Hitman: Ace of Killers (1997-98)

H4

Having read Garth Ennis for so long, I can get a sense of his structure. He’s traditionally too rushed in three-issue arcs, much more comfortable with four or more. Hitman: Ace of Killers collects a six-issue arc and then two done-in-ones. The main story is a siege story, too, with the heroes getting pinned down at the end of the second issue. It’s pretty awesome plotting; like, it’s real impressive given all the character development he’s got going in a four-hour present action or whatever.

So, Nazi demon Mawzir (from the first Hitman arc—and trade) is back in Gotham looking for revenge. He’s pretty sure he’s got a foolproof plan to take out Tommy, which involves taking over one of the mob gangs and having the humans do most of the dirty work so as not to raise attention from the archangels who wouldn’t want a demon doing business on the mortal plane. Only it turns out Tommy’s still too smart for Mawzir. At least if his plan works out. The plan involves Jim Balent-era Catwoman (the politest way to describe Balent-era Catwoman is “cheesecake”) and another visit from Jason Blood and his Demon. Tommy got his start in Ennis and artist John McCrea’s Demon, which I kind of want to read after this arc, which has Ennis sending Etrigan on a delightful mission in Hell. Reminds of good old eighties DC Swamp Thing Hell, though no bugs.

But Mawzir hunting Tommy interferes with fetching, now ex-cop Tiegel getting drunk and putting the moves on Tommy. She gets so drunk she doesn’t remember he’s actually a gentleman when he wants to be—there’s a great bit comparing the demons and angels on his shoulders. When she tracks him down to confront him about what she thinks happened, she too gets stuck in the siege. So it’s Tommy, Tiegel, Natt, Catwoman, and Jason Blood trapped in a Catholic Church, which Mawzir and his human gang are shooting to shit. Mawzir can’t go into the church because holy ground and the archangels would know right away; he has to stay outside and deal with the cops.

Now, outside Tommy’s constant fat jokes about Natt and the Catwoman objectification, the wonkiest thing about the arc is how it fits in, well, Batman’s Gotham City. It’s hard to believe none of the Bat-family wouldn’t notice an hours-long firefight in the middle of the city, regardless of it happening in the Cauldron (Gotham’s Hell’s Kitchen analog). Maybe they were all on a space mission, but it’s definitely a place where having general DC Comics continuity works against the comic.

It’s also the arc where I was most expecting some kind of Preacher nod—Catwoman’s in the story because she got tricked in stealing a magical Old West rifle, capable of killing demons—but then remembered nineties DC wouldn’t force some terrible crossover between distinct artistic properties. Ah, the old days. I mean, outside Balent Catwoman, who Tommy and Natt salivate over in an unfortunate manner.

While the siege takes five issues to resolve, there are a couple big diversions—first, Etrigan’s Hell mission, then drunken “studperhero” Sixpack putting together his team of misfit meta-humans to help out Tommy and friends. Ennis gets away with a couple things with the misfits I can’t believe they let him do on the main DC label. Like, did they switch pages at the printer or something? So there’s a nice balance of humor and suspense and then a whole bunch of romance, as Tommy figures he and Tiegel need to talk out their proto-relationship problems even if they’re in imminent danger. Maybe more so.

Most of the relationship development happens in one of the done-in-ones, but there’s excellent groundwork throughout the main arc. Oodles of chemistry.

Ennis writes the heck out of demon Etrigan, both in Hell and out; I’m thinking I need to hit that Demon series at some point too. He’s got an enthusiasm to it, even though it’s very purple.

Oh, and the siege arc has a lot of Sam Peckinpah references; it’s kind of strange to see Ennis drop all sorts of (specific) pop culture references, but it was the nineties, after all.

The first done-in-one is Tommy and Tiegel’s first proper date, with Steve Pugh doing the art. Pugh brings a lot to it, especially for the constrained setting and story—there’s some banter with Tommy and Natt, then the date going sideways once Tiegel’s parents show up—but having Pugh handle the more human moments… makes it distinct. Not saying McCrea couldn’t have done them, but Pugh’s art is more gentle.

Or something.

It works, but it’s also just fine Pugh’s not back for the second done-in-one, which has Tommy and Natt hunting down a radioactive Santa Claus, hell-bent on killing as many people as he can. There’s a big “Simpsons” reference, and the whole story’s narration feels like a nod to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It works out nicely. But it’s not as impressive as an action narrative as the main story or a character one as the date issue. It’s a Christmas special, whereas the other two stories have to make their own special.

McCrea’s back on pencils for the Christmas story, with Pugh inking. It looks good. Now, radioactive supervillain Santa attacking Gotham on Christmas Eve… just saying, Batman sort of should’ve noticed.

It’s the best Hitman collection so far. I wasn’t sold on the Tiegel and Tommy stuff but now I’m most definitely invested.

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