Point-Counterpoint: Gavin Lees’ Concluding Kick-Ass Argument

Posted by on May 13th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Gavin Lees is pro-Kick-Ass, Simon Abrams is con.

Simon and I evidently have some common ground when it comes to Millar’s work, and both our arguments seem to hinge on the fact that he is an inept satirist; since, if Kick-Ass was supposed to be a satire, that completely passed me by. Unlike The Boys — Kick-Ass’ spiritual cousin — or even his latest series Nemesis, Millar doesn’t seem to poke fun at superheroes here.  In fact, he positively celebrates their actions, albeit with stern warnings about the dangers of putting yourself in the line of fire.  That’s why I disagree with Simon’s assertion that it:

half-assedly shame[s] readers by rubbing in their faces the fact that they can’t realize their power fantasies and become a superhero.

Does it?  The heroes in Kick-Ass, although they lack any kind of “super” powers — but so does Batman — are incredibly potent.  They defeat the bad guys and gain the admiration of the public.  You only have to look at the praise that’s been lauded on “have a go” heroes recently — even shameless frauds like John Smeaton — to see where Millar is coming from on this series.  The real-world setting doesn’t just apply to the science and plausibility of superpowers, but also to the relative impotency he sees in the public.  Kick-Ass and Red Mist’s greatest public reaction comes with them rescuing a kitten — with this, if anything, Millar is saying that his readers can realize their fantasies.

I know I said that Hit Girl pushed the real-world milieu beyond the believable, but is she really that implausible?  Millar lives in Coatbridge — he’s exposed to violent, foul-mouthed 10-year-olds every day. It’s not too much of stretch of the imagination to think that rather than dedicating their spare time (and blowing off schoolwork) to leveling on Call of Duty, they dedicate it to real-life killing and vigilantism.

I suspect that Simon’s assertion of Millar being a poor satirist perhaps arises from the fact that when the comic attempts any kind of political commentary, it’s drawn in big, dumb brushstrokes.  Big Daddy is a right-wing nutjob who teaches his daughter to hate left-wing nutjobs, and thus the political duotone of Kick-Ass is drawn.  With his work on Superman: Red Son, it’s evident that Millar’s own political views and his ability to write about politics, are much more nuanced, so to think that the juvenile politics on display here are not deliberately so, is wrong.  It’s very obviously aimed a pre-political readership who have yet to align themselves with any particular ideology.

Millar is an expert at giving fans what they want, which in this case is the ability to distance themselves from the slovenly image of nerd culture Millar propagates and to enjoy being as base and cruel as Millar knows that they not-so-secretly want to be.

Again, I’m inclined to disagree. I don’t think the idea is to distance the audience from nerd culture, but more a caution against losing yourself in fantasy.  Big Daddy is cast in a shameful light for living out his juvenile obsessions (he shoots his own daughter in the chest, for crying out loud) while the younger characters get off lightly and are allowed to return to the status quo of childhood relatively unscathed and with our sympathies intact.  It’s the same admonition as he used in Wanted — “Hey kids, this is OK for you to enjoy but, if you’re an adult who enjoys it, you’re pretty pathetic.”

Do I think this makes a terribly clever comment on fandom? No.  Do I think Millar is edgy and exciting because he pokes fun at the very people who read his work? No.  So, on those points we’re agreed, but where I think Millar should be celebrated is for — however inadvertently — making a kids’ comic that will seem edgy and exciting to a modern teenager.   And, yes, if you’re over 20 and still snickering when you see the word “cunt” or someone makes a Death Wish reference, you probably should take a long hard look at yourself.

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