Monday, July 12, 2010

KICK-ASS by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

Kick-Ass (2010), written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr., collects the full initial run, issues 1-8, of the eponymous Marvel comic. Here, Dave Lizewski, a regular, unremarkable teenager, becomes a “real-life” superhero, a job for which he is dangerously ill-equipped.

Millar’s premise is to look at what “real” superheroes might be like, psychologically and in practice. And that’s fine, except that he quickly takes things way over the top and progressively introduces more ludicrous elements, notably Big Daddy (a poor man’s Punisher – if you somehow didn’t get it, Millar makes the connection for you several times) and Hit-Girl (a ten-year-old ninja who single-handedly takes the entire comic and transplants it squarely to the realm of the ridiculous).

If Millar had stuck to answering the question, “What would a ‘real’ superhero look like?” Kick-Ass would have better. But what’s “real” about this except that the “heroes” get beat up all the time, and that they’re all mentally disturbed on some level? Not much. By the end, in too many ways, Kick-Ass is just another comic book.

Millar makes a point to turn as many comic tropes on their ears as he can, particularly the Peter Parker-in-high-school ones. But it all tends to be too self-aware, and Kick-Ass often reads like a hyper-violent version of Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man (if Peter regularly monologued about his sexual frustration). It doesn’t help that Millar’s writing isn’t nearly as clever as he seems to think it is, and a number of his innumerable comic book references feel downright amateurish.

The characters aren’t great – Dave is a generally unsympathetic horny teenager who does stupid things – and nobody else gets much development. The plot is decent, although none of its “twists” is particularly surprising. Millar also tends to gloss over or outright ignore any story elements that would keep things from moving at a brisk pace.

2003’s Wanted told us loudly and clearly that for Millar, there’s really no such thing as bad taste, and he reinforces that understanding here. Under Marvel’s Max label, he’s free to be as vulgar and gratuitous as he wants to be on every page (and usually is). It’s like Millar can’t restrain himself, can’t keep himself from going over the top whenever and however he can, and it really limits what Kick-Ass could have become.

Romita’s art is great as always, with one exception. Hit-Girl never looks right – her proportions are distracting, as she’s basically a gigantic head on a tiny stick body. Romita does a solid job with the degree of violence (this level of gore isn’t something we’re used to seeing from him), although some of Hit-Girl’s dismemberments get pretty out there.  

On the whole, Kick-Ass is readable but mediocre because it’s more interested in being a violence-porn version of mainstream comics than in exploring the more realistic themes that it merely plays at.