt is fired from the FBI only to find himself inducted into a secret underground branch of the same institution, dedicated to a colorful war on crime which requires our hero to don his superhero disguise. Starting from issue two, Targitt wears one of comicdom’s least-likely superhero uniforms, a luck-pushing garment adorned with a bulls’eye over the chest.

By the third issue, he’s adopted his superheroic sobriquet, even though all the crooks already know his masked mug as John Targitt, former FBI. He’s also moved up in adversaries, having started off with drug-dealers and the Boston mob, up to industrial saboteurs funded by the OPEC nations, and ending up with a bona fide supervillain in the form of grim-visaged Dr.Death, a mad victim of a chemical spill who’s fond of hucking around skull-shaped grenades filled with the toxic superchemical DEXTH-13 (they’re performing tonight at local hardcore joint The Skull Bucket).

In any other comic, this would be the bad guy.

In fact, a whiff of DEXTH-13 – or is it his powerful new servo-motor-powered, bulletproof (at last!) costume – gives Targitt sudden super-strength and invulnerability, just in time to renew his war on crime – which never happens, because the line folded.

Still, if Targitt has anything consistently going for him, it’s his tendency to use guns to solve every problem. While my personal favorite is a scene in the second issue where, after pushing a baddie into an open vat of boiling oil, he seals the deal by making sure to shoot the guy a couple times anyway, Targitt is not shy of finding ways to blast a solution. Assembling an uzi under crossfire, he seems to take particular glee in cutting store mannequins in half, while in an earlier scene he responds to a clumsy attempt at a garroting by shooting the portly offender up through the nose (a strong push would’ve accomplished as much), and later prefers to shoot his drivers license out of the hands of an opponent just so he can get a good kill line before shooting him dead. Well all right.

The highlight of John Targitt – MAN-STALKER’s career, thought, might be his unique approach to avoiding the common cold. Do you have any idea how many germs you come into contact with just turning a door handle? Here’s a solution!

Have you tried turning the knob?


Tom said...

That fish shop panel is a clear swipe from that Punisher one-shot where he takes on fish-man crime in Innsmouth.

Actually, a Punisher vs. Cthulhu Mythos crossover could be amazing. So many overlong quasi-racist monologues interrupted by Uzi fire, plus since it's already pretty well established that Frank is already an insane killing machine there's not much that looking at spooky books can do to him.

James Conder said...

I kept thinking that the art looked familiar, then when I read the name Howard Nostrand, and my went back to reading Cracked Magazine as a kid.

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