Too serious about comics.


Kick-Ass: A Response to the Daily Mail


Well, it was inevitable, really. Kick-Ass was always going to piss off the Daily Mail. If the violence and swearing weren’t enough, the fact that it was written by Jonathan Ross’ wife meant it was probably never going to get a fair hearing. But when you consider that the Mail’s resident film reviewer is Chris Tookey – a writer who delights in self-righteous moralising – the stage was set for hand-wringing of the highest order. I don’t think anyone was prepared, however, for the slew of invective poured forth from Tookey’s keyboard in today’s paper, however – indeed, it takes “self-righteous moralising” to entirely new levels, not to mention doing the same for “talking complete and utter nonsense” and “potentially committing libel”.

As readers of a comic book review site, chances are you’re all people who are more likely to like Kick-Ass than not; ergo, you don’t particularly need to read me taking Tookey’s review paragraph by paragraph and challenging a number of his assertions. Nevertheless, there’s too much about his review that I simply couldn’t let stand without comment, so what follows is a rebuking of some of those points. Be warned that the following will contain spoilers for the film, so if you’re planning on seeing it and haven’t yet, you may want to wait until you have.

(The entire review can be read on the Mail’s site – however, if you don’t wish to click through there and thus contribute to their advertising revenues, Tookey has also posted a version on his own site – albeit one that appears to date from before the Mail’s subeditors got their hands on it, as it contains a completely irrelevant and unnecessary dig at J. Ross (who has absolutely zero involvement in the film), and curiously awards the film a rating of 3/10 rather than the “one star” given in the newspaper version. Interestingly, Tookey’s site also aggregates various positive and negative reviews from assorted sources – clearly lifted from Rotten Tomatoes, as all the same extracts are used as on that site. Funnily enough, it means that one of the reviews quoted on his site is… mine.)

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Seb Patrick | 2nd April, 2010


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Just in case you’re wondering why we haven’t reviewed Kick Ass, well, we sort of have. Just in our other lives:

James’ review of Kick Ass on Den of Geek

Seb’s Review of Kick Ass on Film4

Needless to say, we both loved it. Clearly, a film that improves on the source material, and easily one of the best comic adaptations ever, if not the outright best. Although, let’s wait for Scott Pilgrim before we start making rash judgements.

James Hunt | 29th March, 2010

Kick-Ass #8


kickass8It’s hard not to feel like the comic version of Kick-Ass has been overshadowed somewhat. In the time it’s taken for its eight issues to be released, a movie version has been developed, produced, prepared for released and subjected to no small amount of hype and excited anticipation. While we’re still a couple of months away from it hitting cinemas, if advance word-of-mouth is anything to go by, it seems that Millar and Romita’s great legacy in creating this property will come from a film that looks set to be a huge hit rather than a comics miniseries that has provided moments of brilliance but been, on the whole, rather patchy (not to mention having its momentum stalled by a slow publication schedule).

But that said, the book has seemed to get somewhat better in its closing issues – I don’t know if it’s the influence of the in-progress film, but shifting the focus onto Big Daddy and Hit Girl has worked wonders for its entertainment value, with every issue since (and including) their “origin” adding up to something generally better than the first half of the series. There was a strong air of cynicism in those early issues, and it led to a book that it was possible to admire for its craft, but in a rather detached way; however, with an increased amount of sympathy applicable to Dave, and vulnerability to Hit Girl (particularly evident in one very well-judged moment late in this issue), it’s become a lot easier to like.

Not that it’s not still, on the whole, a ridiculously violent near-piss-take of a comic, with Millar delighting in the sheer excess (and Romita being… well, as good as Romita ever is, which is “one of the best artists in comics” good) . Plot-wise there’s barely an unexpected moment – it’s not like any further twist could top #7’s briefcase revelation anyway – even down to the somewhat cruel resolution of the Katie subplot, but this is really just about giving the baddies their comeuppance and revelling in a succession of amusing (if often distasteful) moments. Lines about a Hello Kitty bag and a photo on a cellphone are among the smirk-worthy points, as is the very last line of the issue (even though it’s deliberately nicked from somewhere else). There’s also a rather excellent callback to a throwaway joke from a few issues ago.

It’s hard to tell, though, whether this feels more like a coda to the whole thing – some strands you suspect are definitively tied up – or a setup for more (the back cover blurb, and hints throughout the issue, suggest that this should be seen as Kick-Ass’ “origin” story rather than his entire one). I wouldn’t be averse to seeing the world and characters revisited – but I just wonder if making it less self-contained, and more of an ongoing property, would defeat the object of the unique little niche it carved out. As it stands, though, it’s an often fun, occasionally brilliant – but perhaps a little over-confident series, and will at least stand as perhaps the purest distillation of the brassy excess its creator is so often famed for; the most “Millarish” book that he’s ever put out. Now, though, about that movie…

Seb Patrick | 28th January, 2010

Kick-Ass #7

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kickass7There are fewer more curious beasts in comics at the moment than Kick-Ass. At once a gloriously over-the-top violence fest, and yet superficially grounded in something approaching “the real world”. Covers and advertising that bombastically proclaim it the greatest comics work in history and suggest a hugely piss-taking tone, and yet the internal content has been at its best when making the reader care about the characters rather than the blood and gore. And featuring a lead character who spent the first few issues as an unlikeable prick, but whom at this point one can’t help but root for.

But the deceptiveness of appearances is something that’s come rather to the fore in the last couple of issues – most notably with regards to Big Daddy and Hit Girl, the characters who’ve really become the stars of the series; an unexpected fact in itself given their explosion into its pages as remorseless deathbringers. The revelation involving Big Daddy here is an absolute stunner – almost laugh-out loud funny at the same time as it’s desperately tragic – and actually, without saying too much, seems to make the casting of Nicolas Cage in the upcoming movie a lot more apt.

In taking us back to the torture scene from the very beginning of issue #1 – albeit in slightly different circumstances to the way it was portrayed then, which I suppose we can put down to the lengthy time that’s passed between issues – and in putting Dave in absolutely the worst situation he’s so far encountered, it’s certainly not what you’d call a pleasant read. And yet by doing so, it finds its way towards instilling in us the reaction you suspect it wanted to all along – that we’re now positively relishing the prospect of Kick-Ass living up to his name. And what it does manage to be is utterly gripping.

Kick-Ass may never go down as the most complex of comics, but it’s imperiously assured in the way it tells the story that Millar wants to – even if it’s far from his strongest story or set of characters – and the veneer of class given to it by Romita Jr’s artwork (who still seems, based on his past career, a terribly inappropriate choice for this sort of thing, and yet who still absolutely knocks it out of the park without question) elevates it to something that you may not necessarily enjoy in anything but a visceral, compulsive way; but which you absolutely cannot ignore.

Seb Patrick | 15th September, 2009

Kick-Ass #6

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Quite a week for heavily-delayed, high-profile titles, isn’t it? A new Astonishing X-Men, Detective Comics #853 (more on that later in the week), and Kick-Ass. God alone knows where it’s been, mind – the story must have been written yonks ago given that they’ve nearly finished making a film of it, and Romita Jr is one of the most reliable and steady pencillers in the business, so he can’t have been holding it up. Anyway, it’s here now, and it remains one of the most talked-about books in comics whenever it shows its grubby, blood-drenched face.

It’s hard not to feel, though, that some of the spark has gone out of it while it’s been away. It’s always a fairly enjoyable read when you’ve got it in your hands, but it’s long since passed the point where it should have really asserted any real meaning beyond being a fun combination of apparent superhero “realism” and completely over-the-top ludicrousness. That said, this issue at least moves the plot on in significant fashion – finally bringing us to a point where the situation of the opening pages of #1 is in sight – and manages to wind up as one of the strongest so far, perhaps by virtue of pushing Dave out of sight for half of it.

Because, as the cover declares, this is “The Secret Origin of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl”. I can’t say I was hugely excited to learn more about the ultra-violent father-daughter vigilante team, but despite springing out of incredibly cliched origins (think The Punisher – directly namechecked in the issue – crossed with Tulip out of Preacher and you’re basically there), this is actually a decent little story. At the same time as stupidly overplaying the pair’s right-wing views, he manages to invest them with no small amount of sympathy, and the mutual reliance of their relationship (exemplified by it being Big Daddy’s idea to go hunting down the mob in the first place, but Hit-Girl’s to turn themselves into comic book characters) is well-defined. And with a line about “magic fucking hypno-ring”s, Hit-Girl gets by far the best line of the series so far.

Lending the book an air of class even despite the cliche and ultraviolence is, of course, the art of Romita Jr – his work in the sepia-toned flashback “origin” sequence is of particular note (as is the colour work of Dean White) – and if he struggles a bit with the deliberately cartoonish style of Hit-Girl (massive head, tiny body) seeming at odds with the realism of his work elsewhere in the book, he makes up for it by giving real character to Big Daddy’s “civilian” identity – no mean feat for a murderous, right-wing vigilante.

A twist of the “should have seen it coming but wasn’t really thinking about it enough to see it coming” variety means that the issue ends on a fairly genuine note of wanting to happen next – the problem, really, is that you wonder whether, by the time the next issue comes out, you’ll still remember that you were curious. Kick-Ass is an extremely well-crafted comic, with a gleeful sense of the absurd and the capacity to genuinely entertain – but it struggles to make itself something that you actually wait for during the publication breaks. And as fun as the story’s been at times, it hasn’t been the earth-shattering examination of “real life” superheroics that we might have expected – so you can’t help but wonder if, when the movie’s been and gone, anyone will still care.

Seb Patrick | 24th April, 2009

Comics Daily Awards 2008 : Best Miniseries


This week, we’re handing out the First Annual Comics Daily awards – one per day – between Christmas and New Year. Each award has been written up by a member of the Comics Daily team after a consensus was reached, and highlights what we feel have been the best of superhero comics this year.

Best Miniseries : Kick-Ass

My momma always said that that Mark Millar is like a box of chocolates : you never know what you’re gonna get. For every Ultimates there’s a Marvel Knights Spidey; every Red Son a Civil War; every Authority a Wanted (sorry, I’m just not a fan). So with the announcement of a creator-owned, ultra-violent “real world” superhero miniseries, and one of the most self-aggrandising promotional pushes yet seen in modern day comics, it looked a little more likely that we’d see Bad!Millar at the helm rather than Good!Millar.

Thankfully, we were proven wrong. Kick-Ass may be incredibly pleased with itself (and it’s just plain bizarre that the movie version is already being shot before the series has finished – particularly when Nic Cage was announced as being cast as a character who at that point hadn’t even appeared), but at least it kind of has justification for being so. It’s deeply “of its time”, of course – stuff like the use of Youtube works brilliantly, though some references such as to Whedon’s X-Men grate a little in their unsubtlety – and one suspects that this may prevent it from becoming a timeless classic; but the world that Millar and Romita put on the page felt very firmly like our world, today. That first issue did a wonderful job of showing the realistic effect of someone deciding to go out and become a hero (in addition to delivering one of the lines of the year with “How come people want to be Paris Hilton, but nobody wants to be Spider-Man?”), and it’s only a shame that it hasn’t been followed up on in subsequent issues. The ultra-violence and downright ludicrousness has still made for a fun read, but one that requires far more suspension of disbelief than initially seemed to be the case.

Helping the book stand out was (well, is) an absolutely stellar artistic turn from John Romita Jr. I don’t recall ever seeing work from him that I didn’t like, but even with that in mind, this ranks among some of the best art he’s ever turned in. Gleefully cutting loose on the violence as only a truly great action-artist can, he also dealt – almost more impressively – with the longer swathes of setting-up and non-action content in the first couple of issues. It’s assured, clear, and at times bloody gorgeous-looking – everything you’d expect from the great man, in other words.

Now, it’s not like Kick-Ass is mind-blowingly, awe-inspiringly brilliant, or anything. 2008, in truth, hasn’t been a particularly amazing year for miniseries (particularly if you’re strict with the definition and discount All-Star Superman, while I’m behind on Casanova and have yet to read volume two, so that’s out) – some quite decent ones have shown up, each with plenty to recommend them without being absolute “everyone interested in comics must read this” affairs. Kick-Ass gets the nod, then, for being a supremely confident and very well put-together series, for managing to be entertaining while also being pretty appalling (in terms of the brutal violence and the downright punchability of its lead character), and for the novel ways in which Millar has sought to involve online fandom in the promotion of the book. And definitely not because James’ review for That Other Site was quoted on the back of issue four. Nope.

Runners-up : 1985, Suburban Glamour, Magneto : Testament, Ultimate Human

The Sunday Pages #26

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James is away at Reading this week, so TSP is left in my hands. Muah hah hah hah hah. It’s a quiet one as a result, but some of our favourite creators – Gillen/McKelvie and Bryan Lee O’Malley – have put excellent and/or teasing things online this week, plus there’s the rather bizarre statement by that bloke at Warner Bros. about DC movies, and some infuriating spoilers courtesy of Kick-Ass movie news…

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Kick-Ass #2

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kickass2.jpgKick-Ass #1 launched amid such a massive wave of self-aggrandising hype and viral marketing that yours truly managed to remain blissfully unaware of its existence until about three days before it was released. This, naturally, demonstrates just how perfectly qualified I am to write a comics review column. Anyway, once it had been pointed out to me, the names were of course enough to draw me in – Mark Millar may have his critics, but you simply don’t ignore the man who wrote The Ultimates; while John Romita Jr. remains, for me, one of the absolute greats of the business.

So it was pleasing all round when that first issue turned out to be such tremendous fun. Millar’s clearly working very firmly in that “obnoxious” mode of his, but as the whole thing is comparable to Nextwave in terms of a writer cutting loose and fully indulging their sense of humour, tongue wedged firmly in cheek, for once it actually fit rather well. It’s a shame, then, that the now-much-anticipated second issue has turned out to impress me rather less.

It’s not that there aren’t neat moments. It’s just that the first issue, though not as original as it thought itself, was something of a breath of fresh air, and the consequences of Dave’s first attempt at superheroism were genuinely shocking. Here, though, after being shown his rehabilitation and recovery from his injuries, we know that despite his assertions to the contrary, it’s only a matter of time before he gets back into costume. And sure enough, so he does – but despite the entire story being narrated from his point of view, we never feel like we’re really getting inside Dave’s head, to discover just why he’s persisting with this after everything that’s happened. One simple line of dialogue – “The beast was friggin’ in me, man” – isn’t really enough to explain how he suddenly goes from “Never again” to being back pounding the streets.

Once he’s back in costume, of course, it’s even easier to see exactly where things are going – and, again, so it proves, with a more successful attempt at vigilantism seemingly vindicating his decision to get back on the horse. But part of the problem with following such a straightforward set of story beats is that, so far at least, Dave isn’t really a hero you find yourself rooting for. It’s possible to empathise with his general nerdiness, and I suppose he is driven by a desire to do something of genuine worth – but on the other hand, he’s a bit of a pillock. And for all the hype about this being a “realistic” book about someone trying to be a superhero… well, the idea of a recently-recovered spinal injury victim single-handedly taking on a group of thugs and winning means that the book is still rather more rooted in comic book rules than it perhaps feels it ought to be.

It’s still a very well-made comic, of course – the writing is brazenly confident, and JRJr couldn’t do poor work if he tried. And hey, it’s hard to argue with that front page tagline. But if there aren’t going to be any further twists in the story of Dave going out and kicking the crap out of people, then I’m going to lose interest fairly quickly. It’s the expectation that Millar surely has a lot more in his pocket, though, that’ll keep me reading for now.

Seb Patrick | 4th April, 2008

Kick-Ass #1

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kickass01.jpgKick-Ass is one of those comics that paints itself as a realistic depiction of superheroes. It’s a trend that many will argue began, and should’ve ended, with Watchmen. Still, even Watchmen‘s premise was fairly forgiving – it was a realistic take on a superhero universe as much as superhero characters. Kick-Ass goes one step further, asking what happens when someone in OUR universe – the real world – tries to be a superhero.

As you can imagine, the answers are fairly simple, and they involve some poorly thought-out violence, a lot of swearing, and a teenager with too much time on his hands. It’s gloriously, painfully bleak stuff. The main character cuts a familiar figure – a comic-obsessed teenager who spends his time jacking off to internet porn and praising Joss Whedon to his friends. I feel lampooned already.

Issue #1 is, naturally, an origin story: David Lizewski is a nobody. After his mother dies of a brain aneurysm, he lives alone with his father, playing video games and reading comics. There’s nothing special about him, no unreasonable trauma in his upbringing, he just can’t understand (and if you ask me, quite reasonably so) why people want to be Paris Hilton and not Spider-Man. The thing that separates him from all of us is that he’s got exactly the right combination of time, boredom and stupidity to take it to the next level. Putting on a wetsuit with a facemask, he goes out looking for crime. For a while, he’s enjoying it, even if he finds nothing. When he eventually tackles a gang of grafitti artists, things go south pretty as fast as you’d expect – he’s beaten up, shivved and left for dead.

And let me tell you this: it’s all hilarious. Seeing Romita really go to town on the violence levels is, in itself, worth the price of entry. He’s been drawing castrated super-hero books for so long that you can practically feel the glee dripping off the page like the blood he’s drawing when David smacks a gang member in the face with his bat. Millar has his flaws as a writer, but he’s definitely managed to rein in his wilder tendencies – in David, he’s created a character who, far more than someone like Peter Parker, represents the everyman. I’m sympathetic with his directionless, entertainment-obsessed plight. The script, though, is where Millar really shines, and the last line of the book is what sells me on the next issue. I hesitate to spoil, but if you’re undecided it sums up the tone of the book perfectly: “Two broken legs, my spine crushed, and dressed like a fucking pervert. My dad was going to kill me.”

James Hunt | 28th February, 2008