Point-Counterpoint: Kick-Ass: WTF?

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

Gavin Lees on Kick-Ass.

I suspect the main reason why Kick-Ass and Wanted are as successful as they are is because Mark Millar is an inept satirist. Both series are rooted in a kind of cynicism that transcends the fact that he has a 10-year-old hack, slash and curse her way through several hordes of gangsters in the former title, and the wimpy desk-jockey protagonist of the latter learn to become a badman by raping a celebrity. No, what makes Millar’s comics so maddeningly insipid and obnoxious is that they allow the reader to both revel in that kind of juvenile provocation and to distance themselves from the unclean enjoyment they actively encourage. After all, both titles half-assedly shame readers by rubbing in their faces the fact that they can’t realize their power fantasies and become a superhero (Wanted ends with the protagonist jeering at the reader, “This is my face when I’m fucking you in the ass.” Whoa, ahuhuh. Did he say my ass? Ahuhuh. Cool.).

This is especially tedious in Kick-Ass, where readers are encouraged to smirk at Dave Lizewski, Millar’s modern-day equivalent of Peter Parker, while gawping and reveling in the violence he enacts as a superhero named, of all things, Kick-Ass. Lizewski is, at best, the lovable butt of Millar’s jokes. He only gets the attention of the girl he likes after he gets beaten to a pulp during his first trial run as Kick-Ass. But it’s not because she likes Kick-Ass. Instead, it’s because Dave was found naked by the paramedics, leading Lizewski’s Mary Jane to think that he’s gay (when he eventually tells her that he’s straight, she gets back at him by texting him a photo of her giving her new boyfriend a blow job). Fighting crime doesn’t make him famous in the way he wants, either, inspiring a cult of wannabe fetishists that dress up in costume when they’re not crunching numbers or resenting their bosses in their dreary little white-collar jobs (even Chuck Palahniuk fans should be rolling their eyes at this point).

Worse still, Lizewski’s super-antics are completely upstaged by the pint-sized, potty-mouthed Hit-Girl and her hulking Big Daddy, an accountant that sells his comic collection so that he can curse and kill bad guys as a costumed vigilante. The introduction of these characters in issue #4 is approximately the point where Millar’s need to have his cake and eat it too becomes unbearable. John Romita Jr.’s highly fetishized style of drawing brings out a wealth of memorably grisly details in scenes where Hit-Girl dispatches a room full of thugs with a pair of swords and a lot of sass (“Where the hell are you going, asshole? Off to phone your lawyer? Hoping someone cares about your underprivileged childhood?”). That kind of excess could arguably be read as Millar’s attempt to alienate the reader and turn the tables on their expectations by making the violence nothing more than unsexy butchery but again, he’s an incompetent satirist. While Hit-Girl slices, Lizewski recalls via captions: “She was like John Rambo meets Polly Pocket. Dakota fanning crossed with Death Wish 4.” Laugh harder, fanboy. These are the jokes.

Kick-Ass’s cynicism immediately stems from Millar’s attachment to the pretext of showing what super- heroism and -villainy looks like in “real life,” but that’s obviously as much of a feint as the series’ need to be taken seriously as a parody. 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. It’s the comics equivalent of porn, and about as intellectually stimulating.

Tomorrow: Abrams’ and Lees’ concluding arguments.

Images ©2010 Mark Millar & John S. Romita

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