Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Hitman Book 2: 10,000 Bullets (Hitman #4-8, Hitman Annual #1)

"Nobody disses Natt the Hat's hat" - Natt the Hat

Hitman, the story so far.  In a 1993 crossover event called Bloodlines an Irish-American hitman by the name of Tommy Monaghan gets the powers of X-ray visions and telepathy which elevates him to the top of his profession.  He lives in a shady part of Gotham City called The Cauldron and hangs out with his mates in a bar called Noonan's when he isn't out capping people.  The Hitman comic started proper in 1996 and ran until it's cancellation in 2001.  In the first book, Tommy managed to get a powerful conjoined twin mobster called Moe Dubelz mad with him when he killed his other half Joe.  This book resolves that dangling plotline and also sees the start of one of the repeated themes of the book, that by refusing to change who he is and what he does, Tommy suffers physically and emotionally and starts to lose everything dear to him. The bonds of brotherhood and loyalty are also a big part of Hitman and this book sees them tested for the first time. It also sees Ennis realise that a telepathic hitman is somewhat overpowered and takes steps to limit how much that power can be used by Tommy.

HITMAN: 10,000 BULLETS - The story begins with Tommy pondering on what happened during the events we are about to see.  With Ennis using it as a way of passing judgement this early on, on Tommy and the chaos and death his lifestyle brings AND makes the reader complicit in their enjoyment of such a way of life that Tommy has, brave stuff.

Tommy: "It's all just a laugh, it's all a big adventure full of guns and jokes and crazies, and then my best friend dies  and I lose the girl I thought I had a chance with - and if you're really there God, are you trying to tell me something?"

And this could be something he says about the series as a whole.  Yeah it's great fun when he and his mates are fighting killer penguins, but the downside is personal loss and tragedy.  It's fascinating to find such a meta condemnation this early in the books run.
Jonny Navarone.  What a dick.
The story begins proper with Tommy being confronted by another hitman while in bed, who wants the one hundred grand Moe Dublez put on his head.  Tommy shoots him with a gun he has under the covers and goes back to sleep, grumbling. The action then cuts to the grotesque sight of Moe Dubelz and his dead conjoined twin still attached to him.  A suave killer called Johnny Navarone arrives and tells Moe he's had access to a secret agencies files that told him what Tommy's metahuman abilities were.  He has a plan to kill Tommy and will do it for half a million dollars.  Moe acquiesces.

Tommy gets a hit supplied to him by a cop.  Seems a costumed "superhero" called Nightfist has been going round killing drug dealers then dealing their supplies himself and he wants him taken out.  Tommy agrees.  We then see Tommy in bed with Wendy, they have been dating two months and Tommy hasn't told her what he does still.  Which is a problem as Wendy admits she's in love with him. Later at Tommy's place he finds another friend of his, Natt the Hat is back in town due to the death of his Mum.  Before they can do any catching up they are attacked by a gang of ninjas.  Yes, really.  They fight them off, and as Tommy blows up the car the ninja's are chasing them in he says to Natt, "welcome home you son of a bitch".
Tommy and Natt the Hat.  If you want swearing, read a Vertigo book!
Tommy introduces Natt to the gang at Noonan's, describing him as his "best buddy", this results in a single panel and an easily missed "shocked" reaction from from Pat, who is Tommy childhood best friend. Tommy says he and Natt met in the army and served in Desert Storm.  Sean tells Natt he served in the Korean war himself.  This trope of the protagonists of his stories having military backgrounds is one Ennis uses quite a bit.  I assume it's to emphasise the fact they are no strangers to either guns nor violence.  Anyway, Natt and Tommy say they didn't serve with much distinction.  They only managed to accidentally kill an S.A.S patrol, and hurriedly covered it up.  This throwaway story comes back to haunt Natt and Tommy with a vengeance in a later book.  Back at the pool game, Pat needles Hacken one too many times and Hacken punches him, immediately Tommy and Sean pull a gun on him.

Hacken: "That's right chicken! You go an' hide behind Monaghan and good old uncle Sean.  You never been worth Jack on your own... you're just a slimy little weasel!  An' you know it!."
Hacken is displeased.
Hacken leaves and later Tommy admits to Natt that he does have a point, Pat is continually on his case, but that Hacken's such a moron they figure he deserves it.  Natt then starts to pretend to hold Tommy up so they can attract Nightfist's attention.  They finally do and Tommy shoots him, but as he does so he hears the word "grenade" in his mind, and he and Natt get caught in an explosion.  Johnny Navaronne appears and shoots Tommy several times, telling him as he does so that he is the best hitman.  That boastfulness gives Natt time to recover and throw a grenade of his own and he manages to get Tommy away.  Tommy says no hospitals and Sean's is too far away, they'll have to go to Wendy's house.

Wendy is horrified, both by the state Tommy is in and finding out he was telling the truth about being a hitman.  As Natt starts bandaging Tommy she tells him she'll call the police, but stops when Natt says that'll result in Tommy's death.  She calls Sean instead.  Back with Moe Dubelz and Johnny, Johnny reflects that he has the address of Tommy's known associates from the cop who set up Tommy with the Nightfist job, but who in fact was working for Johnny.  Later Tommy wakes up at Wendy's badly hurt still, but alive.  She is incredibly angry with him.

Wendy: "You brought your evil into my house.  You're a murderer, a stone killer... all this time."

Tommy: "I never lied to you".
An understandably pissed off Wendy.
She slaps him hard.  Then as he and Natt and Sean leaves her final word to them is "scum".  Due to his armour, Nightfist survived his shooting by Tommy and beats the information about who set him up out of one of Dubelz men, then swears melodramtic vengeance on them.  Tommy and Natt meanwhile head to Pat's place.  But when they arrive they are faced with the horrifying sight of Pat naked, in a bathfull of blood.  He was tortured by Johnny Navarone to give up where Tommy was but didn't break, no matter what Johnny did.  And in another example of the subtlety of the comic, we see Tommy looking down Pat's body in absolute horror but saying nothing, implying Pat's been castrated if you have a mind to go there (I do).  Grief stricken, Tommy says he wishes Pat has told Johnny everything and that it wouldn't have mattered.

Pat: "Nah. I wanted to stand up for myself Tommy. Just for once... wanted to be a tough guy."

Tommy: "Well you were Pat.  You were the toughest guy of them all."

We then hear a shot as Tommy puts Pat out of his misery.  Natt asks him what he'll do next.  Tommy says they'll go to Moe Dublez place and kill everyone there and won't stop until every last one of them is dead.  "Cool" responds Natt.
Pat,  horrifically injured and close to death.
At Moe's, the corrupt cop is warning him and Johnny that Tommy is alive and out for revenge.  Suddenly Tommy and Natt's car piles through the window and crushes the cop against the wall. Tommy and Natt, armed with semi-automatic rifles, get out and start killing everyone there.  Moe and Johnny escape the immediate vicinity.  Nightfist also arrives but is caught between a hail of bullets from both sides and killed.

Natt and Tommy split up.  Natt gets into a fight with a huge and aggressive chef.  He beats him down and when the chef begs for mercy, Natt responds he "ain't heard zip about mercy for the chef."  Tommy takes on Moe Dubelz and shoots and shoots and shoots him.  Moe still mamages to get his hand around Tommy's throat before Tommy takes him down finally with a headshot. 
Tommy versus Moe.
Unfortunately this distraction meant he wasn't able to detect Johnny sneaking up behind him.  With no time to take aim he snaps off a wild shot in Johnny's direction and miraculously hits Johnny's gun hand, shattering the gun and taking off two of Johnny's fingers. "You've ruined me!" exclaims Johnny.  Then as Tommy closes for the kill he says that two killers of their calibre could achieve a lot working together.

Johnny: "Believe me Monaghan: We're better than the rest of these scum."

Tommy: "But we're all scum, Johnny"

Johnny: "What?"

Tommy: "We're all scum".

And he executes Johnny. We're back where we started this arc now, with Tommy wallowing in self pity.  Natt arrives and tells him to keep his head straight and not get lost in this stuff.  Then he and Tommy walk off together in the rain.
And it is kinda your fault too Tommy...
 THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT - The most notable thing about Hitman existing in the DCU is that certain crossover events have to be incorporated into the on-going narrative.  This issue takes place during the events of the 1996 event "Final Night" where a monstrous alien called a Sun Eater arrived in our solar system and well, it eats the sun.  As the heroes battle to sort things out, Earth grows cold and so Tommy and his friends hole up at Noonan's bar and tell each other stories of them dealing with the possibility of death.

Sean recounts that the closest he came to death was when he was serving during the Korean war.  His battalion was fighting thousands of Chinese, and when they were all dead, all that was left of Sean's battalion was him and his sarge and they were completely out of bullets.  Then they spot more Chinese coming towards them, when Sean panics and asks his sarge what to do, his sarge grimly snaps up his bayonet and gets ready to take them on.  Thankfully the air support arrived and took out the attackers, but the sarge didn't make it.
Sean Noonan survives the Korean war just barely.
Natt recalls that for him it was when he was back in his old gang.  The new leader set him up during a drugs for guns deal.  The drugs he was supposed to be handing over was just a note saying he was going to waste the other gang leader for sleeping with Natt's sister.  Luckily for Natt this gang leader was a deep cover cop who takes out Natt's "buddies" and apologises to Natt for running out on his sister, saving Natt's life he hoped would make them square.

Hacken, missing the point of the stories being about facing death starts telling a story where he killed lots of chickens.  Then Ringo Chen has his turn.  After performing a hit in Hong Kong he was sipping champagne and enjoying the view when a man came up behind him.  Ringo turned and shot him, but the man did not react.
If it's the DCU's "Death" incarnate, she's lost her looks here!
Mystery Man: "You are a killer yet you appreciate the beauty in a skyline or the taste of a good champagne. You bring death, you like life."

Ringo: "I've found the two need not be mutually exclusive."

Ringo believes he met Death that day, and that maybe for the others Death will look different.  Finally Tommy tells the story of the first time he faced death.  He was a kid in the local orphanage and Pat who was being raised by Sean was his best friend.  They were being bullied badly and one day Tommy organised all the local kids into delivering a beatdown on the bully.  Later that day, the bully came back, tearfully holding a gun.  But Tommy stared him down and he dropped it and ran off crying.

"'cause you point a gun at most guys an' it paralyses them. It's like they're hypnotised, starin' down the barrel, thinkin' about what it'll do to 'em.  But it ain't the gun that's gonna tell 'em that. It's the guy holdin' it.  It's in his eyes."
Happy childhood memories, aah.
And so ends this crossover issue.  While the superheroes battle in space and Hal Jordan sacrifices himself to restart the sun or something, we get a quiet story of rememberance that helps establish some character traits and history.

HITMAN ANNUAL - This issue is the only one not to have John McCrea on art duties in it, split as it is between Carlos Ezquerra and Steve Pugh.  It's Ennis's take on a western as Tommy is called down to a remote town called Tiburon in Texas by the Chief of Police there.  There is an uneasy peace between his force and the local Mexican mobsters led by a man called Santiago.  The latest source of friction is that a land developer has bought up the rights to build on a graveyard, and it is rumoured that in one of the graves is two million dollars left there by a gang who went to lie low in Mexico and never came back.
A very "Joe Dredd" looking police chief.
The Chief says that Santiago has someone with metahuman powers helping him out and he heard that Tommy dealt with things like that.  Tommy says he'll look into things before taking the job. Later in the day in the local bar, Tommy meets an ex-Gulf War veteran called Jorge who has Gulf War Syndrome thanks to exposure to some weird chemicals while helping dispose of weapons in Iraq.  While they chat, Santiago arrives with his metahuman, a man called Manko who is insanely fast on the draw, and he warns the Chief off the money and tells Tommy to get out of town, though Tommy humiliates him by holding a gun to his groin.  Tommy does decide to leave but not because of Santiago.

Tommy: "Life in Tiburon is hard enough on people to begin with. Last thing this place needs is me making things worse."

Spitefully, the Chief contacts Santiago to tell him Tommy is leaving and Santiago sends him men to ambush him at the hotel.  There is a huge gun battle, but Tommy is captured and beaten up then dragged behind a truck.  He regains conciousness with Jorge looking after him.  Jorge says he got the note Tommy left and phoned the number, he also gives Tommy back his shades and his fathers gun to defend himself with.  Tommy is full of gratitude.

Jorge: "The hell with it.  You join the paratroopers, you expect to be pulling marines outta trouble."
Jorge comes to Tommy's rescue.
Jorge also warns Tommy that Manko was in his unit during the incident with the chemicals and that he was the only one to take the dubious cure being offered afterwards and he was never seen again until now.

Later the coffin in question is found and the police and Santiago's men confront each other in the main street.  Tommy arrives on the scene and so does Natt, who tools Tommy up.  Santiago says he has a present for Tommy, which is Jorge, minus an arm, tied to the bonnet of one of his men's cars.  A three-way gun battle commences, during which Tommy rescues Jorge.  It ends when, during a stand off between Manko and Tommy, Natt sneaks up behind them and blows Manko's head off with a shotgun.  Tommy then wounds Santiago and Jorge finishes him off.  The Chief meanwhile has opened the coffin to find worthless paper money inside.  Tommy ties him up and leaves him in the coffin, and Natt bulldozes the earth back over him.  Then the two of them walk off together and so ends Hitman's take on the spaghetti western.
Tommy and Manko face off in the street in cinematic style.
Overall this book is full of goodness.  The heart of the book is 10,000 Bullets, which gives Tommy his first loss of the series, both of a friend and of a relationship.  It also offers up a possible judgement about finding entertainment in the very things Tommy is good at in an interesting play on expectations people might have of a Garth Ennis character archetype.  As well as all the shooting, there are some wonderfully subtle character beats and Natt the Hat is an instantly appealing character who always can be trusted to have Tommy's back in a bad situation.  Very bromantic. The Annual is fun, while the crossover tie-in is a nice look at how big events in the DCU impact the normal lives of non-superhero types. Thus endeth book two.


  1. you made the scene with pat in the bath even worse!!1 ouch!

  2. Sorry anon, I can't help the places my mind will go. Blame it on too many violent comics ;)

  3. I'm awfully sorry, but I fear I'd find it very hard to find this comic remotely engaging or entertaining. It's not even plausible. I don't think that a conjoined twin can survive when attached to the corpse of their twin, and I don't think that shooting your friend in the head is an appropriate response even if they have lost a lot of blood, and I'm fed up of the relentless violence.


  4. Ah no worries, Garth Ennis isn't everyone's cup of tea, although this is pretty restrained for him. He does balance the upsetting stuff with funny stuff in later books and introduces a cool female character too, so I hope you keep checking these out, though I understand if you don't want to.

  5. Don't worry, I always read your reviews.

    It'd be good if this series ended up passing the Bechdel test eventually...

  6. Aw thanks :)

    You know I have a horrible feeling it either doesn't pass Bechdel at all or only does so in the final arc. Ennis tends to write very MANLY stories. That said his few female characters are usually pretty awesome. Hitman's main female character Deborah Tiegel becomes a regular in the next volume and her and Tommy's tempestuous relationship is good for some laughs.

    One thing I do appreciate about Ennis's work is he always writes a good mixture of characters with differing ethnicities, there ought to be a test for that too.

  7. Yes, there should. To be honest, I don't even like the Bechdel test. It won't work for stories with certain settings (e.g. pre-21st century war stories), or for stories that weren't deliberately sexist but were just written by men in a patriarchal time when they didn't know that they were doing anything wrong (e.g. Arthur Conan Doyle).

    And why shouldn't women be allowed to talk about men? Does that mean that the touching scene between Desdemona and Emilia in Othello doesn't count as a moving example of female solidarity at all, just because they're talking about male jealousy? What if women discuss male children? What if they have a wide-ranging discussion touching on all kinds of topics, one of which is a man? What if they're talking about a politician, philosopher, author or academic who just happens to be a man? Sure, we could show a conversation between two women on any intellectual topic in which no male thinkers at all were mentioned, but it might be a bit contrived... or very contrived, depending on the context.

  8. You're definitely right, as a test it's something of a blunt instrument. I think it's best to see the Test not as a judgement on a media text but as one way of looking at it. It was "invented" round about a time when female characters were really just seen as male appendages, and the female audience was not being assiduously courted like it is now. So I think it has some historical validity when aimed at film and TV of the mid to late 20th century, but not so much now.