Posted by: Joe McCulloch on September 1, 2008
Kick-Ass #4 (of 8)
Say, did any of you hear about that one comic book writer and the video he put out? I did too, and I’ve thought of absolutely nothing this week other than creator-owned comics by popular Marvel/DC writers. No wonder I lost all that money at the casino – I need to concentrate to get those random number generators on my side. I was obsessed, readers, and it soon became plain that the only way out was to conduct an investigation into an actual, real-live creator-owned funnybook by a top superhero scribe.
And this very week had not only one of those, but no less than the current best-selling creator-owned pamphlet-format series in the Direct Market:
I’ve actually been following Kick-Ass — that bloody saga of a young man in a ‘realistic’ world who sets out with a costume and a dream to become an authentic goddamned superhero — since issue #1. A lot of people didn’t like that first issue much at all, but it gave me a smile. Granted, I’m the sort of person who would smile at a teenage superhero being electrocuted through his testicles, so I guess I’m part of the target audience, but even beyond that I found myself enjoying the little asides and bits of conversation.
I might have made a mistake there, though – I’d thought stuff like the lead character’s out-of-touch pop culture referencing or his decision to kick off his crime-fighting career by picking a fight with random black kids spray painting a wall were indicators of his cluelessness. It really seemed to me that his actions had a way of undercutting his narration (insisting that he’s a completely normal young man!), thus reinforcing the comedic insanity of dressing up like a fantasy character to fight crime in the real world. Even then it was sort of like pointing a cannon at a barrel of fish, but it did have penciller/co-creator John Romita Jr., inker Tom Palmer and colorist Dean White putting together an attractive cartoon world for everything to take place in, and it was all pleasantly unpleasant enough.
Now we’re up to issue #4, casting news concerning the upcoming movie is all over, and the comic has gotten progressively less realistic to the point where I wonder if ‘realism’ itself wasn’t the primary joke here. I got an email on Thursday declaring that Millar had ruined the series with this issue, which has Our Hero’s low-ambition adventures bumping into the work of two actual superheroes, or at least gangland assassins with a thing for dressing up in costume and leaping across rooftops under the cover of night. They’re cruel, violent and prone to shouting things like “Where the hell are you going, asshole? Off to phone your lawyer? Hoping someone cares about your underprivileged childhood?” at weeping, unarmed targets, which I presume is supposed to make them horrible yet appealing to the forbidden desires we all share, this being a Mark Millar comic and all. Relatedly, they also might be manifestations of the dark side of the lead character’s superhero dreams, the ugly implications of running around outside the law made flesh and steel.
The problem with all that? It transforms the book into an especially typical superhero thing, with its idealistic young protagonist forced to consider the existence of those who’ve gone too far as well as more obvious antagonists; Millar does not use the fact that all of this occurs in a world where superheroes shouldn’t exist at all to any interesting effect. Really, he seems more interested in the contrived comedy of the lead character pretending to be (ulp!) gay in order to get closer to the object of his teenage affection, which strikes me as bolstering one type of familiar contrivance (the superhero type) with another (the teen romance type) in hopes that something multifaceted will result.
And it doesn’t help at all that the particulars are so dull – I’ll grant that the generic mobster villains are maybe supposed to be uninteresting, given the story’s milieu, but ultraviolent Hit Girl and Big Daddy are unadorned character types straight out of the Frank Miller playbook, and giving the former a dirty mouth and a specifically young age doesn’t do much to burnish her – this kind of lil’ lady killer character is also present in The Boys, where she isn’t much more interesting, but at least Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson play up the alien nature of such a creature of contradictions, if only by having her sleeping on a table or something during the talky parts. Millar’s version just seems more calculatedly vulgar, and therefore, in theory, funny.
But then, Millar does know his market, and keeping a project of this type nice and close to what’s familiar in shared-universe Marvel/DC works, with added gore ‘n cussing and a sprinkling of realistic grit… yeah, a little bit more of what the company-owned books can’t quite offer has a simple, compelling logic to it, especially when dealing with a writer who’s helped to define what today’s superhero books feel like. For me, the series’ progression has steadily devoured nearly everything I’ve found interesting or amusing about it. I should add that the art continues to be very nice, with colorist White adding a delicate texture to the mayhem with his washy hues (I particularly like when he adds a reddish sheen to characters’ noses in close-up), which does drag this up to an EH, and it might even keep me reading long enough to see where this storyline winds up.