The Hitman games, especially in their latest iterations, are known for being playfully creative sandboxes of murder. You’re given so many different tools with which to dispatch your various targets that most players are probably more concerned with the “how” than the “why” when it comes to these assassinations. While the newest Hitman games do offer a narrative to follow, they drip-feed players info and only very slowly build toward a bigger picture, meaning that the series relies more on its gameplay than story. Hitman fans craving a deep dive into the lore of the series don’t have much to go off with the games, but the latest comic tie-in fills that hole incredibly well.
Despite being called Agent 47: The Birth of Hitman, this six-issue anthology doesn’t just focus on the titular hairless assassin. The comic recounts the early years of Agent 47, as well as those of his ICA handler Diana Burnwood. We follow both of them through the 90s, as 47 begins to break away from the experimental institute that created him and Diana seeks revenge for the assassination of her parents.
She’s also arguably the bigger star, and it’s well deserved. Throughout the Hitman games, Diana is mostly just a voice in our heads. Even with a slightly bigger involvement in the story of the current games, she isn’t a very captivating character. This comic, though, gives her character in spades. Watching her go from a meek and angry teenager to a ruthlessly strategic adult over the course of the comic is incredible, and the steps she takes to find herself on that path are relentlessly entertaining.
It’s easy to tell readers that a character is now a badass or has learned new things, but it takes skilful writing to believably demonstrate the life experiences a character needs in order to actually go through those changes. Christopher Sebela handles it with near perfection. For all the aggression inside of her, Diana is still just a kid when she sets off on her path of revenge, and she makes all of the mistakes and oversights that a 14-year-old would.
As she gets older and interacts with more characters, like the charming crimelord queen Savi who takes Diana under her wing, we see Diana start to form the quirks and wits that displays so effortlessly in the games. Near the end of the book, we get to see Diana recite one of her infamously sly pre-mission briefings, and it’s an incredibly well-earned moment. Still, the comic skips a few key points that would have helped tie things together, like explaining how a 14-year-old gets access to bags full of cash and an illegal arms dealer.
Told alongside the journey of Diana Burnwood is the origin of Agent 47 himself, and how he found his way from the Institute, the experimental assassin-training facility that created him, to working with Burnwood. While 47’s story does a good job of complementing the events of Diana Burnwood’s, especially as the two start to overlap near the end, his story doesn’t stand alone as strong as hers does.
While Diana goes through a wealth of development in her sections, the pages focused on 47 mostly just show us where he was and who he was killing in the 90s. The only times he goes through any sort of change or development is when a someone injecting him with drugs tells him “Hey, no more emotions.” It isn’t nearly as effective as the journey Diana goes on. Still, there’s strength in 47’s arc thanks to the way it manages to capture some of the charm of Hitman assassinations. We see him don disguises, distract with rocks, and crush targets with falling rubble in classic Hitman fashion.
That gruesome action, as well as the rest of the comic, are rendered beautifully thanks to the talented work of artist Ariel Medel and colorist Carlos Valles. Ariel draws everything in exquisite detail, with heavy character lines that make them addictive to look at. On top of that, his panels flow gracefully from one to the next, with tight shots and dynamic layouts that capture the tense atmosphere of the story really well. This is all complimented by the vivid color work by Carlos, who makes every scene stand out and never once fails to use color to draw your eyes to what matters.
I never felt like I needed to know much of the backstory of Agent 47, let alone his handler Diana Burnwood. I was content with having them be the simple caricatures that enabled my delightful mayhem in the Hitman games. Agent 47: The Birth of Hitman showed me just what I was missing. It takes characters I had little investment in, like Diana, and turns them into incredibly well-developed characters who I desperately want to see more of. This is a great complement to the games if you’re dying to know more about the world, and an even greater complement to them if you think you don’t need to know any more about that world.