August 26, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Kick-Ass" by Mark Millar

Title: Kick-Ass
Author: Mark Millar
Illustrator: John Romita Jr.
Published: Marvel Comics (2010); originally published as series in 2008
Genre: Superheroes; Comedy
ISBN 978-0-7851-3435-0

Wow, this was not exactly the graphic novel I was expecting to read. I knew it was going to be violent, as critics of the film adaptation seemed to take exception with Hit Girl's violent antics. What I didn't know was that the book was drenched in blood, piss, and more nudity that just about any Marvel comic I've ever read.

If you're not familiar with this graphic novel, the setup is pretty easy. Take a nerdy loner in high school who is looking for a way to break out of his shell, then give him the inspiration to dress up like a superhero and roam the streets looking to save the day. You might have heard on the news a few years ago about real life people who do this sort of thing. They dress up in wild costumes then go out in public and perform vigilante style justice and make citizen arrests. That might be where Millar got his inspiration from, actually.

Dave Lizewski sticks to dressing up in his green scuba suit and mask at night, so he can skulk through alleys and even wear his outfit under his regular clothes--you know, for that whole Superman feel when he rips his shirt off to reveal the costume underneath. Then he tries to confront some actual thugs. Where superheroes always get the upper-hand on lowlifes, Dave is beaten mercilessly. Punched, stomped, and even stabbed ... then run over by a car for good measure.

For some reason, he persists in his superhero fetish after physical rehabilitation. That's when he really has to hide his antics from his father, friends, and everyone else. But he also becomes a YouTube sensation when he finally beats up some bad guys, earns the name "Kick-Ass," and discovers he isn't the only one parading around the city in a costume fighting crime. Enter Hit Girl and Big Daddy.

Now that Chloe kid in the movie trailers--I haven't seen the movie yet--looks downright adorable, like a kid wearing a bad-ass Halloween costume. But in the graphic novel, Hit Girl looks like a tiny little maniac. She makes her first appearance in the book to save Kick-Ass from getting killed, and the wrath she lays upon the apartment full of gangsters is unholy. If you're not expecting something like that, then you'll do what I did and do a double-take at the pages while Hit Girl slices bad guys to pieces. An eleven year old, mind you, commits what I think is the most extreme, atrocious violence in the entire book.

Despite the fleeting shock value that comes with such stark scenes, the story does resonate on a certain level. Dave just wants to create his own identity, find himself somewhere in all the madness, and winds up seduced by the marginal fame he acquires. And the tragic circumstances of Hit Girl and her so-called origin story are just a harsh call to how messed up some parents can be. Big Daddy might be, in my estimation, a woefully unfit parent, but he's only fictional and I've seen far worse examples of parenting on the six o' clock news.

It's a good book, but it is by no means a cutesy piece of popcorn fluff for the little kids. This is a relentless, hyper-violent look at what it would really take to run around in spandex and chase villains. If there's a second volume to this, and by the looks of the ending there ought to be, then I'll definitely want to read it.

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