Comics Time: Kick-Ass #1-4

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Kick-Ass #1-4

Mark Millar, writer

John Romita Jr., artist

Marvel/Icon, 2008

32 pages each

$2.99 each

The first four issues of Mark Millar’s John Romita Jr.-drawn creator-owned series leave me with two dominant impressions: 1) JRJR’s work is so pretty! 2) I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic so terrified of homosexuals. It honestly could be entered into a court case as proof positive of the “gay panic” defense. Good guys, bad guys, and neutral characters alike drop homophobic epithets like they were going out of style (which they are!), and the main character spends about twice as much page time tearing himself up for allowing the girl he likes to believe he’s gay than he does recovering from watching people get horribly slaughtered in front of him. So far no actual homosexuals have been sexually assaulted or murdered, which in a Mark Millar comic is saying something, but the uptick in “black characters used as cannon fodder” is significant even in Millar’s racially dubious oeuvre, so it’s sort of a wash.

The story is actually a comparatively subdued variation on Millar’s standard routine of adding ultraviolence and a few nods at “realism” to the superhero genre (cf. Ultimates, Wanted, The Authority, War Heroes). This time out, a middle-school (I think) loser, baffled that no one in the world has ever thrown on a mask and costume and gone out to fight crime, up and does so. The gimmick is that when he does so, he gets his ass kicked in spectacularly bloody fashion, over and over, even when he comes out the victor. That’s kind of a funny idea, and Millar (relatively speaking) undersells it, eschewing his usual trick of having the characters tell the reader exactly how awesome they are and dialing the braggadocio down to believably adolescent-male levels.

What it’s mainly good for is allowing Romita to cut lose with all his quirks: wrinkly clothes and finely delineated hair, fights that are a ballet of blocky bodies twisting through the air and torrents of blood gushing like one of those fancy fountains that can spell out words and make pictures of dolphins in whatnot that they have in Asian commerce centers, cute little details (a t-shirt reading “WHATEVER IT IS, AMAGANSETT”–a pop-culture gag whose idiosyncracy stands out in a comic written by a guy who’s still doing Paris Hilton references). Dean White, the sensational colorist find of the past couple years, gives JRJR’s art a milky warmth unique enough to actually say something about the spectacular art it’s supporting. By the time the ten-year-old little-girl ninja shows up and starts slicing up gangstas while calling them “cunts” you realize what a waste of Romita’s capital-A Art it all is, but only homos would complain, and you’re not a homo, right?

20 Responses to Comics Time: Kick-Ass #1-4

  1. Jim Treacher says:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic so terrified of homosexuals.”

    How about Preacher? I guess the difference would be that Ennis is actually funny.

  2. I haven’t read Preacher, though when I interviewed Johnny Ryan he described as the work of someone who is obviously gay himself.

  3. Kenny says:

    I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I honestly feel like everyone is missing the point of Kick Ass. I feel it’s satire that’s making fun of how insular and stupid most comic readers are. Most comic readers spend all their time on the internet flaming other people with cries of “homo” and “faggot,” mixed with empty threats of kicking ass in real life. So, this comic is kinda like, “What if one of those nerds actually decided to grow a pair, go out in the real world, and treated everyone like anonymous posters on a message board, but also looked at the world in some simplistic black versus white comic book way?” The answer is, the person who did that would get their ass handed to them repeatedly. Reading it in that light, the book is very mean spirited to it’s audience, but most of it’s audience isn’t getting the idea that they’re the punchline, and they’re like, “This isn’t very good….” The book is hysterical and I’m sad more people aren’t finding the humor.

    As far as some sort of fear of gay people, I can’t find that in this book. The gay slurs so far have been used by people who are trying to sound tougher than they are, and when they’re examined in context of the whole work, the only conclusion I can draw is this book is claiming anyone who uses a gay slur to sound tough isn’t actually tough.

  4. gar says:

    So, who is willing to explain the AMAGANSETT gag?

  5. Jim Treacher says:

    I haven’t read Preacher

    Make sure you’re lying down, it might give you the vapors.

    And is there anybody Johnny Ryan doesn’t think is gay? That’s one of the reasons I like him.

  6. Jim Treacher says:

    I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I honestly feel like everyone is missing the point of Kick Ass. I feel it’s satire that’s making fun of how insular and stupid most comic readers are.

    That’s what it’s trying to do, yeah. That’s what a more talented writer would be able to do with the idea, sure.

  7. Kenny: Simply put, given his track record, Mark Millar is just about the last person who’d be capable of making the point you think this comic is trying to make.

  8. Sean B says:

    “Kenny: Simply put, given his track record, Mark Millar is just about the last person who’d be capable of making the point you think this comic is trying to make.”

    Oh, now see that’s funny.

    I read it for Romita’s art, to be honest. Nobody in comics does bombastic action better than him (Planet Hulk and that current Spidey arc are prime examples).

    There’s this bit in the book “Soon I Will Be Invincible” where the badguy describes going toe-to-toe with a superhero as like being involved in a head-on collision over and over again. Romita is one of the few guys out there who captures that. I’d say he’s second only to Kirby on that front.

  9. CRwM says:

    What happened to making fun of critics for applying their “good-think” templates to stuff? Or are Frank Miller and Alan Moore the only two we should not be applying our ideological concerns to?

    I’m confused.

    It would be of helpful if we could create some sort of guidelines that make it clear why, say, showing a gay guy as monster who would happily ass-rape somebody to death (as Moore has done) is okay but having a straight guy worry that a girl thinks he’s gay (as Millar has done) is not. That would lay down a ground rule for when I should ignore intellectually asinine knuckle-dragging crap and when I should call BS and cop ‘tude.

    Right now it seems like we’re being a bit random.

  10. Well, I’d say that you can evaluate a potentially problematic incident in the context of the rest of that work in particular and that author’s work in general and come up with different responses, but I get the sense from your editorial-we construction that the point of your comment was snark, so I’m gonna sit here and be chastised instead.

  11. CRwM says:

    The snark was uncalled for. Sorry.

    Though the question stands. Are you really going to look back into the works of Frank Miller and Alan Moore and show how they’re actually enlightened about gender and racial politics?

    You gave Gossip Girls a demerit for having rapey guy as a sort of anti-hero, but Watchmen’s Silk Specter I leaving a big old lipstick kiss on the photo of her own rapist didn’t get a mention in your re-read review. Now Millar gets the business for being homophobic, but the Spartan’s repeated, and anachronistic, derogatory references to the Athenians as homosexuals doesn’t seem to merit dressing down Frank Miller.

    Not that I’m defending Millar. I’m no fan of any of these three comic creators. But, honestly, where’s the line? And why has Millar crossed and these others haven’t?

  12. CRwM says:

    The snark was uncalled for. Sorry.

    But the question stands. Why give Millar the business, but not hand a demerit to Frank Millar for anachronistically having his Spartans repeatedly use homosexuality as a slur against the Athenians?

    Earlier you questioned the wisdom of the Gossip Girls having a rapey guy as an anti-hero (thought they apparently retconned it out), but the Watchmen’s Silk Specter giving a big old lipsticky kiss to the photo of her rapist didn’t merit a mention in your re-read review. (For the record, the Silk Specter missing her rapist as part of “the good old days” is what gets my vote for what “good-think” reviewers will latch on to, not the Manhattan vs. VC thing.)

    Why have Millar and the Gossip Girls crossed lines, while ideological/moral objections to works of Miller and Moore are misplaced?

  13. CRwM says:

    Hmmmm. My preview posted. Yet another thing to be sorry for.

  14. I mean, I definitely don’t deny taking these things on a case-by-case basis, as you say.

    With the specific Moore cases you mentioned: Surely reading Hyde’s violation of the Invisible Man (I assume that was what you were referring to in the earlier comment?) as some sort of gay libel is belied by the approach to sexuality evinced in The Mirror of Love, Lost Girls, Black Dossier, etc.? I don’t think Hyde can be read as a homosexual–just a monster. In that sense Moore’s reducing rape to its fundamental nature as an act of power and violence rather than just a particularly nasty extension of normal sexual relations. With Watchmen/Silk Spectre/Comedian, I actually find that a pretty ballsy and nuanced approach to the relationship that victims of rape can have with the people who assault them when those people are their significant others. It’s certainly not as though Moore is applauding Sally’s feelings as a model for other women to follow, but it’s simplistic to deny such things exist.

    With Miller and 300, it comes down to that one line about “boy-lovers,” which Miller has described as a case of the Spartans hypocritically attacking something they themselves indulge in when it’s done by people they don’t like. (I don’t recall this being done repeatedly.) And again, we’re meant to see the Spartans as extremists–surely no one thinks Miller is literally endorsing infanticidal eugenics, just by way of a for instance. In general, I don’t think gay characters in Miller’s work come out looking any better or worse than the straight ones. For me, at least, random and uncharacterizable bits like the “sweet old transsexual” Josie in Sin City offset the boylover stuff.

    This isn’t going to help me at all, i realize, but Gossip Girl I’m actually now okay with! I really do think it was just a case of the writers blowing it with that character in the pilot, then getting a handle on him later on. It reminds me of back when Batman used to pack heat and shoot people.

    In all these cases, there’s enough to recommend the work on aesthetic (and even ethical) terms that the benefit of the doubt is more than earned.

    Millar, on the other hand–not so much.

  15. CRwM says:

    Fair ’nuff.

  16. No worries about the snark btw. No sooner had I chided you for it than I realized I snarked the hell out of poor Noah Berlatsky today over at Heidi MacDonald’s blog. It happens!

  17. Jim Treacher says:

    Shorter version of what Sean just said: People are not a collection of labels.

  18. Anonymous says:

    “I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I honestly feel like everyone is missing the point of Kick Ass. I feel it’s satire that’s making fun of how insular and stupid most comic readers are.”

    Yes! of course! Garth Ennis, Dan Slott, Brian Michael Bendis, Rick Veitch, Tony Bedard, Paul Dini, Alan Moore, Evan Dorkin, Heidi MacDonald, Warren Ellis, Will Pfeifer, Gerard Jones, Will Jacobs, Johanna Draper Carlson, Mark Waid, Chuck Austen, Erik Larsen, 90% of everyone who’s ever worked the comics journal, they all haven’t succeeded in making this point, but Surely Millar will crack the fanboys for good and SAVE COMICS!

  19. craven says:

    i have no intentions of watching this movie i don’t mind watching movies with swearing in or violence i also like nicolas cage but this movie well they have cast 12 year old actress Chloe moretz in it and they have turned her into a violent puppet does anyone think that her fans will get to see this movie i mean they have probably grown up around chloe’s movies and will obviously be around chloe’s age this movie has been given an R rating in the united states meaning it has adult themes however anyone under the age of 18 can go see this movie providing they are with an adult that may well be in america luck Chloe Moretz fans can go see it but in the United Kingdom we do not have R rated certificates we do have an equivelant which is an 18 certificate which means no one under the age of 18 can see this movie unless you are 18 or over chloe grace moretz fans in the United Kingdom are in for a huge dissappointment because they wont be able to see it which is a bummer for them as american chloe moretz fans will providing that they have an adult with them i really feel for chloe’s british fans!

  20. craven says:

    further more when it premieres in the UK with it being an 18 certificate does anyone think chloe herself will be able to watch it in an interview she states she will be watching the movie in 2010 when it opens first in america remember R rating she herself will be able to watch it cos she will have her family there but when it opens in Great Britain i wouldn’t like to say what the outcome would be there