Mark Millar has made a name for himself in the last decade or so as one of the most challenging and talented writers of superhero comics around. While he’s risen through the superhero writing ranks working on characters owned by Marvel and DC, he’s taken this traditionally restrictive genre a step or two further with his own creations. As you plot a course from his regular comics work, through stories like Wanted, right up to Kick-Ass, you can see his trajectory: moving superheroes back out of realm of the potentially over-serious 30-year-old, where they’ve arguably spent much of the post-Watchmen era, and back into the hands of those who should appreciate them most. Because Kick-Ass is a superhero comic about the stupidity, not the dark seriousness, of superheroes.
Kick-Ass is the alter-ego of Dave Lizewski, a bored, geeky teenager with a comics habit and a distinct lack of girlfriend. He decides to add a little pazazz to his life by donning a costume – in this case a wet suit – and going out onto the street to fight crime. Needless to say, a costume doesn’t make you a superhero. But when someone captures one of his fights on a mobile phone and posts it on YouTube, Kick-Ass finds himself addicted to the attention.
This is an exploration of what might happen if a kid without superpowers were to try and emulate his comic-book heroes and take to the streets. It’s got elements of fantasy and reality, managing to both glamourise the notion while simultaneously delivering a hard-hitting reality check in the graphic violence that Kick-Ass both dishes out and receives. Sure, he gets a MySpace following, but he also narrowly escapes death and is horrifically beaten and tortured by gangsters.
He also teams up with a father and potty-mouthed 10-year-old daughter superhero team, famous from the film version because script-writer Jane Goldman didn’t remove Millar’s use of the ‘c’ word. In fact it’s far from gratuitous, more a part of her extraordinary ability to shock her adversaries into stunned silence before slicing them up like sushi with her expert two-handed swordsmanship.
An important part of culture’s place in our lives is to offer us an insight into worlds and experiences that we’d otherwise have no right to access. Kick-Ass doesn’t just fulfil that role, it’s tied into the story. By lacing it with references to social networking, and smearing it with bad language and gore, Mark Millar gives it the shock appeal that should appeal to the entertainment tastes of the YouTube generation. But this doesn’t exclusively make it a comic for teenagers. It’s like a comics stealth bomb, far more likely to get movie-going youngsters picking up comics than those coming out of seeing Watchmen in 2009 and flicking through Alan Moore’s weighty masterpiece.
But it’s also, and perhaps more importantly, a fun and deliciously anarchic piece of entertainment. There’s some depth to it courtesy of the comics within comics thing, but beyond that it’s a simple affair with few surprises beyond its basic premise. But really, it doesn’t need it. Enjoy it for what it is – an entertaining and gory cautionary tale, about a boy without any superpowers who wanted to be a superhero.
Other books by Mark Millar:
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