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Kick-Ass 2 is not only on schedule, it is actually living up to its tagline “The must-read book for all book for all psychopaths!”. After a few lackluster issues, last month’s installment seemed to promise a re-charge for the series in term of violence, content and consequence. As the Red Mist re-dubbed himself the Mother Fucker and decapitated the leader of Justice Forever only to replace it with the head of his attack dog, it became clear Millar was either finally going to get the book on the right path or had just spent his last two good ideas.
With issue four, Kick-Ass is definitely back on the right path, even if discovering that is a bit of a stomach-turning process. Watching Mother Fucker lead his goons through a suburb dispassionately killing children and passer-bys, raping and murdering as he targets Dave Lizewski’s, aka Kick-Ass, high-school crush, brings not a only feeling of disgust, but one of guilt-riddled enjoyment. Mother Fucker leaves behind the definition of “villain” in this issue, as comic books usually identify them as bank robbers or people who simply jeopardize the lives of others, and enters the realm of “monster”… which is perfect for this book! Mother Fucker is far more like what real life bad-guys are, and Kick-Ass is intended to bring reality to super-hero stories. So as his henchwoman, Mother Russia, expertly kills cops as they arrive to save the terrorized neighborhood, the reader can’t help but fight the wincing-reflex in order to see if Millar and the book’s publisher, Icon, have the guts to go the whole way.
Icon is a property of the Disney-owned Marvel Comics and, honestly, it often feels that way. Icon has pushed the limit in the past, but it seldom has really even come close to crossing the line as other publishers like Avatar do so readily. To see them putting out books like this or Nemesis that are not afraid to scare away the younger readers is assuring to the older audience, sending the message that, yes, if a character threatens to make everyone Kick-Ass loves pay… that’s a threat worth picking up the next issue over.
Kick-Ass often uses it’s violence to round off other weaknesses in its story, and this issue has several. First, the beginning takes us through the life of the Mindy, formerly Hit-Girl, and while the narrative is interesting, this is issue four and we’ve seen this same set-up four times now. The book doesn’t need to constantly check-in with her to remind us she exists, just come back to her when you’re ready to use her (as the next issue’s cover promises). The ending is equally weak as Dave’s father decides to take the rap for being Kick-Ass when the cops come looking for the costumed vigilante. Dave is rushing home after Mother Fucker threatens to target his father. The panel construction sets up a nice feeling of suspense as he arrives in time to see his dad taken away, as the reader expects Mother Fucker at any moment, only to end on a splash page of Dave calling to his father. Splash pages are reserved for dramatic reveals or important actions, adding something that changes the course of the issue or even the whole storyline. This splash-page ending rather makes the dramatic reveal that the book wanted an important ending, didn’t have one and couldn’t be bothered to really construct one.
The other note really worth mentioning is the mysteriously blasé response the members of Justice Forever have to the news of their leader’s hideous demise. While they recognize it’s unfortunate, their mourning musters little reaction more than gathering five dollars from everyone to send their condolences to the bereaved. That muted reaction seems like negligent writing. However, it might also me a bit of continued commentary on the desensitizing-effect this type of media has on people. Certainly, that desensitization to danger is what allows these people to dress-up like this to begin with, so maybe it’s Millar’s way of further demonstrating that. If so, it’s brilliant, as Kick-Ass standing beside the body of his former leader crying “No!” to the crane-shot would be too much of a soap opera-move to maintain the reality-feel of this series. But still, it’s hard to say for sure.
Despite its failings, this issue is excellent (even if it’s only excellent because it averages out well) and really plays upon the horror Kick-Ass foretold in the first issue, giving devoted readers a great deal to look forward to as the penultimate chapter will hopefully arrive soon.