How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Hitman
by Michael Hutchison
Hitman is not my type of comic. I don't like pointless, excessive violence. I don't think hired killers should escape justice. I don't care for a lot of swearing, either, although I'm not opposed to it if used reasonably (my fan fiction ain't exactly squeaky clean!). The few times I've seen the character in other books, I didn't really get why some superhero hadn't put his mass-murdering butt in jail already -- the same problem I've always had with Lobo. Also like Lobo, the editors justify his existence as an "anti-hero" by pointing out that his victims are bad guys an explanation I'm not sure I buy.
So, year after year, people have been raving about Hitman, and I didn't understand why. Why would you want to read about a contract killer with superpowers? Is this making the villain a good guy? I had serious reservations. However, after finding the trade paperbacks marked down at Barnes and Noble's used bin, I decided to check out Hitman. I'm glad I did.
The key is to find the good in "bad" characters. I know I'm able to do this, since I own (and love) the movies "Clerks" and "Pulp Fiction". While I'd never, ever, EVER recommend the movies to my parents, I've found that I'm able to appreciate the movies more and more upon repeat viewing. Both films have language that could take the paint off a wall and discussions of embarrassing topics, and "Fiction" has loads of violence as well but beneath them, the characters are much deeper than their raunchy vocabularies would lead one to believe.
"Hitman" is like that. If the lead character were a totally unrepentant killer who took pleasure in what he does (i.e. like Lobo), this would not be a good book. However, the key to success for "Hitman" lies in the depth of its lead character, Tommy Monaghan.
Tommy Monaghan is a no-good killer. He doesn't have any pangs of guilt about killing his enemies or his victims. Absolutely no empathy whatsoever. And talk about your vices! He drinks, he smokes, he curses, he gambles. Gambling is his downfall. He could have retired several times over if not for his constant bets on the losing Gotham teams. Tommy's a slob. And he doesn't treat his girlfriends very well.
And yet, Tommy Monaghan insists on killing only those who he feels deserve it. Mafia members, criminals, murderers he'll dispatch them without a worry, so long as he thinks they brought it upon themselves. But he won't kill anyone whom he considers innocent, nor will he fight the cops. It's a fine point, and it's not going to get him into heaven or anything, but it is the big difference between him and his opponents. The people he goes up against are often the kinds of killers who would take the kinds of jobs that he refuses.
There's more. Tommy doesn't use derogatory terms for women. He is loyal like a dog to those he cares about. He has X-ray vision and telepathy, but oddly enough he doesn't misuse them.
Most of all, Tommy knows that he's scum and is not proud of his life. He spends a lot of his time wanting a way out but not exactly looking for one. Like so many of us, it's not as if there isn't a way to change our lives and find salvation, but he doesn't look too hard for one.
But Tommy Monaghan isn't the only interesting character. The supporting cast is a rich one. (I'm going to refer to them all in the present tense in order to not spoil who dies over the course of the title.)
I've spent the last month buying as many back issues of the series as I can. I've yet to read a single story arc that wasn't fantastic, so I'm guessing DC may someday collect most of these into Trade Paperbacks. For now
Hitman TPB: Re-tells Hitman's origin from a Demon Annual, plus the first story arc of the series. In it, Tommy gets a contract on the Joker!
Hitman: 10,000 Bullets TPB: Much better than the first TPB, this arc introduces Nat the Hat and tells the story of Moe Dubbelz' contract on Tommy. Moe is ½ of a two-headed man, whose other half was killed in the very first Hitman story. Also includes a Final Night crossover issue, in which the crew at Noonan's Bar tell stories about death all of which come into play later in the series, which is a lot more depth than you usually get from a lame crossover.
In addition to the two TPBs, here are some good stories and arcs:
"Zombie Night At The Gotham Aquarium" (#13-14) is one of the nuttiest, scariest, most bizarre stories I've ever read! A mad scientist kills all the animals at the aquarium and then reanimates them with an experimental chemical. The cliffhanger page for #13 has to be seen to be appreciated, and the ending is a hoot. Buy this two-part story if you're at all hesitant about checking out Hitman.
"Tommy's Heroes" (#29-33) tells the story of Tommy and his buddies working as soldiers-for-hire for a small African nation. They soon realize they're on the wrong side when Tommy is ordered to kill some villagers. While hardly a feel-good piece, it is the first real sign of Tommy's search for redemption, as he tries to do something good.
"Katie" (#35-36) begins with the arrival of Tommy's sister that he never knew about and tells the story of how Tommy's mother really died.
"The Old Dog" (#s 47-49) begins with a war story that proves Ennis should do a Sgt. Rock comic, and from there tells the sad tale of the showdown between the leading Mafia family in Gotham and Tommy's gang at Noonan's Bar.
What makes Hitman shine is the rich storytelling by Garth Ennis and John McCrea. McCrea's artwork is subdued, without the flash of an Image wannabee and infinitely better because of it! McCrea is equally good at base shootouts or rich war stories such as the one in #47's "The Old Dog".
It's hard to complain about the violence when McCrea makes the violence look as good as the rest of his artwork. McCrea seems to know just how to walk the fine line of a book that isn't Comics Code Approved but isn't a "Mature Readers" title either. Most gunshots are just messes of red and black. It's not the gorefest that "Lobo's Paramilitary Christmas Special" was, but just barely.
(Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure why this isn't a "Mature Readers" title. If it were filmed as a movie, there's no question it would be R-rated. It makes me suspect that the Vertigo books only exist as a way to use the F and S words in the comics.)
Ennis tells these violent tales but the more I look at them, the more I realize that he doesn't want us to take pleasure in the violence. The violent scenes are there for impact, to demonstrate Tommy's ruthlessness in dealing with an enemy, or the evilness of a villain, but they're not glorified (well, not much).
Tommy himself is aware that there's not much of a dividing line between his enemies and him, but I'll leave you with this short conversation from Hitman #31. (Note that it does contain some swear words, if that bothers you)
Tommy: I well, I wasn't going to tell you this, but what difference does it make now? I'm a hitman, Bob. I shoot guys for a livin'. Not real nice guys, but then what does that make me, you know? An' just lately, some've the stuff I been into -- I can't tell you. You'd never friggin' believe it. Hell with it. What it boils down to is you're lookin' at a grade one son of a bitch.
Bob: Well, I tell you what, Tommy. You want to hate yourself, fine. Let everyone know you're a real toe-rag, whatever you like. But I saw you in that village yesterday. I saw the look on your face when that animal did what he did. An' I know whatever else you are, you won't stand by and do nothin' while some bastard starts carving up women an' kids. You're not that sort of bloke, are you? So maybe you should settle for that.
All characters and scanned artwork are DC Comics
This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison.
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