Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Hitman #22, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1998. Enjoy!
Hitman is a superb comic (it’s true!) and the Christmas issue is a typical Garth Ennis comic, with extremely black, bleak humor and lots of gruesome deaths. On this page, John McCrea gives us two dichotomous images – Natt the Hat has just given Tommy his Christmas present, which mocks Tommy’s relationship with the ex-cop, and McCrea makes sure that Natt is enjoying the prank. In Panel 2, McCrea shifts to the dead Santa, which is a horrific image. Tommy and Natt killed the Santa and left his body to rot, and McCrea has always been good drawing violence and its aftermath. So Santa’s beard is falling off, his face is pockmarked (not from the gun shots), he’s leaking intestines, and his right leg is shredded and the bottom is missing. Tommy and Natt drove into him with their car before they killed him, which explains why he’s such a wreck. Carla Feeny, who colored this page, dulls the red in Santa’s costume and turns his skin ashen, which mutes the holiday spirit nicely. It’s a tragic image, but it’s supposed to be, so McCrea and Feeny do their job.
The story is about a dude who accidentally gets irradiated (hence his pockmarked face) and, as happens in comics, becomes a radioactive monster, killing everyone he touches. The dude who knocked him into the radiation vat was dressed as Santa, so when Bob Smurd – that’s his name – climbed out of the tank, he grabbed the suit and went on a rampage. Tommy and Natt were hired to kill him, and so they did. That’s why Natt was able to afford a present for Tommy, because their finances were looking a little thin. Ennis, you’ll note, writes this in Seussian rhyme, as the entire book is a riff on the Grinch – Bob is not a fan of Christmas, which is why he dresses as Santa to go on his spree, and just before Tommy and Natt kill him, he claims he’s repented … but they don’t believe him. So instead of redemption, Ennis lets us know that if we’re not merry at Christmas, we just “might get two in the back of [our] miserable head[s] …” The humor of the book, of course, comes from the silly verse that describes the horrible things that are happening. Yes, it’s bleak, but the way Ennis writes it makes it uncomfortably humorous. Willie Schubert, meanwhile, does his usual job with the “normal” lettering, but he does a really nice job with the verse – the lettering looks a bit old-fashioned, which lends it a charming nostalgic air even as it’s describing the terrible events of the book.
Yes, this is not a cheery Christmas comic, but Ennis does at least show that Bob Smurd was a miserable bastard who only tried to repent when he was faced with death. Would it be too difficult to be “groovy and cool to each other” for one day each year, or maybe all year? I don’t think so! Merry Christmas, everyone!
Next: For the last week of the year, I’m doing the final pages of some of my favorite comics. They might or might not have great final pages, but they are issues I really dig. So yes, we’ll see some writers and artists and even characters we’ve seen many times this year. Deal with it! We’ll start with the first comic I ever bought! Long-time readers might recall what that is, but if you don’t, stop by tomorrow and check it out! You can find the character featured in it quite often in the archives!