The Avenger #4: Manhattan Massacre, by Chet Cunningham
October, 1988 Warner Books
The fourth and final volume of The Avenger finds unhinged hero Matt Hawkee slightly less unhinged as he ventures to Los Angeles to wipe out “a new Oriental syndicate.” The “all druggers must die” vitriol of the previous volume is a bit whittled down this time, Chet Cunningham for the most part leaving the sadism to the villains. This is the New Connection, a conglomerated triad which takes heroin-hooked whores off the street, gussies them up, and has them play Russian roulette in front of a betting audience!
Some unspecified time after volume 3, Hawke is in Los Angeles, looking into the recent rash of hookers who have committed “suicide.” All of them were teenaged runaways, heroin addicts despite their youth, and Hawke’s drugger senses are alerted. There’s no attempt at making Hawke an empathetic character this time; he baldly exposists his sad-story background to one dude early in the book, and then on page 114 we get an arbitrary flashback. But otherwise he’s just your typical men’s adventure protagonist, out to use his endless arsenal against the drug-dealers in a variety of firefights.
As mentioned we get a good glimpse of how evil Hawke’s latest target is. In a long opening sequence, we meet a 15 year-old street hooker/heroin addict from Chinatown who is taken into an opulent “palace” in Chinatown and pampered. She is to be the latest roulette victim, offered a hundred thousand dollars for the bet – if she survives, the money is hers. Cunningham makes us feel for the poor girl as she is taken into the betting room on a grand throne, dressed up to the nines by a staff of makeup and wardrobe artists. The sequence ends as expected, with the girl blowing her brains out.
Hawke tracks down David Wong, older brother of the dead girl; a successful businessman in Chinatown, Wong tried to keep his sister from taking to the streets but failed. He becomes Hawke’s first accomplice in the novel, eager to get vengeance on whoever was behind the girl’s death; he too disbelieves the newspaper stories that these have all been unconnected suicides. However he is very fearful of the New Connection. He also has another sister, this one a hottie named Jasmine who dances for a living and who surprisingly does not become one of Hawke’s conquests.
Hawke also reconnects with an old ‘Nam pal while in LA. This is Buzz Yuan, former ‘Nam chopper pilot, current Wall Street type. An interesting note throughout Manhattan Massacre is that Vietnam is given a lot more focus. Whereas most men’s adventure heroes in the ‘70s were also ‘Nam vets, very seldom did we actually read anything about the war – the focus instead was on their current, lone wolf activities of the characters. But in the ‘80s the memories of Vietnam were brought to the fore – no doubt catering to the rash of action flicks which featured Vietnam vets – so we have many arbitrary reminsices from Hawke or Buzz about “that time in Huey” or whatnot.
Together these two get in a bunch of firefights throughout the novel, traveling around the New York area and taking out various New Connection operations. Buzz gradually drops his businessman makeover and becomes more at home in the chaotic bloodshed he once experienced daily in the bush; it’s all entertaining but increasingly unbelievable, like when Buzz even rents out a chopper so he can more completely recreate his ‘Nam days, above the streets of Manhattan.
Cunningham gets a little pulpy with New Connection’s leader, the mysterious Mr. Chu of Hong Kong who uses three gorgeous, miniskirted Chinese ladies as his personal bodyguard. However Cunningham doesn’t exploit this; the bodyguard gals are hardly featured, and arbitrarily sent to take out Hawke at one point, who almost perfunctorily wastes them without the proper exploitation factor the scene requires. But Hawke does score with another gorgeous Chinese lady: Lin Liu, herself a former heroin addict who was roped into the Russian roulette scheme and actually survived. Now she’s a high-ranking New Connection member, but, as Hawke discovers, she’s eager to leave.
Posing as a heroin dealer himself, Hawke does business with Lin Liu, who for no reason at all abruptly tells Hawke she can tell there’s something different about him; she blabs her entire lifestory to this veritable stranger, desperate that he might help her escape Mr. Chu and his people. Cunningham leaves the sex scene off-page, but afterwards Hawke has feelings for the girl – and posthaste she’s abruptly removed from the narrative, captured by a suspicious Mr. Chu. She’s basically in the book long enough to exposit to Hawke about the syndicate, have sex with him, and then get caught!
Most of Manhattan Massacre is comrpised of Hawke and Buzz raiding various places and killing all the druggers within. Cunnigham doesn’t get too crazy with the violence. He also adds arbitrary stuff like the sudden presence of a DEA agent whose partner – a Chinese guy – turns out to be a traitor. Meanwhile Buzz is the one who falls in love with Broadway dancer Jasmine Wong, thus it’s Buzz we’re to empathize with when Jasmine is also caught by Mr. Chu in the climax – Lin Liu has been gone so long we’ve already forgotten about her. However Cunningham brings her back just long enough to gut us with her sad fate.
The finale sees Hawke and Buzz raiding the opulent palace in which the Russian roulette takes place – humorously, Hawke arrives just seconds after the latest victim inadvertently blows her own brains out – and while by this point the constant action scenes have lost a bit of their novelty value, or at least their excitement, Mr. Chu is delivered a very Hollywood-esque sendoff: Hawke jams a primed grenade in his mouth.
Speaking of Hollywood, Hawke announces his intention to head there and root out the rampant drug-dealing at the end of the book, thus the unpublished fifth volume likely occurred there. I think I read somewhere – was it Brad Mengel who wrote about it? – that this fifth volume was eventually epublished, but I’ve never bothered looking it up. At any rate, here ended the Avenger series, at least so far as the paperback run went.