Garth Ennis has been responsible for a lot of funny and audacious moments in comics history, his run on Hellblazer has a rich, dry sense of humour about itself, while Preacher and The Boys were ridiculously over the top on occasion and Ennis clearly delights in attempting to shock his readership. But The Pro is a rare misstep from the man, the intentions were probably positive but it comes across as a crass and repetitive work.
In the introduction to the sixth printing Ennis explains that the comic was meant to be the “perfect antidote to the nauseating sincere claptrap pumped out by the major publishers”, and he also comments that after it was printed “we realised we weren’t going to be taking any shit for sexism or misogyny on a book drawn by a woman”. Not that I’d say that this is a misogynistic piece, I don’t think Ennis hates women or that the book portrays them negatively, but The Pro is Ennis attempting at being deliberately provocative, and a lot of the tired humour comes from our heroine saying and doing unpleasant things, of which they are about a thousand examples from her telling her babysitter to “Blow it out of your twat, you old witch” to the point where she gives Superman stand-in The Saint a blow job as a thank you for saving her child, though it’s an out of character moment for someone who seems to dislike everyone she meets, albeit normally with a good reason.
The Pro gets her powers after an argument develops between an alien called “The Viewer” (a very, very obvious parody of Marvel Comics’ Watchers who oversee humanity and rarely become involved in our all round fucked up-ness), and his robotic assistant. The Viewer claims that anyone can become a hero with the robot not so sure, though he only agrees to the bet as he’s so bored with existence, and this is mainly an all excuse for The Viewer to entertain his voyeuristic urges. Thus the next morning The Pro awakes initially unaware of her new superpowers, until she gets a visit from The League Of Honor who include The Saint, The Knight, The Lady, Speedo and The Lime, who are obviously based on DC’s Justice League, with their Batman equivalent even having a young male sidekick in the form of The Squire, and as with Ennis’s superhero satire in The Boys this is not a subtle piece at all. Despite never having met her The Saint wants The Pro to join The League, and The Pro’s response is a lazily swear filled one, I’m very fond of inventive bad language but sadly it’s not present here.
Also on the laziness front Ennis has his one black character speak in a very cliched way, coming out with nonsense like “Word up, don’t be dissing The Saint, homegirl. That be wack! He be throwing you the justice tip!”, I’m sure Ennis would argue that he’s satirising how black characters talk in Marvel and DC comics but I’ve read many and none have been this overtly cliched and stereotypical. Some of the dialogue from The Pro herself is suspect too, the idea seems to be that we’re supposed to like her because she’s politically incorrect and not interested in these supposedly squeaky clean heroes, but calling them “Retards” is poor form, as is when she describes one of The Knight’s weapons as “Faggy fucking boomerangs”. Elsewhere a lot of the time the dialogue could have come from a PG rated comic except for the fact that Ennis inserts the word “Fucking” in to pretty much every sentence she utters.
Despite now being part of a superhero team The Pro is still working as a prostitute, and boasts to The Saint that due to her powers she can earn more than ever as her hand jobs now only take two seconds. He asks her why she’d still continue to work and it’s a really good question, and her response that “Ninety percent of people on the planet hate their goddamn job. If you look at it that way this isn’t really so different” doesn’t make any sense given that the league is paying her to be part of the team.
More crass comedy follows where she gives The Saint a blow job and when he ejaculates his sperm shoots in to the air, hitting an aeroplane and tearing its wing off, The Saint saves the day but forgets to put his costume back on and so “His cock was hanging out and there was cum flying everywhere”, as The Pro so eloquently puts it. All of this leads to most of the rest of The League being outraged with her, apart from Wonder Woman stand-in The Lady who flirts with The Pro, but because this is horrible stuff The Pro just responds “Get your hands off me you caped cunt” which feels pretty homophobic, if the sexes were the other way round I’m sure Ennis would have taken a lot of flack for the scene.
Worst of all is the part when The Pro angrily rants about the superheroes not making societal changes, and she has a rant where she asks where they when the World Trade Centre was attacked, before claiming “What we need are guys the balls to drop bombs on schools and hospitals because that’s where these assholes like to hide”. It’s a sentiment I find deeply unpleasant, reactionary nonsense and the idea that we should support our governments killing children and the physically unwell if it means terrorists also die is one I just cannot get behind.
It ends with a terrorist attack on the Empire State Building, carried out by a group of Muslims, which left a very bad taste in my mouth. The League attempt to save the day, with the cops pissed off at them for interrupting their own attempts at resolving it, The Saint is horrified when The Pro kills one of them, and a plot contrivance means she ends up sacrificing her own life to save a nuclear bomb going off, while Ennis has one last dig at anyone who enjoys reading superhero comics by suggesting they need to grow up. I can’t help but feel that it would have been far more interesting if he had kept The Pro alive though, and had something more interesting to say other than that her lasting effect on the world was that The Saint occasionally swears a bit.
To be fair to Ennis there are a few parts which work, The Pro being given an outrageously sexist costume with a massive hole in the top to show off her cleavage calls attention to how awful the outfits that most mainstream female superheroes are forced to wear, and there’s a fun gag about how some villains are poorly named as all the good names have been taken. Some of the points he makes about superheroes and how they interact with the world are valid too, but it’s just a shame they’re surrounded by infantile and tedious attempts at humour that have dated very badly indeed.
There’s a lot of mileage in the idea of someone as unusual as The Pro becoming a superhero, the idea of a character who has had very different experiences in life compared to Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince or Clark Kent, and whose opinions you might not even necessarily always agree with. But because Ennis has gone for the lazy, obvious gag far too many times, and the dialogue is largely bland swearing, The Pro disappoints enormously, it’s a book which has aged quickly and poorly, and surely only these days appeals to the very young and the slightly racist.