Review by Jamie McNeil
It’s difficult to understate how influential Garth Ennis has been to comics, his creative partnership with Steve Dillon most recognised. Yet Ennis has also worked considerably with artist John McCrea over a thirty year career, from Judge Dredd to their own creation for DC – Hitman, and beyond with spin-off characters. Introduced during their time on The Demon, Tommy ‘Hitman’ Monaghan and his escapades proved so popular he not only sustained his own series for five years, but also featured in crossovers from Batman to Superman, now all reissued over seven Hitman paperbacks.
Tommy Monaghan was an ordinary hitman for the Gotham mobs, until the day he took a contract on mob boss Dubelz. As he’s about to take the shot, a parasitic alien named Glonth barges in. While Glonth sucks the life from his heavyset victim, Tommy panics and Glonth attacks him. Somehow he survives, albeit with some side effects. His eyes are now jet black, requiring him to wear shades, and he gains powers of telepathy and x-ray vision. Dubbing himself Hitman, Tommy breaks into a more lucrative market – supers. He still has other problems. Glonth has taken umbrage at Tommy’s survival. Joe and Moe Dubelz want revenge for Tommy’s involvement in their father’s death. The demonic Akkanone sends Mawzir to recruit or kill him. Batman wants to take him down before he fulfills a contract on Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Then he has to secure a second date with the lovely Wendy, help out Etrigan the Demon and his host Jason Blood, then find money and time for beers and poker down at Noonan’s bar.
A Rage in Arkham collects Tommy’s earliest guest appearances and his first three solo stories. He’s morally grey in a black and white world, having no problem killing ‘bad’ guys like mobsters or deviants, but drawing the line at killing cops and heroes. The same is true of using his powers: he can use them to get a date but never to win at poker. He’s a great example of the oddly complex personality that Ennis is so good at presenting.
There’s a lot to like about Hitman. McCrea draws Etrigan with deranged glee. Batman has a gothic edge that heightens his presence. The Akkanone and Glonth are disturbing and macabre, and Ennis’ dialogue is often funny and it’s bonkers fun to read. There are, however, aspects that don’t work. Hitman’s fashion sense is full on 1990s, having a lot in common with that other 90s icon Duke Nukem. At the time the anti-hero was very popular, violent and predominantly male, and that’s evolved considerably over the years (Orphan Black, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Tommy’s attitudes and behaviour fit his culture and career choice, but his sexism won’t hold well now. McCrea is great at characterising the main cast, but doesn’t always do well with small details. As a result important details are fudged or humour is less effective.
Still, this first volume is a madcap action romp with some memorable scenes, one involving Tommy, Batman and a curry. What you can’t take away is how incredibly imaginative this is, and there is a lot more to come. It’s anarchic fun, perfect for switching off after a hard day. The adventures of Tommy ‘Hitman’ Monaghan continue in Ten Thousand Bullets.