In the article about crossovers of the Dark Age of DC Comics, I wrote a bit about Hitman, one of the only good things to come out of the Bloodlines crossover. And now I want to write a bit more, because Hitman is just so good, it deserves its own article.
Tommy Monaghan, the eponymous Hitman, was first introduced in The Demon Annual #3, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by John McCrea, who would go on to draw nearly all of the rest of Tommy’s book.
I’ll admit, this story isn’t the best. Taking place during Bloodlines, it featured one of the parasitic aliens attacking Tommy just as he was about to assassinate someone. The alien attracted the attention of Etrigan the Demon and soon there’s a big fight, et cetera.
Tommy came out of the encounter with two superpowers: x-ray vision and telepathy. However, prolonged use of these powers tended to give him a major headache, so instead he relied on his own skills: his incredible aim and inventiveness.
With his new powers, Tommy decided to do some good the only way he knew how: by killing people. But this time, only bad people. You can get the idea that Ennis really wanted to write the Punisher at this point (and he would soon be given the chance). However, unlike the Punisher, Tommy also had a wicked sense of humor and a tight knit circle of friends in his home, the Irish-district of Gotham called the Cauldron.
During his own series, which began in 1996, we are quickly introduced to his friends: Natt the Hatt, called so because he never takes off his hat, who becomes Tommy’s partner in crime (and who also swore off swearing, so he says “motherloving” a lot); Hacken, a dim-witted and gullible hitman who tended to act as the muscle; Ringo Chen, a Chinese man known as the fastest shot in Gotham; Pat Noonan, best friend of Tommy’s since childhood, and Sean Noonan, his father who owned the bar they hung out at, Noonan’s, and also acted like a father to Tommy.
Hitman quickly distinguished itself from other comics by the degree of black comedy it used. One storyline was called “Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium” and featured zombie sea creatures. As you can see from the cover, Tommy, Natt, and Hacken deal with zombie seals with their usual aplomb.
But the book also had a lot of heart, as well. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Gotham,” the story set during the Final Night crossover, is all about Tommy and company sitting in a darkened Noonan’s and trading stories about the closest each of them came to death.
And then there’s Hitman #34, “Of Thee I Sing,” where Tommy meets Superman. Up to this point, Ennis had taken the piss out of every superhero Tommy had come across — he had even barfed on Batman’s cape.
But Tommy loved Superman. Superman, to Tommy, was the American Dream, an immigrant from outer space who comes to Earth and says, “I’m an American now. How can I help?” And in it, Ennis basically lays out the theme to a lot of his stories:
“This could be the greatest place on Earth. It really could. You got all these different people comin’ here to get away from oppression an’ poverty, all lookin’ for a better life. But what do they do? They hang on to all the things that got ‘em into trouble in the first place.”
And during this issue, Tommy manages to actually cheer up the Man of Steel, who had been depressed due to being unable to save a trapped astronaut.
But even though Tommy was a fan of Superman, he could never stop being who he was: a killer. During the DC One Million event, he laid it out:
I ain’t a hero. I’m just this guy shoots creeps for a livin’ and blows the money on booze an’ gamblin’. [...] Some day I’m gonna get shot twice in the head when I’m least expectin’ it, an’ then they’re gonna throw my ass in a ditch. An’ you know what? So long as I did right by my buddies an’ I never turned into a total dirtbag — I won’t care.
Other members of the cast include the superhero team Section Eight, consisting of such heroes as Sixpack, a perenially drunk homeless man in a soiled costume; Bueno Excellente, an obese Latino man who would only say “Bueno” and “Excellente”; The Defenestrator, who didn’t throw people out of windows, but rather brought premade windows and smashes them over people’s heads; and Dogwelder, a man who would, well, weld dogs to criminal’s faces. This last superhero, incidentally, was thought up as a joke, as part of a contest to think of the Worst Superhero Name Ever. And then he ended up winning “Best New Character” in Wizard Magazine.
And then there was Baytor, one of the Lords of Insanity, who became a bartender at Noonan’s. He could only say, “I am Baytor!!!” predating Groot’s own catchphrase by at least ten years.
I don’t want to give too many away about the ending, “Closing Time,” because it’s beautiful and sad and you really should read it. Read the whole series, in fact.
So I will just end with the words one character states, after witnessing a massacre and before walking off in resignation:
“We are such little men.”