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.


Anonymous said...

You know, Ennis really is the best at the American Dream stuff. Read Preacher sometime. It's full of wonderful goodness.

Anonymous said...

That issue is totally Airwolf.

Tom the Dog said...

Speaking of spoilers -- doesn't Tommy turn around and assassinate someone as soon as Superman flies away? That kind of casts the whole sentimental story in a cyncial light right there. Not that I didn't like the story -- it truly is great. Man, I still miss Tommy Monaghan.

David Campbell said...

Crap! I meant to include that in the post! Thanks Tom, I'm going to edit that...

Winterteeth said...

I've always wanted to read Hitman (I love Preacher, even the weird bit with Jesse as a Sheriff and that guy who buggers meat). If Dave says its good, then I am checking it out. Is the series available in TPB? Or rather, I know there are trades but is the WHOLE series available in trade?

BTW, was a great entry.

Anonymous said...

Does the ending really cast the story in a cynical light? Or is it supposed to be tragic? Here's this sentimental guy who believes in the American Dream, and this is how low he really is.

Anonymous said...

Ah, great issue. Series high point.

thekelvingreen said...

Now, I've never liked Superman. Over the years DC have over-emphasised the All American Boy Scout thing and that just makes him seem uptight and dull.

But this story gets him spot on. Great stuff. Totally Airwolf.

And Ennis loves his Americana. Preacher is full of it too, as anonymous2 mentions above.

As for tpb collections, some of Hitman is available, but not all, iirc.

Also, Ennis is doing an issue of JLA Classified at some point, which will feature the Hitman cast, apparently. So look out for that.

Anonymous said...

Man, that last page is THE GOODS.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Dave. Ennis has a tremendous grasp of the American ideal. His work on Preacher hits a lot closer to the mark than most of the westerns he lionizes.

Mark W. Hale said...

There's stuff like this floating around, and still most people know Superman from crap like Smallville and Lois & Clark. Not fair.

And if one more person badmouths the "Salvation" storyline from Preacher I'm gonna snap.

Dr. Pants said...

Dude, I LOVED the Salvation arc. I mean, I loved all of the series, but Salvation is the one I read over and over again.

I didn't even realize there were people who didn't like it. Or that other people existed. Or that this strange beautiful site wasn't a figment of my fancied imagination.

I love you Dave.

Greg said...

I was always bummed that Hitman didn't get the same press that Preacher did. I like them both, but something about Hitman made it work much more for me. I think it was the constant preaching (ha!) in Preacher about whatever Ennis wanted to rant about. Hitman just told the story. It's a shame it's not lionized more.

You're right, though - best Superman story ever. Better than Moore's "Whatever Happened ..."

Someone mentioned Preacher on my blog when I wrote that The Joshua Tree is really good at getting America. Weird Irish people.

Woody! said...

I have a ton of respect for titles that can be in the "mainstream universe", but not of the "mainstream universe" or whatever. DC had a lot of them in the 1990s. (of course, pretty much all of them were cancelled by issue 25)

On top of that, this title really covered the full gauntlet of emotions. Ennis could do an issue like this one Dave reviewed, then turn around and have a guy turn his own arse into a live grenade a few months later.

Winterteeth said...

Does anyone know if Ennis' Demon series was any good?

Greg said...

I like how Woody used to be just plain old Woody, but now he has an exclamation point on the end of the name. It's much cheerier.

Kitty said...

That PS there at the end of your writeup? That's the sort of thing that makes me love Hitman SO DAMN MUCH.

Great post!

Winterteeth said...

Spamming a blog is anti-Airwolf (Blue Thunder?).

Dirk said...

Hitman might be favorite series ever.

I remember reading the first issue in the comic store. Tommy pukes on Batman.

I was with him for the rest of the ride after that.

David Campbell said...

I'm with you on that, Rick Jones. Owen Meany is full-on Airwolf.

Anonymous said...

I find that often foreigners have the best appreciation for the 'American dream' and understand what actually attracts immigrants to this country (it is, after all, foreigners who immigrate to this country, not Americans).

To use an overused metaphor, they see our forest, while we get caught up looking at the trees. We might look at our country and see our sports, our religion, or our music. People abroad may or may not like these things, but that's not what they see as unique to America (you can find all those things in other countries). What attracts them is the ideals of freedom that underpin our culture.

Even when they dislike specific aspects of our culture or our politics, most foreigners appreciate and understand what it is that makes our country great: the fact that all types of people can live together and enjoy freedom. We're not perfect (and many foreigners will eagerly remind you of that), but we've done better than anyone else. Here in America we can forget how truly unique that is.

That's also partly why foreigners are generally harder on us than they are on other countries. Part of it is just we're bigger than every else and everyone likes to take the big guy down a peg, but part of it is that we're the one country that was based on an ideal. There's always a sense of dissillusionment whenever we don't live up to their interpetation of that ideal (which is most of the time).

Michael Brown said...

That was indeed a great issue of HITMAN. There was another story arc with Green Lantern (Kyle) inadvertantly teamed up with Tommy and the fellas. It had a line from Tommy saying (paraphrasing), "...and we've got Green Lantern as backup. And that's so friggin' funny, I'm going so say it again. We've got Green Lantern as backup."

From what I understand, Tommy will be showing up again in the DCU in the not too distant future.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you guys on the Owen Meany trip. The book made we weep like a friggin' girl. But dear God, did the movie based on the book suck (Simon Birch). Especially at the end, when a key character dies but the editing is so bad that you can still see his chest rise and fall with his breathing.

It was like they just didn't care.

Oh, and I haven't read any Hitman, but I'm a huge Preacher fan (especially the Salvation arc), so I may have to check it out...

Woody! said...

Aw, yeah, Greg. The exclamation point means I'm to the extreme. For real, real.

Michael Brown, Hitman will be back in the DCU? I hope it's with Ennis, cause I can't imagine anyone else getting Tommy's nature right. Although, he had a good appearance in JLA during their membership drive.

thekelvingreen said...

Yeah it's by Ennis, as part of the JLA Classified quasi-anthology series.

Didn't I already say this? :)

Woody! said...

Yeah, you said it already. Sorry, I wasn't paying attention.

I've been impressed with the JLA Classified story arcs so far. Actually, by and large, much better than the same format they've been using on the main title.

thekelvingreen said...

No, I should be sorry for being a snarky bastard.

Should... :)

DougBot said...

There are a couple of Hitman stories I've only heard about but never read, alas. And I really want to read them.

Story 1: Tommy dealing with zombie vampire penguins, which I keep thinking is in a trade but I never see it.

Story 2: Hitman/Resurrection Man crossover, where Tommy keeps shooting Resurrection Man until he comes up with a useful superpower.

Now there's another mainstream DC title that didn't get nearly enough love...

gorjus said...

Dougbot, the Tommy killing Res.Man stuff wasn't in Hitman, if you're looking--it was in the Resurrection Man series, and it's goooood.

Not as good as "Of Thee I Sing," which just nails it.

I don't think it's just the Irish that have a unique insight into America, but they've certainly provided us with so much poetry about ourselves. It's the old saw--you don't know it's wonderful when you just pass it on the street and don't pay attention anymore, you know?

In his first inaugural address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson called the United States “the world’s best hope,” and the only place in the world “where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.”

Garth Ennis always seems to be able to see that, even if we sometimes forget. Which? Is why I love him, and his comics.

Anonymous said...

America along with its puppet nations and the other western hypocrites will crumble to give way to the Kali-Yuga.

/hissy laughter

Psychbloke said...

All this way and no-one has mentioned the guy who can produce heavy artillery through the dimensional portal in his arse......

Winterteeth said...

Who invited Kobra? That is totally Blue Thunder.

thekelvingreen said...

I'm not saying that Kobra is Blue Thunder because, you know, I value my life, but there's a definite sense of sky-coloured storminess about the man...

No one's mentioned (at least that I remember) that this issue won an Eisner award. A third-tier book, spawned from a forgettable crossover, that DC couldn't wait to cancel, won an Eisner. Airwolf to the extreme.

Anonymous said...

Nice timing, Dave. I just started re-reading PREACHER the other day, then got the first two HITMAN trades via a mail order I was no longer expecting. I guess I'll be on an Ennis streak for the next few days, so I'm glad to be sent off with your exuberant exuberations.

And I guess this is another example of the best Superman stories not actually being about Superman. Either we're seeing him through someone else's eyes or it's a Superman analogue. I'm sure this says something very profound about the very idea of the Superman icon, as opposed to, say, Batman (whose best stories are often told in his own voice). What that very profound thing is, I don't know, but I think it's interesting in light of everyone's comments about how non-Americans write the best America. How both Superman and America are best when viewed from the outside looking in. And a corollary, as well: do non-Americans also write the best Superman (Ennis here; Moore in "Whatever Happened..." and "For the Man Who Has Everything"; Morrison in JLA, "DC 1,000,000", and possibly ALL-STAR SUPERMAN)?

The things I think up when reading your blog late at night...damn you, Campbell! Your Airwolfish Longboxery has Blue Thundered my nocturnal slumber!

Brian Cronin said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Hitman as a series, and this was a fine issue.

I am not as much of a fan of the overtly manipulative type of story (and I differ on Capra being overtly manipulative with his stuff), but I still enjoyed this issue.

My favorite issues of Hitman still are the aforementioned Zombie Sea Life issue.

I can still see the scene where the guy cuts through the heads of a bunch of zombie penguins with a chainsaw!

I cannot believe that that issue is not available in trade format.

gorjus said...

Dog-Welder rules!!

thekelvingreen said...

My favorite issues of Hitman still are the aforementioned Zombie Sea Life issue.
I can still see the scene where the guy cuts through the heads of a bunch of zombie penguins with a chainsaw!
I cannot believe that that issue is not available in trade format.

It is, in the Local Heroes collection, which is listed as being in print and available on Amazon. The book also collects the Green Lantern guest appearance issues. It looks like Hitman is collected up to around #30 or so, so about halfway.

Also, both Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium and the Superman story are readable online if you Google "hitman comic scans". I won't link directly. :)

Brian Cronin said...

They DID?

Thank you, Kelvin!

Then no one has any excuse not to read it!!!

Anonymous said...

I've read this blog for a while but I needed to comment on this. Hitman is my favorite book ever. It's the only one where I've collected every issue of the run and I actually will re-read the entire run once a year.

I just related to Tommy. No, I don't kill people for money. No I don't have x-ray vision. But he was just a guy who tried to figure out right and wrong, dealt with questions of morality, stuck up for the little guy, and would rather die than do something he felt was wrong. And he had friends that liked to shoot the bull (as well as other people) like my friends do, and who are value loyalty.

Garth just "got" this group of characters and it really shows in the entire run.

Plus it had zombie penguins.

Sleestak said...

For me the invention of the Cat Signal was the best moment in comics.

"That better have been dead when you found it."

Anonymous said...

What kind of self-respecting Hitman apologizes for using the word "friggin'" I mean seriously.

Oh, and BEST BLOG EVER by the way.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised that no one here has mentioned "What's So Funny 'Bout Truth, Justice, and the American Way" in the "Best Superman Stories" category. That and issue 8 of "Ending Battle" are the books I give to people who see Superman as a pointless, Big Blue Boy Scout. "Yes," I tell them, "He is. But he has to be, and here's why. And here's why it rules, too."

For the record, I don't see what's so great about "Whatever Happened..." and no one has ever been able to explain it to me. I like "What's So Funny..." better, because it has Superman succeed and has it mean something. "Whatever Happened..." just shows him as a failure and a sham with nothing behind him.

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