Kicking Ass, 80s style! Propaganda gets grim and gritty.
What would happen if you tried to be a superhero?
That’s the concept behind Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s new Marvel Icon series. And it’s a weird one this. Because it’s John Romita being inked by Tom Palmer so it looks just like something right out of the 1980s, specifically Starbrand from Marvel’s awful New Universe experiment. But the subject matter is something that really belongs in the mid to late 1990s when everyone was doing needlessly dark, nasty and seedy superheroes.
It’s all about an average teen who just decides to become a superhero. But this is no Peter Parker geeking his way innocently through school, but a street wise modern kid who swears, jerks off to thoughts of his Biology teacher and just wants to be a superhero because it would be just be pretty cool and something to do. So that’s just what he goes ahead and does. Gets a second hand wetsuit off ebay for a costume, pumps a few weights, starts wearing the costume at school for a thrill, hangs around rooftops posing to himself and spends evenings trying to come up with cool superhero names. He’s discovered that the thrills he was missing in his normal teenage life can all be found through wearing a dodgy pervert suit and playing out his adolescent power fantasies.
“The first time I ogled myself in the bedroom mirror I realised how far off the mark the comic books had been. It didn’t take a trauma to make you wear a mask. It didn’t take your parents being shot, or cosmic rays or a power ring. Just the perfect combination of loneliness and despair”.
Art by John Romita Jr from Kick-Ass 1, written by Mark Millar, Published Marvel Comics.
But after a little while of this, he decides to actually go out and perform heroic deeds. Which is where it all goes to shit. Turning up on a playground and challenging a group of kids spray painting the walls when all you’ve got is a wet suit, billy club and average strength is never going to turn out well. And it doesn’t.
“Two broken legs, my spine crushed, and dressed like a fucking pervert. My dad was going to kill me.”
So it’s a good first issue, and if you’re a fan of Millar’s work you’ll love it. In many ways it’s a perfect distillate of every trick and style Millar has in his writing arsenal. He’s obviously got plans for taking the character further, as the first few pages imply that not only does he snafu some mob deal but he also becomes an inspiration for all sorts of nutters who think jumping off roofs is a good lifestyle choice. Art-wise it’s always going to depend on whether you like Romita Jr’s style of art. Because that’s just what you get. Solid, dependable, blocky and instantly recognisable. Personally I like it, but only because it takes me straight back to childhood on a wave of nostalgia for blocky Iron Man and blocky X-Men.
But the overall feeling I got from the book was deja-vu. It read like a trying too hard grim and gritty post Watchmen tale. In fact the whole deliberately seedy, grim & gritty feel to the book just serves to remind me of Warren Ellis’ Planetary episode where he mercilessly ridiculed the trend in the 80s and 90s post Watchmen world for taking anything light and simple and deliberately making it into something far darker and more serious than it ever should have been.
In the episode of Planetary I’m thinking of our Hero is bemoaning his fate, and the only difference I can see is that he’s meant to be Superman, whilst the kid in Kick-Ass is more Spider-Man:
“I should have been noble! clean! single! I didn’t want to wake up in Soho with twelve valiumed-up rentboys and terrible stains on my tights!”
“I wasn’t hip, I wasn’t trendy, I wasn’t edgy, and … that was okay”.
And Kick Ass, unless Millar is taking the whole thing in some unexpected and different direction with issue 2 onwards is exactly the grim and gritty and downright grubby comic revisionism that Ellis was taking the piss out of. And because I was around to see the obsession with grim and gritty to the point of absurdity, it’s all I can really see when I read Kick Ass. So although I can see that Kick-Ass #1 is a good comic, and I enjoyed it, despite the obvious flaws, it seems to belong to another time and I can’t really see what it’s doing here in 2008.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.