I would be more inclined to like the Kick-Ass franchise if it wasn’t edgy and shocking for the sake of it. After reading both volumes, I’ve avoided the first film because it wasn’t something that appealed to me. It seemed to reward Mark Millar with big bags of money for coming up with shock factor in print and not including it in on-screen.

According to this interview, its sequel will have none of that “censorship” bull; apparently Kick-Ass 2 is going to have the child murder, mass character death and gang rape of Kick-Ass’s crush/love interest/whatever that was in the second volume of the book, so it doesn’t look like that is going to appeal to me, either.

It’s that type of stuff that really puts me off about certain comics, but I’m not sure why. I have trouble figuring out why Punisher: MAX, in all its “hang him by his intestines” glory, doesn’t bother me, but stuff like WantedSuperman: Red Son and Kick-Ass do. They’re all written by Mark Millar, and they always have an interesting premise, but by the end I always feel depressed, deflated and pessimistic.

They treat characters as playthings, giving them optimistic hope and then slamming them into an often-gruesome brick wall. Eventually, they made me withhold hope altogether, because I knew that every situation that sparked it would end up in failure. Looking at something like the above image beforehand would lead me to think “Man, I wonder how they’re going to kill him, rape her, and otherwise ruin the protagonist’s life in the process.”

And I don’t like thinking like that. I don’t like going into a story assuming the worst, seeing it played out, and then deriving pleasure from it after. I don’t even think it has anything to do with them being younger, either – it’s just a bit soul-destroying to see something positive crushed for the sake of crushing it.

I’m not even saying that every book has to be a clean-cut, “heroes always win” scenario; part of the point of the shocking events is to portray heroes as more “realistic” by making their lives less than perfect. It’s Peter Parker Syndrome to the nth degree, because a hero that goes through adversity gets a much more satisfying victory. While a book that has a hero coasting to victory is boring, the same hero suffering without anything to reward the reader is depressing.

With Kick-AssWanted, and Red Son, the scales never seem to balance. The assholes at the start of the book always seem to be the same assholes at the end of the book, and it leaves me wondering what the point of the reading was. Even Wanted - where the whole point of the book was to show someone taking charge of his life - has Wesley manipulated, influenced and working for others right until the final pages.

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I heard a really good analogy to Millar’s style as: “[Others] disguise optimism with pessimism, while Millar disguises pessimism with optimism.” I felt it describes the situation perfectly, as while things can seem to be going well at times, I have this feeling of dread, knowing that characters are going to go through some terrible things, almost to say “Hah! Serves you right for hoping otherwise.”

It’s funny, though, how it seems to be arbitrary who suffers: when it benefits the franchise to have a marketable, little girl assassin who spews swear words and can kill henchmen by the hundred, they’ll throw “realism” aside in an instant. Having her constantly emasculate Dave and the other members of the cast just comes off as lazy; she’s never vulnerable, and the producers know that the spectacle of her kicking ass (no pun intended) is enough to make film-goers say “Heh. She said c**t. Little girls aren’t supposed to say that.”

Is that where we’re at? Is that all it takes to entertain us?

I’m not going to throw my hat into the “how much is too much?” fight, because it doesn’t make sense to condemn titles arbitrarily. If Millar wants to keep writing things, all the more power to him. I’m just trying to explain why they’re not for me.

But it’s worth thinking about his tendency to write comics, get them optioned for films, and then have the plot/events watered down for more mainstream audiences. If Kick-Ass 2 has all the horrible stuff intact – and not in a cop-out “Unrated Cut” for DVD – I will gain some respect for taking a chance with something a little more risqué. However, if it doesn’t, it seems a bit hypocritical to market yourself on being controversial while raking in the money sacks for sanitized films.

I feel that if your allure is having things in your book that a mainstream audience would find detestable, it seems unfair to sweep them under the rug. It also rubs me the wrong way that because of readers buying into the edgyness, Millar can get films optioned before the first issue of the book comes out. The cycle then continues.

I value comics that are well-written, not because they push the envelope. I value comics that try new things, but not at the expense of a coherent story. I like comic movies that carry the spirit of the original book, instead of tucking it away like they’re ashamed of it. I may be too sensitive for Kick-Ass, or might be missing out on something big by skipping it, but I think I can be cool with that.

  • Alvin Maker

    I quite enjoyed Kick-Ass the movie, enough to watch it three times (not in a row; distributed over maybe two years), and I would recommend it. I had never read the comic so I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it was, but I’ve always been drawn to more “realistic” superheroes (as opposed to those with completely way out powers, aliens, magic, etc.). I didn’t know a second movie was coming, but I’d be interested in seeing it.

    As a level-setting measure, I’ve purchased a few of the Punisher: Max graphic novels… other than the Barracuda character (whom I do like), I thought they were okay, I suppose. I don’t mind extreme violence but I want to see it done to further the storyline, flesh out characters, etc., and I want to see it done well. UK author Iain Banks (who also writes under Iain M. Banks) has some exceptionally twisted and extreme violence in his novels, but not to excess, and always well-crafted.