Hitman: For Tomorrow (1999-2000)

H6

Back in the early days of comics collections—and I'm talking mid-to-late eighties, pre-Dark Knight Returns, pre-Watchmen—there were occasionally collections on themes. Hitman: For Tomorrow feels very much like a collection of Hitman comics based on the theme. It's writer Garth Ennis leaning in on taking Tommy and friends out of their comfort zones but into ones potentially more familiar to the reader. Then Ennis forces the potentially unsuited zone into Hitman. Like the two-part opener with Tommy having to fight vampires, or later on, there's a 2000 AD homage with a dinosaur, then one of Ennis's first war stories. Ennis is getting a lot more ambitious, asking a lot more from penciler John McCrea and inker Garry Leach. Not just the dinosaur one, but also a four-part John Woo homage. Tommy's romantic problems with Tiegel and general interpersonal relationship problems with everyone else run underneath it all, breaking through to find Ennis waiting for them, ready to incorporate them into the greater narrative.

For Tomorrow collects fourteen issues. There's a two-parter, a four-parter, a done-in-one, then a three-parter, and finally another four-parters. It's a lot of comics, with the general theme being Tommy's recovery from the last collection. This one starts with Tommy having sequestered himself in his apartment to think about his horrific family backstory while he gets drunker and drunker. Natt the Hat comes to pull him out of it, leading to the two having a solemn talk about things. And Ennis, McCrea, and Leach explore the idea of a pitch-black Hitman; Tommy's tragic, and he's doing stoicism to avoid having to feel. Better to keep Tiegel away than share it with her, better to ignore his friends, better to avoid surrogate father Sean entirely rather than confront him about a lifetime's worth of lies.

Luckily, Tommy and friends live in Gotham City, which is going through the No Man's Land crossover, only for Hitman, Ennis does vampires. Vampires have decided Tommy's neighborhood, the Cauldron, is perfect for a vampire paradise, especially since it's full of despicable hitmen who'll no doubt supply the vampires with fresh food. Little do the vampires realize what's in store for them.

Though the entire thing hinges on the vampires not being willing to destroy a Catholic Church because it's shelter and Tommy and pals being thrilled to tear it down. It's really effective, but it also feels very much against the Irish Catholic grain Ennis has been incorporating into the comic from the start. It's a good two-parter; the vampires are appropriately evil and determined but also not as wise as Tommy when they need to be. And it does an excellent job getting Tommy through his personal darkness.

In the background of that two-parter, Sean—bartender to the hitmen and Tommy's surrogate dad—is feeling the strain on their relationship and finding a friend in hitman Ringo Lam.

Since Ennis introduced Ringo way back in Hitman, there's always been discussion of him and Tommy having a shootout to see who's the better gunsel. I'm misusing gunsel intentionally for effect. It's always unclear who's the better killer, and when Tommy bumps into Ringo and his girlfriend, it seems like they're going to find out. Over a woman. Because the girlfriend is Wendy, who dumped Tommy for being a hitman back in issue #6. And she's figured out what Ringo does for a living now too.

Ennis sets up the story with Ringo as the protagonist, quickly leaning into a John Woo homage. I can't figure out if Ringo is more a Chow Yun-fat type or a Tony Leung. Ringo soon finds himself in trouble for a hit he made, and Tommy's around, so the bad guys are after both of them now. And Wendy's in danger. So it's a Hong Kong action movie, albeit one with a superpowered villain (I feel like Ennis would've written a mean Wolverine if they could've gotten him to do it straight); it's a buddy movie, full of heart, full of character development. When Tommy and Ringo are captured, Ringo tells Tommy (and the reader) his life story. Whether Tommy wants to hear it or not.

It ends up being a very nice examination of male friendships and their shortcomings. Ennis writes the hell out of it, all without breaking the genre rules. Though it helps there's a lot of heart in John Woo's Hong Kong action epics. And McCrea and Leach ably handle all the action, which isn't the Hitman normal, if there is such a thing. The series's visual motifs have not been a John Woo movie until this point, and then there are four issues where they have to immediately adapt; McCrea and Leach handle the transition ably. I'm curious how much direction Ennis gave them in the script.

After that four-parter, Ennis takes an issue to get Tommy in trouble with Tiegel and find some resolution with Sean. There's some action and humor, but it's all pretty serious character development stuff. Ennis is very thoughtful with the Sean and Tommy stuff and not with the Tiegel stuff. It all builds to a punchline for Tiegel, but not… really? Ennis, McCrea, and Leach put Tiegel through the objectification ringer—physically and mentally—and then give her a comedy gag punchline. It's memorable for the punchline and the Sean stuff, but it's almost like Ennis needed two issues to get it done. Or maybe just not to have ginned up the Tiegel drama to get her and Tommy on the outs again.

Though there's no time for love in the next arc, which has Tommy and Natt accidentally going on a time-traveling safari to the Jurassic period, messing it up, and letting a bunch of hungry dinosaurs invade Gotham in the present. One of the dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus rex, gets close third-person narration (which is where it just feels the most like 2000 AD). Also, a great white hunter dipshit is trying to kill Tommy before the dinosaurs; the hunter led the time travel safari and is mad Tommy screwed it up.

It's a big action story with dinosaurs. It's great. Awesome art. There's not much more to say about it. They go back in time, get to see dinosaurs, bring them back to the future, dinosaurs start eating people. But it's still No Man's Land Gotham, so it's up to Tommy and friends to stop them. It's a bunch of fun without ever being silly. And it's able to get away with never being silly because Ennis, McCrea, and Leach lean into it so much. Until the run in this trade, Ennis was a lot less assured at incorporating the absurdities of a superhero universe into Hitman. He made fun of it, no less. But For Tomorrow's got vampires, unalluring mutants, and dinosaurs. There's lots of absurdity, only they've figured out how to embrace it.

Then it's time for the tour de force finale, which opens with Sean telling the boys at the bar a war story. Only it's from when he was a kid during World War II. There's more background to Sean before Gotham City and bartending (Ennis also doesn't get into the nun he's been carrying on with for decades) throughout the arc, but nothing's ever quite as effective as the first one. Maybe because Sean's a kid and more vulnerable, but also maybe because it's the earliest real Ennis war story I've seen. Or at least, remember seeing. Also, maybe just in the context of the collection—For Tomorrow is often very fantastical, and the finale's very, very grounded.

Sure, the story's about a mob princess wanting Tommy's head on a spike for her wedding present and a legendary hitman—for a while, I was thinking Christopher Walken, but then less him—is going to get it for her. This hitman, Benito Gallo, will stop at nothing, including targeting Tommy's friends. And thanks to Tommy's continued pursuit of Tiegel, she's in the mix too.

Aside from icky stuff with the mob princess and Benito, who's her uncle, the story's all about Tommy, Sean, Tiegel, and the rest bar cast. They're all still sensitive from recent losses and faced with an endless onslaught of bad guys. It becomes a siege situation, which Ennis used in the vampires story; only the mobsters are impervious to sunlight. Plus, Tommy's got everyone he can call in a jam in the jam with him.

It's kind of amazing how much traction Ennis got over Tommy stumbling into a mob meeting where he had to shoot his way out, forever pissing off the mob and leading to this eventual story arc. It's not really intricate plotting, just Ennis knowing how to match the series's momentum with significant events.

Then there's an epilogue issue—which I thought was the last issue because I knew Hitman was always a bubble book and figured they canceled it on them early, so they did a quick wrap-up, but no, there are another ten issues. So the epilogue issue is sort of a repudiation of that DC One Million crossover issue, like Ennis did it again but with a straight face and found the heart underneath it all.

It's a great arc. Excellent character work, possibly a little too much objectification of Tiegel as she reluctantly becomes a badass with the rest of the hitmen, expressive, moody art. The ending—pre-epilogue—has this beautiful, perfectly awful moment for Tommy thanks to his "powers." It'll be hard for the actual series finale to top this one.

But I'm confident Ennis, McCrea, and Leach will do it because they've figured out how to make great Hitman comics, and they're not slowing down.

Leave a Reply