Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Word Balloon! Kick Ass!
I thought it appropriate this month to highlight the next comic book adaptation to hit the big screen, writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr's Kick Ass, published by Marvel/Icon. Marvel Comics Icon imprint is a specifically tailored comic book imprint for some of Marvel's biggest name creators who are under contract. It allows the creators, who continue to work for Marvel on their regular assignments, the opportunity to create, market, and publish comic books that they retain the rights to. It's a win-win scenario for both sides. Marvel gets to sign top tier creative talents to work on their biggest name characters, like Millar with the Ultimates, Romita with The Hulk, among others, while still giving them the creative vision to work on the projects that they want to do. The creators meanwhile get the steady employment and benefits (like insurances and guaranteed pay that come with big time exclusive deals) while continuing to create comics they want to work on without the stress and headaches that come from publishing comics independently.
Mark Millar has had some huge success with creating his own comics for Image Comics just a few years ago with Wanted, his book with artist JG Jones. That books success paved the way for the hugely successful movie adaptation with Angelina Jolie. He created a whole line of books for Image at the time, but the biggest parts of his success have been from his time with Marvel. He was an instrumental factor in creating Marvel's hugely successful Ultimate line in 2000, helming modern day, fresh takes on decades long heavy continuity laden books like the X-Men and the Avengers. By helping reboot this Ultimate take on established comics characters, Millar made books accessable to new readers again. Artist John Romita, Jr is the son of comics royalty, John Romita, Sr, who is one of the pre-dominate artists of Marvel's Silver Age. Romita Sr crafted epic runs in his career, establishing characters like Daredevil and Spider-Man after the departure of co-creator Steve Ditko. His son, Romita, Jr, had been working for Marvel since the late 70's exclusively. Romita Jr is the closest thing Marvel has to a modern day Jack Kirby, a penciler who has worked on nearly every single Marvel character in his 30 plus year career with epic runs on X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and the Hulk, along with every character in-between. With Kick Ass, it provided John Romita Jr a chance to stretch his creator legs for the first time in a very long while. It gave him a chance to do something original.
The teaming of Millar and Romita was guaranteed to provide instant sparks in the comic community, especially with Millar, known for crafting cutting edge, wide screen shock and awe comics, and Romita, who was perceived as almost a comics institution. The team up definatly does not disappoint. Kick Ass is an 8 issues limited series about Dave Lizewski, your typical run of the mill teenager facing many of the issues that today's teens face. His mother has recently passed away and his father is having a tough time coming to grips with her loss, so Dave turns to his friends, and comic books, for comfort. One day Dave takes his obsession with super-heroes to a new level, deciding that maybe one person can make a difference prompting Dave to buy a suit online and don a mask to become a super hero.
At first he simply prowls the neighborhood, training and posing, but when he witnesses a mugging, he springs into action for the first time. Unfortunately, just wearing suit does not make you a hero, and he get's beaten so severely he is hospitalized. After months of therapy, Dave is released, the world convinced he was the victim of a gay mugging (since he managed to remove his suit before paramedics arrived to protect his identity) after being found naked and beaten. He decides that he should give it one more go, and this time he successfully manages to protect a man from several thugs, while being filmed by a video camera. Becoming a YouTube and MySpace sensation, the hero Kick Ass is born, and gives birth to several copy cat heroes.
At the same time, two other masked vigilantes are attacking a local crime boss, Big Daddy and his 11 year old foul mouthed daughter, Hit Girl. With all of the crime bosses men claiming a masked vigilante is killing their men, he believes it to be the work of Kick Ass, the most well known hero. Kick Ass then becomes embroiled with Big Daddy and Hit Girl, realizing just how outclassed he is in the super hero business. Ready to give up, he meets another new hero, Red Mist, a hero who eventually drags him further into the growing conflict between Big Daddy, Hit Girl, and the crime syndicate.
First let's look at Mark Millar's writing. Kick Ass is exactly the sort of book Millar excels at, foul mouthed characters doing incredible wide screen action. Here Millar does allow for some nice deconstruction over the 8 issues to allow you to really get in the head of lead character Dave Lizewski. You do come to feel for him and his plight and the general earnestness in which he carries himself. Young Hit Girl continues to be the stand out character though, Millar having crafted this foul mouthed hellion who is both parts deadly and adorable. She is the freshest character I have read in quite some time. My only compliant is that sometimes the book feels a little long. I think the terribly intermittent publishing schedule really affected the quality of the story, qualities that I feel they really tightened up in the advanced screening of the theatrical adaptation that I saw last month. The film adaptation for Kick Ass was in the works even before the book was finished being published, stretching way back to early 2008. The comic book's 8 issues were published over the course of nearly a 2 year stretch. A fact that I do think takes away from some of the story elements, making it feel dis-connected at times.
Romita's pencils though haven't been this sharp in nearly a decade, since his epic run on Spider Man in early 2001. He brings Millar's wide screen storyline to bigger than life proportions. He crafts some really great character models, from the spindly Kick Ass, to the hulking Batman-esque Big Daddy. His thick heavy pencils come across really clean, creating a style completely his own. I even thought his pencils were tighter here than in some of his recent Incredible Hulk work. In Kick Ass he found a nice balance of the classic blocky approach he has developed over the past decade and the more streamlined style he had early parts in his career. He even manages to capture the violent and graphic action of the story in a very fresh manner. Graphic violence is not usually something you see in a Romita drawn book, but he proves why he has been Marvel's go to guy for the better part of 3 decades in teaming up with Millar. He never shys away from the scenes, including a fairly graphic torture sequence near the books climax.
Kick Ass is a book that likes to push the envelope, in terms of violence, action, and what you have come to expect from a comic. While I certainly don't claim it's either creators greatest work(for Millar his Ultimates run is un-parralleled and Romita's Daredevil and Spider-man arcs remain seminal works) I will say it is a really great book. It does so by creating an entirely new facet for promoting and formatting comic books. Kick Ass was something that was being written with the concept for the film in mind, melding the union of comic book and motion picture even deeper, right from the beginning. Writing self contained stories that were perfect for film adaptation is not something most writers have considered, at least at first. Most write the story and let it go from there. Here is a creation that was written with a beginning, middle, and end, in short form. Millar took the successes he had crafted in his earlier creator works like Wanted, and refined them to make Kick Ass even more successful. Arguably it works too. The option for Kick Ass was bought before the first issue even hit the shelf. What this means for the future of comics remains uncertain, though this could change many creators choices in the model by which they create new material.
As comics and film become more and more intertwined, we are going to be looking at books like Kick Ass that paved the way. Kick Ass is really a prototype for modern comic books, embracing the traditional elements of the classic four color comic book, yet all the while preparing the reader for a brand new interpretation in an entirely different format. I'll be curious to see how Mark Millar's next Icon book, Nemesis with artist Steve McNiven does. It's being crafted in a very similar style to Kick Ass, the question though is will lightning strike a third time. I totally recommend Kick Ass as a fun read and one of the best action books that have been published in the last few years.
To conclude I will say this, in what is surely a bit of sacrilege, I honestly thought the movie was a slightly stronger interpretation. They addressed a lot of the minor storytelling issue I had with the series and condensed the slower parts very nicely. All the changes that they made (which wasn't many) I thought really went towards making the over all experience stronger. That and the fact that Chloe Moretz portrayal of Hit Girl is one of the best performances of a young actress since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. If your intersted, you can check out my early review of the Kick Ass film here Still, you can never go wrong with checking out the source material after checking out the film. It's an unflinching take on what super heroes would be like in the real world, in all of its visceral glory. Mark Millar and John Romita Jr craft a really fun and original tale that is artistically gorgeous to look at. Check out Kick Ass, from Marvel/Icon.
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