Friday, 13 January 2012

Books: Kick-Ass


Written by Mark Millar
Art by John Romita, Jr.


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Of course if you mention Kick-Ass to someone they're all like: "oh yeah - isn't that the comic that's all about how what would happen if someone dressed up as a superhero for real?" [1] And when I don't really think about it I guess that's my impression of it too. Except - well - what would happen if someone dressed up as a superhero for real has been a comic book staple for years and years and years (waves hello at Watchmen, Kinetic, The Boys and Black Summer) all the way back to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli who did Batman: Year One all the way back in late 1980s (and in fact they're an acknowledged influence (in more ways than one [2])).

But then I guess no one else had done this kind of thing so - well - teenagely (that's a word - right?). I mean: there's Peter Parker who's been an adolescent for over 50 years now but he doesn't count because he's always been happy to keep things a bit less than completely real with one foot in a crazy fantasy world of green goblins and spider-senses: there's a line early on in Kick-Ass where Dave Lizewski laments "Why do people want to be Paris Hilton but nobody wants to be Spider-Man?" but that's not quite right (or rather just ignores the pertinent details): every boy-child in the world (young and old) wishes that they could be Spider-Man - it's just not that easy to get yourself bit with a radioactive spider (and I mean - we've all tried - right?). The beauty of Kick-Ass is that - for the first part at least - it removes all the fictional scaffolding standing between you (the reader) and the superhero and yells: hey - check this out! You don't need to be super-rich, you don't need magic powers, you don't need special radiation - you can just get yourself a one-piece costume and a mask and you too can take on the bad guys and make the world a safer place to be! You can be a hero. You too can: kick ass!

With a title like "Kick-Ass" (and with a tagline like - "Sickening Violence: Just The Way You Like It! [3]") - I really don't really know what else to say to help enlighten you as to what exactly you should hope to expect... Just don't start whining when people start getting electrodes attached to their testicles (which happens way sooner than you might think). In other words: this is Mark Miller writing like he's still going through puberty (again) and ideal for people who like to laugh like this: "hur hur hur." As for the rest of you - if you're planning on going in you should probably hold your nose. It's not big and it's not clever - but it is immensely crude and cruel.

It almost seems like a waste of time to try and critique it. I mean: it is what it is and I'm sure that for any boys under the age of 20 it's up there as one of the greatest works of art of the modern age. And speaking as someone who's kinda always been willing to give Mark Millar the benefit of the doubt I must admit that the first time I read it I was willing to try and look past the totally excess violence and brutal deceptions of people getting the top of their heads sliced open and all the other crazy stuff like that. But - well - reading it through the second time I was struck by all the classist/racist stuff that stuck out at me: I mean for most of his time Kick-Ass is up against black guys or Puerto Ricans and they're all pretty much depicted as being dirt poor (at one point Hit-Girl even mocks one of them by laughing: "Hoping someone cares about your underprivileged childhood?" which - I dunno - struck me as being a little harsh). I mean obviously the reason for this is that the book is not much more than a power fantasy for white middle-class kids: except except it also does it's very best to undermine it's main character as much as possible: Hit-Girl runs rings around him and makes him look - well - like an ameuter (which is what he is) and he's continually unlucky in affairs of the heart (and that's putting it gently). So: in conclusion - I guess it's a power fantasy for masochistics maybe? I dunno. Let's just say that reading it left me feeling kinda dirty and soiled: I guess because of it's lack of any real humanity. It just kinda hates everyone and only ever really seems to enjoy itself when it's showing people being hurt: be it emotionally or - you know - being decapitated by axes and swords. Of course that's complicated by the fact that underneath all that - Mark Millar still knows how to spin a good story and John Romita Jr knows how to draw things so you always knows exactly what's going on but - yeah - well - put it this way: I don't think that this is a book that I'm ever really gonna feel a need to read again.

[1] Or rather: "oh yeah - isn't that the film that's all about how what would happen if someone dressed up as a superhero for real?" Because - as much as mostly I like to ignore the film adaptations of comic books on here: let's face it - it's kinda hard to do that when the front cover for this book isn't a John Romita Jr picture - but a photo of Aaron Johnson in his Kick-Ass kit.

[2] From this article: CraveOnline: "How much was Kick-Ass influenced by real life?" Mark Millar: "Oh, it was very autobiographical. When I was 15, my best friends and I were reading Frank Miller comics, like Batman: Year One. I don't know how wee you guys are but do you read comics? We were so into it, we should have been studying for exams at the time. We wanted to become superheroes like Batman. It was pathetic. We were five years too old really to be doing this. The story was really about what would have happened if we hadn’t come to our senses and actually gone out and done this. Most funny is the character I created was called Mr. Danger. I thought it was quite cool. My friend’s idea was Batman. It was Batman’s exact costume. “I see you’ve put a lot of effort into this. If DC get wind of this, you’re f***ed.” He was like, “They’ll never know who’s under the mask.”"

[3] Woo! Yay!

Links: Sean T Collins ReviewThe M0vie Blog Review.

Further reading: Kick-Ass 2Wanted, The AvengersWolverine: Enemy of the State, The Boys, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Wolverine: The Best There Is, The Death Ray.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

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