“Types of Courage”

Garth Ennis (Midnighter, The Boys, Ghost Rider) enjoyed the best runs of his comic book career when he was writing Hitman, Preacher, and Constantine. Hitman was always one of my favorites because it was his most mainstream work. Because he had to work within the constraints of the PG comic book universe, Ennis was forced to be more clever, not depending on his standard tools of over-the-top crassness and vulgarity. Yet he still retained the humor and humanity that bring his characters to life, after all, this is the same character that vomited all over Batman in his first issue. During his sixty issue run, Ennis managed to inject all kinds of ridiculous concepts and make them work (I won’t get into the zombie zoo animals).

Tommy Monaghan was a super-powered assassin who lived by his own code and for his friends, maintaining honor and relationships in a world of constant betrayal. With the title ending the way we all knew it had to end, we readers didn’t think we’d see anymore of the adventures of Tommy and his best friend, Nat. Then along comes JLA/Hitman.

To play catch up, Bloodlines was a storyline that ran through the DC titles’ annuals in the mid-90s wherein many people were infected by aliens and given powers. The meta commentary in JLA/Hitman about the heroes produced from that saga sums it up best: “those guys are really lame” (Green Lantern), with stories “inventing just the worst reasons for team ups” (Flash). Obviously, Hitman was a rare exception, but the situation that brings about this team up is a return of those aliens parasites which leads to the JLA bringing Tommy to their Watchtower on the moon to mount a defense. His methods stand in stark contrast to those of the assembled JLA heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern).

“Did you even stop to think once about what you were doing? About the moral implications of aligning yourself with this man? Did you consider the disgrace you would bring on yourself, on this league, on the institution?” –Batman

The framework for the story doubles as the theme of the story. A young reporter goes to Clark Kent (Superman’s alter ego) to question how the paragon of superheroes could ever have worked with a murderous thug like Monaghan. The chief question it explores is what it means to be a hero. There are moral implications of the methods of Tommy himself as well being associated with him. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is social relevance to examining immoral men vs. immoral methods such as torture and killing. Is this “doing what you have to do” mentality moral courage?

“About the promise and hope of it. About doing what you can do to help.” –Superman

There are things that (super) heroes aren’t supposed to do. Though we’ve seen before (Jack Bauer in 24 comes to mind) that sometimes they do have to get their hands dirty and still be able to maintain their heroic nature, but there is a price to be paid. I’m reminded of the account in the Bible about King David. He was “a man after God’s own heart” and was the warrior needed to defend the nation of Israel, but his hands were too bloody to oversee building the temple. That was left to his successor, King Solomon.

“I’m someone who does what he can. Aren’t we all?” –Superman

Granted, we’re all heroes in our own stories, but we also have a certain idea of what a hero is and are too quick to label people heroes without considering what we mean by the term. After all, even the best of people are but flawed vessels, yet flawed vessels are the only kind of person God works through. We were created in His image, there is good in us and any of us are capable of contributing something positive.

“Do not think you’ve found redemption by your actions here.” –Wonder Woman

Yes, JLA/Hitman was a love letter to the fans of Hitman, replete with in-jokes, John McCrea art, and appearances by the extensive cast of misfits we’d come to know and love. A chance for readers to re-visit an old friend and a reminder of how much this character was beloved. And it gives us an excuse to dig out those original issues or for DC to put the collected trades back into circulation.

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