Monday, 17 November 2014

Hitman Book 5: Tommy's Heroes (Hitman #23-36 and #1,000,000)

"...Aw no.  They come for us." - Natt

When I introduced book one I noted that the reissuing of the first half of the Hitman series along with new editions collecting the rest had lead to a somewhat lop-sided distribution of stories in the trades.  The first four collect the first twenty-two issues, the final three trades cram in the other thirty-eight plus bonuses.  To avoid splitting all three of those trades into two reviews, for books five and six I will highlight the most important arc's and one-shots in detail and briefly summarise the rest.  Volume seven will be split into two parts because it's all important though.  Anyway one thing I learned about Garth Ennis during my reading of his series The Boys is that he loves to take jokes and throwaway comments made in early issues and spin them into something very serious in a later one.  The standout arc in this volume sees an event in Natt and Tommy's military past told to us in issue #8 (The Final Night crossover one) come back to haunt them with terrible consequences.  This volume also includes the award winning one-shot where Tommy and Superman have a heartfelt talk about what it means to be an American superhero, showing Ennis is not totally opposed to the superhero concept.  There is also an arc where Tommy gets involved in a civil war in Africa as a mercenary, two issues where he meets a couple of long-lost family members and one where he takes part in the DC One Million crossover event. Also, the more eagle-eyed among you might spot the art is slightly different now, that's because Garry Leach has come aboard inking John McCrea's pencils, giving it a slightly softer edge but losing none of the impact. Let's begin.
It's about to kick off..
WHO DARES WINS - The story begins with an SAS man in deep cover with the IRA executing his IRA "friend" and being pulled out for a new assignment.  The action then cuts to Tommy and Natt, with Tommy reflecting on his accidentally killing of Lefty Lugano (see previous book) and who this has got him in trouble with mob boss "Men's Room Louie" (so called because he does all his business sat on a toilet). Back with the SAS, four of them are being given the assignment to kill Natt and Tommy, who were responsible for the death of an SAS patrol during Desert Storm.  One of the men, Eddie, who generally acts as a voice of reason during the whole escapade is unenthused, saying friendly fire happens all the time.  But one of the victims was the son of a Brigadier General so this is pure revenge.
Eddie, Page, Whitey and Plug.  Four badass dudes.
Tommy is meeting with Louie who says Tommy owes him a hit, but Tommy says he will only hit bad guys.  Louie threatens Tommy's friends, Tommy threatens him back by saying Ringo Chen has his back, then he leaves.  The four SAS men have arrived in Gotham and are getting tooled up by a local contact who warns them Tommy and Natt have a reputation. Tommy and Natt are drinking in the bar when the SAS attack with a stun grenade.  They then tell Tommy and Natt who they are and why they have to die.  But before they can kill them, Louie's men attack, they are also gunning for Tommy but get in a gun battle with the SAS instead creating enough chaos that Tommy and Natt manage to escape.  When they get to safety Natt tells Tommy:

Natt: "Forget any dirt bag you ever messed wit' and any badass you was ever scared of.  Forget Delta Force an' the Navy Seals and the John Wayne-assed Green Berets, an' the godamn ninja assassins, an' Sergeant Rock an' Bruce Lee an' the motherlovin' Terminator: Those dudes are SAS... They gonna kill us Tommy."
No kill like overkill.
They go to a fast food joint to try and figure out what to do next, unfortunately two of the SAS - Whitey and Plug - also walk in and another gun battle ensues, with Tommy and Natt managing to escape by the skin of their teeth again.  The SAS decide to force Tommy to come to them and go to Noonan's and kidnap Sean while he is on the phone to Tommy.  Tommy freaks out and is all set to rush and confront the SAS, but Natt punches some sense back into him.

Natt: "I gotta say, I dunno what we gonna do now man.  They got us good you know? We screwed."

Tommy: "Yeah.  Unless we do something really crazy."

So Tommy and Natt attack Louie's hideout and Tommy phones Louie telling him they'll be hitting all his operations tonight. Back with the SAS, they have Sean tied up, and Eddie is uncomfortable with this, especially when he finds a photo on Sean that shows he used to be in the army.  He says about Natt and Tommy:

Eddie: "They're a couple of tits yeah, but at the end of the day they were soldiers an' they made a mistake, an' that old bloke in there, the one we're using against them, he's a soldier too, an' it's making me friggin' sick."

He says it's a stupid job and not what he joined the regiment for. Back with Natt and Tommy, their plan is to hit enough places to get the mafia to follow them to where the SAS are and get Sean out in the confusion when the two sides clash. This plan actually works, and Natt and Tommy slip inside the building, but are surprised by Whitey.  He punches Natt and he and Tommy wrestle with a gun which goes off and the richochet kills Whitey.  Tommy and Natt slip away, and when the rest of the SAS find Whitey's body their commander, Page grimly says it's time to "go ballistic".
Gun wrestling, the sport of MEN.
Tommy and Natt are on a hill overlooking Gotham, reflecting on just how powerless the SAS men are making them feel.  They resolve to "get it together" and go back into Gotham and rescue Sean.  At Louie's place, his men tell him that the men attacking them are amazingly good, Louie wonders who the hell sent them to get him and orders all his people to come to him and protect him.

The Page puts Whitey's body in the boot of a car with a grenade to dispose of it. Eddie gives Sean food, then he and Plug reminisce over a time during Desert Storm when they were surprised by an Iraqi soldier, but he was out of ammo when he attacked and instead of killing him, they befriended him and let him go back to his side. Eddie says this vendetta has to stop, Plug says that now Whitey has been killed, if Page told them to burn the whole city to the ground he would.  They go back to their contact and demand plenty of explosive ordinance and a list of Louie's operations. Page thinks the mafia killed Whitey and he's going after them now much to Eddie's disbelief.  Eddie then lets Sean go, saying he shouldn't have to suffer this anymore.
 Eddie does the decent thing.
Sean phones Tommy and tells him he is free and they should get out of town.  Natt and Tommy agree that if they run, they'd be running for the rest of their lives and they need to end this now. After causing havoc at several of Louie's operations, Page decides it's time to get Louie himself.  Plug though has taken a bullet to the gut.  Eddie wants to get him medical treatment, but Page stubbornly says the job isn't over.  Eddie punches him, but before their fight can escalate, Plug weakly tells them to stop and that they should go get Louie.  The three of them charge into Louie's hideout and Page executes Louie.  Plug though get's shot to pieces by the mafia before what's left of them get killed too.
Of course!
Tommy and Natt arrive on the scene, but Eddie holds a gun to them, saying he can't believe they came all the way for tossers like them.  Then he tells them to get lost, he won't kill them. Page then shoots him in the back, grinning that this escapade has been "excellent sport". He then points his gun at Natt and Tommy and tells them:

Page: "No matter how long ago or how far away, your actions had consequences. Your failure to do your duty set into motion that you could not imagine."

Before he can fire, Eddie rises up behind him and breaks his neck.  He refuses Tommy's thanks and offer of help, spitting that they are "stupid yank bastards".  Then he drags Page's body into a fire with him and they both burn up in front of a shocked Natt and Tommy.  The end.
Yes, yes they are.
DOOR INTO THE DARK - One of the nice things about this series is that events have consequences. Our protagonists don't just shrug off trauma and move onto the next adventure.  They have to deal.  This one-shot shows Natt and Tommy recovering from the events of the previous arc.  It starts with Tommy have a nightmare about being shot to pieces by the SAS men.  He awakes with a start in bed with Tiegel.  Despite her spikey concern for him he won't talk about it and they have a row.  He goes to Natt's place and finds a depressed Natt has been holed up in his flat for ten days.  They go to Noonan's for a drink.  They discuss their tangle with the SAS.

Natt: "You ain't been doing much either huh?"

Tommy: "Zip.  It's kinda hard to get up the enthusiasm when someone's just wiped the floor with you an' thrown you back like you weren't even worth botherin' with in the first place."

Natt says there shouldn't be any shame in getting beaten by the SAS. Tommy says that you think that your the main event, the big story.  Then you meet someone who's really serious and you realise you just a chapter in their story.  You realise just how small you are.
Self pity time
Natt: "Mmm. We been gettin' by kinda easy last year, ain't we? Sure, we pull all kinds of crazy stuff, but mostly we get away without a scratch. Could be we was due a wake up call."

An "Irish" band start up playing, much to Tommy's distress.  Natt grins that he shouldn't deny his heritage, but Tommy says he was found in a bag on the steps of an orphanage with the name "Tommy Monaghan" written on the bag. He doesn't know if he really is Irish and if he was he wouldn't be into all this "fake shamrock" crap.

Later they leave the bar and someone tries to pull a hit on them.  Tommy lets him go but Natt blows his head off.  They argue and Natt tells Tommy he's a hitman, and showing mercy isn't going to change anything.  Tommy says he's worried that their tangle with the SAS opened a door to hell and that they are on the road to destruction or something.  Natt bids him goodnight and Tommy beds down on the floor of Noonan's and the nightmare begins again.

TOMMY'S HEROES -  Just a quick summary of this one as it's not particularly funny or insightful into the characters. Looking to get away from the Men's Room Louie heat, Tommy and Natt (along with Ringo and Hacken) take a job offer in Africa. They are to train an army filled with forcibly enlisted unskilled men to fight the rebels, who are selling heroin to fund their insurgency. Tommy befriends a British Airborne soldier named Bob Mitchell who was friends with Eddie Baker (from "Who Dares Wins"). They soon realize that President Kijaro and his super-human bodyguards, Scarlett Rose and the Skull, are evil. They meet the rebels, and Tommy is convinced to help install their leader, Christian Ributu, in Kijaro's place as long as he stops dealing heroin. Ributu is warned not to be like the other rulers, or Tommy will return.
This wasn't a bad arc, but it repeated a lot of the same themes of miltary  loyalty and duty that "Who Dares Win" did.
OF THEE I SING - This award winning one-shot deals with Tommy meeting Superman, and simply having a chat with him.  Rather than post huge quotes from it, I've picked out the pages with the main gist of their talk on them, so click to enlarge and all that. It's night time and Tommy is up on a rooftop reading a magazine with Superman on the cover, when the real Superman lands on the roof next to him.  A starstruck Tommy introduces themself and they start to talk.  Superman is troubled because he went up to save a space shuttle that was in serious trouble.  He managed to get the crew to the escape pod, but the commander who was thought dead, was actually still alive and trapped.

Superman: "It was so plain what he was thinking in that instant. When we met each others eyes. I'll take it to my grave. 'You're Superman. And you're not going to save me'.  And then God decided our time was up."

Superman was in Gotham to talk to Batman about it, who wasn't much help at soothing Superman's troubled soul. Tommy says he can't save everyone.  Superman says he is more worried about what he's come to represent.

Tommy say's he shouldn't beat himself up over an ideal he knows is garbage, that he can't possibly live up to.

Tommy: "Jeez.  You're everything that's great about this country an' you don't even know it."

Now I have seen criticisms of Tommy's idea of joining the American melting pot.  That it lauds the concept of being absorbed into a white Christian monoculture.  But this is an opinion coming from Tommy a somewhat lapsed Catholic, to Superman, raised a God fearing middle American farmboy. And the writer is Garth Ennis, who is NOT an Irish writer, but a Northern Irish writer (part of the United Kingdom not Ireland), a place with hundreds of years of religious strife as part of his history.  And I believe Ennis has made his home in New York now too and if The Boys and Hitman are taken together he has a real affinity for the ideals that America traditionally represents.

Anyway, Tommy's pep talk works and Superman thanks him and bids him farewell, though not before signing Tommy's magazine for him.  Then he flies off and Tommy does what he was up on the roof to do in the first place and that's carry out a hit.  But Superman didn't need to know that did he...?

TO HELL WITH THE FUTURE - This story was part of the DC One Million crossover event.  It's set in the 853rd Century, when DC comics would reach number #1,000,000.  A group of nerds bring Tommy forwards in time.  He's gained a rather unlikely reputation as a super-hero based on twisted versions of events in his life.  The nerds want to tap his Iconic Energy so they can all become superheroes.  Tommy says he's no icon, his real story won't be remembered and what lies in the future for him is two shots to the head and being dumped in a ditch.  The nerds send him back home to his own time and try again with another "hero" this time it's Etrigan.  This goes poorly for them, the end.

Hitman's reputation is somewhat mangled in the far future.
KATIE - After that bit of silliness, we get some severe mood whiplash dealing with Tommy's family's grim past.  After a romantic jacuzzi session with Tiegel ends in another row, Tommy leaves and bumps into Natt who has a woman with him.  She introduces herself as Frances Monaghan, Tommy's big sister. She tells Tommy she has spent five years trying to find him and their mother. She discovered via newspaper archives that a woman died at the orphanage he was found at on the same day, her name was Katie, their mother.
Frances Monaghan
Tommy barges into St. Killian's orphanage looking for Sister Concepta, who he catches with Sean in her room.  Tommy, Frances, Sister Concepta and Sean meet up a bit later on to discuss things.  Tommy is angry that he was never told about his mother being there, that he only knew he was found in a bag.  They tell him that was true, but his mother had been staying at the orphanage with a cousin who worked there, she was a frail and nervous woman and one day she took fright and ran out into the snow.  The nuns and Sean went looking for her and found her having given birth, but also stabbed to death with Tommy's name written in blood next to her.  Frances says "so the bastard got her after all."  Then says she is going back to Ireland and if Tommy wants to know more he'll have to come too.

On the aeroplane Frances tells him their mother was the town prostitute.  Men would use her for sex, then call her scum in the streets.  As a way of getting revenge on them she would name her kids after their fathers, with them having Billy, Johnny and Philomena as siblings as well. One day a man called Tom Dawson, a local property tycoon came to Katie, but warned her not to pull the same stunt with him.  She stops the story for now and the action jumps forwards to her and Tommy at a burned out cottage, Katie's home.   She has also provided Tommy with a gun. Two mysterious figures observe them and say it's time to call "the Big Man".
A lonely abode even when Katie was alive
Sean and Sister Concepta are discussing how they didn't tell Tommy the whole truth, that Katie wasn' dead when they found her, but horribly mutilated and "glad to be dying". France tells Tommy that Katie got pregnant with Toms child - Tommy. Tom, warned her not to mess with him by burning down her cottage, which killed Billy, Johnny and Philomena. Katie left Frances outside a hospital a week later and said she was going to America.  And still Tom got her.  They leave the pub they were in, but get attacked by Tom's men.  Tommy is knocked out and Frances bought to Katies cottage where Tom awaits her.  He describes gleefully how he tracked Katie down, stalked her, frightened her out of the safety of the orphanage and then mutilated her, with the screams of the nuns when they found her being good to him.
Tommy's father.  The evil dick.
Tommy manages to shoot his way out of the car boot he'd been locked in and runs to the cottage to find Frances disembowelled and barely alive. She tells him he has to get Tom and that he did this to their mother as well.  He hushes her and read it from her mind as she dies.  Tommy then busts his way into Tom's house.  Tommy yells that he's a respectable man, not like the dregs Tommy and his mother and siblings were.  Tommy shoots him in the gut and stands over him saying "scared at last?" and admisters the coup de grace while commenting that this will "piss him off forever".

Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.
 The story then ends with a flashback to Katie's final moments dying in the orphanage.  Sister Concepta read her a moving bible passage as she finally moves on at peace with herself.

Concepta: "And..God shall.. God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes.  And their shall be no more death. Neither sorrow, nor crying.  Neither shall there be anymore pain.  For the former things have passed away."

And dammit, if that doesn't choke me up every damn time I read that story, it's so beautiful and sad.  The young Concepta and Sean hold each other and so ends the book on an incredibly powerful but bleak note.
Katie.
Overall the book as a whole has a much more serious tone than previous ones.  Gone are the fantasy villains and instead this books shows that the most powerful enemy someone like Tommy could face is a simply a soldier trained to the absolute peak of his profession.  The contrast between the cold professionalism of the SAS and the somewhat haphazard soldiering Tommy and his crew partake of in the "Tommy's Heroes" arc is quite notable. Meanwhile, finding out his father was a killer himself can't help but leave Tommy with the feeling that maybe his own career as a hitman is a way of channeling inherited psychopathic tendencies, despite his refusal to kill good guys.  The Superman one-shot shows Ennis is not totally opposed to the superhero concept.  I think that because Superman stands for "the American Way" and because Ennis seems to really believe in that, he couldn't help but like Superman over and above all the other heroes he seems to have a disdain for. Tommy loses yet another person who got close to him, or rather who would have become close to him in the form of Frances and his relationship with Sean over the covering up of the circumstances of his mothers death is put under severe strain the fallout from which will be followed up in Book six.

6 comments:

  1. don't mess with the sas! also superman is cool i'm glad ennis didn't treat him like he usually does with super heros

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  2. I find it fascinating that Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison two men whose opinions on superheroes in general are so diameterically opposed, can still find common ground when it comes to Superman.

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  3. It's awfully nice of Mr Ennis to be so complimentary about the SAS, but I bet that IRL the Navy Seals are much more hardcore than them.

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  4. I dunno.. Ennis is a massive military history buff and has written some amazingly moving war stories that I may cover one day, I'm inclined to believe him if he says the SAS are the baddest of asses. That said there is always competition between military squadrons even on the same side, for example Sean corrects Eddie when Eddie asks if he was in the army and Sean says no, he was a marine. And the arc I skipped over has a member of the British Airbourne who are rivals with the SAS.

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    1. Fair does. If that's his field of expertise, I'll believe him. I just thought that the US armed forces were more hardcore than the UK ones because I view people from the USA as having less respect for life in general. They all have guns and they execute criminals.

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  5. That's a bit harsh on folks from the US. People join the military for all sorts of reasons I know a person who was in the US airforce and a person who used to be a military policeman who served in Northern Ireland and both of them joined up not to because they wanted to kill people, but out of a sense of patriotic duty. Knowing them made me, a lifelong pacifist rethink a lot of the negative stereotypes I had about soldiers.

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