Review by Jamie McNeil
Ace of Killers was written in 1997 and that’s “the year God discovered crack”. Strap yourself in yourself for one of the funniest, irreverent, inventive, unconventional and entertaining team-up stories ever produced.
The demonic Arkannone, the Lords of the Gun were humiliated when Tommy Monaghan refused the honour of being their assassin. Instead they sent Mawzir, their Ace of Killers after him and Tommy narrowly escaped (A Rage in Arkham). When Tommy and best buddy Natt the Hat do an ammo run to Gotham Docks, a reincarnated Mawzir ambushes them, and he isn’t alone. This is a stronger, more ruthless Ace of Killers and they barely escape. Tommy knows this is only the beginning so he does some digging and calls in old favours. A source points them to Catwoman/Selina Kyle. She recently “acquired” an ancient relic for a client who then reneged. Worse he outright terrified her and that cannot stand so she helps them. When it comes to demons one man is far more acquainted with them than he would like. Jason Blood owes Tommy a massive debt that he’s reluctant to pay as it requires recruiting the demon Etrigan. Bound to Jason and eager to be free, what will he require for his assistance? Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire and Mawzir is a merciless and deceitful enemy. Tommy might have recruited the epic anti-hero team but they’re going to need every bit of luck and skill they can muster to get out of this scrape.
Up until now Hitman creators Garth Ennis and John McCrea were finding their way, the series ebbing backwards and forwards between satirical irreverence and serious if morose thoughtfulness. Where were they going to do with Tommy Monaghan? Write a fun alternative to the serious comic book stories of the day or go down the same gritty path? Ennis and McCrea looked at each other and said, “F*** it! Let’s do both!” While they would still do sombre stories featuring Tommy and Natt later, the three stories found in Ace of Killers are ridiculous bonkers fun. Ennis revels in crafting crazy scenarios, poking fun at Gotham City itself and just why nobody blinks at the number of crazies walking her streets. He and McCrea feed off each other’s irreverence, never stepping completely over the line but going close enough to turn your stomach. That continues into ‘The Santa Contract’, a parody of A Night Before Christmas and The Simpsons that features some funny rhyming. It’s the kind of cartoon buffoonery McCrea is a master at rendering. He gives us top notch action viewed from a dozen different angles, the tone dark and moody yet balanced by pitch-perfect comic timing. Steve Pugh is the guest artist for ‘Kiss Me’, a satire of 1990s rom-coms that is just as funny as the other tales. Coincidentally it also sets the scene for future stories.
There are better stories to come in Hitman, but none quite as entertaining as Ace of Killers. It’s landmark in transferring Baytor over from The Demon to Hitman, introducing cult favourites Section 8, being the first appearance of Steve Dillon’s creation Dogwelder and includes the novel- and hilarious- invention of the “Cat-Signal”. It’s also features the beginning of the ill-fated Tommy and Tiegel love affair, while Tommy and Natt hilariously fawning over Catwoman is comedy gold.
Tommy Monaghan returns in the bulkier fifth volume of Tommy’s Heroes.