Jim McDermott on 'Kick-Ass'

I know very little about comic-book culture--other than the obvious stuff: what Kryptonite does, what Wolverine's blades are made of and why with great power come great responsibility.  Jim McDermott, former associate editor and current film student, on the other hand, knows a lot.  And I mean a lot.  When he worked at the magazine, I was always surprised by how, when a new comic-book movie was released, he not only already knew the story, but the backstory, the illustrator, the author and the whole culture that surrounded the original comic.  So when he offered to do a review of the new (not uncontroversial) movie "Kick-Ass" (sorry I had to say the title) I accepted with alacrity.  Of course he's a great writer, too, so I knew he'd have a clever take.  He starts:

There was a time when comic books, much like television and film, offered a golden, innocent view of the universe. No one died, no one broke up. Everybody was plucky and idealistic and trying their darnedest to make the world a better place.  

In the world of comic books, at least, those days are long gone. Comic book fare today regularly involves dismemberment, cursing, the murder of innocents—you name it. For the most part, the medium continues to insulate its readers from the violence through its choice of what it shows and what it doesn’t. So a character like Marvel’s Wolverine, who on page has maimed and killed literally millions in the over 30 years he has been around, can remain not only one of the most popular comic book characters but is generally considered a hero. 

But as in all media, some books push the edge, and few more in recent years than Kick-Ass, an eight-part mini-series written by Mark Millar, creator of the comic-cum-film Wanted, and architect of some of the most provocative and interesting work in the Marvel Universe in the last 10 years. Drawn by extremely popular artist John Romita, Jr., the series, now a film, tells the tale of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an ordinary kid in an ordinary universe who thinks dressing up like a superhero and trying to fight criminals could make the world a better place. He goes by the name Kick-Ass, but the film’s early scenes give lie to that moniker. In the real world dressing up like a superhero and picking fights with bad guys lends itself to having one’s butt get kicked.  

A major part of what made the comic book gripping was its unrelenting, hyperviolent realism. In the first chapter alone Dave gets stabbed, beat up, electrocuted and run down by a car. Later chapters show bad guys’ heads being sliced in half, limbs being cut off and blood flowing everywhere.  
The film takes this material and turns it into a giddy, often awe-striking lovechild of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and Judd Apatow’s “Superbad.” A la Apatow, you laugh at Dave’s expense, as the girl he pines for becomes interested in him only after a rumor surfaces that he’s gay, and then laugh again as the real star of the show, the 11- year-old purple-haired assassin “Hit-Girl” (Chloe Moretz), wipes bad guys out with audacious violence and some filthy language. 

That last graf touches on the most controversial aspect of the movie: the young girl-hero's foul language. For his take on that and the rest of of the movie read his review here.

James Martin, S.J.

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