Anybody call for a Hitman?

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DC’s 1993 annuals played home to the Bloodlines crossover. The storyline was not the most original, a race of extraterrestrial beings—part-Galactus-like, part James Cameron’s Aliens-like—came to Earth and started harvesting human beings for food. The parasitic aliens would feed on human spinal fluid. In most cases, this would kill the host, but in extremely rare cases, they left their victims with superpowers.

This was DC’s way of exposing comic readers to brand new superheroes with odds being that some of them would catch on.  But out of the 27 annuals that year, only one became what you would call a success. And it was the one who was least like your typical superhero.

In the pages of Demon Annual #2, the aforementioned aliens attacked a Gotham City contract killer by the name of Tommy Monahan. Tommy was one of the lucky few who didn’t die but received powers—x-ray vision and telepathy. The powers didn’t really change Monahan much. They just made his job as a hitman a little bit easier.

Hitman wasn’t the only character from the Bloodlines crossover to get its own book, but he was the most successful. The Hitman series ran for five years, 60 issues, from 1996 to 2001. What separated Hitman from the crowd? The writing of Garth Ennis, the art of John McCrea, and the unparalleled creativity their collaboration brought to the series and the character.

Tommy Monahan is the type of antihero that Ennis excels at writing. He is a killer, make no bones about it, but he has his own moral code. He will not kill a cop, nor will he abandon a friend in need. He is also a romantic, longing for a woman who will share his life with him, but knows his job will keep him from ever finding one.

The stories ran the gamut from those grounded in the real world to those that were utter fantasy. Monahan faced off against the Mafia and shadowy Government agents, but also fought demons from Hell and zombified seals and sharks. Hitman was a series where anything could happen and usually did. A mob boss looking for vengeance on Tommy for killing his Siamese twin (while still being connected to said dead twin)? It’s in here. A demon composed of a squad of executed Nazis, working as a henchman for a lord of Hell? It’s in here.

Most artists would have a difficult time with the variety in Ennis’ writing. They would struggle to keep a unified look to the series as it bounced from one diverse story arc to the next. When Superman or Green Lantern would show up, they would seem out of place. John McCrea, however, made it look easy. His art in the series kept a gritty tone throughout, but was loose enough so that when more fantastic elements such as zombie alligators and octopi enter the scene, people are not taken out of the narrative. McCrea worked on all but one issue of the regular series and thank goodness he did. It might not have lasted five years if it had been anyone else. 

But the success of any series comes down to the characters, and this is where Ennis and McCrea hit the home run. Every character in the series, not only Tommy but all of his supporting cast, is fully developed and richly defined. Each has an individual personality trait or two that sets them apart from the crowd and makes them unique. Ennis and McCrea instilled a sense of humanity into this band of killers and that made us readers root and care for them.

Less than half of the original series has been collected into trade paperback. The fate of whether or not the rest of the series is collected lies in the success of the JLA/Hitman miniseries. Bob Wayne admitted as much at the recent Baltimore Comic-Con. So it is absolutely vital that the Hitman fans who want the trades to continue pick up this new series.

But could a successful JLA/Hitman, which was originally supposed to be an arc in the JLA Classified series, mean a new ongoing series for Hitman? Well the last series ended in such a way that it seemed to put a nail in the coffin of character forever. But it was left vague enough that Tommy Monahan could come back. Let that be another reason for you to pick up JLA/Hitman, the main reason being that it’s likely to be great.

--William Gatevackes


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