Monday, January 7, 2013

The Hitman #1: Chicago Deathwinds

The Hitman #1: Chicago Deathwinds, by Norman Winski
March, 1984  Pinnacle Books

I first learned about this obscure, three-volume series via Brad Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction, and though Brad’s description intrigued me, when I read Zwolf’s awesome and hilarious review of this first volume on The Mighty Blowhole, I knew I had to read it. I’m just sorry it took me so long. While it isn’t completely perfect, Chicago Deathwinds does reach some absurd heights and is just as goofy and fun as Zwolf says.

Norman Winski also wrote Able Team #2: The Hostaged Island, which, despite featuring a plot about bikers taking over an island, was actually more “realistic” than this first installment of The Hitman (not to be confused, by the way, with Kirby Carr’s earlier Hitman series). But then, Winski was hamstrung by Gold Eagle’s editorial policies for Able Team; here, presumably, he was allowed to give free reign to his own warped interests, so that Chicago Deathwinds comes off like a gore and sex-filled Looney Tunes cartoon.

Our protagonist is Dirk Spencer, a good-looking blonde treetrunk of 100% MAN who not only kicked a bunch of ass in ‘Nam but is also the son of a mega-rich tycoon and thus has millions of his own. Dirk is so often and so consistently described in the narrative as “the big blonde viking” and etc that it all just storms right over the edge of satire and straight into parody. Practically every time Dirk is mentioned we’re either reminded of his huge muscles, his height, his rugged but handsome features, or his powerful blue eyes.

Dirk Spencer is full-on wish fulfillment, driving around in his customized red Lamborghini Countach S (we’re told it’s the only one in the world), bedding one gorgeous woman after another, living the general high life as he jetsets about all the happening places on the globe. Despite which we’re told his life lacks meaning(!), and now, over a decade after returning from Vietnam, he feels adrift…he wants to make a difference in the world, to use his powers for the good of man, but doesn’t know what he can do.

Luckily Winski doesn’t spin his wheels; within the first few pages a black family Dirk is friendly with is killed by corrupt security guards who make it look like some drug-related gangland killing. Able to see through to the truth of the matter, Dirk buys a bunch of guns (including a rocket launcher), some fancy high-tech scrambling equipment, and stalks the two thugs. The scene in which he gives them their comeuppance is pretty great, with Dirk forcing the two to beat each other half to death, then blowing them away, then blasting their car with his rocket launcher!

Dirk gets such a feeling of self-worth from this that he decides to become a fulltime crimefighter. Dubbing himself “The Hitman,” he now goes about “undercover” in his Lamborgini (remember, there’s only one like it in the entire world), decked out in a black combat suit. Like Kirby Carr’s Hitman, this Hitman also wears a mask, a “black nylon stocking mask with eye slits.” Winski picks up the narrative a year later, and now Dirk is well into his new career, operating out of his Chicago penthouse and planning his next job.

This turns out to be a megalomaniacal politician named Augustus P. Murdoch who is an American Hitler in all but name, a type of character who can only exist in an action series novel. A West Virginia native(!), Murdoch lives in a high-security compound in Illinois, surrounded by armed goons (the Sentinels).  He's the figurehead behind the Nazi-like SPPA, the Society for the Protection of Pure Americanism, and of course his lunkheaded vitriol goes down great in the heartland. Dirk wants Murdoch dead not just due to his far-right sentiments but also because the guy was allegedly involved in some assassinations, including the bombing of a bus filled with Mexican immigrants. But most worringly, his public support is gaining and Dirk fears the bastard might become president someday.

That goofy but lurid opening has you expecting a rollercoaster ride, but once Murdoch is introduced Winski spins his wheels for quite some time. There’s very little action – of the guns and fistfights variety, at least. Winski doesn’t shy on the sex scenes and they’re all pretty damn funny. Dirk it seems has an excess of wrathful energy, particularly before going on a mission, and so will sap himself by hiring hookers when necessary. And yeah, “hookers” in the plural. (Of course, we’re informed that they’re “high-class” hookers. Only the best for Dirk!)

There’s also a much too long sequence where Dirk goes to West Virginia, hooks up with some locals, and plots to assassinate Murdoch during a festival here in his hometown. In a burst of pure deus ex machina it develops that Dirk also has a passing interest in daredevil flying, so he spots a prime opportunity when it turns out that part of the rally will involve daredevil stunt flyers! Dirk commandeers a plane and pulls off a fly-by shooting with an Uzi! It’s all so dumb and goofy you just have to laugh, especially when it’s revealed that Dirk merely killed a stand-in.

Winski has fun with the female villain, a gorgeous seductress named Sabrina who gets off on torture. She’s a pulpy villainess very much in the vein of Margot Anstruther, from Mark Roberts’s Soldier For Hire #8: Jakarta Coup. (Humorously, Winski constantly uses the adjective "serpentine" to describe her.)  Sabrina works as Murdoch's secretary and by all appearances is second in command, so Dirk moves in on her. In order to insinuate himself into the fold, Dirk pretends to be a supporter of the SPPA. Soon enough he’s getting in bed with Sabrina, but for some reason Winski shies away from detailing what would have undoubtedly been a whopper of a scene.  He does spend a lot of time leading up to it, though, including this stunner of a pargraph:

Cruising leisurely along Lake Shore Drive, Lake Michigan on their right a molten dull silver reflecting a lead bullet moon, the Hitman learned two more personal items about Sabrina.  One, she had an M.A. in business administration from the University of Chicago and, two, she was into fondling a man's balls as he drove, while she kept her other hand busy caressing herself.

The tale of course climaxes with Dirk, in his Hitman garb, pulling a one-man-army raid on the compound. The bastards have kidnapped a lady named Valerie, a TV journalist who was doing an expose on the SPPA, and wouldn’t you know it, Valerie just happens to be the only woman Dirk has ever loved. (Naturally, he had to break it off because the Hitman can’t get involved.) What’s funny is that Dirk knows they have her, even though she’s officially reported as “missing,” but he waits about a week to rescue her.

Winski’s action scenes lack the flourish of David Alexander, but they’re still appropriately gory. It seems that every time Dirk shoots someone with his Uzi he saws them in half. The finale also packs on a bunch of lurid stuff, with Dirk arriving to rescue Valerie just as she’s being sodomized by Murdoch in a De Sade-inspired dungeon, while Sabrina meanwhile stands by with a whip, forcing Valerie to perform cunnilingus on her!

But as mentioned it’s all just so goofy that you can’t take it seriously. Dirk blows away the villains and saves Valerie – who as you’ll recall has been tortured and raped for the past week – and he’s immediately checking out her "extraordinary lovely breasts" and wondering when they can spend some quality time together! Even funnier is that Valerie feels the same way! I guess Sabrina and Murdoch just served to get her in the mood.

Also worth noting is that Dirk is like an action movie hero in that he doesn’t just shoot the antagonist; no, he goes to extremes to really kill the bastard in a novel way. Also, like a few other men’s adventure heroes, the Hitman leaves behind a calling card: a false eye and a false set of teeth, symbolizing “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” However Dirk has to explain this to his enemies; note to all potential men’s adventure protagonists: If you have to explain your calling card, you need to get a new one.

Anyway, Chicago Deathwinds is both goofy and great; the opening and ending are lots of crazy fun, but the entire middle half is a bit padded. Not that this will stop me from eagerly reading the next two installments.


Zwolf said...

Excellent review! :) I still haven't read the two other volumes in the series, because I'm saving them up for when I really *need* them. When I read three or four really boring books in a row, I'm going to delve back into The Hitman for a megadose of violent-stupid! :) I don't know if Winski *knew* he was writing craziness, or he just lucked into it, but what he does is beautiful in its goofiness.

AndyDecker said...

" he now goes about “undercover” in his Lamborgini (remember, there’s only one like it in the entire world)"

Lol! Great review, one of your best. You just can see Dolph Lundgren getting out of the car with an Uzi :-)

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks guys for the comments.

Zwolf -- I'm looking forward to reading #2, and I'm also looking forward to your eventual review of it! Speaking of which, when can we expect another round of your men's adventure reviews?

Andy -- I forgot to mention that Spencer also has his own helicopter, which he keeps on the rooftop of his downtown apartment building; he uses it throughout the novel to take off on his "secret" missions.

Grant said...

I know this review goes back about nine months, but as usual, I'm looking for "spoilers" about the villainess character Sabrina. Judging by the way the main character's described (including his "poetic" methods), I somehow imagine a scene right out of Destroyer # 2, where Remo puts the nymphomaniac villainess out of the way partly by using the "obvious" part of himself (!), but at any rate, I imagine something really "out there." Do you remember off-hand what happens to Sabrina?

Joe Kenney said...

Grant, if you click on the link to Zwolf's review above, he mentions Sabrina's death scene -- she is the one who Dirk Spencer blows away with his Uzi, who says "You were the best I ever had!" as she dies. Followed by the even-goofier bit where Spencer's girlfriend, who has just been sexually abused by Sabrina, says, "She really loved you, Dirk!"

Grant said...

Thank you. One of my least favorite action story clichés (if only because of the HUGE NUMBER of times it happens) is the heroine / villainess showdown. So the scene you just described really turns that idea on its ear.