Luke’s finding the Prog’ a tad dull at the moment. So, he figured he’d write about one of his favourite comics, ever, which, by coincidence, has strong connections to the Galaxy’s Greatest
Why All British Comic Fans Of A Certain Age Should Read DC’s “Hitman”
By Luke Williams
Occasionally in writing for this blog’ I’ll veer away from 2000AD. Sometimes there is a comic that has very close ties to the the Galaxy’s Greatest or its stablemates. This maybe because of the creative team or it shares a sensibility with the publications of the House Of Tharg. “Hitman” meets both criteria.
“Hitman” is probably the Garth Ennis / John McCrea comic that everyone overlooks. Sure, everyone gushes over Ennis’s various “Punisher” runs ( his “Max” storyline is without doubt one of the greatest comics of all time), his first runaway hit and subject of TV adaptation “Preacher”, his US debut in “Hellblazer” and his extended run of excess and depravity, “The Boys”. But “Hitman” has a special place in my heart. It’s probably the DC comic which is most imbued with the spirit of specific 70/s early 80s IPC/fleetway boys titles, “Battle”, “Action” and of course “2000AD”.
Ennis & McCrea’s first published work was in the worthy and more tonally very different “Troubed Souls” in the very po-faced 200AD stablemate “Crisis”. “Troubled Souls” told the tale of a young man blackmailed and manipulated by an IRA Cell, not many laughs there. It’s sequel, “For A Few Troubles More” followed two the hapless supporting characters from the earlier strip in a bawdy and almost “Viz” like strip, and which acted as more of precursor for the Irish duos joint work for DC, and later appeared in their own mini series published by Avatar Press.
Taking over “The Demon” from Alan Grant and Val Semeiks in 1993, Ennis and McCrea brought similar bawdy sixth form humour to the DC title. During their run they were charged with creating a new hero for DC’s “Bloodlines” universe wide crossover event, when everyone was creating new universes or copyrighting as many superhero names as possible before their rivals could get their hands on them.
The duo came up with “Hitman”, Tommy Monaghan. Debuting in “The Demon Annual 2”, “Hitman” Tommy Monaghan is a former US soldier and small time underworld lowlife of irish stock living in the Cauldron district of Gotham, when he is attacked by a rampaging alien. Instead of killing him, said ET imbues him with the ability to sees through solid objects and read minds, invariably leading to a heavy migraine. Think of him as a ’44 toting Johnny Alpha with a screwy moral compass and an addiction to Syndol. The powers do come with their benefits.
Following the end of their run on “The Demon” Ennis & McCrea spun Tommy off into his own series. Tommy, being the slightly nefarious type that he is, begins to exploit these by taking on jobs within the “meta” community. The jobs that regular hitmen won’t take, but consequently attracts a lot of attention from the cape and cowl brigade, including Batman and the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern.
Ennis & McCrea have loads of fun with this book, its strength is its versatility. But he also exploits the universe he is playing in to its fullest, which allows the creative team to bring in superheroes, dinosaurs and zombiefied aquatic zoo animals, vampires demons, SAS and even veer into a homage to spaghetti westerns. It veers from all out action (“Ten Thousand Bullets”), superherodom (“Local Hero”), to pathos “The Old Dog”, “Closing Time “) to all dark thrillers (“For Tomorrow”, “Who Dares Wins”) , horror “(Ace Of Killers”) and war (“Tommy’s Heroes”) to out and out farce (“Zombie Night In The Gotham Aquarium” and “Fresh Meat”).
Ennis is usually contemptuous of superhero comics, and indeed he takes his time to put the boot in here with jabs at Batman and his villains, Green Lantern, the “Bloodlines” saga that birthed our hero and whichever crossover was running at the time. Conversely one of the greatest issues of the run is the one off costarring Superman,with Tommy and Supes sitting on a Gotham rooftop chewing that fat, kind of redolent of the “Animal Man” issue where a newly reactivated Buddy Baker first meets Kal El, but here the creative team expand on that concept, it’s oddly affecting considering Ennis’s opinions on superheroes, and tells you a lot about Tommy.
One of “Hitman’s” strengths is it’s strong supporting cast, particularly Detective Tiegel, Tommy’s on/off love interest, Natt The Hat, Tommy’s partner and buddy from the Gulf War 1 and the bar flys at Noonan’s, Tommy’s haunt and “Sixpack” the perpetually drunk delusional would be superhero (in the mould of “Viz’s” “Brown Bottle”) and his team Section 8, also the stars of two spin off mini series.
The cast give Tommy some grounding, they become integral to the plot, aprticularly as the series slowly turns into a tragedy as Tommy and his friends violent lifestyle begins to catch up with them. As much as Tommy is a cold blooded (if occasionally incompetent) killer, insights into his personal life make him likeable and sympathetic, if flawed, “hero”.
By turns John McCrea is affecting, outlandish, like a Tex Avery on acid, and gritty. The great Garry Leach comes on board for added atmosphere inking McCrea’s pencils during some of the darker storylines and the usual Ennis collaborators are on hand to help out along the way Steve Pugh and Carlos Ezquerra.
It all ends ratter tragically after 60 issues, one annual and a Lobo teamup (drawn by Doug Mahnke). But Ennis and McCrea return to Tommy in two part “Hitman vs JLA”, published a few years after the end of the series.
Whilst Hitman itself is set deep in the heart of the DC universe, it has that anarchic, irreverent and ultra violent sensibility that was found in the aforementioned IPC / Fleetway titles. It’s not particularly sophisticated, or ground breaking. Some of the humour can be a little on the nose and crude, but to my mind, for fun, frolics and , tragedy you can’t get much better.