Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Kick ass" in perspective

When the original "Kick ass" series debuted in 2008, Mark ("the Ultimates") Millar was in a very different phase of his career. "Wanted", a movie based on one of his controversial comics was about to be released, and he was still enjoying height of his commercial success at Marvel. Thus, as he was developing Kick Ass, Millar was very aware of the series' potential to find a life outside comics.

In a very real way, the high concept was developed to resonate both for comics and the cinema that has come to embrace superhero movies. Millar's simple idea of a teenager becoming a real life superhero became a hit but the reader should be aware of the circumstances behind it. The success behind the cult movie had much more to do with the writer's popularity, marketing sense, and most importantly, contacts in the entertainment industry.

As a comic, "Kick ass" was a foregone conclusion, with the first issue selling most of the story, and the character of the Hit-girl (coming somewhat later in the series) rounding out most of the appeal. Designed brutally simple, these caricatures posed as characters whose neuroses made up for their personality. For a long time comics reader, this was nothing new, as Millar employs a similar set up to raise the stakes in all of his hyper violent comics. Still, "Kick ass" the mini-series was marked with few key differences, particularly when compared to "Wanted".

"Wanted" was a potential DC comics pitch gone over the top when the writer's popularity assured him that he could have a sizable audience if his ideas were laid bare. The fan favorite artist J. G. Jones pencilled series still communicated largely with his existing audience, positing an ugly view at the world of supervillains with a lot of the in jokes and allusions that can entail. The notoriously slow artist made the rarely shipping series disappear from the sustained discussion of superhero comics, but that didn't hurt the property in any real way.

The movie studios recognized the genre defying banality of the central premise and proceeded to develop a very different story. In fact, by recasting Millar's homage to Catwoman into a supernatural femme fatale played by Angelina Jolie they made perhaps the loosest comics adaptation this side of Monica Vitti starring "Modesty Blaze". Most of the creators would be insulted by the degree of the licence the movie producers took with his work, but Millar seems to have learned from it.

One must always take into account that he was the very same creator who made his artist model the principal characters after Eminem and Halle Berry, and launched a false rumor that the rapper was interested in starring in the adaptation. Thus, when preparing "Kick ass", Mark Millar was very aware of the direction he was taking his new property in. Firstly, by recruiting Marvel's mainstay John Romita junior, who fared much less successfully with his first creator owned project, the writer was counting on his status as Marvel's premiere superhero writer. By offering his former "Wolverine" collaborator a co-creator credit on a potentially lucrative cross media franchise, Millar was simply raising his chances of success.

Having a "based on the successful graphic novel" credit on the forthcoming Kick ass movie was almost as important as the artist's role in designing the characters and the set pieces that would guide the Matthew Vaughn directed actioner. Taking the crude wish fulfillment premise of "Wanted", and re-contextualizing it into a much more down to Earth superhero premise, Millar opened his series with a hint of the Romita junior designed blood baths. Thus, the writer enabled himself to proceed with the relatively slow paced characterization, as befitting a proper story, with romantic subplots and a fair amount of world building, no matter how twisted and banal.

Reading through the series, and finally getting past the part of the finale that was teased in the first issue, the reader would be hard pressed to remember anything beyond Kick Ass taking down the mafia leader after teaming up with Hit-Girl. What followed was the obligatory epilogue, lacking in the sense of finality, as it was clear that these characters were being set up for further adventures, no matter how unlikely.

Finally getting to read the follow up, proves a both frustrating and interesting experience, as befits Mark Millar comics.

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