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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 3 #1

When the first Kick-Ass comic by Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr first came out, it was a bit of a breath of fresh air on the superhero comics scene.  For the first time there was a legitimately decent comic book out there starring the type of person rarely actually seen in comics: the fans.  Not only was the humor great, but it was a fun story which did a good job of exploring what it would really be like if a nerd tried to be a superhero.  Even with the gratuitous violence and the over the top cursing, Kick-Ass was a nice little comedy that did not lose any of its fun when adapted to the big screen.  Then, two years ago, Millar and Romita followed up this fun comic with a sequel which was anything but.  Kick-Ass 2 was a horrifically violent comic that traded fun and humor for dark and gritty investigation into the true side effects of having people dress as heroes and villains.  In other words, it wasn't truly Kick-Ass.  With the fun completely sucked out of the sequel, there leaves little hope for the Kick-Ass 2 film impressing audiences as much as the original.  Now we have the beginnings of Millar's final Kick-Ass story with Kick-Ass 3.  Will this comic continue the slew of unnecessary violence and grittiness of its predecessor or will it reclaim its roots as a comedy?  Find out after the jump!

Beginning just a short time after its predecessor, Kick-Ass 3 shows a somewhat struggling Justice Forever reuniting to break former teammate Hit-Girl out of prison.  Leaving behind security footage, maps, weaponry, and two million dollars in cash, Hit-Girl is putting all of her hopes with Kick-Ass and friends to do the job.  As plans begin to come together, however, Dave Lizewsky begins to realize that perhaps being a superhero is a lot harder than it seemed at first and that, unlike his comic book heroes, dressing up in a costume and fighting crime may only be a phase which can be outgrown.  

With most comics which are published as a mini-series, the first issue perhaps may be the most important as it is going to set-up most of the over-arching conflicts and story which the remaining issues will cover.  Kick-Ass established very clearly that it was going to be a comedic comic about a nerd deciding to become a superhero.  Kick-Ass 2, for all its mediocrity, even began in its first issue to set up the coming struggle between heroes and villains as well as the formation of superhero team Justice Forever.  In Kick-Ass 3, however, there is almost zero set-up for an over-arching story for this arc.  Sure, there is the plot of breaking Hit-Girl out of prison, which will undoubtedly continue into the next issue, but this is not suitable enough material to cover an entire 7-8 issue mini-series.  In fact, much of this first issue spends time setting up what these characters have been up to since the previous installment.  Dave and friends have graduated high school, but Dave and his friend Todd have decided not to pursue any post-secondary goals, instead getting an apartment together and working part time.  Meanwhile, Justice Forever is a dwindling group of superheroes that is beginning to not see the point in parading around in costume anymore, while Hit-Girl can do nothing but sit in her jail cell in a straight jacket.  The issue definitely has a nice flow to it and is actually quite good, but it seemed very striking that there was such an utter lack of set-up to the larger narrative at hand.  Red Mist (or his more colorful villain name which we will not say here) is not to be found in this issue, although perhaps that is understandable considering the state we found him in at the end of Kick-Ass 2.  A lack of set-up would be completely understandable if this was the second part of a trilogy, but this is the first chapter of the final story with Kick-Ass and friends, so it seemed quite odd that we still have no true idea of what this comic is going to be about.  Perhaps this is an indication that Kick-Ass 3 will be longer than 7-8 issues, but that seems highly unlikely given the scattered publishing schedule of the first two installments.

Easily the one thing this issue gets completely right from the get go is the humor.  After the dreadfully unfunny Kick-Ass 2, Kick-Ass 3's inaugural issue seems very much so a return to form.  While the previous series may have been a more in-depth look at the ramifications of being a superhero, it lost all sense of where it began: comic nerds asking "what if?".  This issue has a ton of moments where it finally remembers that most of the people underneath these costumes are actually comic book fans.  Whether it's using the Marvel Cinematic Universe to study how to be a superhero or posing at your parents' graves to look more like Batman, so far Kick-Ass 3 feels so much more like the first series that it is a complete breath of fresh air.  The latter of these moments is perhaps the funniest part of the entire issue, with Todd actually telling Dave he wishes his parents had also died so he could be more inspired to save the world.  Justice Forever's first attempt to break Hit-Girl out of prison comes off as more of a scene from Monty Python than Watchmen and it is incredibly funny.  There are several other places throughout the entire issue where the humor is amped up quite a bit, making for a more funny comic than anything else.  In fact, the humor of this issue completely overshadows any semblance of story or violence, making for a bit of an uneven Kick-Ass comic.  Sure, one or two jokes fall a little flat.  There is a moment where Hit-Girl criticizes the liberal justice system, which seems a little odd considering Millar's anything but Republican political stance, but it is such a minor joke that it is easily forgotten.  Even with that in mind, however, it is hard to fault the issue too much when it feels like such a return to form for the series.  Hopefully as the series approaches its end we get to see Millar use a bit more of the humor seen here as it works quite well with the general concept behind the comic's existence to begin with.  

If there were a mathematical formula for the way a good Kick-Ass comic works, it would have to include three main ingredients of story, humor, and violence.  With this issue, the humor most definitely takes precedence over the story, but what about the violence?  It would not be a true Kick-Ass comic without over the top, gratuitous violence that seems more at home in a Tarantino picture than a superhero comic.  Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 3 is thus far completely devoid of any violence whatsoever.  While the first Kick-Ass did not contain much violence in its first issue, it did contain enough to give the reader the idea that this comic was going to be a little bit different than most.  Reading an issue of Kick-Ass without any violence or gore is about like going to see Gallagher without watermelons and a sledge hammer, there is just some key element missing.  Most assuredly there is going to be epic violence on the way, one cannot finish this series without it, but its absence is very noticeable in this issue, which may turn off some readers.  Although perhaps the toned down level of this issue is a sign of things to come with this series, which may actually be a blessing in disguise.  Kick-Ass 2 brought the violence to an entirely new level, so much so that it came to a point where it seemed very obvious that Millar was being violent just for the sake of violence, which never makes anything enjoyable after too long.  While one could never argue that Kick-Ass would be better without some limbs being cut off, we can hope that Millar draws the dial back just a little bit with the finale of the trilogy.  Although Kick-Ass 3 does not begin with any violence, there is at least a promise on the final page of the issue that we will see Dave Lizewsky back in action for the next chapter.

In terms of art for Kick-Ass, it is hard to say exactly whether John Romita Jr. is an acquired taste, or if it is more just a personal decision.  The Romitas are pretty much comic book royalty, which is quite an accomplishment when one considers that most comic book royalty is made up of writers, not artists.  Andy Kubert is perhaps the only other comic book artist today to gain the notoriety of John Romita Jr.  That being said, however, Romita's art is very much so one that you have to pretty much love going in with not much room for growing to appreciate the style.  Romita's recent work on Avengers was quite good and his style certainly works very well for Kick-Ass, but there are still some aspects which seem quite lazy.  Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl look just fine, but most of the supporting cast is rather bland looking.  Todd is drawn in an incredibly odd way, making him a very odd looking person, even without his S&M style costume.  Perhaps what is most nerve-wracking about Romita's art, and it is very noticeable in this issue, is that all of his adult males look exactly the same.  A typical adult male in a Romita drawn comic is very bulky and has an enormously square chin.  This may be a stylistic choice which appeals to some comic book readers, and it does look nice when used sparingly, but, after a while, every single character begins to look the same.  Although the art does have some problems with its character designs, it is true what was said earlier, Romita's art blends very well with Kick-Ass.  Besides, much like the lack of violence and a true story, it just would not be Kick-Ass without Romita's art put to Millar's words.

In many ways this first issue of Kick-Ass 3 brings a lot to be hopeful about with this final chapter.  While there may not be a ton of over the top violence, much of the comic feels like a return to form in terms of characterization.  The lack of a sense of over-arching story is a bit nerve-wracking, but that can easily be fixed in one issue.  It would still be nice, however, to have an idea where this final installment will be taking our characters before being willing to spend another $2.99 on a comic.  Where the comic lacks in story and violence, it more than makes up for in humor and perhaps that is what is most important to take away from this issue: all of the elements may not be present, but this feels so much more like Kick-Ass than any issue of Kick-Ass 2.  In addition, the lack of a sprawling cast of characters helps to give Millar more of a focus in writing, giving the comic an ability to feel more driven by Dave's adventures than, say, Justice Forever's adventures.  Knowing that this is a comic which will most likely become a movie some day, consider Kick-Ass 3 a much more easily anticipated film than August's release of Kick-Ass 2.  For the first time in years, it is exciting to see where Kick-Ass ends up next.

Rating: B+

Summary: Kick-Ass 3, in many ways, is a return to form for the series.  Though there is very little sense of an over-arching story and almost no violence, the use of nerd humor once again and the focused characterization makes for an enjoyable beginning to this final installment.
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