Editor's Note: Kick-Ass #6 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 22.
Matthew J. Brady:
Matthew J. Brady
Oh, Mark Millar. You're always trying so hard to be controversial that you often forget to come up with a good story. That seemed to be the case for much of this series, which wallowed in the lameness of its title character as he tried to outgrow his comic book geekery to become an actual superhero, but mostly just kept getting the crap kicked out of him. Fortunately for readers, he doesn't show up much in this issue, with the focus being on Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, the Punisher-esque pair of criminal-killers who showed up a few issues ago. Millar makes their relationship especially amusing, with the father schooling his little girl in the ways of murder and mayhem as they kill their way through the ranks of the city's mobsters, making sure to spout plenty of right-wing propaganda as they do so. They're on a mission of vengeance, but the father says that he wants it to be fun for the daughter, so they decide to team up with Kick-Ass and his pal, Red Mist. And that's where the trouble starts…
It's pretty silly, which fits the atmosphere that Millar has created in this series, walking the line between violent drama and satirical comedy. He doesn't always successfully pull it off, and you can often almost hear his authorial voice behind the script, chuckling at how the fans will freak out at this development or that line of dialogue. But it's not terrible, and it definitely shouldn't be taken seriously. John Romita, Jr.'s art helps in that respect, since it's cartoony enough to make the violence seem unreal. I especially liked the way he drew Hit-Girl, with a height that barely reaches above men's waists and limbs that are like skinny pieces of spaghetti, yet still able to give men compound fractures. Those sorts of scenes are where the book soars; in fact, Romita has so much fun drawing these characters that you wish they were the stars of the book instead of the actual whiny protagonist.
Whether you like this book probably depends on your tolerance for Millar's shenanigans, since they're pretty much turned up all the way here. He tries so hard to be cool and shocking that he often doesn't bother to do much else, but sometimes he does it in a way that the reader goes right along with it, and the lack of substance doesn't matter. For much of this series, he hasn't managed to pull that off, and he doesn't completely do so here, but he probably comes closer than in any other issue of the series. I still probably wouldn't really recommend it, but depending on your view of Millar, you might like it anyway.
This issue of Kick-Ass provides the origin story of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a father-and-daughter team of hardened vigilantes who decide to recruit Kick-Ass to help them fight the war on organised crime.
The book opens with a slightly disturbing sequence in which the father teaches his daughter to cope with the shock of gunfire by, well, shooting her -- and things only get worse from there. Millar is clearly having fun playing with the overtly right wing Big Daddy, playing up the dark humour of the father-daughter crimefighting duo whilst also taking the time to poke fun at American gun culture, and also to push the boundaries of acceptable graphic violence in a superhero comic.
There's also a fun acknowledgement of the similarities between Big Daddy and Marvel's Punisher (unless Hit-Girl isn't being entirely truthful when she offers an explanation of their "secret origin"), which makes me wonder whether this is the kind of story Millar would turn in if he ever got his hands on the Punisher MAX title. In fact, the one thing that bothers me slightly about the pair is that they feel a little too close to being established superhero types, which doesn't quite jibe with the fictional universe of Kick-Ass (in which Dave Lizewski – a.k.a. "Kick-Ass" -- is meant to have only recently kick-started the costumed hero trend).
It's been interesting to read this series alongside the development of its movie adaptation, as there's a sense that the two different versions of the same story may have been having a cross-pollinating influence on each other. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as some classic movies/novels have been developed simultaneously in a similar manner (such as Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey). Big Daddy and Red Mist both started off in this book as minor characters, but they've gradually been brought to the forefront of the story over the past couple of issues, and I can't help but wonder whether that's because Millar has enjoyed seeing the characters come to life during the filming process of the Kick-Ass movie (in which the characters are played by Nicolas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse respectively). Whether or not this was always the plan for Kick-Ass the comic, it's interesting to see things evolve in this direction, and to see Millar discovering these personalities as he writes them. As it turns out, it's a move that has been good for the series, because these are not just good supporting characters -- they're characters that are threatening to become far more interesting than Kick-Ass himself.
In comparison, the characterisation of Dave Lizewski is fairly one-note and straightforward, even if Millar seems to be threatening to finally develop him beyond his simple roots. Millar still captures the puerile youthfulness of the title character well, both in his continuing immature attitude to crime-fighting (the scenes with the Red Mist give off a fun buddy-comedy vibe) and in his continuing preoccupation with his high school crush. However, there are hints that his secret identity is forcing him to do some growing up, with some telling moments (such as Dave's disinterest during the scene in which his classmates try to come up with a new swear word) that suggest a genuine arc of character development. Ultimately, though, Dave can't compete with the more interesting and entertaining supporting players that the book has to offer, and I'll be interested to see how Millar addresses this, or whether he'll shift his focus onto those other characters in future stories.
The art is very much what we've come to expect from the series so far: bold, chunky characters and clear storytelling in the traditional John Romita Jr. style. I picked up on a certain Dark Knight Returns vibe from his portrayal of the chunky Big Daddy and the energetically youthful female Hit-Girl, and whether or not it was a conscious reference, it works well for the characters. JR Jr.'s work on an animated segment of the movie has been cited as the reason for the delays to the book's shipping schedule, so it's nice to see him back in full force here.
Colourist Dean White plays an important role in the success of this issue's artwork, too, with subtle modifications to his colouring helping to differentiate between flashbacks and the present day. He also helps to emphasise the excitement of Dave's colourful superhero life over the comparatively dull real-world sections, and demonstrates Dave's increasing level of disconnection from his classmates with his use of pale tones for background characters in the classroom scene.
Finally, Tom Palmer's inks lend a strong sense of weight and form to Romita's pencils, as evidenced by the impressive black-and-white pages that are provided in extra material at the back of the issue.
In all honesty, I'd probably be enjoying this book a little more if it came out a little more regularly, as my affection for the title character has certainly waned slightly over the 14 months since the book's first issue was released. That said, it's still an entertaining read when it does appear, and Millar's assurances that the last few issues of this first mini-series will ship in a more timely fashion suggests that we might be in for a tight, focused conclusion over the next couple of months. The surprise twist at the end of this issue certainly makes things a lot more interesting, changing the dynamic of the group significantly (even if a slightly obvious moment of set-up earlier in the issue seems to suggest a possible method to reverse the development). Even if it's not my favourite book on the stands at the moment, I look forward to seeing how this story wraps up.
What did you think of this book?
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