Friday, April 15, 2011

Kick Ass (comics)

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Collects: Kick-Ass #1-8

So, Kick-Ass. Another of Mark Millars lovely projects that feel like they were tailor made more for the silver screen than the comic page. Hell, the film adaption of this one was actually in development while the miniseries was running; for a bit there, it looked like the film might have even released before the series finished. Millars public persona may be grating as all holy hell, but it seems to work for him.

Kick-Ass tries to use a very basic concept I'm sure a lot of us have given thought to before. "What if superheroes existed in the real world?" The main character - Dave - is a comic geek with some pretty crappy luck who decides, hey, this life is pretty boring, Imma get a wetsuit and go beat the hell out of a couple of Hispanic guys. Excess foul language and ridiculous amounts of violence ensue.

Right off the bat, we've got a problem. No matter how much he brings up things like Myspace or Youtube, Millar can't get out of his old habits. It doesn't take long - by the end of the second issue, in fact - for the perceived "realism" to vacate the premises. At first, it seems like he's going to stick with it - the consequences of Dave's hubris costs him six months of his life and requires intensive therapy to recover from - but then, fresh off his crutches, Dave suits back up and goes to pick a fight. Only this time, he wins. Right after months of healing and with no training. From there it's all downhill.

Everything is over the top here, from almost every character swearing worse than a sailor - Daves dad is literally the only character not to curse every other word - to little girls no older than ten being badass ninjas who slice people to ribbons. Literally, from the first time we see Hit-Girl, we know that any sense of realism has gone straight out the goddamn window. We're in Millars domain; the comics with the most disgusting, shocking ideas he can think of to try and appeal to the lowest common denominator.

As far as unrealistic goes, I could talk about some of the dialogue - I swear whenever Dave is in a comic shop I think Millar's contracted Whedonitis - but we won't go there.

Worse still, it often seems like there's an undercurrent of racism here. Again, not shocking, given this is Millar, but still a worry. It seems like everyone Kick-Ass fights, from street toughs on down, is a minority of some kind. From hispanics to blacks to italians, everyone offed in the course of this series is of some sort of racial stereotype.

Necessary? No. But it'll sure get some attention.

Mark Millars writing tends to come back to bite him. He is, as we all know, about as subtle as an atom bomb when it comes to pretty much anything. You pretty much know which character is going to be a traitor as soon as you see him and another characters fate is blown thanks to overuse of foreshadowing plus a flashback late in the book so blatant the narration box might as well have screamed "THIS IS CHEKHOVS GUN, PAY ATTENTION".

Then, as I briefly mentioned earlier, there's the lack of adherance to the concept. I expect the violence and the cursing; Millar does it whenever he isn't writing corporate owned superheroes. But as much of a huckster as Millar tends to be, I still expected him to stick to the "vigilantes in the real world" concept, or at least make an honest effort. Sure, superpowers are kept out of it - and Millar even makes some jokes using some superhero cliches - but the book doesn't stick to anything resembling "realistic". Considering that was the line that sold me on reading it at all, that's a legitimate disappointment. I feel like Millar could have made more of an effort, or at least been a little clearer up front.

So, with all those problems, why the hell is this goddamn book so endearing? Why is Hit Girl endearing? Most everything in this book sets off every alarm bell I've got, yet I still somehow enjoyed it. This should be a textbook case of "EWW, EWW, BURN IT, BURN IT!" Yet, despite this undeniable fact, I find myself interested in seeing where Kick-Ass and his pint-sized affront against good taste go from here. There's something crude but oddly likable here, even though our main character is a downright insulting stand-in for a typical comic reader and our breakout characters main feature is that she's a ten year old that kills everything in sight and swears like you read about.

It's fun, in an odd way. It's crude, it's tasteless, it's really ridiculous and it completely fails to uphold it's promise of showing superheroes in the "real world". But it's kind of like a roller coaster ride of gratuitous violence and numerous other negative adjectives as only Mark Millar can provide. I'm not exactly Mark Millars biggest fan - sometimes, I feel like he's a one trick pony - but he's put together enjoyable projects in the past. I think this one fits, even if it's offensive on every conceivable level.

Make no mistake, a lot of why this works despite everything against it is the artwork of John Romita Jr. He seems to revel in the hyperviolence he's tasked to draw, getting pretty gratuitous with some scenes. When someones head is chopped off, you WILL see the actual chopping. Romita's a bit more polarizing an artist than his dad ever was - he seems to have as many detractors as he does fans - but he does good work here, aside from the occasional page that just looks off. Mark Millar's kind of like Jeph Loeb in this way; while it's a crapshoot whether a given project will actually be decently written, he's pretty damn good at attracting top tier talent. In a way, it saves some of his books.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This one was kind of hard to grade. On the one hand, I enjoyed it in a goofy, dumb fun kind of way. But on the other hand, this book can piss you off; and really, this is not exactly premium comics. Either way, it may be worth a look, but it warrants a warning. If certain social issues tend to be your red button, skip this. It's practically designed to offend.

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