We looked at Tommy Monaghan's origin in Ennis and McCrea's run on The Demon, but today we're looking at his own ongoing series. I'm pretty sure Hitman ran for more issues than every other book starring Bloodlines characters combined, even if it wasn't much of a superhero book. Monaghan supposedly tried to develop a market as a hired killer of super-powered folks, but he spent as much time killing dumbass mob guys in suits as he did fighting demons from Hell or anything like that.
John McCrea makes it all work. His regular people look like regular people. Saggy chins, big noses, ill-fitting clothes, stupid expressions. People glowering in menace or sneering in contempt. But he can also exaggerate when need be, whether he's drawing a multi-limbed demon from Hell, or a radioactive Santa, or Sixpack dropping a noticeable load in his drawers at the sight of said demon. He can draw dinosaurs and pretentious vampires, conjoined twins where one is a rotting corpse, morbidly obese people being used a bullet shields. Whatever Ennis needs, McCrea's got it covered.
I've not read Preacher, or really much Ennis outside this and his Punisher stuff, but I feel like this is his best, in terms of being able to mix tone. There's the large amounts of violence, which is sometimes played for laughs, and sometimes for horror. McCrea's versatility shines here, as he can do the slapstick aspects of the violence, like "Nightfist" leaping in through a window and being shot to literal pieces by an army of goons. But he can also handle the moments where the violence is meant to be sickening or sad, usually by only hinting at it. When Tommy and Natt find Pat in his bathtub, McCrea never shows us what exactly Johnny Navarone did to Pat. But we see a bathtub full of blood, we see Pat's pale skin and bloodshot eyes, and how quick Natt is to leave when Tommy drains the tub. The fact Tommy considers shooting Pat a mercy.
Ennis and McCrea work in a lot about how guys interact, not only busting each other's chops (especially everyone giving Hacken shit), or how they're constantly finding something to compete over, but also in how their own ideas of what being a man is means they aren't any good at telling each other how they feel, and the things that leaves unsaid. Again, McCrea's very good at making Tommy and the others seem human in the expressions and reactions, whether they're cracking up, swooning over Catwoman, or trying to process grief and anger.
I think one of my favorites, besides the double-page splash above, which is Tommy dealing with loss, comes in issue #36, when Tommy's learned the truth about his parentage, and confronts the man responsible for wiping out his family. Tommy's anger just bubbles off the page in how he's gritting his teeth and jabbing towards the guy (and us) with his finger. Then he shoots the guy, and there's a panel of us looking up and Tommy's distant, just watching. After he shoots him once more, McCrea draws Tommy as a dark outline, the only color the smoke from the gun barrel, as Tommy remarks, 'This is gonna piss me off forever.' That quiet acknowledgement that he hasn't ultimately been able to help or solve anything.
Monaghan's an interesting character. A killer-for-hire, but one with lines he refuses to cross. A guy more than willing to use his X-ray vision to check out a lady, or his telepathy to figure out her favorite food to improve his odds on a date, but also with enough decency to apologize when he fucks up, and to not make fun of his on-again, off-again girlfriend Tiegel when she admits she's virgin. To ultimately tell Tiegel she ought to get away from him, because he's only going to fuck up her life. It's something that gets commented on by a lot of other characters, how confusing they find it that Tommy can be perfectly willing to casually murder people, but even if a lion is threatening his life, he won't kill it, or how carefully he looks after the people he considers "his." Containing multitudes, and all that.
The whole series is Tommy steadily getting himself into bigger and bigger messes, surviving by the skin of his teeth or dumb luck. All the time, the people around him are getting whittled down. They die, or they get the hell out because they see the writing on the wall. Tommy talks about making a big payday and moving to New York, leaving professional killing behind, but it always has the manner of a dream to it. Something he talks about while sitting on the couch staring at the ceiling. Maybe someday, but, with apologies to Creedance, someday never comes. Maybe if Tommy didn't have his rules, he could get away, but he does. So he stays, and every attempt to dig himself out of a hole that started with his first appearance in The Demon Annual, just gets him in deeper. It's a little like GrimJack in that regard, the messes just building on each other and building on each other. Tommy killed his way into this, but he can kill his way out.
It's a book that can have a two-part story titled "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium," and a one-off issue where a hired killer helps out Superman when he's feeling low, and neither issue feels out of place. It's one of my favorite series, period.