Consuming vast, vast, vast, vast, vast quantities of superhero comic books, movies, action figures, video games, collectible card games and branded snack products can leave one feeling cynical, even jaded about the cape-and-spandex set. But once in a while, there comes along a book that reminds you of the validity, even beauty of that genre.
DC Comics has recently announced that it will give readers possibly the best thing to potentially ever happen to anyone, anywhere, in the history of the universe. A legend will be reborn, as tales thought lost will return to enlighten readers’ minds, embiggen their souls, and demonstrate the limitless potential of storytelling.
They’re finally reprinting all of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman.
Yes, DC has announced the publication of Hitman: Closing Time, collecting the final tales of the late great Tommy Monaghan, including the Hitman/JLA miniseries and that time he met Lobo.
But somehow, somewhere, there might be readers who dare ask the question, “What is Hitman, and why should I care that it’s being reprinted and spend my hard-earned funnybook dollars on it in this competitive marketplace?” Or something like that, only shorter.
Well, we’ll explain to you why Hitman is the greatest, with some older comments from the creators themselves. Strap in.
”My Name’s Tommy Monaghan, and I kill people for money. It’s a living.”: Meet the “hero” of our book, who developed powers of X-ray vision and telepathy after being bitten by an alien in DC’s “Bloodlines” crossover…powers that he almost never uses, unless it’s to peep under Wonder Woman’s costume.
But unlike many a gun-wielding antihero (in fairness, his Catholic upbringing only lets him kill people he deems “bad”), Tommy’s pretty much a regular guy, a blue-collar Joe who likes beer, baseball and talking about old movies with his friends. Speaking of whom…
Just a bunch of assassins sittin’ around talkin’: …Tommy’s got himself a good runnin’crew of fellow hitmen hanging out in the Cauldron, the corner of Gotham so scummy even Batman barely goes in there. From the dumbassed Hacken to the too-cool Natt the Hatt, the most entertaining parts of the book are often just the gang at Noonan’s Sleazy Bar playing poker and riffing on one another. Which comes in handy when…
Crossovers are treated with the respect they deserve:: …a major, universe-altering event hits all the DC books and threatens to disrupt storylines. But Tommy and friends take it all in stride, such as when The Final Night snuffs out the sun, prompting them to simply board up the bar and trade stories, such as Hacken’s tale of his days as a chicken-slaughterer. Though this doesn’t help him much on…
Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium: One of the book’s all-time great stories, it’s the simple tale of what happens when Tommy, Natt and Hacken find themselves stuck in a situation involving a lot of dead maritime animals and a zombie virus. Yes, seals, dolphins and their kin are out for blood, and only the rules of zombie movies can save our hitmen.
Says John McCrea: “There's nothing like clubbing some baby seals to make people smile, I guess.”
And other heroes get respect as well: Plenty of superheroes pass through Tommy’s world, but most are far more corrupt than the hitmen crew – such as Nightfist, who trounces drug dealers mostly so he can snort their coke himself. Or then there’s Gunfire 1,000,000, a future version of one of Tommy’s fellow Bloodlines heroes whose ability to turn anything into a weapon results in this line: “OH MY GOD I TURNED MY ASS INTO A HAND GRENADE -- !”
Recalls McCrea of that moment, “I think that was my suggestion, putting Gunfire into issue 1,000,000. I certainly told Garth many, many times that I hated Gunfire, because it's a terrible, terrible concept. I'm pretty sure Garth agreed with me. So when it came time to blow him up with a hand grenade made out of his arse, it was just perfect.
“That's a perfect example of why I enjoyed Hitman so much. It mixed really dark stories, really nasty and horrible stories, with the most absurd humor at the same time.”
But even a few of DC’s icons made their way into Hitman…and were mercilessly roasted in the process. Catwoman is summoned using a “Cat Signal” involving a piece of roadkill. Batman, disgusted with Tommy’s murdering ways, finds himself on the receiving end of some Indian food that didn’t sit well. Green Lantern (the Kyle Rayner version) is practically laughed out of Noonan’s, while Lobo…let’s just say it involves a video camera and a wedding dress.
Superheroes never quite sat well with Tommy, according to Garth Ennis. “Tommy saw them all as idiots, mostly walking bullet-magnets to be avoided like the plague. Occasionally they would be worthy of a little more respect, e.g. someone as dangerous as Batman, but at the end of the day it’s still a man in tights.
“My own attitude has always been to write established characters as I think they would actually behave, rather than by any company guidelines. Batman, again, is one of those military genius figures like General Patton – you’d want him on your side, but you wouldn’t want to spend more than two seconds in his company.”
Though Tommy does show respect for:
The Last Place You’d Expect To Find a Great Superman Tale: …the Man of Steel, in the Eisner-winning issue #34. Dedicated to the late editor Archie Goodwin, it’s a poignant tale of what happens when Tommy runs into Superman on a rooftop and severely geeks out. Unaware of his admirer’s true profession, Superman admits a recent personal failure to Tommy, who in turn provides his idol with the words of encouragement he needs.
“To Tommy, Superman is the ultimate American, the one concept which will turn our boy just a little bit sentimental,” Ennis says. “To me – again, writing the way I think the character would be- Superman should be like Jesus. Constantly let down by humanity, and never giving up on them.”
Two Words: Section 8: Though they only made a few appearances, Hitman’s group of local heroes ranks among the greatest of all DC characters.
First there’s Noonan’s regular Sixpack, master of getting super-inebriated and taking out the likes of Bane, Doomsday and Darkseid with a broken whisky bottle, at least according to his own recollections. When trouble is too much for even him to handle, he sets out to gather his team, getting progressively drunker with each new member.
There’s Friendly Fire, capable of hitting any member of his own team with an energy blast! The Defenstrator – if there’s a window, evil will get thrown through it! Flemgem, Lord of Loogies and Master of Mucus! Jean de Baton-Baton, battling evil with the power of Frenchiness! Shakes, who…um, shakes! Dogwelder, who has prompted many a victim to scream, “HE’S WELDING A FRIGGIN’ DOG TO MY FAAAACE…!” And of course Bueno Excellente, who fights crime with the power of perversion! “Heh heh heh…BUENO.”
“The idea was to have a bunch of superheroes who just couldn’t cut it,” Ennis says. “Sixpack was a delusional drunk in soiled tights, and therefore the most direct commentary on superheroes. Shakes had epilepsy, there was no excuse for that at all. Jean De Baton was born of an old Denis Leary rant, back when I thought it was big and clever to make fun of the French. Flemgem was pretty obvious, likewise Friendly Fire.
“The Defenestrator was born of a guy John and I heard about, who apparently collected comic book artwork featuring images of women being flung through windows. We thought we were onto a sure-fire moneymaker, but we never heard from the guy.
“And Bueno Excellente, whose power we could never reveal but which was actually pretty obvious, came from a porno movie a friend of John’s saw- in which a gentleman indicated his approval of a young lady’s actions by groaning, ‘Bueno… bueno… excellente…’. He told us about this, and something about the way he said it made me think- there’s a character in there, somewhere.”
As controversial as the late Wizard magazine could be, there is no arguing with their choice of Dogwelder as “Best New Character of 1997.” Somewhere in the New 52, there is room for a miniseries. We’re just sayin’.
But it wasn’t all fun and games: As early as the book’s second storyline, regular characters started dying…and stayed dead. Some go out in a blaze of glory; others don’t even get that chance. And each one eats away a little more at Tommy, who knows no one is safe, least of all him. “They all brought a lump to the throat,” Ennis says of the deaths. “ I liked them all; each death took us a step closer to the end of everything.”
Many, many things we don’t have room to recall here: Tommy’s on-again, off-again relationship with Detective Tiegel, the honest Gotham cop who hates herself for loving him. The strange life and fate of Ringo Chen, a John Woo-inspired killer even Tommy knows is better than him. Terrible mob bosses, such as the Siamese Twin Moe Dubbelz and the inconvenient Men’s Room Louie. Terrifying creatures such as the Multi-Angled Ones and the Mawzir, a half-dozen Nazis merged into one demonic killing machine. The many, many experiments gone wrong at Injun Peak, including one who can literally pull any weapon out of his ass. A coffin full of dollars. An evil, radioactive Santa who quotes Blade Runner. And so much more.
And finally, the last reason why Hitman was and is so great:
The creators were having the time of their lives: Both Ennis and McCrea recall Hitman as one of the highlights of their careers – and both have been rooting for it to come back into print. “Getting the thing out of Limbo would mean we could send a whole new audience over the edge,” Ennis says.
Tommy Monaghan, your time has come again.
Hitman: Closing Time comes out August 1; the book is available for pre-order in the July Previews catalog, out this week.