Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Kick-Ass #2

Last month, Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. introduced us to Kick-Ass, the saga of a teenaged boy who's taken the initiative in applying the fantastic adventures of his favorite comic book superheroes to the real world. Sadly, he may have been misled as to the practicality of that pursuit… in his first patrol he was stabbed and beaten, then bowled over by a Mercedes that fled the scene before he'd even hit the ground. Now he's clinging to life in a hospital bed, miles from his goals, with his chances of even walking again looking more and more grim as the hours of unconsciousness slip into days.

I was overjoyed to see this book in my review pile this week. I'd picked up the first issue on a whim and found it a quick, exciting read that left me hungry for more. While the tempo slows in this follow-up, the tone remains the same. The protagonist, Dave Lizewski, is a smart, imaginative young kid who's relatable and inspiring. He's learned some tough lessons about the world in these first issues, and it's already becoming evident that his growth as an individual is one of the story's central themes. Although he's still an adolescent, he isn't treated with kid gloves. Millar lets him shine through as a mature, intellectual mind with broad views and wisdom beyond his years.

Although the first half of the issue's dialog is almost entirely internal, it doesn't feel redundant and overplayed. Dave is well spoken, but doesn't seem haughty or inapproachable, and some of his lines are downright brilliant. “And so, after four operations, two months of counseling, three metal plates fitted inside my head and endless weeks of physical rehabilitation, I finally realized why there's no such thing as superheroes in the real world.” That's gorgeous. That's a mission statement for this entire series, conducted over the course of four panels. This is a title that can cover brutal violence and quiet introspection within just a few pages of each other, yet it's never disjointed or awkward. It's just right.

His partner in crime, John Romita Jr., needs little introduction. Although he's been in the business for over twenty years, his art remains fresh and unique. He's one of those rare artists whose work is instantly identifiable, whether he's dealing with superpowers and firefights or wheelchairs and hospital rooms. Although he's had better contributions, (a lot of this issue looks like it was rushed out the door, especially early in the book) his work remains in the industry's upper echelon and his layouts alone justify his ongoing presence. When Dave is briefly hallucinating about reincarnation early in the issue, Romita treats both imagination and reality as one, telling both stories without missing a beat. I don't think I'd have trusted such a complicated moment to anyone else.

Mark Millar has fast become one of my favorite modern writers, and John Romita, Jr. has long been among my favorite artists. Although Millar isn't above making a few mistakes, he almost never fails to surprise, to push the envelope. Every one of his books has its own identity, and Kick-Ass is just the latest and greatest. He's giving us phenomenal action, sharp characters and tough questions, and Romita is bringing them all to life as only he can. I can't say enough good things about these guys, and their work together is a rare example of top-level talent living up to steep expectations. Buy it if you see it, this is great.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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