Hitman: A Rage in Arkham

It’s always exciting when a new character is introduced who you actually want to read more about.

I’ve seen plenty of cheap attempts at creating new characters throughout various “events” in the DC Universe, only to have them never pan out, with the characters virtually disappearing from the comics, never to be heard from again.

Granted, this is the beauty of comics, as these characters could randomly pop up decades later with an important role in a new storyline.  Still, it’s always more fun when the character is exciting from the get-go.

Tommy Monaghan, a.k.a. Hitman, is one such character.  A contract killer, Tommy is on yet another routine job when he is attacked by a vicious, life-sucking creature (spillover from the “Bloodlines” crossover that isn’t collected on “the shelf”.  Kudos to Mistah J for explaining that storyline ahead of time so I wasn’t completely lost).  The attack almost kills Monaghan, but he pulls through and finds that he has developed some rather helpful skills.

Including x-ray vision and the ability to read minds, Monaghan quickly realizes that these new talents would significantly help him in his mercenary career.  As a result, he develops a new moniker, dubbing himself simply, “Hitman”.

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Truth be told he’s a little reminiscent of Marvel’s Punisher, but then again Frank Castle didn’t have actual super powers (unless being a total badass is a super power?) and Hitman’s make for some rather interesting scenes.

What’s most intriguing about his character is that Monaghan isn’t a villain per se, but he’s also not a boy scout.  Armed with a sharp tongue and a brash demeaner, Hitman is the quintessential antihero.  He’s not exactly the guy you’re supposed to root for, but there’s just something about him that’s likeable.

His characterization is flawlessly handled, with each interaction adding a little something more to the inner workings of his psyche.

The comics are a shade more violent than most that I’ve been reading lately, showing the difference in Hitman’s character as well as a trend of moving towards darker, more gruesome storylines.  Hitman is easily one of the best choices for such a shift.  Batman comics can be bloody, but they can only get so violent when the hero refuses to kill.  Hitman doesn’t share that regard for human life, and so the body count of the comic will inevitably rise.

Garth Ennis and John McCrea do not shy away from making Hitman a no-holds barred assassin.  When offered a cool million to break into Arkham and eliminate the Joker, Monaghan doesn’t even pause to consider.  All he sees is the money, which to him represents freedom.  Not only does he successfully break into Arkham (and complete a few minor hits on inmates in the process), he actually shoots the Joker while he’s strung up from the ceiling.

Batman saves the Joker (because of course), but Joker doesn’t seem to take too kindly to being used as target practice.

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Knowing the Joker, this isn’t an exaggeration.  I can only hope the two of them meet up in a future comic so that Hitman can read Joker’s thoughts – and show us just how twisted they really are.

I was surprised to see just how strong of an impact this Hitman collection made.  Given the five brief issues collected here, I wouldn’t have expected to garner so much insight into the character, nor would I have expected to like him so much.  He’s a money-hungry, murderous thug, but he has his own code, making him far more respectable than many of the killers in Gotham.  His location also makes the story far more interesting, as he has the option of facing off not just against any of Gotham’s innumerable villains, but against Batman himself, who very clearly does not approve of Hitman or his methods.

These stories were dark, often a tad brutal, and completely unflinching.  Hitman is the textbook antihero, yet the realistic world that he operates in makes it almost impossible not to root for him.  A city as grim and violent as Gotham would undoubtedly spawn such a man, and it’s only all too easy to convince yourself, “Well, at least he’s killing the bad guys.”  Characters like him help to show that justice isn’t black and white, and that sometimes the gray area is the only logical place to operate.

-Jess

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