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Comic Book / Button Man

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A man breaks into a psychologist's home late at night. He tearfully tells the doctor that he is a murderer, that the voices tell him to kill and that he can't stop...

However, the man is not insane. He is Harry Exton, former soldier and one of the titular "button men". A modern-day gladiator, pitted against other career killers like himself by a handler known as a "Voice" in battles, sometimes to death, Harry now wants out. But the Voices have other ideas.

Button Man was co-created by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson, and ran in 2000 AD in four separate series in 1992, 1994, 2001 and 2007. A film adaptation is currently in Development Hell, though it appears that a TV series has been optioned instead.

Button Man contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Millions of pounds are bet on every single Game. It's explicitly mentioned that a modestly wealthy person who becomes a Voice for a talented button man can become obscenely rich.
  • Ass Shove: In the climax of "The Killing Game", the rules state that Harry can only carry eight rounds in a single handgun. This is checked before the match, while his opponents get automatic weaponry. His opponents note how many times he's fired and one of them believes that they have him dead to rights after Harry has fired eight times. He's very surprised when Harry shoots him. Harry explains that he's kept a couple of extra rounds "where the sun don't shine" just in case.
  • Badass Longcoat: Harry tends to wear a long black trenchcoat when participating in games in built up areas. It's likely that it makes concealment of weapons that much easier.
  • Badass Preacher: One of Harry's early opponents is a shotgun-toting button man in a vicar's robe.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: One of the Voices confirms that several of the people involved with covering up the Killing Game are high-placed police constables. On one occasion, a pair of cops are sent to kill Harry, but try to catch him off guard by claiming they have news about the woman who has been masquerading as his wife. Harry sees through this because their holsters are unsnapped.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: After Harry blackmails Senator Jacklin, his former handler Cora offers to run away with Harry after she already tried to have him killed. When he tells her to go to hell, she prepares to shoot him, but the Senator shoots her first to protect his own interests.
  • Better with Non-Human Company: Harry takes in a stray dog one night and becomes best buddies with it. Cora remarks that he's better with animals than with people.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Adele is rather proficient with throwing knives and shurikens in that every edged weapon she throws hits something.
  • Blood Knight: Harry Exton becomes a pretty notorious Button Man because he prefers to kill all his opponents, whereas wounding them is considered sufficient to win a match and actualy preferred as it leaves the Button Man available for further matches.
  • Bloodsport: The events in "The Game" are essentially gladiatorial combats, usually with firearms in remote areas, and the rules decided by the Voices.
  • Booby Trap: Harry is prety adept at making them, setting various traps in the forest near his home turf to take out all the other Button Men who are after him. Unfortunately however, his best friend Wiley walks into one by mistake.
  • Carnival of Killers: When Harry's leverage on Senator Jacklin becomes useless after the latter's death, the Voices organize a massive game by sending thirteen other Button Men to go after Harry in a cross-country hunt. They get into each other's way to get to Harry a bunch of times, which is handily exploited by him.
  • Chronic Villainy: After years of trying to get away from the Killing Game and living in peace, Harry finds himself drawn back when he runs out of funds, plus the simple fact that he enjoys these duels to the death and is damn good at it.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Harry has found himself unwittingly becoming the target of hired guns or other Button Men on occasion after he tries to get out of the Game.
  • Corrupt Politician: The Voices, the people who pay for and organize the duels to the death between the Button Men, includes several politicians.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Subverted. Harry makes a token attempt to disguise one of his kills as a suicide, but one of the cops who were pursuing the two men exchanging gunshots in broad daylight immediately notes that it doesn't explain multiple entry wounds all over the body and tells his men to keep looking for the other shooter.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Harry prefers to fight on familiar ground, whether it involves scouting a location well in advance or luring his opponents somewhere where he already has traps set up. At the climax of "The Killing Game", Harry keeps an extra couple of rounds "where the sun don't shine" to supplement the paltry eight the rules allow him to use for that particular match.
  • The Dreaded: Harry survives so many Games at such incredible odds that he eventually becomes feared as a walking incarnation of death, to the point that even the Voices are terrified of him.
  • Dwindling Party: When Harry is pursued by a Carnival of Killers, he proceeds to off them one by one. Especially the last eight who unite at his cabin in Montana are killed in alarmingly fast order.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Harry is a brutal and efficient killer in the Killing Game, but when he was called in to take out Adele's father along with three other guys to punish the man for trying to get out of the Game, he refused on the basis that he's not some cheap thug for hire.
  • Faking the Dead: Convinced that the Voices will never stop following him unless they think he's already dead, Harry arranges his own "death" by cutting of his finger to a Button Man that is required to confirm a kill. He later kills the other for real just to be sure he wouldn't talk either.
  • Fed to Pigs: Well, chickens, but the principle is the same. A Wood Chipper of Doom is involved.
  • Feeling Their Age: When Harry faces Adele in a Game, she manages to get the drop on him much to his surprise. He quickly regains the upper hand as he's still the best Button Man alive despite his advancing age, but he notes that he would have easily dispatched her if he were a bit younger.
  • Fingore: A disgraced button man can leave a "marker", i.e. a finger, in lieu of being killed. However, you only have three markers, the next time you lose, you die.
  • Gangland Drive-By: Ugly John tries to kill Harry several times, at one point by driving up to him in a car and firing a machine gun at him in a city street.
  • Gun Porn: There's a serious amount of closeups on various weapons used by Button Men during the course of the strip.
  • Guns Akimbo: Harry and Carl exploit this trope in their two-on-two match against a pair of Welshmen. Carl gives his rifle to Harry, who fires it in tandem with his own weapon from cover to make it appear they are both still behind the wall, while Carl sneaks around and flanks them with his pistol.
  • The Handler: The Voices are this to the Button Men.
  • He Knows Too Much: Offing is standard procedure of dealing with anyone who knows too much about the killing game. Even Harry himself has tied up some loose ends of his own.
  • Hired Guns: Harry and Carl are ex-mercenaries who fought in various conflicts in The '80s. Turns out that the Game is much more lucrative.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Hunts in wooded areas are not an uncommon type of event.
  • I Have a Family: One Button Woman, Jackie, tries to use this excuse with Harry by showing him a picture of her children. It doesn't work.
  • Impairment Shot: After Harry is tricked into drinking a beverage laced with hallucinogens, the art style becomes very blurry to reflect his intoxation.
  • Impersonating an Officer: At least one Button Man posed as an FBI officer during the killing game.
  • Leave No Witnesses: After Harry kills another Button Man disguised as an FBI agent in a motel, Ugly John investigates the scene and kills the clerk who witnessed this too.
  • Likes Older Men: Invoked by Adele when she visits a high society party to find one of the people responsible for her father's murder, a middle-aged Scottish businessman. She seduces him by openly declaring that she has a thing for older men.
  • Moe Greene Special: Harry kills a one eyed button man by shooting him through his eyepatch.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Harry infiltrates Senator Jacklin's heavily guarded mansion in Florida by sneaking in through the swamps. He feeds several security guards to the alligators.
  • Not Worth Killing: After Cora implores Harry to leave at least some of his targets alive so as not to discourage sponsors from sending their own champions against him, he disposes of a relative newcomer by remarking that he's "not worth killing", but still cuts off his finger with an industrial meat saw. The same man faces him again in a later game. Harry isn't as merciful that time around.
  • Off with His Head!: Harry kills his first voice by decapitating him with a kitchen knife and dumping the head in his own fishtank.
  • Playing Drunk: Ringo uses this as a way to get opponents to underestimate him by splashing whiskey on his clothes and drinking ginger ale. It doesn't seem to be that effective a tactic for him, as by the time Harry faces off against him, he's already lost two markers and he leaves his glass of ginger ale behind for Harry to deduce that he's sober.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Harry agrees to let the person he is there to kill pour them both a drink, clearly expecting his drink to contain a sedative. So he switches the drinks and the other guy "accidentally" spills his, confirming Harry's suspicions. Then it turns out that both drinks were drugged, and the poisoner just spilled the drink to fool Harry into thinking the other one was safe. Of course he's also immune to his own drug.
  • Professional Killer: Button Men are trained to take part in "The Game", a Blood Sport where they take on other Button Men on behalf of their sponsors.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Harry's secret handler in the first album turns out to be a renowned psychologist—the same one he's relating his story to. Harry notes that he was especially interested in the gory details of the kills he committed on his orders.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Button Men (participants in underground gladiatorial combats) are promised huge sums at the end of their "careers", but none of them are supposed to exit the Killing Game alive.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Adele systematically hunts down the men who killed her father, which includes a man she knows only as "Harry X", but who is most likely already dead. She eventually agrees to a one-one-one match against Harry Exton after he turns up alive, but he reveals that he opted out when he was called in to take out her father, so they team up against the Voices instead.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Harry has killed nearly all of the thirteen other Button Men sent against him, one of the last three decides to get the hell out of dodge and even tells his handler to stick it when he gets a call. This is immediately subverted when mere seconds later Harry shoots him with a sniper rifle before he can even attempt to escape.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Subverted in book 2. One of Senator Jacklin's mooks fires at Harry with one, but hasn't a hope of hitting him. Harry notes that in the right situation, a shotgun is a good choice, just not the present moment.
  • Shout-Out: Perkins Motel is mentioned in book 3.
  • Spiteful Spit: Before a four-way match in the desert, an opponent by the name of "Crow" spits at Harry's feet when he notes that the guy is late.
    Crow: Sorry about that.
    Harry: You will be.
  • Taking You with Me: After Harry fatally wounds another Button Man, he tries to kill them both with a grenade, but Harry jumps out of the way in time.
  • Too Dumb to Live: One of the Voices in book 3 is Michael Da Silva, a Hollywood movie producer who gets the bright idea to make a fiction movie about the Killing Game. He doesn't just take the general premise and put his own spin on it. He apparently adapts the real game wholesale, down to calling the contestants "button men" and taking fingers as mark of victory in the movie. Other Voices are understandably furious about his idiocy, he is brought in to police questioning when there is a series of killings with details that match the movie, and finally Harry kills Da Silva just for being a smug prick and an idiot.
  • Tracking Device: When the Voices organize a thirteen-on-one game against Harry, they plant a tracking device on Harry so that their own Button Men can stay on top of him at all times. It turns out to be inside a tooth that he had recently had fixed.
  • Villain Protagonist: Harry's not exactly a pleasant chap to begin with, but his time in the game reveals much of his true nature. Even other Button Men are scared shitless of him due to his propensity to kill his opponents when taking their marker is sufficient.
  • The Voice: The handlers are referred to as "Voices" because they are only heard over the telephone, never seen. After Harry turns the tables and begins to hunt the Voices, they are given faces and names.
  • Waif-Fu: Adele primarily uses her highly trained martial art skills to take on opponents several times her size.
  • Won't Do Your Dirty Work: Harry Exton has no problem taking other lives for money, but usually these are other Button Men who chose to fight Harry for the same reason. On at least one occasion Harry is called up for an execution job by his employers, only to refuse when he learns that the target is an innocent man with no combat experience, telling the other men assembled to do it themselves before leaving.
  • You Killed My Father: As a young girl, Adele witnesses a group of men murder her father while she hid in the closet, apparently including a man named "Harry X". She grows up swearing to get revenge against her father's killers and Harry in particular.