September 21, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #198: Hitman

A guy who barely had powers made his way through the Gotham City underworld.

I noticed after I finished up last week’s entry on Wetworks that I didn’t have much to say about that particular comic book hero team, especially compared to the two previous entries on Ray Palmer and Hawkwoman.  And I think I know why.  See, I have read a grand total of one issue of Wetworks, but I do enjoy quite a bit reading old Silver Age DC books.  As such, I just plain knew more about the Atom and Hawkwoman than I did about Wetworks.  Granted, there may be more information out there on the two Silver Age heroes as opposed to what looked to me like a bland, forgettable team of muscular guys with guns.

So, let’s test that theory with a character whose adventures I very much did enjoy who has likewise disappeared, though in this case for a good reason:  DC Comics’ Hitman.

So, who was Hitman?  Well, he was the only successful new character introduced during one of DC Comics’ annual events, this one called Bloodlines.  I covered the whole Bloodlines thing back in the Gunfire write-up, so go there to see the basic idea.  But like many such storylines, the idea was to create a bunch of new characters with the idea these new characters would be the next big thing and often aren’t.  As I mentioned in that Gunfire entry, there was one Bloodlines character who actually went on to a successful series that ran for 61 issues with the occasional special tossed in here and there and that was Hitman.

Or, more accurately, that was Tommy Monaghan.  He rarely if ever used the codename and actually thought it was silly.  That fits in perfectly given Tommy was the creation of writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea, and while I don’t know McCrea’s thoughts on superheroes, I do know Ennis tends to think that many of them are, at best, fairly silly.

Tommy first appeared in an annual for The Demon, the ongoing adventures of Etrigan the Demon, and not long after that annual and the Bloodlines stuff was over, Tommy made a couple appearances in Etrigan’s title before getting his own solo series, all of which was written by Ennis and all but one issue of the main solo series was drawn by McCrea.  And as for the “Hitman” name, that was less a codename and more of a job description.  See, he actually was a hired killer, and one day while out on the job, he got jumped by the spinal fluid-drinking alien and, as a result, developed a pair of superpowers that, at first, he couldn’t turn off:  x-ray vision and mindreading.  After teaming up with Etrigan for some slapsticky and violent revenge against both the mob guys who set Tommy up and the alien who almost killed him, he had a couple more team-ups with Etrigan before graduating to his solo series.

And once there…he used his powers as little as possible since they gave him a terrible headache.  Aside from the fact his eyes were almost entirely pitch black, causing him to wear sunglasses just about everywhere, Tommy was basically a normal guy in a world full of superheroes.  And, given his violent life as an underworld figure, he knew he was probably not going to die of old age.

And he was fine with that.

Now, it’s worth noting two things:  Tommy’s adventures could go from dark comedy to serious in the blink of an eye, and he did on occasion interact with superheroes.  In the case of the former, it was the dark comedy that first drew me to Ennis’ work in the first place.  The first Hitman issues I picked up were a two parter titled “Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium” where a mad scientist created a gas that turned any sort of animal into a frenzied flesh-eating zombie, and to prove his stuff worked, he infected all the animals in the Gotham Aquarium, forcing Tommy and three of his hired gun pals to shoot and kill their way through hordes of baby seals, penguins, and octopi until they got to the scientist who was eaten by a crazed shark (they blew up the shark too, and the scientist went zombie long enough to tell the others that being a zombie was no fun before they blew him away).  This was the series that invented the Section 8.  If you were onboard with Ennis’ sense of humor, this was a good series.  This was a series that featured a mob boss who was always sitting on the toilet.  It was that sort of series.

At the same time, the series could go serious as needed.  Tommy had a wide supporting cast, ranging from other hired guns, a bartender that acted as a father-figure, and a demon supporting character left over from Ennis and McCrea’s Demon run, plus other characters who came in and made an impact on Tommy.  One of the hired guns, Ringo, was set up as a rival that Tommy would one day face off with, and that actually never happened because it was too much of an obvious cliche.  Instead, they talked about a deep mutual respect, but the thing is:  most of Tommy’s supporting cast died violent deaths over the course of the series.  Some of them went out heroically, but all of them had an effect on Tommy, and the series was marked by death.  Heck, one of Tommy’s friends died in the first or second storyline, and Tommy remembered every one of his loved ones who went before him.

Likewise, the fact the series was set in a superhero universe meant the occasional superhero guest appearance.  While more villainous or anti-hero types like Catwoman and Etrigan came off OK, others were not so fortunate.  Tommy threw up on Batman after a bad dinner and the Dark Knight’s punch to the gut, and both Lobo and the Green Lantern were made to look incredibly foolish.  That said, there was one noteworthy exception, one that coincidentally is the one hero Ennis actually has admitted a fondness for.

This was an award-winning issue.

Yes, Tommy went all fanboy on Superman.  It was great.

Of course, being present in the DCU meant that Tommy’s book would have crossovers with the big DC events.  He often just sat on the sidelines and did very little.  The first few times that happened were, in my opinion, rather weak issues that felt forced, but over time, Ennis’ sensibilities took over such that by the time Gotham City was closed off for the big No Man’s Land story, Tommy’s life was barely affected at all, limited to a short conversation with his pal Nat the Hat where he called Batman’s general stubbornness to call his “superbuddies” to fix everything dumb and that was about it.

So, what happened to Tommy?  He made few guest appearances outside of his own book for obvious reasons, and then Ennis and McCrea gave him the best possible ending for a character like that:  he died.  It was violent, but his life had been going that way regardless, and he did do some good, helping a woman being tracked by government spooks for death, even taking out the lead killer before dying beside one of his last surviving friends, his closest associate Nat.

And, to DC’s credit, they haven’t brought the guy back aside from the occasional return by Ennis and McCrea.  So, why is his a Misplaced Hero?  Because, like Grimjack, his story was told, he died, and he stayed that way.  It was appropriate for the character and largely well-done.  Misplaced Heroes aren’t just the ones that weren’t used right or came and went with a flash.  Sometimes, being Misplaced is for the best, and Hitman is certainly one of those characters.

And yeah, I had a lot to say about this one.