A Rage in Arkham is the first Hitman collection, but it’s not all the first Hitman stories. There’s his first appearance, during the Bloodlines crossover—which I can’t forget to address, in a Garth Ennis and John McCrea Demon annual, then a Contagion tie-in with Hitman and Batman, then the first three issues of the ongoing, an arc titled… A Rage in Arkham.
But there’s more Hitman before Rage in Arkham; I’m guessing the most informative would be the other Ennis and McCrea Demon comics. Who knew.
Because Rage in Arkham (referring to the collection from now on) makes some fast moves. Not just when considering it with Hitman (aka Tommy Monaghan) in mind as the protagonist. Because in the Demon summer crossover annual written by Garth Ennis, words I never expected to type… it’s still all about Tommy. It opens with him getting his powers after being hit with an Alien inner mouth, only not dying. It’s not an Aliens crossover with Dark Horse—did people mention at the time the villains, “a race of monstrous dragon-like aliens who killed humans for their spinal fluid” (thanks Wikipedia)–were unintentionally absurd and generally terrible. It’s like they were trying to come up with transforming action figures but gross or something. Is there a good behind-the-scenes story to Bloodlines?
So the Demon annual is just Demon and Tommy teaming up to take on the bad guy who attacked Tommy in the first place. Lots of good writing from Ennis, who loves doing the Etrigan stuff, and good art from McCrea. They sort of do it as a spoof of gangster comics. And the humor’s very obvious but also way too dry for American comics. I think I’m going to read that series too.
Then there’s the Contagion crossover story, which just introduces Tommy and Batman. It’s all about Ennis’s characterization of Batman, who comes across like a really dopey jock. It’s awesome. Because Tommy can read thoughts and has x-ray vision—he’s also just an incredible shot, which is why he’s a hitman already—we get to hear all of Bruce Wayne’s thoughts. Again, awesome.
And really nice art from McCrea, whose style for the comic seems to fit Tommy a lot better. Glen Murakami’s colors are a nice compliment.
And it’s immediately rough going from those nice Murakami colors to whatever’s going on with Carla Fenny’s colors in the first issue of the ongoing. Fenny’s doing a lot of the shading work, so McCrea’s art actually regresses a bit. It gets better immediately on the second issue and then is fine for the third; what happened? Issues two and three have a Heroic Age color separations credit supposedly.
Because when the colors are doing the light angles… they’re a lot more important.
The Demon annual opener is only ten fewer pages than the “feature” story, and with Ennis’s excellent pace, the arc is a bumpy—though sometimes entertainingly so—ride. The last part has a somewhat clunky wrap-up, which Ennis can save at the last minute, but only because he’s been doing so much background character development. The issues also might seem clunky because we’re jumping ahead in character development, whereas Ennis wrote that progression.
Tommy in story one isn’t Tommy in story two isn’t Tommy in story three. So the first issue of the ongoing is coming with a different set of baggage. It might explain the bumpy.
But, again, Ennis makes it work. He’s got a particular humor about Hitman and, once he gets comfortable narrating with the character—the first arc in the ongoing is basically a pilot for this character as narrator, a newly created DC antihero guy. There are many smart commercial decisions in Rage, though I’m not sure Batman as buffoon was going to ingratiate the book. At least not at the time. But even as a buffoon, Batman’s still Batman. It’s a very awkward characterization and always intriguing.
Tommy’s a good lead. The arc introduces some supporting cast, including a non-hitman sidekick, and the villains (literal demons trying to hire him for hellish purposes) are excellent.
It’s a lot of fun. Even when Ennis pushes too hard trying to qualify an assassin protagonist in a mainstream DC comic. I’m also curious how they decided the main bad guy would have a swastika tattoo in Hell but not on Earth. I’ll bet there are a lot of interesting notes from Hitman.
So. Really good comic. This time—the third time I’ve started it—I’m definitely going to finish it.