Nick Bryan Dot Com

Hitman by Garth Ennis/John McCrea - A comic about men, violence, superheroes and undead seals

I'm a big Garth Ennis fan - his Preacher series was important to me in my teens, his Punisher Max run one of the best things I read in my twenties and I've never read a comic by him that isn't full of strong storytelling. Even when he might not be working on a classic concept, the man knows his way around a comic book page.

I've recently been filling some gaps in my cultural intake, including a few major Ennis works that I never got round to. First up, almost exactly a year ago, was his Hellblazer run with Steve Dillon and others. Today, I'm moving on to Hitman, a five year series with artist John McCrea about Tommy Monaghan, a super-powered gun-for-hire running around the DC Comics superhero universe. It wasn't easily available for a while, but DC have put it back into print in seven collected books, not to mention slapped the whole thing up on Comixology.

So, I read the entire sixty-issue series (plus the extra bits and bobs reprinted in the collections) over the course of about a month. Normally it'd take me longer to read a run of this length, but as I said earlier, Ennis is just that good, and so is McCrea. The stories slip down.


When writing the above intro, I almost didn't mention the super-powers aspect of Hitman because it often barely seems to matter. The focus is always on the character of Tommy Monaghan and his friends, a crew of fellow hitmen who all hang around in the bar, take jobs and then go back to saidbar to bitch about them. They rip the piss out of each other but always have each other's backs when it comes down to it. It's sweet, in an incredibly violent kinda way.

Zombie sealife - no, it wasn't a joke

And because this is set in the DC universe, where every fantasy or sci-fi genre convention has been introduced somehow, Ennis can throw almost anything at Monaghan and friends, and they just nod wearily and do darkly comic ultraviolence to it. Demons and vampires? Dinosaurs? Zombie sealife? Batman? They're all in here somewhere, having their arseholes filled with grenades. Well, not Batman, he just gets puked on.

But as I say, these clearly aren't the parts that really interest Ennis. The stories where Monaghan and crew mutilate genre standards are usually the fun comic relief storylines between the main ones, which deal with the mob, the military and the real-life consequences of living a life full of ridiculous violence. Especially towards the end, as the constant waves of death start to finally penetrate the main cast, it gets downright sad.

And his super-powers, well, Ennis doesn't seem that bothered. Monaghan can do x-ray vision and telepathy, but their only purpose is to maybe explain why the hero is a little better at surviving gunfights than most. It was the same in Preacher, to be honest - Jesse Custer could compel anyone to do anything via the Word Of God, but tended to just punch them instead.

If you enjoy a charismatic likable-but-doomed anti-hero story, then Hitman is definitely worth a shot. He and his friends are a great ensemble, the jokes are funny, the gunfights and action are beautifully executed by McCrea. Some mainstream artists struggle to make complex fights clear without the shortcut of bright costumes or obvious energy blasts, but McCrea renders the environments clearly and communicates every important move. It really is like a good action movie.

In fact, McCrea nails it when the superheroes show up and when Tommy and friends are hanging around drinking in the bar and when Tommy gets zapped into the future and when the dinosaurs show up and every other thing he's called to draw. The consistency and clarity is a joy to behold.

Ennis says in the text piece that ends the series that he feels like he could've done more Hitman, and I loved the book, so obviously part of me thinks that's a shame. On the other hand, I can also respect the clear beginning, middle and end here. And if the ending isn't the one Ennis was planning, he does a damn good job still making it feel entirely inevitable and necessary.


That was some heartfelt verbal masturbation I just wrote. A real embarrassing outpouring of positivity. Tommy and the guys would hate it. In the name of not seeming like a fanboy, I'll talk a bit about some weaknesses.

The award-winning Superman issue

Yes, if you've read many Garth Ennis comics in the past, you'll notice some recurrence of pet themes. There's male friendship, the consequences of violence, flashback stories about soldiers, a quick trip to Ireland and the need to poke fun at superhero comics (although also an excellent Superman issue where Ennis plays them entirely straight). And yes, he has tackled these things a lot, but as someone who has read a lot of his work: this is one of his best renditions. These elements always feel in service of the story.

Like many 90s-and-earlier comics, it occasionally hits some bum notes when re-read with 2015 cultural sensibilities, but (perhaps due to the PG-13-level content rating), it rarely goes hardcore awful for laughs like Preacher sometimes did. There aren't many women in the supporting cast beyond Monaghan's one love interest - as I say, Ennis clearly wanted to ruminate on male comradeship here. Although to give the book some credit in this paragraph, the all-male crew of hitmen are not too uniformly white.

In short, yes, I loved this series, it was right up my grimly comic, urban-fantastic, Ennis-liking alley. Hitman was kinda ahead of its time - a talented writer/artist team telling their own stories against the backdrop of an established superhero universe, just a few years before the balance in mainstream comics shifted from following franchises/characters to individual creators. If it existed nowadays, it could well be a cult hit. Now that it's finally back available, worth giving it a shot.

NickNoWriQuart - Failure Broadcast

After a few weeks of admin-linking to work elsewhere, a full on-this-website blog post this time - although not a super-long one as I'm going to talk about something I failed to achieve and I don't think dwelling on it for thousands of words is super healthy.

Between that paragraph and the title, regular readers may guess where I'm going - my one-thousand-words-a-day-for-three-months word count challenge did not reach its final goal. To be precise, it wound down a week or so back at around 66k, but due to real-life busywork, writing blogs for other sites and the huge amount of comic-based TV I'm trying to follow, I haven't got round to posting about it for a while.

Still, after going to the trouble of announcing the challenge was happening, I shouldn't gloss over my non-success. Pretty annoying that I chugged along fine for two months on my own and then died off just as everyone else joined in for NaNoWriMo, I must say.

Anyway. Where did it all go wrong?

Plan Vs Reality Vs Words Vs Plan

A lot of my problems can be summed up with this post I wrote in June, which is nice as it saves me typing all that out now. Turns out, planning a new novel in a whole new world is harder work than planning another nice comfy Hobson & Choi book.

My plan didn't entirely fall apart, which is nice - my words were going in the direction I planned, but the way they got there and the circumstances under which the story took place changed so much that I couldn't really keep going. Or rather, I could, but I'd be writing stuff I knew I'd end up deleting and much as I sometimes enjoy the NaNoWriMo forge-ahead-no-matter-what approach, I also don't like knowing beyond all doubt that I'm wasting my own time.

Plus, in terms of progress along my book plan, I'd written sixty-six thousand words to cover plot that should've taken about forty thousand max. So, even if I did my planned ninety-one thousand by the end of this month, I'd never have a full first draft as I barely covered half the story. Not to mention, I don't see much point in writing a new major part if I know huge chunks of the foundations will be removed, but haven't yet decided which ones.

So I've started bashing together a better, more coherent draft of the early chapters, re-using existing material for most of it, but stitched together differently. We'll see. As with all these word count challenges, best to focus on the fact I achieved something. Even if a huge chunk of my 66k gets cut, it all went toward figuring out the world.

...Vs Reality Vs Plans Vs Leeds...

Also unhelpful, I admit, that just as I started wobbling on how to progress the novel, I became incredibly busy all the time so momentum died. I was in the day job a lot, many birthday parties came along, I went to Leeds for Thought Bubble - which was fun, by the way. Saw loads of comics, feel like I want to write some more of them soon.

No idea how that fits in with the novel writing, no. Will try and keep bolting together my better draft.

To be honest, it is with some confusion that I stagger towards the end of 2016. At least I know to start editing H&C4 in early January, that's a pleasing constant. Everything else is in a state of weird flux.

And that's a current writing update, for anyone interested. If you're doing NaNoWriMo, good luck to you - you've just passed halfway, that's gotta feel good. And if you've attempted and failed NaNo, ah well. Stick with me and focus on the fact you wrote something. There could be gold in there somewhere.

ADMIN FOR THE ADMIN GOD - Video reading! Guest blog! Thought Bubble!

Hello! Yes, it's been a few weeks since the last brief admin post and now here's another one. Sorry. Got at least one thing to blog about, but I have to get a train to Leeds in about an hour for reasons you'll discover shortly, so it'll have to wait.

But! I have managed to write a guest blog post for someone else entirely (because I secretly hate you etc), so at least there's something to read. This is on the excellent If These Books Could Talk blog and is me musing about prose serialisation (yes, my pet topic), complete with recent examples and the inevitable bodily fluids joke at the end. It's a good post, check it out.

Outside the written world, I also did a reading at the lovely Big Green Bookshop (where you can now buy all three Hobson & Choi books in print!) as part of the Novel London series. If you couldn't make the reading due to only hearing about it now, that's okay, as Novel London filmed it and the result is now up on YouTube and also embedded below. Note the delicately beautiful product placement of H&C3 in the background.

Thanks to Safeena of Novel London for setting all that up, and if you get the chance to read at or attend a future event, give it a go. It's fun.

Last of all, I am off to Leeds shortly to both visit my godchild (also called Nick, it's weird) and attend one day (Saturday) of the Thought Bubble convention, which I hear on Twitter and many podcasts is one of the best comicon type events in the UK. Excited for that. Do say hello if you'll also be there, I am wandering around by myself so may look scared. I also have a copy or two of The Gathering: Noir anthology featuring my published corporate noir story, so that's exciting.

That is it! I hope to manage a more meaningful blog post next week. Or at least before the end of November.