Kick-Ass, Marvel (Icon) / MillarWorld
Written by Mark Millar, pencilled by John Romita, Jr.
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I don't recall ever having heard of this until some months before the movie adaptation came out. But the movie looked like it was gonna be wicked cool, so I picked up a trade paperback that collected the 8-issue series, just before I went to see the movie. I usually prefer to read a book before seeing the movie, but I think it might be just as well that I did it in the opposite order this time. Anyway, saw the movie Friday afternoon, and by Saturday night I had finished reading the graphic novel. The plot was basically the same, but there were a few important differences, so it was definitely worth checking out both versions of the story. Anyway, since I saw the movie first, I wrote that review first, and now... I dunno, maybe this review should be mostly about differences between the two media, though... I don't really want to explicitly spoil too much. So we'll see what happens as I go along.
Um... the story centers around this teenage geek named Dave Lizewski, who has a pretty average life. He likes comic books. He has a crush on a girl named Katie Deauxma, who doesn't like him. He orders a wetsuit off eBay, and tries to become a superhero. That's the basic premise... someone becoming a superhero in real life. Of course, it's kind of ironic and meta, the fact that this is a comic book, actually, not real life. But whatever. After a few weeks of not really doing anything serious, Dave finally picks a fight with some guys who are, you know, doing some graffiti (whereas in the movie they were breaking into a car), and he ends up getting badly hurt. But his time in the hospital (which takes a little bit longer in the comic than the movie) results in getting metal plates that will ultimately make him better at taking a beating with less pain and less chance of passing out (there's no nerve damage, unlike the film, and it takes longer in the comic before the plates really come into play as a significant plot point).
Still, once he recovers from his near-fatal injuries, he goes back to patrolling in his wetsuit. And one day, he ends up saving the life of a guy who was being attacked. Someone uses a cellphone camera to record the fight, puts the video on YouTube, and "Kick-Ass," as he is called, becomes famous. Meanwhile, Katie starts hanging out with Dave, unaware that he's Kick-Ass. She thinks he's gay, and he becomes her GBF, unwilling to correct her assumption, because he wants to get closer to her. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass started a MySpace page where people could ask for help. Someone (Katie in the movie, a random fan in the book) asked for help getting this guy (Eddie Lomas in the book, Rasul in the movie) off her case. Kick-Ass went to confront the guy, who had a bunch of tough friends. He would've probably been killed, if not for the unexpected intervention of a 10-year-old girl in a costume, called Hit-Girl. (If you're interested in moralizing on the issue of a kid in this role, see my movie review.) She was incredibly fucking bad-ass (and foulmouthed), killed everyone in the place. Kick-Ass was scared of her, til she said they were on the same side. She was, like, everything he wanted to be, aside from the fact that she was a killer (which is something superheroes aren't supposed to be). And she worked with her father, another superhero called Big Daddy (whose costume resembled Batman's in the movie, not so much in the comic).
Well, after that, Dave was worried the killings would be pinned on him, but they were attributed instead to a gang war. He was relieved to be off the hook, but wanted to give up the superhero thing. Meanwhile, there was a subculture springing up on the internet of people wearing superhero costumes, though it didn't really seem like they were engaging in actual heroics, or anything. Also, there's a mobster named John Genovese (Frank D'Amico in the movie), whose business has been taking hits lately by Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. Unlike the movie, he knows early on that it's them, rather than Kick-Ass; and he wants them stopped.
And then, a new superhero called Red Mist starts getting famous, which pisses Dave off. So, he goes back to doing his Kick-Ass thing. But then he ends up teaming up with Red Mist, which he finds really fun... though Red Mist turns out not to be that heroic (but, just as in the movie, he has a really cool car). Meanwhile, we get to see Big Daddy and Hit-Girl's origin story. And Hit-Girl (aka Mindy McCready) wants to team up with Kick-Ass and Red Mist, to take down Genovese. Big Daddy had been a cop, and Genovese had killed his wife and tried to kill him, but he escaped with his baby daughter. But anyway... Big Daddy threatens to reveal Kick-Ass's secret identity if he doesn't join them.
Kick-Ass and Red Mist go to meet Big Daddy and Hit-Girl at their secret headquarters, planning to turn them down. But what they find... isn't what Kick-Ass expected. We learn the truth about Red Mist, something that had been revealed much earlier in the movie. And things get very, very bad for our heroes. Plus, we learn the truth about Big Daddy, a truth which was not the case in the movie. Something kind of lame, yet... perhaps more realistic, definitely more mundane and fucked up than in the movie. I don't wanna spoil that, though. It was... disillusioning, which is one of the reasons I ended up liking the comic less than the movie (while wondering if I would've liked the comic more if I'd read it first). But in a way, it's better, because, as I said... it's more realistic, which, after all, is the whole point of the story in either medium. But it definitely makes him look like an even worse father than he seemed in the movie. Not that it changes the fact that, in his own crazy way, he loved her, he had done his best by her, and she loved him.
So. Just like in the movie (though with somewhat altered details), there's tragedy for the good guys, a hell of a lot of violence, and ultimately triumph for our heroes (with the same sacrifice as in the movie). There's an important difference about how things end for Mindy, but also a lot of similarity to the movie. But as for how things end up for Dave with regards to Katie... uh, yeah. More realistic than the movie. I should also mention that Dave's dad is slightly more important to the comic than the movie. And then, the end of the story is pretty much the same as the movie, setting up the sequel. Anyway, I loved all the geektastic humor of the story, and the realism, and the characters (especially Hit-Girl). The action was better in the movie, what with there being actual action, i.e., moving images as opposed to still images. But even in the comic, the level of violence was pretty damned... holy fuck. And that's really all I can think to say....
Spoilers for the first book.
This is a 5-issue "prelude" to Kick-Ass 2, though it came out later, between June 2012 and February 2013. I waited for the compilation, which came out a bit later in 2013. I'm not sure if it would be better for you to read this story before Kick-Ass 2, or read that before this. (The same goes for reading my reviews of Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass 2; I read that first, so I reviewed it first, even though I'm now putting this review ahead of that one, since this comes first chronologically, in-universe.) Actually, it probably doesn't really matter. This basically bridges the gap between the two Kick-Ass story arcs, but while it isn't really necessary in order to appreciate Kick-Ass 2, I'd say I liked it at least as much as that story. Probably more. And it really does flesh out some details that had just been alluded to in Kick-Ass 2, which was nice. I kind of wonder if the reason Kick-Ass 2 took so long to put out all its issues was maybe Millar was working out this story at the same time, and wanted to make sure nothing in the later story (which came out first) would end up being contradicted by this story. (I dunno.)
Anyway... if you've read the first book, you'll know that Mindy's father was killed by bad guys, and that she learned he'd lied about John Genovese having killed her mother. Her mother is actually alive, and is now married to a cop named Marcus Williams. Now that her father is dead, Mindy goes to live with her mother and stepfather. Marcus knows Mindy is Hit-Girl, and doesn't want her doing any of that superhero stuff anymore, because it would totally freak out her emotionally fragile mother. But she keeps doing her thing anyway, frequently drugging her parents at night so she could go out without them knowing. She starts training Kick-Ass to be a better superhero, but she also wants him to train her to be more normal, so she can fit in at school. This doesn't go so well, because the other girls at school are just total bitches. And of course it's impossible for Mindy to deal with people she doesn't like when she's not allowed to hurt or kill them.
There's also a guy named Ralphie Genovese, who takes over his brother John's criminal operations, running them from his jail cell. Marcus is one of the few cops who aren't dirty, so things get hard for him, particularly when Genovese blames him for things Hit-Girl had actually been doing to take down his organization. Meanwhile, Red Mist (who I guess I should mention is actually Chris Genovese, John's teenage son) decides to go around the world to learn martial arts. (This is something that had been alluded to in Kick-Ass 2.) I won't say anything specific about that, but there was an amusing twist to it that is not at all spoiled by reading Kick-Ass 2 first, even if we already know how that plan turns out. And I guess there isn't anything else I need to say about this series, except that we begin to see just how psychologically messed up Mindy is because of the way her father had raised her. (This is something that also became quite evident in Kick-Ass 2, and I think it's a very important message of the whole Kick-Ass franchise.) Anyway, by the end of this story arc, Mindy realizes she needs to stop being Hit-Girl.
The second volume of Kick-Ass began publication in 2010, and finished in 2012. It took a lot longer to get all seven issues than I expected, because for at least one issue, it seems like the release date was moved back at least a few times. Unlike the first volume, I was able to collect individual issues, but I might as well have waited for the compilation. But whatever, it was still awesome. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but basically, Mindy's stepfather, a cop named Marcus, forbids her from doing any more Hit-Girl stuff (which she agrees to, for awhile). And Kick-Ass joins a team of other people who have decided to become superheroes, like him. They're called Justice Forever, and the team includes his friends Marty (Battle-Guy) and Todd (Ass-Kicker), as well as a number of adults. And Red Mist returns as a supervillain, and starts calling himself the Mother Fucker. He puts together a team of supervillains. (At which point Mindy decides she needs to go back to being Hit-Girl.) So, as you would expect, there's a great deal of violence and swearing and stuff. I guess that's all I want to say. I didn't like it as much as volume 1, but it was, as I may have mentioned, still pretty awesome. Oh, and at the end of the story, it says "End of Book Three," even though this was the second book to come out. Because of course they knew they'd be doing a Hit-Girl prelude which is set before this, but came out after it.
This volume was adapted in the movie Kick-Ass 2, which I guess also incorporates some elements from both the "Hit-Girl" and "Kick-Ass 3" comics, but with a lot of differences.
Caution: potential spoilers.
The third volume of Kick-Ass (book four of the franchise) is an 8-issue series released between July 2013 and August 2014, but I waited for the compilation, which came out in September 2014 (and I read it in October). Anyway, at the end of the previous book, Hit-Girl had been caught by the police, and all superhero activity had been banned. When the current (and final) book begins, Kick-Ass and Justice Forever are planning to break Hit-Girl out of prison, but first they must do some training. Meanwhile, we see Mindy in prison, having occasional talks with a psychiatrist named Dr. White, though he's entirely ineffectual. Actually, Mindy's pretty much running things, now, and she totally reminds me of Rorschach, from Watchmen. (In fact, sometime after I thought of that, there's a flashback to Mindy's training with her father, in which she says he'd raised her to be like the Punisher or Rorschach. So that was cool.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Um... lots of things happen in this book. Like, there's a new guy in Justice Forever, called the Juicer, who basically just sits around the team's secret lair (which previously belonged to Big Daddy and Hit-Girl). He becomes a pain in Dave's ass, which eventually leads to Dave kicking him off the team... and some of the other members go with him. I expected that plotline to lead somewhere, but as far as I could tell, it never did. It really just ended up feeling like filler. Of more importance is the fact that Dave starts dating a woman named Valerie, who is a fan of the stuff he does as Kick-Ass, but also would like him to stop doing it, because of course she's afraid of what might happen to him. And he does stop for awhile, but only because he's too busy having sex with her all the time. Meanwhile, now that both John and Ralphie Genovese are dead, their older and even eviler brother Rocco takes over. He'd been sent to Sicily years ago, for reasons, but now he's back. And he has a plan to unite all the gangs on the east coast, under himself. He also wants to eliminate Kick-Ass and especially Hit-Girl. Chris Genovese is in the hospital after the injuries he'd received in the last book, but now Rocco wants him to join the family business, give up the costumed supervillain nonsense, and plans to give him the honor of killing Hit-Girl (since she had killed Chris's father, John, in book one). We also see a bit of Mindy's mother in this book, though she's not as fragile as she'd seemed in the past. And we see a bit of Chris's mother, who is being harassed by the public because of all the horrible shit Chris and his team had done in the previous book. As for Mindy's stepfather, Marcus, he isn't seen in this book, but he's mentioned a couple of times.
Also... there's a corrupt cop named Vic Gigante, who I guess I didn't mention in my previous reviews, but he becomes a bit more important in this book. He's been promoted to captain, and also, he and some of his fellow cops who work for the Genovese mafia are not happy with the way Rocco is doing things, so they decide to start wearing costumes, and come to be known as the Skull & Bones. They kill a bunch of Rocco's people and steal a bunch of the mob's money, planning to eventually move somewhere nice and retire. This leads to Rocco ordering his people to kill anyone in a costume (though he has no idea the Skull & Bones are actually the cops that are supposed to be in his pocket). Eventually, Mindy gets out of prison, with a little help from a totally unexpected source. (I found it kind of hard to buy, but I accepted it because she had to get free somehow.) So Hit-Girl will now be back in action, and reunited with Kick-Ass. Dave has promised Valerie he's just going to do one final mission. He needs to rescue Todd (aka Ass-Kicker), who has been captured by Rocco's men and is being tortured, though so far he's refused to reveal anything he knows about his fellow heroes. While Kick-Ass is dealing with that, Hit-Girl has her own plan to take down Rocco and all the other mob bosses at the meeting he's convened to get them to join him. (It seems pretty clear things would not have gone the way he wanted even if Hit-Girl hadn't shown up, but things go much worse for all of them, when she does.)
And... hopefully I'm not forgetting anything important (though I am leaving out some details intentionally). Anyway, the book provides a better ending for the series than I could have possibly hoped for. I mean, it's a happy ending which manages not to sacrifice any of the series' realism. And I guess that's all I have to say.