Monday, March 19, 2012

Kick ass 2 #1-7

Debuting in 2010, "Kick ass 2" was envisioned to continue the plot and themes introduced in the original and serves largely to keep interest in the property until the premiere of the proposed second movie adaptation. As such, despite the trademark over the top violence and the continued characterization, the derivative nature of the work turns out to be crucial. To put it simply, Mark Millar and John Romita junior's "Kick Ass 2" is an exercise in maintaining the franchise and strengthening the brand and feels significantly less provocative as a result.

This is most notable in the closing credits, that slyly re-brand the seven issue package as "book three", to make way for a tie-in. The writer has already announced the plan to release a "Hit-Girl" mini-series in order to bridge the two existing "Kick ass" volumes, with the co-creator Romita junior replaced on the art by Leandro Fernandez. Millar is obviously feeding the market he so methodically created, but at this point it's questionable how it will impact on the property. What's at stake is not only a case of a contrived spin-off diluting the brand integrity, but also if the derivative works challenge the very concept of subjective reality he has created, in effect turning "Kick ass" into yet another fictional superhero universe. This is not only visible in terms of keeping up with the inter title continuity, but in the fact that with "Kick ass 2", the project is starting to play by the rules of Marvel and DC superhero universes.

By the middle of the second series, Millar has already tied up the loose ends from the original's lukewarm epilogue and the effects are very telling. Its laudable that the co-creators put the new story front and center and utilize unwanted carry overs to make up for the protagonist's motivation when it comes to his present predicament. Yet, in the process the writer makes a fundamental choice to drown out the human element. Thus, two of the original's principal non-superhero characters are savagely punished for their connection to Dave, while his school friends quickly join in and become superheroes themselves.

As for the theme that puts all of this into perspective, Millar and Romita jr. choose the growing superhero movement. Again, this puts the book one step away from the reality. The original series' basic premise dealt with the consequences of a troubled teenager's decision to follow his comic book idols and become a neighborhood superhero. Even then, the creators proceeded to put his decision in perspective by introducing imitators, which makes the follow-up's superhero explosion somewhat easier to understand. Yet, seeing that there are no organized superhuman communities in the real world, the second "Kick ass" book basically consists of the writer's extrapolations of the continued criminological and socio-legal ramifications of the first series' events in a way that feels much more akin to something like Marvel's MAX line's micro continuity.

By the very nature of the project Millar poses a comparison to the genre milestone "Watchmen", and with "Kick ass 2" the connection is much more explicit. The long time industry gold standard, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel's main premise is built upon the idea of superheroes in the real world. The level of craft and invention involved with the 25 year old finite series is still remarked upon, thus Millar is being very confident when he directly quotes it, featuring a break in into a superhero's home and the subsequent brutal slaying the veteran crime fighter. With the recent news of company-owned follow ups to Moore's venerable work and the creator's subsequent vehement protestation, its telling that the "Kick ass" creative team seem much more comfortable in exploiting the spin-off potential.

Of course, Millar and Romita junior's story involving their creator owned is a much happier one, with the creators taking a direct role in the movie tie-in, yet their mind set still reflects on "Kick ass 2" as a separate creative entity. With the participation of inker and finisher Tom ("The Avengers") Palmer and colorist Dean white, the production values involved with the severely delayed series seem particularly high, which could easily lead a fan of the series in thinking that he's being presented a credible effort that improves on the original and continues the story. The bold and confident look of the lushly painted pages certainly eases the reader into trusting Millar to tell at least a diverting piece of entertainment, but "Kick ass 2" could hardly be called a satisfying reading experience.

For one, the writer never truly brings life to the new characters, as the new additions, particularly Captain Gravity, feel one dimensional and gimmicky, even when compared to what amounts for Kick Ass and Hit-Girl's shaky characterizations. There is some plausibility in the idea of the makeshift local superteam basically adopting the monikers of the well established traditional comic book brethren, but even then, the writer never goes too far with the idea. The reason is a relatively sudden mid-story shift for greater emphasis on the title character, which sidesteps his Justice Forever cohorts until the big finale, which is again teased in the opening sequence.

John Romita junior lends some credibility to the derivative designs so that Kick Ass' new friends at least maintain a semblance of individuality, yet undoubtedly the best part of the book remains in the burgeoning relationship between Kick Ass and Hit-Girl. It's obvious that Millar has already recognized her as making up for most of the project's commercial potential, thus limiting her appearance to the role of a supporting character for most of the second series, before she returns to have a larger role in the final issue. Having such an overblown and unlikely character even survive the first series already strains credibility, with the creators already treating her as a scene stealer feels oddly calculating and somewhat detrimental.

For narrative purposes, her continued role in the book continually undermines the main character, even if it gives some the heart to the work. The relationship between the two co-leads thus remains the closest thing to genuine emotion in the series and will probably result in the controversial love affair between barely adult Dave and Mindy just entering her teens. Likewise, the conclusion, echoing Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" routinely assigns her a crucial role in the not yet formally announced "Kick ass 3" that is set to debut sometime after the conclusion of her owns series.

Likewise, Millar succeeds in wringing some sympathy out of the dynamic between Dave and his father, which can't really be said for his infatuation with Katie, the love interest of the previous series, who would have been better off if she was completely left out of the follow-up. They are included seemingly only to bring some gravity to the senseless violence, but in the case of the latter, Millar strives for his most cynical and inhumane, bringing to mind his opening for Marvel's "Civil war" event. Seeing innocent bystanders riddled with bullet holes is not so much gory as manipulative, and feels so wrong and misjudged that it almost stops the story altogether.

Still, the creators use the incident to pull away from their exploration of the emerging superhero scene and reestablish the premise as that of Kick Ass versus his opposite number (the change of focus probably accounts for the seventh issue being added to the series at a relatively late date, production wise). The drug using Red Mist is renamed in proceedings, to match his completely out of control role the plot asks him to fulfill, which for the most part feels like a misstep. Seeing Kick ass continue in his relatively down to Earth personality as opposed to his former friend's turning into a mass murderer more or less completely destroys the character dynamic, the semblance of which can be seen only in the very ending, as the two once again interact in a way that actually resembles two friends who have parted ways less than amicably.

Interestingly with Red Mist Millar departs from his own idea of Kick ass being just a member of a local superteam, and has the villain lead the opposite organization, which is precisely where the book falters the most. It forces the writer to come up with a completely bizarre second in command in Mother Russia, where simply a stronger and more calculated villain, heavily influenced by Dave's former friend, would have brought at least some credibility behind the series of atrocities.

As presented, the chief culprit behind the attacks on Dave's loved ones and the city is simply the creative team, who benefit from the raised stakes and the perverse thrill the carnage supposedly bring to the work. The reality is that the reader already familiar with the first series feels largely numb to the carnage, with the repulsion largely replaced by genuine genuine need to question the creators' motivations. Did "Kick ass" succeeding far above all the projections locked them into thinking that the gracious, over the top violence had to be included at every opportunity, and did they really have to present it in such a crass and forced way?

The point is moot, and Dean White's dark purples are left to do what they can to recast the slaughter in a semblance of subdued storytelling. With "Kick ass 2", the co-creators largely abandon any defense that their work should be read as a satire, and simply present it as a relatively grounded superhero universe. Likewise, the ending brings no real sense of closure beyond putting a stop to Red Mist's gang, with most of the cast perfectly poised to play the roles in the obligatory sequel.

When Millar's big idea of superheroes as a new outlet for social activism boils down to baiting the reader for the Mother Russia/Hit-Girl fight sequence, "Kick ass" is revealed to be simply a rarely successful mature readers superhero title, and nothing more. That the said sequence turns out to be as brutal as it is anti-climatic comes as a no surprise, as Millar and Romita jr. seem to be way past the point of even entertaining themselves with the premise. "Kick ass" has simply become another trademark to exploit and constantly renew, with the difference being that the creators themselves own it, and don't have to put up with a publishers requesting an ongoing series by outside talent.

Leandro Fernandez' involvement with "Hit-Girl" largely departs from that model, but still seems relatively modest, given the typical excess involved with even remotely successful publishing initiatives in the Direct Market. As for the inevitable "Kick ass 3", it's best to remember Millar's own oft-repeated stance on the possibility of a follow ups to one of his projects. When discussing the possibility of a sequel to his and J. G. Jones' "Wanted", the writer said that he ultimately decided against it, as it would inevitable prove to the detriment of the original. It's a shame then that the writer feels the need to continually exploit its spiritual successor, no matter the number of in story subplots left dangling.

The strongest part of "Kick ass" and the brutal commentary that gave the original most of its energy for the moment seem to be in the process of a continued exploitation, with the derivatives supplanting the innovation for traditional superhero universe tropes. From a creative point of view, Millar and Romita junior's efforts could be excused as an attempt to influence the movie sequel's story with a plot and character designs that they as creators had a hand in designing, but even then "Kick ass 2" feels dubious.

It's not that it's the worst sequel to the original series, as there's enough authenticity in the mini-series that it feels coherent, it's just that the original didn't really need the follow up. On his own, Millar has shown such a strong cross media track record success that he's currently at various stages of several different series, with some of the strongest mainstream talent, including Dave Gibbons himself, and Frank ("We3") Quitely. No matter how lucrative the franchise has turned out to be, there is no reason why the writer didn't simply proceed to develop another property with John Romita junior, instead for settling on a course that can only lead to over-saturation and diminishing returns already seen with the likes of "30 days of night" and "Irredeemable".

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