Jan 22, 11
There’s a great line in Kick-Ass, the film adaptation, where comic-book-nerd turned vigilante-superhero Dave Lizewski proclaims to his friends “Jesus, guys, doesn’t it bug you? Thousands of people want to be Paris Hilton and nobody wants to be Spiderman”. Dave’s query cuts to the core of Kick-Ass (still the film), which beneath all the flayed limbs and gored bodies, is about doing the “right” thing, about standing up for what’s right and trying to make a difference. The superficial pleasures of Paris Hilton’s life aren’t something to be aspired to – helping others is, and that superhero lore often doesn’t correlate with the real world is something Dave will have to learn along the way through his foray into vigilantism.
A similar line is featured in Kick-Ass, Mark Millar’s graphic novel, but it’s no longer so great. Mark Millar’s Dave Lizewski isn’t the same naive altruistic hero, but a self-absorbed loner whose ascent into superherodom is guided solely by the power-trips and ego-boosts he gets from running around in a mask at night. He isn’t in it for the “little guy”, he’s in it for the Myspace friends and press coverage, and says as much several times throughout the book. Dave would rather be Spiderman than Paris Hilton not because he wants to help people, but because shooting web is “cooler” than putting out sex-tapes. He fumes when the media find a new vigilante to follow; he gloats about how great saving a cat will be for his reputation. Millar’s graphic novel is the piece of nihilism critics unfairly derided the film as, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. Much of Kick-Ass is an examination of the delusions of fanboys, the obsessive loners who find solace and refuge from insecurity in the tales of superheroes. It’s also an exploration of what superheroes would be like in reality, not guided by near un-human levels of altruism, but by the same insecurities, fantasies and psychological issues the rest of us suffer from. While this may not be as feel-good as Matthew Vaughn’s approach in the film, it has the potential to be a much more thoughtful work.
Unfortunately Millar makes it quite clear from the off-set that besides a few brilliant moments, he’s content reveling in the gutter. Millar jumps from one bloody altercation to the next at breakneck speed, which is a shame because the real interest lies in the characters and the idea. Entire months of the storyline are condensed into a line or two, but the final battle extends for a good sixth of the book. This reads more like a blueprint to the film at times rather than a developed story in it's own right. There’s no sense of character beyond Dave, no sense of story beyond the most basic outline and no aspirations beyond mindless violence and shock-humor that could have been relegated to any number of lesser-ideas. The constant gore is tiring, as well as the lame attempts at shocking by any means (lets have a 9-year-old say the c-word!) and Millar’s fetish for testicular-violence is just strange, taken to the point where there’s even a character named “Ball-Buster Bobby”. Kick-Ass, the film, has Dave go after a mafia king-pin to atone for the consequences of his superhero shenanigans - Kick-Ass, the comic, has Dave go after a mafia king-pin to avenge his "balls". I know which one I prefer.