When Mark Millar’s Superior dropped in stores last week, the overwhelmingly unified opinion amongst reviewer types was that it marked a sharp departure from the typical Millar fare. More eager to deliver a tug at the heartstrings than a kick in the gonads, the book exposed readers to a different Millar than the violence- oving shock artist popularized in titles like Wanted, Nemesis, and, the subject of this review, Kick-Ass. With a steady stream of “Mature Readers Only” labels beneath his byline, everyone knew that Millar comics weren’t the kind you’d want your mom to catch you reading.
To me, however, Kick-Ass has never been the pure gore and cuss fest to which so many have been quick to reduce it. While I’d certainly never advise handing the series to a ten year old, there’s much more to Kick-Ass than its reputation to gross out and offend. Much like in the similarly edgy Sin City, the gruff exterior of Kick-Ass hides a sincere and relatable story of heroism and suffering. Surprised that Millar stirred your emotions in Superior? Then you obviously weren’t paying attention when Hit Girl’s daddy died.
Many months and box office dollars later, it’s easy to see those fingerprints continue to show up all over volume two. Dave Lizewski is the same pitiable teenager with an earnest desire to save the world, still knocking ‘em dead in his finely tuned geek culture savvy story narration. When it comes to the superhero stuff, Millar repeatedly sells you on the notion of his characters’ self-styled vigilantism before serving up a harsh reminder of how silly you are for being willing to play along. It’s a familiar pattern, but one that loses little of its original effect in this latest iteration.
If there’s a significant shift in tone from the previous series to this one, it’s in the artwork. John Romita Jr. goes from full-on penciller to breakdown artist, bringing Tom Palmer on board for the finishes. The end result is a bolder and clearer presentation of Romita’s designs, with the addition of Palmer’s inkwash technique providing a more modern, sophisticated look. I suspect it will go over quite nicely in the graphic novel sections of the bookstores for which these panels are ultimately destined.
I should be careful, though, not to oversell the merits of this first issue. With all the sameness found here, it’s reasonable to ask whether Millar has sufficiently advanced the Kick-Ass saga to meet the expectations of a sequel. Aside from a few brief scenes showing us what has happened to the characters since they last appeared, nothing seems to suggest that we have stepped into a new stage of Dave’s career as Kick-Ass. Granted, the number of fellow costumed adventurers he encounters has increased, but it remains to be seen how the latest batch differs from those featured in the last volume.
When Dave lay bloody and beaten in the street on the final page of the first Kick-Ass #1, it was clear where that series would find its hook. If Millar has devised a unique theme for Kick-Ass 2, then he must be holding off on its full revelation until a future chapter.