Garth Ennis (born 16 January 1970) is a Comic Book writer from Holywood, Northern Ireland, known for his love of graphic violence and Black Comedy and his intense dislike of organized religion and the superhero genre (he holds Wolverine in particular contempt). As you can imagine, he has developed quite the devoted amount of detractors among some people in the comics community, but at his best, Ennis writes with engaging intensity, fierce humanity and complete fearlessness.
While he is rather fond of author tracts, his excellent plotting and grasp of character voice can make them work (assuming you can stomach the subject matter). Many of his characters function as Badass Longcoats, but he is also very good at writing down-to-earth, mortal characters as well (Agent Clive in Unknown Soldier, Tommy in Hitman, Kev in The Authority). There are actually exceptions to his well-known loathing of superheroes too - the main one being none other than Superman himself, and he has admitted a soft spot for Spider-Man and Wonder Woman as well; Ennis writes Superman, in particular, with complete and total respect. Also known for his love of war stories (practically a Dead Horse Genre in comics) and reminding us of the sacrifices, bastardry and many Crowning Moments Of Awesome in World War II and other wars.
His most famous works are his four-year run on Marvel's adults-only MAX imprint version of The Punisher (a.k.a. The Punisher MAX) and Preacher, which he co-created with artist Steve Dillon. Two of his works, Preacher and The Boys, have been adapted into TV series.
He has written for:
- Judge Dredd
- Ghost Rider
- Dan Dare
- Unknown Soldier
- Enemy Ace: War In Heaven
- The Punisher
- Fury MAX
- Fury: My War Gone By
- The Boys - Inglourious Basterds meets Super Heroes; A squad of Sociopathic Heroes cause all sorts of hell for the local Villain with Good Publicity Smug Supers.
- The Pro - A foul-mouthed hooker gets superpowers, then gets inducted into an Expy Justice League.
- Just a Pilgrim - A group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland encounter a tough gunslinger who leads them. He turns out to be a psychopathic cannibal and his leadership gets them enmeshed in a conflict that leaves them all dead.
- Preacher - A preacher with a Dark and Troubled Past finds himself the Right Man in the Wrong Place, empowered with a Compelling Voice and makes a vow to use it to Call The Old Man Out - by the Old Man I mean God. Adapted into a television series in 2016.
- Hitman - An underrated series about Tommy Monaghan, a hitman with superpowers who operates in the mainstream DCU.
- Crossed - 28 Days Later meets "The Screwfly Solution"; a mysterious plague turns numerous people into psychotic rapists with crosslike scars on their face.
- 303 - A Russian soldier discovers a well-kept secret about the American President and sets out to exact revenge, using an old Lee-Enfeld .303 rifle with one bullet left. Readable, but very much an anti-Bush II revenge fantasy.
- The Chronicles of Wormwood - Danny Wormwood, cable TV producer, is the Antichrist, and his best buddy Jay is the second coming of Christ. Many people want them to bring about the Apocalypse, but they aren't willing to play ball.
- Jennifer Blood - A woman is a loving housewife by day, and a crusading vigilante by night. Ennis appears to have intended the book as a comedy, but instead it reads like a distaff version of his run on Punisher. It's one of his less popular works.
- Stitched - An American helicopter crew crash-lands in the mountains of Afghanistan. They and the SAS crew they're there to pick up must then contend with a particularly sadistic breed of zombie. A short film of the same name, written and directed by Ennis himself, was shown at a couple of comic conventions in 2011.
- Red Team - A four-man squad of New York City cops, faced with a criminal they cannot seem to catch legally, instead opt to assassinate him. Things degenerate from there.
- Rover Red Charlie - When a worldwide epidemic causes the human race to go extinct, three dogs team up to survive and to escape New York City.
- Caliban - In the far future, the crew of a human spaceship discovers that humanity is not actually alone in the universe when they suddenly slam into an alien vessel.
- Back to Brooklyn - The story of mobster Bob Saetta, and his journey to rescue his wife Penny and son Michael from his brother, mob boss Paul "The Wall" Saetta.
- A Train Called Love - An honest-to-God romantic comedy. A woman meets and instantly falls in love with an English hitman as he's executing her perverted neighbor. Meanwhile, a bunch of yuppies have a plan to get rich that requires them to deal with a notorious criminal named "Mister Monsta," who's also the hitman's employer. Hilarity Ensues.
- Code Pru - a black-and-white horror comedy, and Ennis's contribution to Alan Moore's Kickstarter-funded Cinema Purgatorio project. A staunchly atheist woman becomes an FDNY paramedic and is assigned to their top-secret "monster unit," dealing with zombies, vampires, and Elder Gods.
- Jimmy's Bastards - A slightly affectionate James Bond parody. A British super-spy is unknowingly targeted for assassination by his virtual legion of illegitimate children.
- The Darkness - A mob hitman is endowed with The Force on crack.
- His war comics - Battlefields is set in World War II and afterwards, following some of the surviving protagonists well into the postwar period. War Stories is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, with each issue focusing on different characters and their involvement in a campaign or battle of various 20th century wars. Dreaming Eagles is a limited series from the then-new Aftershock Comics - on the eve of the march on Selma, one of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen tells his teenage son about his experiences in World War II. Johnny Red is a revival of a series from Battle, about a dot-com millionaire who pays to help restore a classic Hurricane fighter plane, and in so doing, is told of the plane's former owner Johnny Redburn, an English pilot who was shot down over Russia and ended up fighting with the Russians. Adventures in the Rifle Brigade is a (rather poorly-regarded) satire of WWII stories.
- Dastardly & Muttley - a Setting Update of the Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines cartoon series, with the two characters being US Air Force pilots affected by a mysterious substance that causes Toon Physics and cartoonish insanity.
- A Walk Through Hell - A straight-up horror comic from Aftershock. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, two FBI agents pursue two other agents into the depths of an ordinary-looking warehouse, not knowing that there's something inside that drives men to suicide. Notable for having one of the single most legitimately disturbing Wham Panels in 2018.
Tropes Present In His Work:
- Action Girl: Tulip O'Hare, Kit Ryan, Deborah Tiegel, Kathryn O'Brien, the "Night Witches" in Battlefields, etc.
- Author Appeal: Well-researched military history. Noble soldiers brutalized by amoral superiors. Black Comedy, with occasional forays into Toilet Humour. The idealistic view of America versus its failures, sentimental nostalgia for English history and patriotism. Male friendship under fire. Crime drama, supernatural and/or psychological horror, science fiction, even romance. In short, anything that was written pre-Comics Code Authority, which he sees as limited comics to superheroes, which he hates for that reason (Superman is the exception, partly because he was the first superhero).
- Elite military units. Often US Marines if American, or Special Air Service if British.
- Author Filibuster / Character Filibuster: Ennis' characters have the tendency to break into long, intense rants, which are often about his pet peeve subjects, often being hypocritical in a way that isn't acknowledged by the story.
- Author Tract: The pointlessness and stupidity of racism/homophobia, the idiocy of The Troubles, the horrors wrought by misguided or blind faith, the Catholic church in general...
- Berserk Button: Much of his work in 2013 reflected an abiding anger at the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic church.
- Big Applesauce: He moved to New York City in the 2000s and many of his subsequent stories are set there.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Ennis' villains are among the most despicable in fiction, but his "heroes" often aren't that much better; regularly, Ennis points out that the only difference between the evils of the world and the "rough men" who protect us from them is an awareness of their darkness - and their endless inner battles to control it, a Discussed Trope in Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker.It's time to demythologize an era and build a new myth from the gutter to the stars. It's time to embrace bad men and the price they paid to secretly define their time.
Here's to them.
- James Ellroy, American Tabloid
- Crapsack World: Due to the subject matter that his stories often deal with, many of Ennis's characters inhabit a world that has little or any hope for salvation or justice. Preacher is a story about God Himself having narcissistic personality disorder and it's one of the happiest things he's ever written.
- Crossover: Ennis doesn't do it a lot, but characters from his major works tend to wander back and forth between stories. Cassidy from Preacher shows up in The Boys as the owner of a pub in New York(under his birth name, Proinsias); Kathryn O'Brien from Punisher is the same CIA agent from the last arc of Hitman; the vampires that Tommy Monaghan kills in the "Dead Man's Land" arc in Hitman are led by the new King of the Vampires, after the previous king was killed by John Constantine; the members of the British SAS unit in Stitched have gone drinking with Kevin Hawkins; Billy Butcher of The Boys has a fondness for "spacker porn" that originated with Spacker Dave from Ennis' Punisher run; and Nick Fury meets a man named Fuckface who is described as even uglier than Arseface.
- Depraved Bisexual: A lot of Ennis's villains will bang anything that doesn't run away fast enough. He frequently uses a particular brand of anything-goes, hedonistic bisexuality as a character trait for his villains, as further evidence of their utter amorality. Almost as if to balance this out, though, he's gone well out of his way in many stories, including The Punisher and The Boys, to depict gay people in dedicated, healthy relationships.
- Eagle Land: An odd, yet intriguing form of it. He believes the United States is way too self-righteous and full of itself, but he also believes that when Americans choose to get over themselves they showcase what is best and brightest about humanity. The clearest expression of this is from (secret Nazi war criminal) Gunther Hahn in Preacher:The Myth of America: that simple, honest men, born of her great plains and woods and skies have made a nation of her, and will prove worthy of her when the time is right. Under harsh light, it is false. But a good myth to live up to, all the same.
- He has similar attitudes towards the Russians; On one hand, he can't help but gush about their many, many awesome moments in World War II. On the other, he shows just as much work related to their inhuman behavior such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and their post-breakup transition to The Mafiya. This is best summed up in "Mother Russia" by the first Russian to appear in The Punisher MAX - Alexandr Baranovich Formichenko;Nothing left. Everything fucked. Once we are greatest peoples in world—now we sit in bars in Brighton Beach or Coney Island, drinking 'til vodka runs out. Look! Look at this animal! Leon Rastovich, how the fuck is he out of prison! Thanks to his kind, everyone looks at Russian peoples and sees only fucking gangsters! Scum like Rastovich and scum who follow him, who shame the name of Mother Russia! Mobster pigs who dare to call themselves soldiers! I was at Leningrad when the Nazis came in nineteen forty-one! Three years we held out! Three years before they could relieve us! We were soldiers! Fuck Leon Rastovich.
Alexandr Baranovich Formichenko is protected. (Got a kind of a thing about respect for the elderly.)note
- Notably, on his way to kill Rastovich, Frank holds a combat knife to a Mafiya bartender's eye and makes his position quite clear;
- He has similar attitudes towards the Russians; On one hand, he can't help but gush about their many, many awesome moments in World War II. On the other, he shows just as much work related to their inhuman behavior such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and their post-breakup transition to The Mafiya. This is best summed up in "Mother Russia" by the first Russian to appear in The Punisher MAX - Alexandr Baranovich Formichenko;
- Ennis Has Standards: Though his hatred of superheroes is well known (see Thor: Vikings and his treatment of Wolverine), even he treats Superman with nothing short of complete respect.
- You'd think being both a costumed hero and a reverent Catholic would make Daredevil an instant target for Ennis, but he is depicted as the Hero Antagonist of The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe and is treated as a genuinely good man, if too idealistic for his own good.
- While Ennis has come up with a great deal of thinly-veiled parodies of various superheroes, most notoriously in The Boys and Hitman, he's more even-handed when he actually writes those characters than many fans give him credit for being. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are all depicted in his work as thoroughly competent. Similarly, Ennis' depiction of Spider-Man in TANGLED WEB #1-3 was extremely sympathetic and touching, showcasing Spidey's compassion and genuine heroism. Kyle Rayner was portrayed as naive, well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual, and Wally West was, well, really kind of a dick. He's gone on record stating that he is more accepting of characters like Nick Fury or the Punisher. The only mainstream superhero that Ennis has consistently refused to write well is Wolverine, who is an idiotic collection of his own cliches every time he appears in Ennis' work.
- Generally, you can tell how Ennis feels about a superhero by how he portrays their expies. In The Boys, the Superman expy (Homelander) was implied to have been a relatively decent person before being gaslit into insanity (and despite his many crimes, indirectly saves the day at the end), and the Wonder Woman expy (Queen Maeve) was the only member of the team who actually wanted to help people before a massive tragedy caused her to cross the Despair Event Horizon and turn to alcohol to deal with her guilt. The Batman expy (Tek-Knight) ultimately possesses genuinely heroic attributes despite being an asshole (he sacrifices his life to save a mother and her child), and unlike the rest of the heroes his questionable tastes were due to having a genuine problem with his brain (in this case a tumor the size of a fist) rather than being a hedonistic asshole. The Wolverine expy is a psycho with two hammers in the place of his hands whose vocabulary is limited to "Gonna!". The Captain America expy is a pathetic twit who literally wets himself at the sight of battle, is sexually violated at Herogasm, and is brutally killed by the Boys. The Green Lantern expy is an unrepentant child murderer who gets probably the most disgusting and agonizing fate in the comic.
- Fan Nickname: Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison all became popular in America at about the same time, which led many fans at the time to refer to them as the Trinity.
- God Is Evil: Ennis is an atheist, and is very forthcoming about that fact. In his work that deals explicitly with the Judeo-Christian religion, God Himself is either a drooling imbecile (Hellblazer, Chronicles of Wormwood) or a complete asshole (Preacher). Summarized briefly, the world in Ennis's fiction is so deeply flawed that any God responsible for creating it is either insane or unthinkably cruel. God's servants, on the other hand, run the gamut from good to bad to indifferent.
- One can make the argument his series Rover Red and Charlie is a case of Playing Against Type. The titular three are dogs in a human apocalypse, but are good and loyal servants who like having masters and cross the country searching for them, with only their faith to tell them it is where they should go. Said faith is ultimately rewarded. Whether or not this was Ennis's intention is unknown.
- Gorn: Over the top gory scenes found in Preacher, The Boys, Hellblazer, Crossed, Thor: Vikings, and so on....
- Groin Attack: Ennis is very fond of writing these - both Preacher and The Boys are littered with them, but his Hellblazer run is particularly notorious for them. It was a horror comic where the ultimate horror was always literal castration.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Some of Ennis' best work revolves around exploring deep male friendships, generally Ho Yay-free (even when one of them is gay).
- Humans Are Bastards: A running theme through much of Ennis' work; regardless whether or not the story has non-human antagonists (demons, aliens, etc.), ordinary humans show themselves to be perfectly capable of committing cruel, vile and evil acts to each other. The darkest examples of this trope in action are Crossed, The Punisher MAX and A Walk Through Hell.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Ennis really loves placing his characters in impossible situations, and feels that most mainstream comics are poor writing because they fail to do the same.In the end, it was a dilemma not unlike those faced by a number of good and bad men in our own history, and if I had to sum it up in one line, Id say this: what are you prepared to do when there isnt any easy way out?
And that, I think, is why Ive never been able to care about Batman, or Wolverine, or Iron Man or any of them, really. Not because of what characters like that would or wouldnt do, but because their publishers would never have the courage to have them written into such a situation.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Saint of Killers?
- Only Sane Man: Another common theme (or criticism) of his works is most often the protagonist is the only person who's normal or has any sense of moral values, where as everyone else from side characters to the villains are varying shades of weird, idiotic, sexually depraved or utterly monstrous. It's a criticism because it's also tends to be the only reason why said protagonists are able to win.
- Promoted Fanboy: He was a big fan of 2000 AD and especially Judge Dredd as a kid. He considers this to have been detrimental to his run on the strip, as he felt that he had too much respect for the character to make fun with many of his stories.
- Played with on his run on Dan Dare; in an essay to the collected edition, he openly acknowledges that while he respects the character he has no particular sentimental attachment to him; he does, however, appreciate the values that Dare's creator imbued him with, which attracted him to the project.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Preacher in particular.
- Rated M for Manly: Ennis's work tends to emphasise traditionally "masculine" values, at the expense of more "feminine" values. As a result, many of his works (especially his earlier works) tend to feel somewhat sexist and conservative and occasionally mildly homophobic (probably as a result of growing up in Northern Ireland during the era of "Save Ulster From Sodomy" and the region's conservative nature even by Irish standards) At the same time, he got better about this as the years passed - in The Boys, for instance, where Rebecca successfully manages to talk Billy into breaking the cycle of violence that started with his father. Even early on, in Preacher, the climax involves Jesse learning that his self-defining masculinity is mostly bullshit and he's able to cry when he makes up with Tulip. Many of his more recent works also deal more seriously with both women and gay protagonists.Bruce Byfield: On the one hand, he is obsessed with machismo, and of how manly men interact with each other. On the other hand, he also views machismo as ultimately childish, and needing to give way to a less violent maturity that can only be won through the love of wife and family. The places where machismo operates may be the places where he finds stories, but he also considers those who remain there too long as immature.
- Shout-Out: Especially to movies like Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: Of a sort; class conflicts form a central theme in a lot of Ennis' work, and while he's often willing to skewer the negative sides of both on the whole he comes across as being a lot more sympathetic to the working-class stiffs (as represented by ordinary soldiers, police officers, street criminals etc) than people who put themselves up as some kind of 'elite' (the wealthy, elite corporate types, politicians, superheroes, etc). Although he also insists that working-class characters are not necessarily good and that a nostalgia or class solidarity can often be used to sentimentally excuse bad behaviour, as in The Boys where Butcher mocks how his father's friends toast him as a Working-Class Hero when he was deeply abusive to his wife and children.
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Downplayed. Ennis doesn't throw actual jetpacks into his stories, but whenever he writes anything about World War II, he shows the Nazis as a terrifying juggernaut; disciplined, merciless, and always with more and better stuff than the Allies. According to Ennis's research (most of it now Dated History), the Allied victory was nothing short of the greatest miracle in history, and anyone who says otherwise is either determined to re-write history, a card-carrying idiot, or a Nazi collaborator who wants to sucker card-carrying idiotic Allies into a trap. Case in point, this conversation from Nick Fury: Peacemaker;Nick Fury: That's all we need, a King Tiger...
Captain Kynaston: Really? Our chaps would call it a Royal Tiger. Typical of Jerry, isn't it? They've already got the best tank in the world by far, so what to they do?
Fury: Build a better one.
- ...Or this summary from The Boys;Mallory: The best German tanks could turn ours into mincemeat; head to head we couldn't even scratch theirs. I must have bailed out of more Shermans the previous Summer than... Well...
- ...Or this gem from Battlefields: Tankies;Stiles: Ah, Jerry's always got a better tank, man. Tiger's just the most fookin' horrible one. Yer Mark Four's bad enough, so's all them self-propelled goons. Panther's a reet bastad, ye don't want to be friggin' aboot wi' them things. But yer Tiger...shite, man, the armor's foor fookin' inches thick, and the goon'll slice through 'owt' we'eve got. That Eighty-Eight, that's been Jerry's trump card since nineteen bloody forty.
- ...Or this summary from The Boys;
- Take That!:
For fuck's sake!! Ye stupid fuckin' bastards! Look at yerselves! Yez almost fuckin' had it and now ye're shittin' it all away! I mean what are we like anyway? All that misery an' bloodshed back home, an' we come back to the States an' the best we can do is just fuckin' carry on with it? Did yez not even hear what Maginty was sayin'? We don't have to slaughter each other! We can get what we want without that! We're free now...! In the name of fuckin' Jesus we're free of the friggin' past.
- Every time he writes superheroes, he puts them through utter hell, as he feels has hijacked an entire industry that used to be every bit as diverse as literature. Two particularly bloody swings he's taken are The Pro and The Boys, though it's also common in Hitman.
- He hates religion, seeing it as bullshit that people use as an excuse for ignorance and cruelty. This is especially apparent in works such as Preacher and Just a Pilgrim.
- He really does not like George W. Bush. So far, Ennis has written about Bush's assassination following the discovery of a conspiracy (303), his death by misadventure following an accident with a chainsaw (The Boys), unaware that ordering a nuclear strike on NYC would affect Washington DC (Thor: Vikings), and how he was one of the first world leaders, if not the first, infected by the Crossed virus ("The Thin Red Line" arc in Crossed: Badlands).
- One he brings up almost as often as religion is Political Correctness Gone Mad, especially when it comes to the Melting Pot; in his view, a great percentage of humanity's problems is its refusal to let go of the past, especially when one has crossed oceans supposedly to do so, and a fresh start is freely offered time and time again. On the other hand, he doesn't apply nearly the same amount of vitriol to the kinds of identities he already admires (such as "true Irishmen", as opposed to American-Irishmen), and, in fact, is often quite positive toward them.
- Tear Jerker : As much as he's known for his love of splattery black comedy, he's also able to wring tears from the most stony-hearted reader when he wants to. See the fate of HMS Nightingale in War Story's "Nightingale" ("Gone to hell to fight the devil"), or the finale of Preacher where Jesse learns to cry again, then he and Tulip literally ride off into the sunset, or even Hitman ( "Drinks onna house fellas. There ain't no closing time. But you gotta leave your guns at the door.")
- Vigilante Man: He really likes this archetype, and while he often makes these characters Tragic Hero and Tragic Villain and doesn't glorify their actions, it's about the one kind of character he never deconstructs or attacks in any way.
- War Is Hell: If a Garth Ennis story involves a war (and most of them do), this trope is all but guaranteed to be at the center of it.
- The War on Straw: Thanks to his willingness to (ab)use both Author Tract and Take That!, Ennis is willing to ignore or shove aside facts that contradict his preaching for the sake of giving his arguments more "weight", sometimes to the detriment of his works in the eyes of the reader. Both Crossed and Thor: Vikings have a particular infamy for this trait:
- Crossed was made as a huge Take That! to the "Zombie Apocalypse survivalist fanclub"... but replaces the "Romero Style" mindless shambling dead that said fanclub actively bases its arguments on with an entirely different threat made of Ax-Crazy but otherwise perfectly functional humans. Which is kind of like arguing that a group of checkers players are "doing it wrong" and then trying to prove it by replacing all the checkers pieces and rules with those of chess.
- Write Who You Know: A lot of his best-written characters are Irish. Although unusually for this trope, his actual opinion of "Irishness" is... extremely mixed, to say the least, especially in contrast with his opinion of "Britishness" and "American-ness". Many of his Irish characters are also among his worst characters, as people.