blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Hitman: Closing Time (1999-2007)

Hitman vol 07

Hitman: Closing Time opens the only way it can (or should) following the previous collection’s gut-wrenching conclusion, which saw Tommy’s surrogate father, Sean, die protecting him. It starts with a Lobo crossover. And writer Garth Ennis spends the entire issue shitting on Lobo. It’s a done-in-one crossover with art from Doug Mahnke. The art’s perfectly excessive, starting with Tommy and Sean (there’s an editor’s note explaining it takes place in the past) spitting in Lobo’s beer. Lobo’s in Gotham on an interstellar bounty hunt and stops by the bar, initially annoying everyone but then becoming a problem when he starts picking on Sixpack.

Thanks to his mind-reading superpower, Tommy knows how Lobo’s super-healing works and concocts a way to take him on. It becomes a foot chase of destruction through Hitman’s Gotham, complete with gangsters and Section 8 (Sixpack’s super-team). Lots of blood, lots of laughs (almost all of them at Lobo’s expense), and a lot of nice art from Mahnke.

Sure, the resolution gag is definitionally homophobic, but if you squint and look at it from a certain point of view, it’s fine… ish. It’s also just the resolution gag; the comic needs a way to wrap up, given Tommy can’t take on an indestructible space mutant forever. The rest of the jokes are just about Lobo being a stupid character. The crossover politics of DC Comics and Hitman must be a great story.

Then there’s a short story about Sixpack’s drunk-dream adventures with Superman, art by Nelson DeCastro (pencils) and Jimmy Palmiotti (inks). It’s from a Superman 80-Page Giant and is entirely for laughs, with Sixpack arguing about superhero morality with Superman, opting for killing the bad guys. Or trying to kill them, with Big Blue having to curb Sixpack’s enthusiasm. It’s very classy art for a comic where Lex Luthor gets gut-punched for a gag.

The story placement also sets up Sixpack as a significant player in Closing Time. The Lobo crossover kicks off because of Sixpack, has him bring in Section 8, then the Superman “crossover” is entirely his story. The following story–as Closing Time starts collecting Hitman proper—is also Sixpack-focused. Sure, Tommy and Natt are chasing a naked guy through the Cauldron, but the drama is about Section 8 giving up on Sixpack’s dream of a super-team. If only there were something he could do to prove himself.

Luckily, Natt and Tommy aren’t chasing just any naked guy. He’s a lab assistant at the Injun Peak Research Center. Thanks to demonic dealings, some scientist turned him into a tesseract (the infinitely vast container variety, not the Avengers MacGuffin). The first part of the story’s split between Tommy and Natt chasing the naked guy (who can pull pretty much anything he wants right out of his you-know-what), Sixpack and his colleagues arguing about their super-team efficacy, and the bean counter discovering worse and worse details in the scientist’s practices. The science talk has Ennis’s most inventive writing, while Tommy and Natt’s chase gives artists John McCrea and Garry Leach a nice absurd, slightly gross-out comedy action sequence.

The second half of the story has more gross-out comedy action, but also actual gore as interdimensional demons find a toe-hold in our universe. Ennis does horror, comedy, heart, and action with it, finding a rather nice resolution while also revealing it’s a story out of time. While not set in the past like the opening Lobo one, it’s detached from the overall Hitman narrative. Ennis is just doing a Sixpack story in Hitman, not fitting Sixpack into a Tommy story.

The three and a half issue starting bookend and then a two-issue closer will set Closing Time’s main arc (appropriately titled Closing Time) apart from the rest of the collection, which is appropriate. The Closing Time arc, an eight-issue epic closing off the series and its so far surviving cast, is a doozy.

Mainly having resolved all the mob stuff last collection—there’s still a bounty on Tommy and Natt’s heads, but the mob itself isn’t a villain, just its hopeful hitmen—Ennis goes back to the start to find strings to tie up the series. Though he takes his time revealing where all those strings come from. Instead, he sticks to the first one he introduces–the mom who lost her kid to the vampires a while back. She’s in trouble and, if you’re lucky enough to know him, there’s no one better to help you with trouble than Tommy Monaghan. It’s a nice way to open the story, with Ennis then putting in an echoing device. That echoing device is a quick, devastating rumination on the series’s overall tragedy; great stuff. But Closing Time is just a series of great stuffs.

Starting with giving Tommy’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Tiegel a character development subplot for the arc. She doesn’t get in on the action this time, with Ennis bringing back a rogue female CIA agent as Tommy’s love interest and he and Natt’s third. The rogue CIA agent, McAllister, is one of Ennis’s archetypes—the capable female espionage agent–with McAllister being both softer and harder than he’ll go with the template in the future. It’s particularly interesting because she’s a deus ex machina too early in the plot. Most of Closing Time is about her bonding with Tommy and Natt and the supporting cast. She gets to be a regular cast member faster than anyone else in the comic ever has (though I guess Ennis never really tried with anyone else).

The story’s villain will turn out to be an evil CIA guy trying to make government superheroes with alien technology from the Bloodlines. The experiments aren’t going well, though there’s actually a lot less with the flesh-eating human monsters than I was expecting. Ennis contains most of the gore to a subplot with the lead scientist. The villain, Truman, is another returning character. McAllister’s back from the Green Lantern crossover issue, Truman’s back from early on, then there’s the main hitman nemesis, the son of a vanquished baddie. Not to mention the mom in trouble. Or the Dirty Harry-esque cop who’s promised to protect Tommy against any enemy. Lots of return appearances, all tied together thanks to Tommy. No one can escape the Cauldron.

Ennis also does a bunch of flashbacks, setting up Tommy and Natt as teenagers in the Marines and Tommy growing up in the Cauldron, which means some old Sean and Pat appearances. Ennis writes Hitman to be binge-read, not just for the callbacks to earlier in the series. The Closing Time arc is paced for a single reading. It must’ve been very frustrating DC took forever to collect it.

The Closing Time story has a good three-act structure throughout the eight installments, with some big action set pieces throughout and a whole lot of heart. Everyone gets their appropriate farewell in the comic, with Ennis grabbing the heartstrings and yanking as hard as he can. There are some hints the story’s a rushed conclusion, the occasional plot detail Ennis has to push too hard on to make fit, the things he wasn’t done exploring. But they make it work. It’s a lovely finish for the comic.

So it not being the last story in the collection is initially a little odd, especially since the coda is a JLA crossover, originally intended for the JLA Classified anthology series, which got canceled before the Hitman one ran. So instead of a four-parter, it’s a two-parter, set six years after the main series, when everyone’s fate has cemented, and an intrepid reporter has some questions about Superman’s relationship with professional hitman Tommy Monaghan, a known killer, and man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition. The reporter—named Kirby, with Ennis showing his soft side—interviews Superman’s de facto press agent, one Clark Kent.

At some point in the past, the Bloodlines aliens came back, and the JLA needed someone who they’d give powers for scientific reasons. So they go get Tommy and bring him to the moon, where Kyle Rayner Green Lantern’s embarrassed to know him, and Batman takes delight in telling Superman about Tommy’s profession. Ennis balances the alien threat with Superman reconciling being emotionally invested in a “bad guy” and Tommy having a blast in a superhero crossover. Some excellent writing on the characters from Ennis, who might not have wanted to write DC superheroes, but it’s too bad they didn’t convince him to do more of it.

The conclusion works as a rumination for the whole series.

McCrea pencils and inks the JLA crossover, busting ass to give it a unique, distinct feel from the regular series. Especially after Closing Time, it’s kind of hard to imagine Hitman without Leach inking McCrea. But then the crossover isn’t a Hitman comic; it’s a Superman story about Hitman.

And it just makes you want to read the whole comic, all sixty issues plus crossovers, all seven trades, all 1,600 pages, all over again. Ennis, McCrea, and Leach do one hell of a job.

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