The film adaptation of the creator-owned, Marvel-published Kick-Ass, by writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr., just hit movie theaters around the U.S. Cue new collected edition of the book with “Now a Major Motion Picture!” emblazoned on the cover. And while many hardcore comic enthusiasts might find themselves reluctant to purchase these tie-ins, the Kick-Ass book is actually a very nice collection.
The “Premiere Hardcover” edition collects issues #1–8 of the comic, comprising the entirety of the first major story arc. Though its cover does include the aforementioned text, effectively outing purchasers as “fans after the release of the film,” it opts for new artwork by Romita on the dust cover rather than movie poster images, which is a nice touch. One version features Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, weapons in hand, covered in blood. The other features a downtrodden Kick-Ass, sitting on his bed without his mask.
Aside from the black hardcover with yellow letters, and the collection of chapters 1–8, fans get two pages worth of bios of the comic’s creators, a two-page spread of “Kick-Ass’s Greatest Hits” (the most ultra-violent moments from the comics that comprise Book One), a few variant covers and a poster drawn by Romita of the characters in the movie versions of their costumes. It doesn’t offer any behind-the-scenes in-depth features a la DC’s Absolute editions, but it is a nice set at $24.99 to help fans get caught up with the series before or after seeing the movie.
For those unfamiliar, Kick-Ass’s creators have dubbed it “The Greatest Superhero Comic of All Time.” While this may be a bit of an overstatement, the book is quite entertaining. Kick-Ass tells the tale of Dave Lizewski, a comic-book nerd just like you or me. Like everyone else, he has fantasies of being a superhero. Unlike the rest of us, he wonders why after years and years of comics no one has really given it a try. Putting on a mask and helping people doesn’t sound like such a far-fetched idea to Dave.
So he orders himself the most badass scuba suit he can find on eBay and takes to the streets. For the first several weeks, he does little but patrol the rooftops. After a while, he decides to encounter a trio of hoodlums causing trouble. It doesn’t go well, and he winds up with a knife in the gut; a car hits him as he stumbles away; and he wakes up severely injured in the hospital. But despite having some metal plates put in his head, suffering numerous broken bones, and burning his comics collection in defiance, Dave eventually winds up back in the suit and on the street.
His next encounter goes a bit better than the first. He gets his ass kicked again, but this time finds a way to stave off a gang of bad guys to protect their target. Someone just so happens to be recording it, and the video becomes a YouTube sensation. Embracing the modern age, Kick-Ass starts a MySpace page to learn the problems of the world, as patrolling just isn’t efficient enough. It also inspires a wealth of copycats of varying qualities, and, of course, villains.
The main success Kick-Ass finds is in its “superheroes in real life” premise. Despite dealing primarily with children in costume, Millar (Civil War, Wanted) pulls no punches when it comes to the reality of a child fighting crime. It often ends in pain, and sometimes even death. It both accepts and comments on modern culture and how people become stars, and in doing so makes its premise that much more believable, as absurd as it is.
And Millar finds humor in the absurdity as well, creating some well-paced inner monologues and dialogue for big laughs that are truly earned. But its humor can also often be very high school in its tone. And as many people as there are who will embrace both this aspect and the ultra-violence of Kick-Ass, there will be just as many who find it childish and morally reprehensible. Make no mistake, Kick-Ass is brutally violent, and a 10-year-old girl who slices and dices without remorse and uses just about every swear word in the book isn’t for everyone. In fact, it really shouldn’t be, but Millar finds a way to make it endearing, or at the very least good fun. Kick-Ass features a “Mature Content” warning on the back, and it’s not without reason, as much credited to John Romita Jr.’s gritty art as Millar’s writing.
Kick-Ass also has its fair share of flaws. As much as Millar paces certain chapters, action scenes, and jokes incredibly well, he also sometimes fills panels with needless side notes and extra adult content for the hell of it. It’s not perfect, and definitely not for everyone, but when it’s on, Kick-Ass can be one of the more entertaining comics around, and definitely earns a unique spot in the medium, doing something new with the concept of superheroes. The greatest of all time? Probably not. Kick-ass? For sure.
Reviewed by William Jones on July 20, 2011