I have always had mixed feelings about Mark Millar’s and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass. On one hand, I feel like it has a tendency to go for over-the-top, nihilistic violence as a simplistic deconstruction of the superhero genre. Which, while effectively demonstrating that the concept of superheroes in the real world would be somewhat ineffective and silly, means that we’ve gotten a lot of likable characters getting their faces kicked in so that Millar can try to make a point. It doesn’t take a genius to point out that a dipshit with a stick in a spandex suit would lose to the business end of a .45, and after a while, seeing it happen over and over again just feels fucking mean. There’s no great joy or enlightenment in seeing a costumed adventurer you’ve grown to like getting stabbed and beaten to death; it just feels like the comic writing equivalent of having your head jammed in a junior high school toilet while a jock bellows, “Superheroes are fucking stupid, wuss!”
The best part of the Kick-Ass universe has been Hit-Girl, who is as close to an actual superhero as exists in this world. And even granting that the character was probably only created to show that a kid sidekick would grow up to be hopelessly warped, and that any really effective superhero would need to resort to extreme violence in order to be in any way effective, she provided the only real and exciting superhero action in any of the Kick-Ass miniseries. And while we are only in the second issue of the Hit-Girl miniseries, and while it’s probably safe to say that, as with Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, everything will end in tears, that particular book is simply action-packed, interesting, and just fucking fun. At least, for now.
The Hit-Girl miniseries has a simple conceit behind it: Hit-Girl is in a normal, suburban home and utterly failing at being a regular 12-year-old girl. Kick-Ass is still a mope wandering around in a costume and getting his balls stomped on a regular basis. So they agree to trade: Hit-Girl will teach Kick-Ass how to be an effective superhero, and Kick-Ass will, in turn, teach Hit-Girl how to act like a real teenager. It’s like Pretty Woman, in that Hit-Girl will also never show off her jugs. Which is a good thing; I don’t need the hysterical blindness or the associated jail time. But I digress.
In this issue, that partnership starts to bear fruit. The team goes trolling for street-level muggers to give Kick-Ass some practice, they work on Kick-Ass’s window-crashing and associated entrance jokes (Although confusing the word, “knuckle” for “fucking” should only happen on niche porn sites), and work up to taking on an actual organized crime meeting. So for the first time, and I’m sure on a temporary basis, we have some actual superhero action in this superhero comic book.
But in the spirit of Kick-Ass, the superhero action maintains a level of realism that grounds the book… although this time, it make it feel real as opposed to just plain depressing. Seeing Kick-Ass damn near knocking himself out trying to crash through a plate glass window head-first, and later breaking his hand trying to punch a mafioso, are not only realistic, but really funny. And seeing Hit-Girl back up Kick-Ass with an automatic weapon, protest that she thought the gun was full of tranquilizers… and then whack another goon and protest, “Sorry, I thought that was a tranquilizer, too,” is just good fun. Good, clean, violent, bloody fun.
Further, seeing Kick-Ass try to teach killing machine Hit-Girl how to act like an empty-headed preteen girl is simply priceless. Seeing her trying to come to grips with having to read Twilight and give a shit about clothing, and embracing the project as being necessary for protecting her secret identity, all while treating it as a joyless undercover project, is just fun. By making Hit-Girl an action-movie loving, non-clothes-obsessed, profane superhero encyclopedia, Millar has created a character that most male comic gooks could only wish existed in junior high school. Of course, being a dude, I wonder how relatable the character would be to actual women, but at least for guys, Millar has created a prepubescent retroactive fuck fantasy. For which he may do jail time. Or at least face angry questions from San Diego Batgirl. But I digress again.
The art by John Romita, Jr is, well, art by John Romita Jr. The man is not my favorite artist; his stuff alternates between abstract and cartoony in long and medium shots, and overly busy and finely detailed in close-ups. There are drawings of Hit-Girl where her head looks like a giant pink orange wobbling precariously on a noodle neck. On the first page, her head is wider than her fucking shoulders, for Christ’s sake. And there are some shots of Kick-Ass in disguise with a cane and shades that made me immediately flash back to Matt Murdock in Romita’s run on Daredevil back in the late 80s, which just hammered home for me that this guy has been doing the same thing for 25 years… and it simply doesn’t work for me. Because of that – we’ll call it “consistency” – if you like Romita’s style, you will like this art. For me? Well, the storytelling is clear, so I could put up with it.
This book is a Kick-Ass book, which means that I know to expect that by the end, there will be grotesque violence, terrible tragedy, and at least one of these characters will wind up dead or maimed, all to show me, a comic book fan who would only find this book by going out of his way to enter a comic book store, that superheroes could never work in the real world. And that’s okay; I bought the ticket, I’ll take the ride. But in Hit-Girl #2, Millar strikes the perfect balance between superhero action, and putting that same action under enough of a microscope to plant it within what one might call the “real world.” For one issue at least, the man gets it right. Check it out… just don’t get used to it.