ROB'S NOTE: May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw). It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year. May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place on the first Saturday of the Month, so I hope you all got to check that out. May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?
Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge. A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best. You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge. It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites. The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form.
Our prompt for Day 12 is a “Great Holiday Comic”
Hitman #22 “The Santa Contract”
Written by Garth Ennis
Pencils by John McCrea
Inks by Steve Pugh
Colors by Carla Feeny
Look, if I am being quite honest I could have probably picked 31 different issues of Hitman to fill out the list. The series really was that damn good. But I wanted some diversity in the list because the idea was to expose people to a bunch of different comic books they may have never encountered before. That being said this is the holiday issue that, to me, stands out as the one I remember the best.
My usual issue with holiday issues is that they tend to tell the same story just in various different ways. It is completely understandable though given the circumstances in which they are written. Writing a 6 issue trade arc centered around Christmas or Valentine’s Day makes little sense as the holiday seasons don’t last that long (no matter what big consumerism tells us about Christmas). Today most holiday issues get released as “special” issues that don’t fit into continuity in anyway, so they tend to be “done in one” stories. Given the movement towards decompression in comics an easy way to do a single issue story is to take a familiar story (Say “A Christmas Carol”) and then plug in existing characters into the roles of the familiar story (Say Hawkeye as Scrooge, Captain America as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Iron Man as the Ghost of Christmas Future…. Actually I’ll stop now as I think I want to pitch this to Marvel). What usually happens is an enjoyable, slightly cheesy, and ultimately disposable book that doesn’t stick with you.
Unless you are Garth “F’n” Ennis.
“The Santa Contract” picks up on one of the great reoccurring gags of the series (for background on Hitman you can go back to the entry on Day 1). There is a research facility in the Cauldron that isn’t exactly concerned with things like safety, ethics, or the lives of their subjects. Every so often an experiment or accident will give somebody powers and turn them into a rampaging monster, as comic science often does. When this happens, the facility has Hitman on speed dial and he takes care of the problem. On Christmas ever an accident infuses a man with radioactivity and he decides to become a super-hero. The problem is, his power is basically to kill anybody who he touches and “Death-Man” probably isn’t going to be invited to join the Justice League. Deciding to become a super-villain instead, he dons a Santa costume and begins to wreak havoc on the last minute shoppers out on Christmas Eve (last minute shopping is deadly people). Our “hero?” Tommy is called in, and with his best friend Natt the Hatt, they are given to job of killing the radioactive Santa Claus.
Oh, did I mention that all the narration is a rewriting of “T’was the Night Before Christmas?” Yeah, that’s right.
While Ennis is often seen as a cynical writer, especially with his takes on superheroes what is often overlooked is his sentimentality towards things that he legitimately enjoys or respects. As I said before, the best Superman story ever is in Hitman #34 and what makes that work is the respect he has for Superman as the “ideal” hero. Here Ennis, in a very odd way, pays tribute to the idea of family through the relationship of Tommy and Nat while at the same time taking a piss on the consumerism of the holiday season.
Even with the hidden sentiment in the issue the fact of the matter is this issue is just plain hilarious. Ennis’ verses along with McCrea’s depiction of a murderous Santa Claus are legitimately laugh out loud funny at certain points. And of course what Christmas story is complete without a lesson learned at the end.
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