4 out of 5
Here’s that wonderful Moral Quandary Ennis who likes to pop up between more raucous arcs on his ongoing books; the character writer who can twist a book about a mutant hitman that features a mobster called Men’s Room Louie – who always sits on a toilet – and a ‘superhero group’ with a member whose power is to accidentally shoot his teammates and somehow divert it into heartfelt territory, with key moments that are truly striking and thoughtful.
This combo was maybe more notable in Preacher, being an “adult” book with “adult” themes, but that it shows up in an off-brand canonical DC book – still quite a ways before comics had earned more mainstream legitimacy – is certainly surprising, and moreso if you were fresh to Garth and had only experienced his lead-in hijinks.
Not that Who Dares Wins is bereft of hijinks – with the aforementioned Louie a notable character and a shootout in a burger joint involving an interesting choice for a barricade – but as our bad guys are undeniably human this time (i.e. Not demons or mutants), Garth takes the opportunity to make the terror come from the sudden internal struggle Tommy and Nat must deal with, faced with their very real and likely mortality at the hands of undeniably superior foes, and then the extra cherry on top of humanizing our villains: questioning the Why of their actions. This all percolates in a quiet moment of reflection for Tommy, looking at his gun and realizing the distance it offers him from his actions.
Heady stuff for Hitman. But back to bullets a’blazin’.
Garth picks up on a side story from a few issues ago to bring Tommy and Nat’s past back to haunt them. McCrea tones down his insanity to match the more grounded vibe, and as inked by Leach, the book looks phenomenal – moody as Hell. However, as a five issue arc, plus an epilogue, though it digs into deeper ground than prior arcs, it doesn’t really know what to do with what its dug up: Garth circles around the same questions and conversations several times, clearly unsure how far to swing the balance of opinion either way before Tommy is no longer a comic badass and the bad guys are no longer bad guys. And in later years he would learn to explore this more, but it’s still great to see the thoughts in something of a formative state, and applied to what ends up being a pretty tense and thrilling set of issues.