Book Club Lockdown / August

Hitman
By Garth Ennis and John McCrea

I’ve read all seven volumes of Hitman and basically spent the whole time waiting for it to get good.

Like don’t get me wrong. It’s not like it’s a bad comic. As I’ve said multiple times Ennis is probably one of the most solid writers around. And McCrea has a knack for making his stuff look like the best doodles you’ve ever seen – like he’s scribbling this stuff down when he’s actually supposed to be doing his science homework. And it’s fun watching them both carve out their own small cosy slice of the DC Universe (in Gotham City no less!) and make themselves at home. And it’s interesting watching the slow slide as the book starts out as B-List superhero story and then slowly morphs into a Garth Ennis joint (although the signs are admittingly there from the start – most notably in a scene where a whole gathering of mobsters gets taken out in a way that’s very reminiscent of the start of his Punisher MAX run). I mean if you’re playing Ennis Trope Bingo you’re going to get a full house before you get to the last volume seeing how it’s got lads from the SAS getting involved, Irish Terrorists getting slotted, lots of Father Issues, ruminations on how to be a “proper man” (shooting people is ok but don’t you dare cross that line and call women “bitches”) the way up to the point where they’re (and I shit you not) driving tanks across the deserts of Africa and you’re like: wait – what happened to Batman?

But there’s just something about it that makes it feel like it never properly kicks into a higher gear. It’s like there’s this feeling that any second now it’s going to finally reach it’s potential but then it never quite gets there. Maybe partly it’s down to the fact that everything is so cartoony that it never quite gets that proper weight that you find in his other books (see: the storyline where Gotham gets invaded by Time Travelling Dinosaurs). It’s all just a bit too much – dare I say it? – zany. Which actually kinda strange when you consider how the whole comic has the oh-so-typical Ennis veneer of “Superheroes? Ha. No. That’s stupid. I’m not going to do that. Let me show you something a bit more serious instead…”

Which is what makes it oh so ironic that the actual best story of the whole run is all the way right at the end where Tommy meets the Justice League of America and it basically turns into a horror movie / alien invasion thing that keeps piling on the thrills and tension like it’s an 80s action movie (and coming from me that’s high praise indeed!). And it’s just kinda weird because it turns out that the guy who hates superheroes so much that he wrote The Boys is actually very good at writing them. To the extent that – for this reader – of all the stories in his comic about showing you how there’s more to the world of comics than superheroes – the highlight is one with all the superheroes in.

Is there a lesson there somewhere? I’m not sure. I mean maybe it’s just because the further he goes along the better his writing gets but still I can’t escape the feeling that if Ennis ever did want to do a Superman run it would be incredibly fucking good. Although no doubt it would probably just involve Superman driving a tank or something. LOL

The Magic Order
By Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel

I always feel like I’m doing something… disreputable whenever I read a Mark Millar comic. Like he totally feels like someone who’s properly all the way cancelled by most comic book fans. Not because of anything he’s done or the way that’s treated people (as far as I I know at least) but just because of the comics he writes. For a while there he was basically the Eminem of comic books (only a lot more middle-aged) and I know that speaking from experience he tended to write things that made you want to take a bath afterwards just so you could feel clean again (naming no names: but Wanted and Kick-Ass – I’m looking at you). Basically he was king of the Edgelord comics and you know – while back in the 90s that would have been deemed a splendid plaudite nowadays it’s more something that’s much more derogatory.

But I think there’s something else in play here too which is this – everyone in a Mark Millar comic is basically an arsehole and/or has arseholish tendancies. Or to put it another way: his heroes always have a bad side and his villains always have a good side and trying to put people into easily delineated categories never quite works and I think that’s a big part of the real reason why (amongst a certain crowd) Mark Millar is basically a swear word (and an ugly one at that). Because well at the risk of making an encompassing generalisation I think it’s probably pretty fair to say that most people who are into comics (especially superhero ones) enjoy the bright, bold and binary simplicity. Like: don’t get me wrong – I think there’s a lot of things that comics can do well but most of the time it’s not the best at creating complex multifaceted characters because most of the time it just doesn’t have enough room. So you know characters are mostly reduced to archetypes and (in some cases literally) board-brush strokes (not that there’s anything wrong with that lol). And then along comes Mark Millar and gives us a Captain America who’s best friends with George Bush or a teenage superhero who’s really into wanking or a Superman that kinda wants to enslave the whole world. And yeah ok: it’s not exactly James Joyce anything (I agree) – but then you know maybe that’s as complicated as you can get in a comic? Making someone a hero and then… giving them arseholish tendancies. And well yeah if you prefer your heroes unarseholish then I understand why reading a Mark Millar book might feel like something that’s.. going to require a bath afterwards. 

But shit – I don’t know. I just finished rereading The Magic Order and I feel like I might just have to concede that… he’s still kinda good and fun to read? And if anything (damn it) he seems to be getting a bit more self-assured as he grows up (and starting to overcome the need to do somekind of shock / gross out thing to keep your attention which is a relief). 

I mean yeah the “What would happen if you crossed Harry Potter with the Sopranos?” concept feels like something that you’d get from Netflix (who erm coincidently helped to publish the book lol) but there’s so much stuff here that just… pops. Partly it’s all the cool magic stuff that basically means it’s “what kinda cool thing can I imagine?” time which is kinda a big part of why I love comic books (“What if you could trap someone in a book?” is a particular highlight) but then also – and trying not to give anything away here – the way that the book is constructed in terms of the characters and your expectations is also just: very cool and very much feels as if Millar is getting much more interested in doing interesting things rather than just making jokes about dog poo or whatever. 

Magic. 

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