Before it was all over the media with film trailers and stories of controversy, Kick-Ass was Mark Millar's new collaboration with John Romita, Jr. One of my local comic shops was part of the poster campaign, so I heard about it at the beginning. Published by Marvel's ICON imprint, the comic is a must-read, especially with the film opening this week in the US. Millar and Romita have created a story that's visceral, violent, and fun.
I've been a fan of this book since I saw the first issue on the shelf at my local comic shop. It's hard to miss, with "KICK-ASS" emblazoned across the cover in bold type, not to mention the hyperbolic statement, "The greatest superhero of all time is finally here!" Kick-Ass might not be the greatest superhero of all time, but the comic is one of the greatest I've read. The story could be about any comic fan who dared to ask what would happen if one of us tried what we read about every week? Most likely our fate would be pretty close to Dave Lizewski; we'd get our asses kicked and wind up in the hospital. But maybe one person would actually do some good or get mixed up with some other hero-types and get more than he bargained for. Therein lies the genius of Kick-Ass. Millar doesn't give us a hero that gets in over his head and triumphs on his own. He almost gets killed. He gets humiliated. He gets saved by a 10-year-old girl.
That brings me to Hit-Girl. She is one of my top 10 favorite characters of all time, and she's a 10-year-old. Most 10-year-olds I know are not what I want to read about when I crack open a comic, but Hit-Girl is. She's funny, she's foul-mouthed, and she can rock blades like Beatrix Kiddo and the Crazy 88 combined. Much of the controversy surrounding the film is attributed to Millar's handling of her character. Critics say it's unhealthy behavior for a kid her age to be engaging in violence and cursing. Well, duh. That's what makes it great reading--not because we want to be like Big Daddy and create a pint-sized assassin, but because it's great commentary on how parents can really damage their kids in the interest of what they think is best for them.
There are so many interesting elements in the story it's hard to mention them all. I loved the family dynamics: Dave and his dad, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, Chris and his dad. I loved Kick-Ass's rise to fame, and his awful initiation into the world of being a superhero. Dave truly is an Everyman (or more aptly, an Everynerd). Stan Lee used to say that people liked Marvel Comics because they featured real people with real problems. Dave Lizewski certainly fills that bill.
John Romita, Jr.'s art makes the comic. I'm used to his work on Spider-Man, and this is much different. He mastered the art of gore in the pages of Kick-Ass. You can see that in his cover work. One great thing about this series is that there are pages where there's not a lot of dialogue. Romita's action sequences shine in these pages with blood and guts and gore in the very best way. Is it weird to say that he makes violence beautiful? I don't think so. (I also asked myself that question of Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino, and the answer was no there as well.)
The truth is, this isn't a book for everyone. It's gritty, violent, and irreverent in all the best ways. That being said, it could be a great introduction to comics for that friend you have who loves violent movies and says superhero books don't have a backbone. If you haven't gotten a chance to read this yet, you can pick up a hardcover at your local purveyor of comics and graphic novels, and you can catch it on the big screen this Friday. Trust me, you'll kick yourself if you miss this one.