Superman is the most iconic character in comics, sorry, Batman, but writers often have trouble putting him in decent stories. This is partly because of his powers; when someone is invulnerable and super strong, it takes a lot to make the audience believe he’s in danger. I’d argue that it’s his reputation as the “Big Blue Boy Scout” and the belief that his personality is boring that impacts writers the most.
It took the last comic creator anyone expected to drill down to the essence of Superman and sum up how the world views the character through a D-level DC character known for murdering people. Garth Ennis, the creator of The Boys, is well known for thinking the concept of superheroes is flawed and usually deconstructs them in his work. Yet, in Hitman #34, Ennis wrote the most reverential and respectful take on Superman in the history of DC Comics.
Garth Ennis, known for his counterculture take on superheroes, summed up what Superman means to the public in the landmark Hitman #34.
Tommy Monaghan, aka Hitman, has the superpower of X-ray vision and the regular power of having no moral issue killing people for human. Moments before Superman lands on the same rooftop in Gotham, Tommy is looking down the sights of a rifle at his next target. Given the scope of Garth Ennis’ work and every other encounter Tommy has with a superhero throughout his series, it was assumed that Hitman would have horrible things to say about Superman.
That was not the case, and instead, Superman, despondent over failing to save one life while responding to an accident in space, in which he saved everyone else, gets a pep talk from Tommy. Once Superman expresses his fear that the dying astronaut’s last thought was, “Superman didn’t save me,” Tommy feels the need to step in and put the Last Son of Krypton straight.
Though the speech bubbles are coming from Tommy Monaghan, the words are from Garth Ennis, and even now, nearly 30 years later, they ring true and get to the essence of what Superman is all about: he’s the best of us. It’s similar to the monologue given by Bill (David Carradine) in Kill Bill Vol. 2, and when held up against most modern depictions of Superman, it’s clear why the character is so hard to get right. Can you imagine Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel interpretation on the receiving end of this speech?
Of course not, that Superman resorted to murder.
Superman, his spirits lifted, signs a magazine for Tommy, assuming it’s for his little girl because, well, we just read a whole speech about how Superman always sees the best in everyone. It’s for the boys at the bar, but the real punch line comes when Tommy, without missing a beat, picks the gun back up and finishes his job.
Though the speech bubbles are coming from Tommy Monaghan, the words are from Garth Ennis, and even now, nearly 30 years later, they ring true and get to the essence of what Superman is all about: he’s the best of us.
Hitman #34 is still talked about today because of those scenes with Superman and Tommy, which have yet to be matched in any media. Since this was published, there have been two Superman television shows and two solo movies, and not one of them has shown the character that comic fans loved for decades. Even in the comics, writers have spent their time deconstructing Kal-El by having him walk across America, revealing his identity as Clark Kent, and aging up his son so that the father-son dynamic is forever altered.
When James Gunn reboots the DC Universe in theaters, there’s hope that he’ll focus on a version of Superman closer to the one shown in Hitman #34 and far removed from Injustice.
Superman is supposed to be a powerful alien raised by middle-American farmers who embodies everything good about being human. He wants to do good because it’s the right thing to do, and over the years, his slogan of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” was updated to be instead “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.” Batman leaves criminals in traction, Aquaman is concerned over Atlantis, Wonder Woman is a warrior first, and Green Lantern sometimes goes insane and destroys the timeline, leaving Superman as DC’s “goody two-shoes” hero.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, Superman comics are at their best when that’s the version of the character readers are getting, even if he has a mullet at the time. It took Garth Ennis, the man who wrote the best Punisher stories for Marvel, creator of Preacher and The Boys, to say what megastar writers and directors forgot in the decades since.
When James Gunn reboots the DC Universe in theaters, there’s hope that he’ll focus on a version of Superman closer to the one shown in Hitman #34 and far removed from Injustice. Superman is a Big Blue Boy Scout, and that’s what makes him one of the best characters of all time.