Kick-ass #1, April 2008, Marvel Comics
writer: Mark Millar
penciller: John Romita, Jr.
inker: Tom Palmer
colorist: Dean White
letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
cover inks: Klaus Janson
editor: John Barber
Blogger's note: Entry for Sunday, March 2, 2008.
Kick-ass #1. Let's talk about it.
Kick-ass #1 is the elephant in the room. Any superhero fanboy (like me) that doesn't admit to daydreaming about becoming a superhero himself is a liar. Maybe he doesn't go so far as to design his own costume and plot his criminal surveillance (like me), but the modern superhero genre was founded on the premise of people becoming more than they really are, from training one's body and mind to its pinnacle to evolving thanks to a radioactive spider bite. (That the genre began with not a man but an alien disguised as a human is the ultimate irony, as if the superhero concept actually began in reverse to its true social significance.) To couple these fantastic narratives with the vivid imagery characteristic of comic books is escapism in its most perfect form, for while comics aren't as perpetual as film, they still drop the audience into the middle of the action, allowing for that space between panels to inspire more adventure and a sense of time and perspective, if the reader so chooses. Who could read a comic book and not want to fly alongside the Human Torch, or explore Earth's underbelly with Hellboy, or leap rooftop to rooftop with Shadowhawk?
So Kick-ass makes it happen. Just as Hamlet adopted the "play within a play" motif, or Seinfeld boasted "a show about nothing in a show about nothing" subplot, so too Kick-ass envisions an escapist fantasy within an escapist fantasy. Dave Lizewski insists that he's a regular high school -- he likes Scrubs and the Goo Goo Dolls, he fantasizes about his moderately attractive but irresistibly dominating biology teacher, and he is an old child raised by a single, hard-working father, since his mother died of an aneurysm. He and his friends like comics, too, and they swear like sailors. So, toss all of these incredibly mundane, relatively commonplace elements into the blender that is the adolescent mind via Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., and we get a kid that buys a wet suit and walks on rooftops.
So where does the "kick ass" part come in? How 'bout when our young hero finally decides to engage the enemy, who is, in this case, some kids spraypainting the side of a building. For a few panels, I actually thought Lizewski was going to pull it off, that his self-fueled training and high protein diet would result in the skills necessary to take down three seemingly harmless punks. The knife to his gut, and the hit-and-run driver that smacked his already bloody frame across the street, quickly brought me back down to Earth. We already know that Dave will survive these injuries and experience further adventures, since this issue begins with a grim look into his crimefighting future, but these final seven pages do more harm to this series' title character than some superheroes experience in years' worth of stories.
For which I'm a little grateful, in case some kid picked up this book because of its eye-catching name and almost perceived it as a how-to guide for adolescent vigilantism.
So, yes, Millar tells an incredible story, though with a tagline like the one on this issue's cover, he has a little bit more work to do: "The Greatest Superhero Book of All Time is Finally Here!" John Romita, Jr., fresh from his stint on World War Hulk, is in incredible form, and Tom Palmer's inks capture Romita's characteristic cross-hatching, depth, and detail just as capably as longtime collaborator Klaus Janson. (Romita is obviously at his best when he shares a creative investment in the series, i.e. The Gray Area.) Heck, Romita has made his mark on almost all of Marvel's superhero stable, so it makes sense that he finally draws us, the fans, projected into the form of this Dave Lizewski kid. I couldn't help but notice Dean White's colors, too -- his work has a watercolor quality to it, creating a dreamy, almost filtered essence to every page. The hues are realistic and rich, yet also ethereal, as if this is the escapist fantasy we've all been having all along.
Well, except for the part where Kick-ass gets his ass kicked. At the end of my superhero fantasy I make out with the chick from church camp and get home in time for dinner. That wouldn't make much a comic, though, would it? Besides, without Millar's twist of the real world ramifications of superhero vigilantism, Kick-ass #1 would just be a comic we've all seen before anyway. In our own mind's eye.
C'mon . . . you know it's true!