Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hitman: A Rage in Arkham (comics)

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: John McCrea
Collects: The Demon Annual #2, Batman Chronicles #4 and Hitman 1-3

His name is Tommy Monaghan; and he kills super people. For money.

This series had the unfortunate luck to pin out of a godawful crossover named Bloodlines, but what's remarkable is that Hitman was the one concept that actually survived it. Bloodlines had been conceived largely to create an abundance of new superheroes; in a lot of ways, it failed miserably, as almost all of the heroes that came from it were so lame that they were either promptly forgotten or killed off with little fanfare. But Hitman survived and spun from it; and what a series it was.

This book is easily one of the highlights of the 90's, typically known as the dark ages of comics.

The books premise is simple; an irish hitman named Tommy Monaghan gains superpowers - telepathy and X-ray vision, in particular - and instead of throwing on spandex he uses them in his job. But instead of taking on the regular hits, he decides to change tactics and focus his powers on taking down the supervillain set. Tommy has a strict code of honor; he will not kill anyone he deems to be a "good guy", but he has no problems killing those of ill morals. In fact, he finds the cape and cowl set to be idiots for not killing their villains.

This trade collects the earliest stories that introduced the characters and while some may be a bit rough, things begin to click by the time you get to the first issues of the actual Hitman series. The Demon Annual has Tommy's first appearance and the sequence where he receives his power. The annual is a tie-in to Bloodlines, but thankfully Etrigan and Tommy end up saving it from suckitude. The Batman Chronicles issue is where things start to get into gear; taking place during the events of Contagion, a walking disease bomb wanders into Gotham and Tommy is hired to take him out, which of course leads into conflict with Batman. Then there are the Hitman issues, which comprise the first story of the ongoing series. Tommy Monaghan is hired - unknowingly by demons from hell - to break into Arkham and kill The Joker. The hit turns out to be a ruse - the demons want Tommy as their personal hitman - and things get crazy. Batman is involved, of course, and his appearance leads to one of the funniest moments I've seen in a while; Batman nails Tommy right in the gut and Tommy promptly vomits on Batman.

It's kind of funny to think that Garth Ennis once wrote a series like this, which is firmly set in the DC Universe. He's one of those bitter guys who doesn't like superheroes unless he can make a complete mockery of them in his books; the only characters he seems to have any respect for are Batman and Superman. He's not at Warren Ellis levels - you know, the guy who considers his superhero work to be working bottom of the barrel - but still; the concept of him doing a book set in a superhero universe is so freaking odd. The great part is that he manages to use it to his advantage; Tommy works in a distinctly recognizable Gotham City, complete with the sorts of whacked out occurances that happen almost daily in the DC Universe. Whether he's taking the piss out of event storylines or concocting weird ass storylines, it feels like it's a DC book.

This books strength is easily it's lead character and his supporting cast that is introduced in the Hitman issues. The thing about this book is that simply scenes like Tommy and the boys playing poker at Noonans bar are often as memorable as the scenes when Tommy is out on the job doing what he does best. There's a real sense of comraderie and male bravado here that is simply enticing; many of the people Tommy associates with are either past or present hitmen and each has their own views on things. These men kill for money, but they're not bad people; if anything, they're the sort of men you could imagine having a friendly drink with. Tommy's world is different from the views of the heroes of DC; they see things in black and white, but Tommy's life is colored in many shades of gray. It made this corner of the DC Universe easily among the most compelling.

It's hard not to crack a smile during the scene in Arkham and his reaction upon stumbling upon the real Joker in the midst of his escape; one gets the feeling that if more people were like Tommy in the DC Universe, it would be a safer place to be.

The art is pretty good, but it's not the best you'll see around. John McCrea is rather solid, but one could argue that his storytelling through his art could be better. Also, sometimes the DC heroes will look downright odd; Etrigan, for instance, will shift sometimes from lean-but-solid looking to damn near anorexic. Batman sometimes suffers from this problem as well; some scenes with him seem stiff and Batman comes off too bulky at times. Still, the art works well; if anything, it works the best when the recognizable heroes and villains aren't present.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

Top to bottom, this trade is solid work that sets up the things to come. The Hitman issues are where things really begin to come together, but that's not to discount the Demon Annual and the Batman Chronicles issues where the character is set up; it may be his debut, but he's still debuting in someone elses show, so there are different subject matter in those to the Hitman issues. Irregardless, the character is set for the future, where things only get better. It's not as good as the things to come, but the first volume is still good stuff. I recommend it wholeheartedly; too few people read this book when it was releasing monthly and you have only yourself to blame if you do not check out the DCU's most underrated series of the 90's this time around in trade.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds really interesting. In an era when everyone else was churning out garbage, you could always count on Garth Ennis to come up with something dark, inventine, and fun. I'll definitely check this out.