Hitman: Ten Thousand Bullets (1996-97)

Hitman: Ten Thousand Bullets

So when I said I was going to keep going with Hitman after reading the first volume last June, I meant it. I did not go back and reread it (though I’ve perused since finishing this second collection) and was able to mostly follow the story so Hitman can withstand a sixteen-and-a-half-month break, which is impressive.

I also didn’t read the introduction by Kevin Smith. It’s a little bit too effusive about Hitman writer Garth Ennis. So it stings when you get through a quarter of the collection and agree with Smith’s effusiveness, jealous he got to be the one to tell Garth, and you didn’t. Like, there’s a moment where Hitman just clicks, and then it keeps going all the way through.

Ten Thousand Bullets is a collection of three stories; six comics, three stories. The first is a four-issue arc–Ten Thousand Bullets, then there’s an Ennis one-shot-aside single issue, then there’s an annual. Joel McCrea does the art on most of it, with Carlos Ezquerra and Steve Pugh doing the art on the annual. They take turns, with Ezquerra doing a riff on McCrea’s art, then Pugh doing a riff on it, then Ezquerra again. It’s a great-looking issue because there’s so much contrast between the artists, but you’re already used to the Hitman visual motif because they’re doing the “house” McCrea style, so you can see the choices better having just deep-dived with five issues of McCrea.

The main story has Hitman Tommy Monaghan trying to take down a vigilante who kills drug dealers, then sells their stuff himself. Kind of like an evil Robin Hood. The vigilante’s name is NightFist, and he’s a direct riff on Jim Valentino’s ShadowHawk. Like, if the one-shot and annual hadn’t been so affecting, I was going to open this post asking what Jim Valentino ever did to Garth Ennis because there’s a story there. And if there’s not… I mean, ShadowHawk was always a good punchline.

For help with the job, Tommy calls in his old friend, Natt, and welcomes him to the regular supporting cast, which includes the bar buddies and then Wendy, the girl Tommy met before in the series.

At the same time, the existing series bad guy is back and after Tommy, hiring a better hitman—one who knows how Tommy’s superpowers (mind-reading and x-ray vision) work.

There’s action, there’s comedy, there’s tragedy, there’s McCrea’s enthusiastic art. Some of the tension in the action comes from the visual pacing alone, with McCrea building between panels. They use the same tension in the comedy sequences, where Tommy and Natt’s constant bro banter isn’t exactly funny, but it hits really well. Especially after Tommy explains we’re about to hear the story of how he lost his girl and his best friend. Ennis actually understands how past tense works, which might be where I wanted to be the one to get to write his introductions, and it brings this sense of impending tragedy in just the right way. Because the comic’s still funny, it’s just bittersweet. And then Ennis sort of leans on the bittersweet nature of it all. Though in Hitman parlance, it’s more like he pushes his thumb into a bullet wound, intensifying Tommy’s experiences, tying into the narrator versus the actor.

It’s really well-written comics.

More than makes up for the story getting loose a couple times.

The one-shot and the annual aren’t ever loose. Ennis has got them tightly controlled, he and McCrea finding the perfect pacing for the Final Night tie-in one-shot. While the Super Friends fight to save planet Earth from—was it evil Green Lantern—Tommy and his friends hunker down in the bar.

Of course, we know now if Superman got on the news and told us to stay inside or we’d get vaporized, forty percent of us would go out on the streets. Maybe it happened back in the sixties in the comics and Darwin and all.

Anyway.

The guys in the bar sit around and tell stories of when they came closest to death and what saved them. Ennis does war stories, he does parables, he does kid stories. McCrea keeps it all steady between the vignettes, doing some minute style changes, but more like he’s expanding the visual palette than switching to a new one. It’s real good and echoes back to a flashback from the main story, which is another place Ennis takes a big swing with the series and the tone.

Of course, nothing prepares for the annual, which is a homage to the Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood “Dollars Trilogy.” Tommy ends up in a modern spaghetti Western, playing good guy off bad. There’s a great Klaus Kinski joke too. It’s a funny story—lots of jokes, probably the most per capita—and a nice friendship arc for Tommy and a guest star. Ennis homages deep, sometimes running a riff on a Leone narrative beat underneath scenes related to the Hitman content. It’s very nicely done.

Though you probably need to have some strong feelings about whether Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is actually the best to get as jazzed up as me, Ennis, or Tommy get jazzed up. But seeing Pugh go wild doesn’t need any context. There’s some excellent art from both him and Ezquerra on the annual.

So, once again, I can’t wait to keep going on Hitman.

Once again, I really, really intend to do it sooner than sixteen months from now.

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