Friday, August 19, 2005
HITMAN #34 DC Comics, 1999
Hitman #34 is my favorite Superman story. Of course, the irony here is that my favorite Superman story is not even in a Superman comic book. Sit down for a spell and let me tell you why I love Hitman #34, “Of Thee I Sing” so much.
In this stand-alone story, writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea meditate on the role that Superman plays in the American psyche, the burden of embodying hope and salvation that Superman carries, and how the average Joe on the street sees the Man of Steel – only in this case the average Joe on the street is Tommy Monaghan, the eponymous assassin of the Hitman series.
I love this book because I am an utter sap. If it’s done well, I don’t mind art or media that unashamedly tries to manipulate my emotions – and man, I am an easy mark. I always want the guy and the girl in movies to get together in the end. I like Frank Capra movies. In Revenge of the Sith I was kind of hoping against all odds that things might actually work out for Annakin. I cried at the end of the book The Prince of Tides, and A Prayer For Owen Meany practically incapacitated me with grief. Seriously, dog food commercials make me misty.
Okay – oversharing.
My point is, I like to “turn on my heart light,” and all it takes for me to dig something is for a book or movie to meet me half way, you know? Well, Hitman #34 meets me half way then holds my hand and walks with me through a moonlit garden, and then sings to me under a frickin’ willow tree. It’s that good.
(Just a heads-up: I’m going to discuss the plot of this book in SPOILERy detail.)
“Of Thee I Sing” is a pretty simple story about a chance rooftop encounter in Gotham between working-class killer Tommy Monaghan and living legend Superman. They don’t slug it out or battle or anything, they just hang out and talk. Superman is bummed out because a rescue went wrong earlier and he just needs a little alone time, so he’s hanging out on the same roof that Tommy is on. Why is Tommy there? We’ll get to that later.
Despite being a killer, Tommy’s a regular guy, so he’s in awe of Superman when they meet and doesn’t know how to act:
Superman has no idea who Tommy is, and Tommy certainly doesn’t see any contradiction in a professional killer admiring this paragon of truth and justice. Ennis’s dialogue for this encounter is spot-on, and it’s kind of fun watching these two radically different characters have a friendly conversation.
After some coaxing, Superman tells Tommy what’s bugging him: Earlier today he had attempted to rescue the astronauts on the disabled nuclear-powered space shuttle Yeager, which was en route to Mars when its reactor went critical. In order to safely evacuate the crew, Superman holds a lead shield over a raging radioactive inferno while the astronauts load into the Mars lander in their shuttle bay.
The reactor’s just about to blow up when Superman spots an astronaut who was presumed dead, but is actually trapped in the bay:
The space shuttle blows up and the astronaut dies. Superman has failed him. The idea of Superman has failed him. As he tells Tommy, “That’s what I’m scared everyone believes. The one truth they hold above all else. ‘No, he can’t be everywhere at once. But if he’s there for me, I’ll be safe.’ But when the moment came for Colonel James M. Kennedy, commander of the Yeager – Superman let him down.”
Tommy gives The S a little pep talk that is sort of the emotional heart of the story. He tells Superman to stop beating himself up over an unattainable ideal.
“You’re everything that’s great about this country an’ you don’t even know it.”
That shit works for me, what can I say? Sometimes here in the States we lose track of the concept of the melting pot, that we really are a nation of immigrants, of people who come here for a fresh start, for a shot at the elusive dream. It’s interesting that an Irish writer, Garth Ennis, can articulate that American ideal so well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Nationalist Guy or anything, but I am a sucker for that American Dream stuff, that Capra movie vision, that hope for tomorrow and brotherhood of man stuff, with “Fanfare for the Common Man” playing in the background – all that. Reality, sadly, often falls short of our hopes, but does that invalidate them? I say thee nay.
And that’s why I dig Hitman #34, my favorite Superman story. Because in this era of ironic detachment and cynicism, I think it’s cool to do something unabashedly sentimental like Ennis and McCrea did here.
P.S. I forgot to mention the ending which I said I would SPOIL: Tommy is up on the roof because he's going to kill this crime lord guy, and after Superman flies off, Tommy shoots the guy in the head with a rifle. The End.