Review: Kick Ass # 1

Kick-Ass is back but Dave Lizewski, the earnest, bespectacled, nerd of days past is gone. In his place is Patience Lee, a black woman and mother of two who leaves the military only to find that her husband has abandoned her to pursue a musical career. Faced with few options and mounting debt Patience decides to rob a gang to provide for her family.

Mark Millar is a divisive figure in the comics industry. While many people adore his high concepts and cinematic storytelling others are revolted by the mean streak that runs through most of his work and his tendency to fall back on highly problematic tropes of disability, race, sexuality and violence, especially towards women. As a reader I’m highly conflicted since it was Miller’s run on Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men that brought me back into the comic book fold and it was his MillarWorld forum that nourished my resurgent fandom. I want to like what he does but, sadly, I didn’t much like this.

One thing you have to give Millar credit for on the original Kick-Ass was it’s realism. For all that it could be offensive, it still had a solid emotional core that was grounded in the experiences of a lifelong fanboy. It’s story of a young man  trying to make a difference in the world in the only way he could conceive how was at once poignant and pathetic and gave that book some value despite the worst of its creator’s excesses.

In this new book it feels like Millar has heard all the criticism about the lack of diversity in comics and tried to answer it. Unfortunately the result, while brilliant in concept, is sloppy in its execution. Patience feels less like a fully rounded character and more like a bucket full of cliches: a woman of color raising her kids alone because of a feckless spouse who has to turn to crime to make ends meet. He’s put a minority character into the spotlight but she’s never allowed to transcend the stereotypes of her race if not her gender (at least no one threatens to rape her in this first issue). Millar has veered so far out of his lane here that it feels like he’s gone right into oncoming traffic and that’s a shame because the idea of a veteran (and a female veteran of color at that) as a superhero is one that has a lot of potential for good storytelling.

One thing about which I can find no flaw here is the artwork. John Romita Jr continues to amaze and delight me with this new career resurgence he’s been on for the last year. His work, which felt boring and staid after too many years at Marvel, has come alive once again in his creator owned project and his work for hire at DC. He’s drawing like a much younger artist and the passion is evident where before there was a growing sense of a man who had been there and done that a thousand times before. This is Romita at his best, raw and unfiltered. The digital inks of Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal keep his lines from straying and Steigerwald’s colors add to the comic’s already strong flavor of the cinema. It almost looks like you’re watching one of Netflix’s Marvel shows, an effect that I’m sure was intentional. Letterer John Workman is brilliant as always, with an understated hand for his craft that you can’t help but notice while you’re not noticing it.

Overall the new Kick-Ass is a mixed bag, a fumbled attempt at producing the kind of comic the industry needs with some really nice looking art. It might have been successful if Millar had bothered to delve a little deeper into the inner life of his protagonist and brought to light something that felt half as true as Dave Lizewski did at his best. He can do great stuff when he doesn’t try to outdo Garth Ennis in being edgy. I wish he would remember that.

Story: Mark Millar Artist: John Romita Jr
Ink: Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal Lettering: John Workman
Story: 5.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review