Garth Ennis: Blood and Grit

Posted 9 years ago by myetvmedia

Born during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Garth Ennis made a name for himself with over the top action, grit, guns and gratuitous swearing. Although never one to shy away from gore, he often shoots in some genuinely powerful character moments, made all the more effecting by the chaos that fills his stories. He has been announced as a special guest at this year’s Fanexpo, so for anyone wondering who the hell he is, here’s a recommended reading list.

Kev

“There are billions like him down there. And they’ll take a long, long time to change their ways. Most never will.”

Following an especially bad date, young Kev Hawkins decides to join the army after confirming England was not at war with anyone. Then gets stationed in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. The actions he is ordered to take while there results in both the IRA and the Ulster Defence Force declaring open season on him. Following this, he spends some time protecting British interests, like fighting smugglers in India or guarding a cabinet minister. The latter case becomes legend as “The thing with the tiger.” Cast out in disgrace, he earns his keep by doing some unsavoury things for the government. Across three volumes, he finds himself fighting superheroes, aliens, terrorists, zombies and ninjas, and even gets involved in a scandalous tape involving Margaret Thatcher and Saddam Hussein. Dark, violent, hilarious, the perfect blend of dark humour and action, with a character that grows throughout the story, a rare thing in comics.

Hellblazer

“How can we expect our dear lord god to welcome his fallen angel back into the fold, to love the unlovable– if we ourselves turn our Satanic bretheren away from our door? Please, Mrs Potter. In the name of universal peace: share your hymnbook with Lord Gorgamoth Scumflagon.”

Created by the legendary Alan Moore, John Constantine is the world’s greatest magician. He drinks, he fights, he gambles, he is as far from the traditional image of a magician as possible. One of the most complex characters in comics, Constantine was the perfect fit for Ennis. The hard edge to his writing shines in a world of pregnant men, drug abuse, eldritch abominations, faustian deals and broken hearts. “ This is your world. Eyelids slit off and babies on hooks. Guttings and rapings. I swear to fuck, yours is the kind of life serial killers wank off to.” Dragging him through cancer, homelessness, insanity and crushing despair, Ennis is the writer to beat when it comes to Hellblazer. His entire run is encapsulated in one quote, a shot at the vampire king: “Can you go for a walk in the park and hear the birds sing in the morning? Can you kiss a girl and know she loves you? Can you go out and get pissed with your mates? I can. And just so we’re sure who’s better off, why don’t we sit here together and watch the sun come up in an hour or so?” Often funny, rarely cheerful, Constantine grabs what joy he can in a world he hates, and Ennis is perfectly suited to that.

Punisher MAX

“Wouldn’t want to write the X-Men, and I suppose the X-Men is the ultimate Marvel comic, and I really wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it at all, although on the other had I wouldn’t mind having a crack at something like the Punisher.” The Punisher is a strange beast. While Captain America represents the best ideals of soldiers, Frank Castle embodies the worst. He ruthlessly hunts down criminals and murders them. Which is a bit of a problem in a universe where guys in Hallowe’en costumes throw women off bridges but still be back in a few months to do it all over again. And selling toys is even harder. So Castle was stuck in this weird limbo where he couldn’t really show what he was capable of, and we got some very strange stories, like Archie meets the Punisher.

This happened. Then Ennis took a job writing Punisher under the Marvel Knights imprint, and the character never looked back. Darker and angrier than anything else Ennis has produced, it ran from 2000 to 2008, moving from Marvel Knights to Marvel Max in 2003. Ennis had one rule, bad guys don’t get more than two stories. Refusing to give Frank a recurring enemy, or arch-nemesis, the series was instantly grounded. Frank is not an invincible hero, he’s an unstoppable force of revenge. This is not a superhero story, this is a vigilante story, and a damn good one.

Preacher

“You gotta be one of the good guys, son, ’cause there’s way too many of the bad.”

One of the best comics ever produced, Preacher hits every point Ennis has ever tried to make, and it does it with style, grace, and some of the best action in comics. Combining a road trip with a pilgrimage to find God, Preacher has Jesse Custer, lapsed priest, his girlfriend Tulip, and a hard-drinking, drug abusing Irish vampire named Cassidy guided across America by the ghost of John Wayne in search of God. Because Jesse has decided to kill him.

Part road trip, part action movie, part history lesson, Jesse crosses paths with cowboys, angels, a failed suicide/country-western singer, the Patron Saint of Murder, the French and a conspiracy involving the bloodline of Jesus Christ himself. A magnificent rant about friends, family, love, religion, hate and what it means to be a man, and a reminder of how much fun watching good guys kicking ass can be.

Donal O’Connor

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