Review: 'Kick-Ass' #1 Fails to Understand What It's About

Kick-Ass has always nominally been focused on what superheroes might look like in the real world. It’s a premise that even the first series never entirely held onto though, with extraordinary levels of guns and violence offering an '80s action movie conclusion. Restraint isn’t within the vocabulary of Mark Millar, which is not an inherently good or bad thing. However, given the context, ideas, and premise of Kick-Ass, some restraint and nuance are required. Millar and co-creator John Romita Jr. are “rebooting” the series with a new protagonist and location. These new elements don’t improve on the original concept; they only make the multi-faceted flaws of it more obvious.

Patience is an Afghan war vet who returns to the United States with limited opportunities or support. Her choice to become a superhero is driven by financial need and anger, whereas Dave Lizewski’s was driven by absurd fantasy. That origin might sound more realistic, but it’s borders upon being farcical as presented. An opening sequence features Patience and her team, the Night Stalkers, facing down impossible odds to escape a hostage situation. The violence and actions taken are so extreme that it’s difficult to imagine them even in a film directed by Peter Berg or Michael Bay. What is accomplished by soldiers rests far outside the realm of reality and the scenario itself steers Kick-Ass into the realm of propaganda.

Kick-Ass #1 Review - Afghanistan
(Photo: Image Comics)

These soldiers are unstoppable killing machines facing down a never-ending horde of unreasonable, turban-clad men. The ugliness that predicates this “exciting action sequence” makes it difficult to appreciate some of Romita Jr.’s best recent work. Steigerwald on inks and colors refines the bold faces and frames of his characters, while reaffirming the impact. His cast of action is all about the big moment, and both bullets and fists land in successive panels to impressive results. Taken in a vacuum, this battle is an impressive new sequence from Romita Jr. and Steigerwald. Their artwork does not exist in a vacuum though, and it portrays an ugly simplification of a complex conflict, one that removes all trace of humanity from war. The end result remains an ugly depiction of Islamophobia that destroys the realistic premise of Kick-Ass before the story really begins.

That degree of simplification continues throughout Kick-Ass #1. The issue focuses on a variety of issues, including a lack of support for veterans and single parent families, the American drug war, and sexism. Any of these topics is difficult to address on its own, and Kick-Ass #1 makes a point of placing them all at the forefront of this new story. This is not an accident, but a purposeful centering of challenging material. All of which is addressed as superficially as possible. Problems are raised by characters who can only offer cliches in their dialogue and no real understanding of the challenges they are facing. The core themes of this new Kick-Ass appear to have been gleaned through scanning the front page of USA Today before being transformed into bloody, pop entertainment.

Kick-Ass #1 Review - Spider-Man
(Photo: Image Comics)

At its best, the first issue engages with a grindhouse aesthetic. Loosely defined characters seek excuses to enter bad situations and deliver mean results. There’s a joy to be found in watching Patience single-handedly destroy a group of bad guys. Romita Jr. finds that odd balance where every broken limb and missing eye offers both a cringe and the hint of a smile. As a vehicle for mayhem, Kick-Ass #1 is more than capable of delivering. That is not how this series is presented, however, and there’s a distinct lack of self-awareness regarding its love for carnage.

There’s a conflict at the heart of Kick-Ass #1. It pushes the realism of its superhero narrative at face value. The comic continually raises problems in the real world and makes violence appear as ugly and painful as it ought to be when no one is invulnerable. Yet this intent is undermined at every turn by the way in which it is presented. Kick-Ass #1 does not exhibit any real understanding of the subject matter it addresses, and often distills these topics into ugly caricatures of life. In a world where we seek both escapism and understanding through narratives, Kick-Ass #1 manages to deliver neither.

Published by Image Comics

On February 14th

Written by Mark Millar

Art by John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Peter Steigerwald (inks)

Colors by Peter Steigerwald