Icon/Titan Books, 2010
Writer: Mark Millar
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Tom Palmer
Colours: Dean White
With the gleefully gratuitous movie adaptation about to hit cinemas, Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass has gone from being yet another superhero movie to the little comic that could. The film’s development is perhaps more interesting than the comic series itself; whereas Blade, Watchmen and the X-Men took decades to make the leap to the big screen, the Kick-Ass movie went into production before the comic series’ first issue was even published. With this in mind, it’s difficult to approach the Kick-Ass graphic novel without having one’s preconceptions infected by the run of bloody, foul-mouthed movie trailers that have raised this book’s profile beyond any previously conceivable level of public awareness.
So… movie hype aside, does Kick-Ass do exactly what it says on the tin?
Much like Mystery Men, Kick-Ass is a superhero tale without super powers. Luckless comic geek Dave Lizewski (named after a competition winner of the same name) is unable to comprehend why nobody has ever attempted to become a masked vigilante before. “Why do people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spider-man?” he naively ponders. Dave’s lonely, unfulfilling life encourages him to put his daydreams into action, as the eponymous costumed cretin Kick-Ass, whose first scuffle with gangsters leaves him in intensive care. But several months later Kick-Ass has become a cultural phenomenon thanks to Youtube footage, and Dave receives cries for help from his MySpace page.
Quite why the police never come after Kick-Ass we’ll never know – surely it can’t be difficult to trace Dave’s video uploads – but it doesn’t take long for other nutjobs to imitate Kick-Ass’s exploits; including father/daughter duo Big Daddy and Hit Girl, and the similarly useless but far wealthier Red Mist. I’ll say no more of the plot, but the ‘end of book one’ sign-off marks this as a series with longstanding potential, as Lizewski’s crime-fighting capers will probably have a snowball effect on frustrated geeks and vengeful losers everywhere.
John Romita Jr’s art has always been divisive, but in Kick-Ass his fat-lipped, fish-eyed humans and humongous heroes are perfectly paired with Millar’s f-bomb laden script and some of the most wanton violence that’s ever been put to paper. This book packs in more disembowelments, beheadings, eyeballs popping from skulls and various sharp implements shish-kebabbing goons than all nine volumes of Preacher. No, I didn’t believe it was possible either.
Movie hype or no movie hype, Kick-Ass is a fun read that may not be revolutionary but is often far more refreshing than you’d initially expect. It’s not Millar’s best work, and falls short of the similarly violent but more thoughtful Wanted, and the book lacks the charm and optimism of similar tales of incompetent wannabe superheroes. While I had no problem with the extreme language, the script ultimately isn’t sharp enough to justify the glorified carnage as only the truly gifted comic writers such as Alan Moore and Warren Ellis are capable of.
But while it’s not quite deserving of a $65 mil movie adaptation, Kick-Ass is nevertheless recommended to anyone who enjoys Millar’s creator-owned work or the puerile drollery of Garth Ennis. It’s also a great starting point for readers who’d like to step outside of the mainstream superhero universes more often than they do.