No, no no, not Leprechauns or those quasi pornographic elves who were so popular back in the early nineties (prompting my sister to call comics “sick books with elves”). I mean ordinary people, working stiffs as the Americans might say. You and me. People who are not superheroes or politicians.
This title was prompted by a stroke of good luck that saw me pick up about thirty-six issues of Garth Ennis and John McRea`s `Hitman`. Is there anyone who doesn’t know this? Well, for those who came in late, as they say in The Phantom, Hitman is a story about a thuggish Irish-American hitman who is bitten by an alien vampire thing. He survives this but is left with x-ray vision and telepathy, although the telepathy gives him a headache and he doesn’t use it very often. He continues being a hitman, although he prefers to hit only super people, `metahumans` as one of the characters calls them. The comic is a hoot and a holler, cheerfully taking the piss out of vampires, super-heroes, giant dinosaurs and other staples of the world of comics. Incidentally, the dinosaur stuff is a very funny take on the old 2000 AD story `Flesh` and its` various sequels.
All well and good, and if the mysterious fan who sold all these back issues to the Blue Parrot bookshop hadn’t removed every fifth or sixth issue I`d be as happy as a clam. As it is, I’m as happy as a clam who is trying to find the Hitman books on the internet. What got to me was the ads.
There are two kinds of ad in DC comics. There are a stream of ads for figurines and statues; you too can own a nine-inch tall Wonder Woman statue or a model of the city Superman came from. The other ads are for other DC comics, reasonably enough. There are a lot of these. An awful lot. What if Batman was French? Robin teams up with Poison Ivy. Superman as he would be in renaissance Turkey. Catwoman meets about eight other female characters and they fight to the death whilst comparing unfeasible breasts.
I exaggerate but only slightly. I’m sure there are a lot of good stories out there. But the effect on me was kind of suffocating. Does anyone buy all of this stuff? Where do they keep it? Doesn’t it cut down on the available space for Wonder Woman figurines? It all feels a bit claustrophobic.
Ironically, the Hitman stories have a bit of a shot at this. Ennis is happy with Hitman and has a lot of fun with his own bunch of superheroes such as DogWelder (who welds dogs to people) and Defenestrator (a terminator parody who… oh, look it up), but his story is published by DC and is set in the DC Universe (DCU as it is called in the letters page). Green Lantern makes an appearance and seems to be a bit of a dick, there`s a lovely scene in which the Hitman just walks out on Green Lantern while the super person is making a speech about the flame of justice glowing brighter in the dark and so on. Lobo, a super powered latin thug, drops in and the barman and Hitman drop cigar ash in his beer, and worse, while he`s busy telling everyone how hard he is. I haven’t read any Lobo, apart from one cross-over he did with Judge Dredd, but the parody is funny anyway. Six-pack, a drunk who thinks he`s a superhero (and who seems to come straight from Viz`s `brown bottle`) starts a petition for Superman to go back to his old hair-style.
Thank God for Garth Ennis, except for on the many occasions he`s less than perfect.
I wasn’t aware that there was a DCU, but it seems to be a place in which every DC character co-exists and inter-relates in some fantastic Byzantine way which makes continuity buffs very happy and which give me a mild migraine. Just dipping into it makes me want to have a lie down and read something with only one character. In the Hitman stories, the hero is often stuck in a grimy little bar with only his deranged alcoholic mates for company, while dinosaurs, vampires or inter-dimensional demons roam the streets outside. This seems like a perfect metaphor for life in the DCU, surrounded by super-whatnots on all sides, ordinary people are just squeezed in to the gaps between super events.
This made me all the more grateful for 2000 AD and especially Judge Dredd. Life in Mega City one isn’t easy and the citizens must often wish they lived in some other Mega City which wasn’t the back ground for Judge Dredd`s adventures, but the people of the nutsy city itself are important to the story. It’s a truism about Judge Dredd`s stories that the city is the world, but I think there`s something in it, more so if you change it to `the people are the world`. My feeling with the DCU is that the people are there so that there will be someone to react to the superheroes. With Dredd I feel that the people were there before him.
I should add, in a vain attempt to placate any DC fans who’ve made it this far, that I haven’t read anywhere near enough DC stories to do their universe justice and that DC fans may well see things differently to me. Who knows, if I had read enough and the time, I might well be an expert on the umpteen Green Lanterns and Batman`s numerous companions. But I’m not, I’m just a reader who is flat out keeping up with 2000 AD and working out how to ask for the Hitman books for Christmas.