Heroes Never Rust #12 by Sean Ironman

A Frustrating Superhero Comic

So far I’ve only talked about superhero comics that I enjoy. I thought it would be interesting to highlight one that I don’t. Now there’s superhero comics I hate, storylines that I feel were huge mistake, characters that I can’t stand, but I didn’t want to rail against something that I in no way enjoy. So I chose a comic that I find frustrating, frustrating because of the talent involved and the many good ideas that can be found in it.

I chose Kick Ass written by Mark Millar and drawn by John Romita, Jr.

(This isn’t Millar-bashing. Next week, I’m going to cover a comic that I love by Millar.)

Kick Ass 1

Many of you have probably heard of Kick Ass because of the two films starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Chloë Grace Moretz. The story asks the question (a common one these days, although not so much at the time it was created), What if a regular person decided to become a superhero? I find this question to be a good one in a society where violent video games are sometimes thought to make people violent. If video games can do that, wouldn’t superhero comic books make people want to become superheroes?

(Funny side story: Many years ago, well not that many, like five, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman to see if we would hit it off. Somehow the comic book character, the Punisher, came up in topic. I told this potential girlfriend that I wanted to get married some day and have kids just so that they would be killed in a mob shootout so that I could have a reason to become the Punisher. We never dated. But as I say, if they don’t support your dreams, then they shouldn’t be in your life.)

Before the comic’s release, I was very much looking forward to it. John Romita Jr. is one of the best artists in the industry, and I was a big fan of Mark Millar’s work on The Ultimates, Chosen, and Wanted. While not a good comic, I even respected him for changing up his usual punk style with lots of graphic violence, profanity, and sexual content to write the teenage romance Trouble, which is for those who don’t know a kind-of Dirty Dancing story.

Then, the first issue of Kick Ass came out.

I loved it.

Kick Ass Page 1

It opened with a man in a costume with wings on top of a skyscraper. In narration, he spoke about wanting to be a superhero. Then, he jumped.

His wings failed to open. He died crashing into a car.

Millar then introduced us to Dave Lizewski, who’s a normal high-school boy living with his father after his mother’s death, a death not by a mobster or a villain but by an aneurysm. He became a superhero not so much to save people but to do something important with his life. He was searching for something like every teenager.

On his first mission, he just walked the streets looking for trouble. He came across three graffiti artists, not the biggest of villains, and ended up getting stabbed and as he wandered away bleeding, he walked into traffic and was hit by a car, a car which drove off.

The comic was everything I had thought it would be. Great art. Great writing. It was really tackling this idea of what a plebian superhero. How would you find the bad guys? Well, just walk around and look. Millar was approaching the comic in a realistic way.

The second issue opened with Dave in the hospital. He didn’t have some high tech gadgetry that helped him heal faster. It wasn’t a black eye and a little soreness. He was hooked up to a ventilator and most of his body was in a cast. It was months before he was able to walk again, nevertheless get back out there on the street.

The end of issue three was the turning point. The introduction of Hit Girl. Now let’s get this straight: I love the character of Hit Girl. She was a lot of fun. But after she was introduced, the comic seemed to fall apart for me. For one, Hit Girl was more fun and interesting than Kick Ass. It’s a problem with a lot of stories, especially fantasy stories for some reason, but once we want to spend more time with the supporting character, the main character’s story loses it’s interest and momentum.

Kick Ass 4

But most importantly, the comic seemed to lose track of its original premise. The story started to get large. The action scenes grew into what we’d see in other superhero stories. With characters like Hit Girl and Big Daddy, the action and villains needed to get more intense because those two were so well trained and prepared. The mob was introduced. The story got so far beyond Kick Ass. It even stopped really focusing on Dave’s attempt to be a superhero. He got caught up in the mob versus Big Daddy and Hit Girl story.

I know much of my problem with Kick Ass lies in expectations. As a writer, I hate when stories are judged by the expectations readers had coming in. Once a writer writes something, it seems that everything they do after is judged not on its own but based on what the writer had already done. I came into Kick Ass expecting one story, and it ended up being something different.

I wonder though if what we as readers expect to get does matter. When I watch Thor: The Dark World next month, I’m not expecting the quality of Chinatown or Schindler’s List. But when I go see 12 Years a Slave soon, I expect more.

With Kick Ass, I wasn’t disappointed in the quality. The art is fantastic, so is the writing, coloring, inking, lettering. Every technical aspect of the comic is well made. No one was phoning it in.

Based on marketing, interviews, even the first two issues, I expected a different comic. A comic that tackles the idea of a regular person, a person in our world, trying to be a superhero.  I’m uncomfortable with my dislike of the comic based on expectations. I want to be able to judge a work based on only the quality of that work. But I do think there’s a difference between expecting a certain quality and expecting the premise to play through. I’ve read Kick Ass four times and each time it feels as if once Millar created Hit Girl and Big Daddy he lost interest in what he was writing and changed it to something else. Something akin to Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Something over the top.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.