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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Kick-Ass franchise and I go back a ways. I first became aware of it in 2009 when I met author Mark Millar at a Wizard World comic convention. He was peddling his book in addition to the movie adaptation then in production. I was in awe of the little I learned, so I eagerly awaited for the collected edition of Kick-Ass to come out. I loved it then, and it still holds up now.
Then Kick-Ass 2 was released in 2012 and it was an incredible let down. I liked the general idea of it, but the execution was way too over-the-top and violence too extreme to be legitimately entertaining. In a surprising move, the movie version pretty much fixed everything that was wrong with the comic and is actually a better product in my mind.
Finally, in 2013, Hit-Girl, an interquel, came out and regained what was so good about Kick-Ass in the first place. For me, it redeemed the series. As such, I was pumped and ready for this final chapter in which Millar promised some definite conclusions.
And that’s what happens. Mostly. Kick-Ass 3 picks up some time after the second installment. Dave is out of high school and, despite his best efforts, is beginning to question his role as a superhero. Mindy is locked-up in prison and sort of screwing with the minds of the guards and psychologists there. Meanwhile, the final Genovese mob boss brother comes to New York to re-establish his family’s control over the criminal enterprises Dave and Mindy disrupted over the past three series.
There is a lot of good here and a lot of middling efforts as well. Kick-Ass 2 is definitely better than its predecessor, but it falls short of the original series. I think one of the problems is that the first half of the book is boring. Nothing really happens. You get some interesting character work (which I’ll discuss below), but there is a real lack of momentum. Things just sort of happen with little impact, and characters (like Red Mist) pop up briefly before disappearing for issues on end.
I have no problems with a slow burn, but it really felt like Millar was spinning his wheels for a good while. About midway through, the plot really starts to kick in, but during the second half of the book, things just speed along at an almost too brisk of a pace.
What also didn’t work for me is that Mindy/Hit-Girl was just too much to handle. I know that I need to take her character with some suspension of disbelief, but what she is capable of doing throughout the story is completely illogical and eye-rollingly stupid. The book just tried too hard to make her look cool when it didn’t need to.
But, as I hinted at earlier, what really works in Kick-Ass 3 is Dave’s character arc. He’s older now and is at that stage in his life where he wants more out of life and isn’t sure the superhero thing is really it. He begins to seriously see someone and begins to get something that resembles a normal lifestyle. And he likes it. There is a maturity at play that really, really works well.
As I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if Millar was trying to make some sort of statement with what Dave is going through as if Dave’s journey was a loose allegory for the comic book reader. As a kid you like comic books for the goofy stories and fun pictures. As one gets older, they get really into it and reach intense fanboy levels (as seen on any internet message boards on any given day). But then, as you enter your twenties and you develop new interests and new perspectives on things, you sort of leave comics behind, or at least your intense love for them greatly diminishes.
And this is what really stood out for me with Kick-Ass 3. I really could relate to this as I went through a similar thing in my younger days (though, I don’t think I was ever a fanboy – but that’s not up for me to determine). I still like comics, of course. But at the end of the day, who cares?
If this is what Millar was saying, then I really need to give him credit as it is a completely bold thing to run with in the sense that the most vocal of today’s comic readers are people who are older and should be beyond an intense irrational love for comics.
If that is really the legacy behind the Kick-Ass series, then it really paints everything in a different light. And I love that idea. I really, really do. It makes it feel so much more personal with a deeper meaning. Kick-Ass 3 ends the series with a, far-from perfect, but satisfying conclusion.