August 16, 2013

In Which I Am RE-Sensitized to Violence: a review of "Kick-Ass 2" by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

Kick-Ass 2
written by Mark Millar
illustrated by John Romita, Jr.
Marvel Comics (2012)
208 pages
ISBN13: 9780785152453

Despite watching my fair share of violent films and reading books with scenes of violence too, I'm now desensitized to it the way wingnut lobbies would like to believe. That said, I might be re-sensitized to violence in fiction after reading Kick-Ass 2.

The first Kick-Ass saw a teen boy through a strange twist of fate--and a serious ass-whuppin'--discover the ability to withstand ungodly amounts of punishment. So, what's a boy to do upon this news? Why, roam the streets in a homemade superhero costume to--you guessed it--kick ass. The book felt like a cross between social commentary and fetishism. I was a little conflicted after reading that first book, simultaneously entertained and feeling a little dirty for it. With Kick-Ass 2, Mark Millar has astonishingly raised the level of violence so much that I am actually disappointed by the book. To hell with subtlety.

Kick-Ass has secretly joined up with a group of like-minded vigilantes, worrying his father greatly in the process. At the same time, Hit Girl actually quits at the urging of her stepfather, a detective with the NYPD. Oh, she wants to get out there and slice and dice the scum of the earth, but she feels guilty over her mother's poor mental health and doesn't want to push her over the edge. She's not enjoying the quaint, normal life given to her now that she's no longer fighting crime at her father's side. As for Red Mist, who went into hiding after Kick-Ass and Hit Girl killed his father and laid waste to the criminal organization he was to inherit, he's back with a new moniker and a psychopathic thirst for revenge.

Visually, this book is as vibrant as the first in capturing the cruelty and sadistic nature from both the villains and would-be heroes. But the story itself was lost on me. The childhood dreams of becoming a superhero coupled with the harsh consequences they entail is something that really has a lot of meat to it, but it felt in this case that the payoff was lacking. As guilty as Kick-Ass feels for betraying his father's trust, and even endangering his life, it never really weighs on him enough to change himself for the better. He seems inexorably driven to pursue his superhero fantasy no matter what the cost. There's nothing redemptive in him or Hit Girl for that matter. They're ultimately tragic and pathetic characters at this point. They're only close to likable or relatable contrasted against the Motherfucker (aka Red Mist), a character so unbelievably depraved now in this book I find it hard to accept he can tie his own shoes, let alone effectively run a criminal enterprise.

Maybe if the book offered some kind of satisfying resolution, I might have been on board with it--maybe Millar wanted to thumb his nose at that whole idea--but the climax and final scenes strained credulity to its breaking point. I don't want to spoil things, but if you read the book and found the way it all ended satisfying, feel free to explain it to me. I'm not sure how the new movie strays from the graphic novel, but this is a case where I'm hoping the movie tries something different. The trailers look promising, but I'll be waiting for the DVD.

Kick-Ass 2 is available via

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