How Kick-Ass Ran Out of Gas

March 16th, 2010 by | Tags: , ,

For a couple days, my neck of the woods has been victim of a pretty bad rainstorm. The kind that has people calling into where you work just to ask if you have power because they don’t and they need some place to be. The kind that has you find new routes getting home because there are trees littering the streets and, in one case, crashed into a house. The kind where you lose your cable, but are fortune enough to still have electricity and water, unlike half of the town.

So without any internet during this time, I decided it was finally time to get to reading Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s Kick-Ass.

I picked up the hardcover last week because the movie trailer makes it look fun and the JRJR art is really nice. Unlike my associate hermanos, I don’t normally hate on Millar. A lot of the time, I enjoy his work. I even didn’t mind anything about the infamous Red Skull flashback in Ultimate Avengers #5 until Millar pussied out about how even though Skull forced a woman to horrifically murder her husband and then tossed a baby out the window, he would NOT be committing any rape, no sir. Such an idea is unbefitting of a reimagining of a proud Nazi war criminal. No, dead children plus horrific murder plus ordered rape is only good enough for a reimagining of the Kingpin these days.

It’s that inability to commit that leads to my problem with Kick-Ass. I feel that the comic is really, really good… up to a point. Then the lynchpin is pulled out and the entire thing seems to implode. I’m going to be getting into some major spoilers, so if you’re waiting for the movie, this isn’t the article for you.

Our main character is David Lizewski, who starts off by introducing himself as someone who is fairly normal and not the “class geek” even though he comes off as creepy and mostly unlikeable. He starts up with trying to be a superhero with his Kick-Ass persona and for almost three issues the theme of the book is this:

“Being a superhero is ultimately impossible.”

That’s what people see as the tagline of the book, at least. At the end of the third issue, Hit-Girl makes her first appearance in a cliffhanger. Big Daddy appears soon after and they are shown to be what David’s always wanted to be… outside of how they are murderers. They are completely competent. Without all the action sequence hullabaloo, it’s best summed up with Kick-Ass deciding that he can in no way jump across rooftops, only to see Hit-Girl pull it off later on.

For the next several issues, the theme of the book changes.

“Being a superhero is ultimately impossible, except for these two. They can pull it off.”

This turned a lot of people off and I can understand why. Having Hit-Girl appear to chop people to pieces and get away scot-free is little different from having Doctor Manhattan or Captain Marvel appear. It doesn’t fit with what we’ve been served so far.

We get the origins of the two characters, first from Hit-Girl’s side. For as long as she’s been able to remember, she and her father have been moving from town to town and building her up as the ultimate killing machine so they can get revenge on the mob for killing her mother. She seems pleased with it and we know that she tells what she knows to be the truth.

Big Daddy’s side of the story is that he’s an ex-cop who wouldn’t take money from the mob. They killed his wife and he’s been spending the last ten years getting revenge for it. His main target is mafia don John Genovese.

It’s a lie. Later in the story, when tortured by the mob and it looks like his daughter is dead, Big Daddy finally spills the beans. He was never a cop. He was just an accountant who loved comics. He and his wife hated each other, so he stole his baby daughter and went on the run with her. He’s been using his old comic collection to pay for their life. They weren’t hiding from the mob, but from the authorities. The mob was just a target so they could have villains to fight. He wanted his daughter to grow up special and not hate her life like he does his.

Shortly after, he’s shot in the head. On the surface, this badass is shown to be a complete asshole loser. I mean, the guy is a monster for what he’s done and should not be commended for the horrible things he’s put his daughter through.

On the other hand, it brings everything together. He tells Kick-Ass that he’s just like him and suddenly the story makes perfect sense. The true theme appears.

“Being a superhero is actually possible after all!”

Big Daddy was just a guy. Kick-Ass could definitely reach that level of competency with enough determination and craziness.

He and Hit-Girl defeat the mobsters and go their separate ways. Hit-Girl finally tracks down the mother she never knew and starts a new life where any bully that gets in her way is doomed. And Kick-Ass?

This right here is where everything falls apart. You see, despite everything that’s happened, our superhero protagonist has accomplished very, very little. As a superhero, Kick-Ass has done the following:

– Barely saved a guy from a beating from muggers.

– Saved a cat from a burning building.

– Beat up Red Mist in a completely pointless fight. Red Mist was no danger to anyone and the sequence is nothing more than petty revenge where Kick-Ass defeats a guy who is just as lame as he is. It’s like if the climax of a Batman movie was Batman breaking into Arkham Asylum to break into Joker’s cell and lay him out.

– Shoots John Genovese in the balls, thereby saving Hit-Girl. Genovese’s reaction is one of the funniest moments in recent comics, for sure, but this accomplishment is mostly negated by the fact that it’s Kick-Ass’ fault to begin with. If he never donned the tights in the first place, there would not have been a Red Mist, meaning no double-cross against Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Chances are they would have finished off John Genovese on their own. Then again, you could say that Kick-Ass inadvertently saved Hit-Girl from the superhero life her father forced her into.

– Started a fad of weirdoes dressing up like superheroes, which isn’t much to brag about since 1) at least one of them kills himself in public and 2) the last couple pages show that this will lead to the makeshift supervillains making the scene.

Kick-Ass shouldn’t have to have been successful as a superhero. What’s more important is the way this impacts his life. Dave Lizewski should, in turn, move forward thanks to his experiences. Outside of the tights, there are three parts to Dave’s life.

1) His father. His father exists because he needs to have a parent and an excuse to be out late at night without that parent noticing. There’s a subplot in there about his father trying to move on with Dave’s mother’s death by doing internet dating. It ends with Dave walking in on his father having sex on the couch with Lucille, a woman he met on the internet. Coincidentally, this is the same woman Kick-Ass met on MySpace and tried to help out by talking down her abusive boyfriend. He was a non-factor (Hit-Girl took care of Lucille’s problem), so this reveal is nothing more than a punchline.

2) His friends. His friends are there to show that Dave has friends. That is it. No subplot whatsoever.

3) His crush, Katie. A rumor spreads that Dave is a gay prostitute, which works as a cover for how he got beat up on multiple occasions. This leads to a subplot with Katie, where she keeps him around as her gay friend. After his adventure, Dave opens up and tells her that he isn’t gay and that he loves her. She freaks out and has her boyfriend beat the shit out of him.

THAT is our ending. A punchline. Mark Millar going, “Haha, just kidding. That shit doesn’t fly in real life after all.”

Yes, maybe so, but that doesn’t lead to a good story either. I’m not saying Katie should have accepted Dave. No, she reacted as she should have. But Dave should have gotten a little something out of this situation. Some kind of victory. Maybe he is able to lay out her boyfriend with a headbutt thanks to the metal plates in his head. Maybe this whole situation is shown to lead him closer to a girl in his league. Something!

The first Spider-Man movie didn’t end with so much of a happy ending, but at least Peter was able to gain the attraction of Mary Jane before telling her to piss off. Dave goes through eight issues and has nothing to show for it. He’s in the same situation as when he started, only possibly worse off. Millar wrote this comic as being a movie-like story, so there should be some sense of character movement by this point.

Instead, Millar can’t commit and the whole adventure becomes pointless. Funny and entertaining at times? Yes. But it’s pointless. Kick-Ass is about a dude who puts on a funny costume, gets beat up a lot and briefly endures a situation with the mob. No real story, just situations.

I still plan on checking out the movie. Who knows? They changed Wanted enough. Maybe this version of Kick-Ass will have actual payoff!

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10 comments to “How Kick-Ass Ran Out of Gas”

  1. Then again, KICK-ASS is only half over…

  2. Don’t forget the healthy dose of racist overtone throughout the entire thing.

  3. You forgot the part where he gets a pic of his crush blowing her BF and admits fapping to it.

    Also is it just me or does the trailer seem cooler than the book actually was?

  4. Just saw the movie last night, and I 100% agree on the book – but the movie solves pretty much every single problem the book had, it’s better in every way. No joke.

  5. You say they changed Wanted like that made it a good movie…

  6. I just saw this movie last night and it was great. I read the first issue and hated it when it came out. I could get through the second. So me reading this post is very shocking because all the flaws you have here are not in the movie at all.

  7. What do you think inspired Millar to do this right now? Some people view the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as America thinking in black and white – like a superhero. Do you think this is some sort of response to people who legitimately think that all superhero enthusiasts want to become superheroes, secretly or overtly? Has Millar discussed this in a frank way anywhere without all the “this is the most realistic superhero comic of all time” movie marketing?

  8. If the movie doesn’t end with the face Mark Millar makes when he fucks us in the ass then I will leave a disappointed moviegoer.

  9. Millar always took me as one of those smart guys who knows how to deconstruct a story. Wanted is basically the “heroes journey/batman’s journey” where everyone does the exact opposite of what he’s supposed to do (His father fakes his own death, he hates his aged mother, he uses his powers for gain, he becomes super-cool instead of an outcast, etc…) and still succeeds by doing the opposite. In Chosen, “Ultimate Jesus” is shown to be the opposite of what you expect him to be (he’s the anti-christ instead of jesus christ). In Unfunnies, the warner brothers-influenced characters actually follow through with their violent, saddistic, and sexual adventures, rather than undercut these impulses with humor.

    Kick Ass is basically the Stan Lee formula, where he does the exact opposite of Spiderman’s story. His mother dies instead of his father figure. He dons on a mask and gets laughed at. He doesn’t get the girl, or even get the respect of the girl. He’s the exact opposite of the Peter Parker story.

    It seems like this is Millar’s only real trick. He tempers his pastiche versions (especially his creator-owned stuff) with the exact opposite of what they would normally do.

  10. The book was dishonest from the onset in the massive Frank Miller-esque bodily trauma the hero goes through, only to pop right back again, good as new but even better with a plate in his head. If it was about “real world” superheroes it should have dealt with the real, lasting effects of violence. Instead, the comic book cliche the book was supposed to be breaking, just more “Max” style ultra-violence. Millar could afford to not connect with his protagonists in The Authority because of the sheer widescreen spectacle, but the whole thing fails as the scope narrows. I gave up on this book, will not to see the movie.