‘Section Eight’ Shows Ennis and McCrea Will Still Lovingly Bite the Hand That Feeds Them
Anyone can make fun of DC comics. Don't believe me? Go ahead and look around the Internet. I'll wait. The publisher's long life, huge catalog of characters and hundreds of thousands of pages of material have certainly provided a target-rich environment.
But it takes a very special mindset and skill set to make fun of DC comics within the pages of a DC comic – and I'm not just talking gentle ribbing or affectionate teasing, but fairly scathing satire. That Garth Ennis and John McCrea were able to do so on such a regular basis for so long in the pages of their 1997-2001 Hitman is pretty remarkable; almost as remarkable as the fact that DC invited them back for All Star Section Eight, a series that necessarily focuses on and amps up the superhero parody of the pair's Hitman series, since almost all of the non-comedic characters from Hitman are now long-since dead. (Um, spoiler warning for a comic that ended 14 years ago, I guess.)
Hitman spun out of DC's 1993 "Bloodlines" crossover event, an attempt to create a new batch of superheroes to inject some new blood (hence the title) into the DC Universe. Ennis and McCrea introduced Tommy Monaghan, the hitman with newly-gained superpowers, in the annual for their book at the time, The Demon.
He was one of a handful of characters that earned his own ongoing title, and his was the one that lasted the longest and was, by far, the best. It was also pretty anti-superhero, despite the fact that it was set squarely in the DC Universe (Gotham City, even!), and that Tommy and friends regularly faced the sorts of threats that keep super-people busy: Demons from hell, zombie outbreaks, time-lost dinosaurs, vampires, other super-people and so on.
Tommy gradually used his powers less and less, complaining that they gave him a headache. He made a point of sitting-out the crossovers that the book would be branded with, as in the example of "Final Night," when he and his friends decided to just drink and tell stories while the other superheroes staved off the apocalypse. While plenty of DC superheroes guest-starred over the years, including Batman, The Demon, Catwoman, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Lobo and Superman, more often than not they came out looking varying degrees of bad (Even Superman, really, although his appearance in Hitman #34 remains one of the best Superman stories I've ever read).
That said, Ennis always wrote the heroes fairly true to themselves, attacking them around the edges, and much of the time that he and McCrea spent taking the piss out of the heroes, it was because they simply didn't fit in with real people.
The embodiment of the book's attitude regarding superheroes was Sixpack, a decidedly un-PC town drunk sort of supporting character, who mostly hung out at the bar in which most of Hitman was set, drunkenly rambling on about his adventures with the Justice League, saving the world. Like Supergirl and Barry Allen, he eventually gave his life to save the world... and years later came back to life, as here he is in All Star Section Eight, attempting to put his team of below Z-list super-people back together, after the all-star line-up of The Defenestrator, Shakes, Friendly Fire and Dogwelder I were all massacred.
As the ultimate unreliable narrator, Sixpack's story allows Ennis and McCrea to cut completely loose in their parody, so, for the first issue at least, this reads a lot like Hitman without all the drama, action and character-work (Although there's Hacken, quite changed from when we saw him last!).
It's well worth noting that McCrea draws the hell out of the book, making the "real" heroes of the DCU look pretty bad-ass, particularly in the opening scene that appears to be set pre-Flashpoint, in which robot bug-monsters are killing DC's heroes (we see Kyle Rayner's corpse with a big bite taken out of it) while The Trinity battles on, awaiting the arrival of Section Eight. They might eventually get around to making fun of Batman, but damn if he doesn't look cool kicking that alien robot shrimp monster thing.
Sixpack soon wakes up in costume in Noonan's Sleazy Bar, convinced a threat that only Section Eight can face is on its way, and it's up to him to put the team back together. But who can fill the remaining six slots, as only he and Bueno Excellente (let's not get into it) are left?
He pulls out a notepad and starts rattling off the names of superheroes "who tried out for Section Eight over the years...some real no-hopers here." He proceeds to rattle off the names of about two-thirds of all the New Blood characters:
As the book reaches its climax, the guy on the cover appears, and Sixpack tries to recruit him.
We first meet Batman as he pulls the Batmobile over to get some cash out of an ATM. He seems completely unaware of Sixpack's attempts to talk to him, as he's distracted by the woman writing him a parking ticket, who he argues with regarding the injustice of ATM fees.
In the process, he adopts famous poses from various eras by all-star Batman artists, which McCrea renders with incredible faithfulness: Neal Adams' Batman running, Kelley Jones' Batman getting his back-broken, Jim Aparo's Batman cradling the dead Jason Todd.
How does the Caped Crusader, Gotham's staunch defender of law and order, respond?
What are they going to do? Arrest him? Good luck finding the Batcave, GCPD!
That's one issue --- and one hero --- down. Next up? Green Lantern Hal Jordan. Let's see how he fares in the world of Ennis and McCrea's Hitman and Section Eight compared to Kyle, who everyone in Noonan's gave a dirty look when he refused to buy Tommy a beer after Tommy bought him one, since he couldn't keep any money in his costume.
Also, I think he had a run in with Bueno Excellente but, again, let's not get into that.