On The Cheap: ‘Hitman’ #1-40 Are Currently 99 Cents Each
If you’re the kind of person who does a lot of digging through Comixology sales and digital dollar boxes waiting for a good deal to roll around, then you probably noticed that DC spent last month putting a whole slew of back issues on sale every week to support the stories used as source material for Convergence. This month, Convergence is over, but it looks like the sales are going to keep going — DC is spending June with what it’s touting as its biggest digital sale ever to promote its new roster of “DC You” titles.
This week's sale features one of the best lineups of dollar books that DC has ever done, with great comics like JM DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Shawn McManus's highly underrated Dr. Fate, Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch's all-too-brief run on JLA, and Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham's Batman Incorporated — including the issue Burnham wrote about Batman Japan fighting Lady Tigerfist, a lady with tigers for fists — but really, those books are all tied for second. If you don't already own Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Hitman and you take this as anything other than an opportunity to get as much of it as you can, then you're doing something wrong.
The current sale is meant to promote Ennis and McCrea's revival of Section Eight this week, but honestly, any excuse to go read this comic again is a good one. I've said this before, but I'll go to bat for Hitman as the single best comic that Garth Ennis has ever written, and like a lot of his long-form work --- particularly Preacher, the book he was doing alongside Steve Dillon at the same time --- it benefits from reading the whole thing all at once. That in itself is something that makes the current Comixology sale a little bit frustrating, since only 40 of the run's 60-plus issues are on sale, which means that it actually stops in the middle of a storyline, but still, it's more than worth it to grab them here.
Ennis's tendency to go way over the top in terms of violence and gross-out stuff, some of which is pretty unfortunate looking back from almost 20 years later, is usually what grabs people's attention, and Hitman's no exception. It's about as obscene as a DC Universe title could get in the late '90s, especially with McCrea's gleeful depictions of people being blown away, eviscerated and dumped into toilets, but the real strength of the book is how amazing the characters are.
Tommy, Natt, Tiegel, and even Hacken, the dimwitted comic relief, all have beautifully realized characters and defined arcs that are at the core of what makes this book so great, and that stuff builds and pays off best if you start at #1 and don't stop until you get to the end. "Old Dog" alone has a pretty good chance of making you cry in between some of the most brutally violent scenes in superhero history, and it's not even the most gut-wrenching story of the bunch.
If, however, you need a few single issues to try as a sampler, then Ennis and McCrea have you covered there as well.
The first choice is obvious: Hitman #34, the Eisner-winning issue that's arguably the single best Superman story of the '90s. For a guy who with a notorious "hatred" of superheroes, who once said in an interview that you'd know he was broke if you ever saw him writing Green Lantern --- Kyle Rayner guest-stars in the second arc, by the way --- Ennis has an understanding of Superman that comes through phenomenally clearly.
This is a touching arc that looks at the idea of what happens when Superman fails in a way that doesn't tarnish his heroism, and that touches on his human side while still keeping his optimism intact. Admittedly, it does sort of lead to a last-panel punchline, but it's one about Tommy and his skewed idea of morality --- he's a hitman who never kills anyone who isn't bad, you understand --- rather than Superman himself.
Also, if you finish the original run of Hitman and find yourself wanting more, which you will, the interaction between the two characters here forms the cornerstone of 2007's JLA/Hitman, which gives us another great moment of Ennis writing Superman.
If, however, you want a sample of the book's funnier side, there's a two-issue arc that makes a pretty fantastic standalone story and does a solid job of introducing the characters: Hitman #13 and 14, "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium."
One of the weirder pieces that Hitman added to the DC Universe was an unfortunately named research facility just outside of Gotham City that specialized in what you might call mad science. It was basically a low-budget STAR Labs that was always producing radioactive mutants, and while they lacked the budget for any kind of safety regulations, they definitely kept Tommy Monaghan on speed dial for when things got out of hand. And in this story... Well, it's exactly what it says on the cover: A local aquarium gets contaminated and Tommy and his crew spend a pretty great couple of issues fighting zombie penguins and one very angry undead shark.
If you're looking for another great issue, one that has a good mix of comedy and action, you could do a whole lot worse than to pick up Hitman #21, with guest artist Steve Pugh filling in for McCrea:
It's a great stand-alone story that's focused on Tommy's relationship with Detective Tiegel, but it's also a major turning point in the series. Almost everything that happens for the rest of the run --- the next forty issues --- can be traced back to a five-page sequence in this comic that ends with Tommy saying, "Ain't the last I'll hear about this." I don't know if truer words have ever been spoken.
Those four issues stand alone very well, and if you're new to Hitman (or to Ennis and McCrea in general), they should give you an idea of what to expect from the book. Beyond that, though, things are connected together a little too tightly to really go into them by themselves.
"For Tomorrow" is as close to a masterpiece as you're likely to find, but it won't have the same impact if you don't have 40 issues of Tommy palling around with Ringo Chen to lead to it. "Tommy's Heroes," where Tommy and his crew get out of town and end up signing on as mercenaries in, as the title would suggest, one of Ennis's many tributes to war movies, is one of my favorite arcs in the series, and it stands alone pretty well, but it's also directly set up by what happens in "Who Dares Wins," and really, if you're going to read that one too, you might as well grab the whole thing.
The current sale, which includes HItman and a whole lot of other great comics, runs through June 15, ending at 11 PM EST. Get 'em while they're cheap!