Kick-Ass continues to struggle to find a balance between satire and self-parody.
by Tyler Scruggs
There's a certain balance that must be struck when dealing with all things explicit. The other day, I saw This is the End and was hopping out of my chair in laughter. It’s filled with low-brow, gross-out humor but I also found it to be poignant and meaningful as well. It's a smart flick with really dumb and gross stuff in it. A similar balance was stuck (for the most part) in 2010's sleeper hit Kick-Ass. There was a vibrant and giddy rawness that jarred viewers but never quite alienated them, and this was done in no small part by director Matthew Vaughn and a script that took its raunchy and explicit source material (the first installment in the Kick-Ass comic franchise) and trimmed the hedges to become a compelling story underneath it all about duty and justice.
As a fan of the film (and to a lesser extent, the comic), I jumped right into Kick-Ass 2 and the results were… strange. One one hand, 2 obviously had up the ante a bit in terms of tension and drama but also cranked up the explicit 'rawness' to 11 and what's left was a downright offensive book with nothing in terms of deeper value or overarching themes. Scenes of rape, child massacre, and disgusting images flooded the pages with little-to-no substance to justify it. It never comes across as smart or poignant. It comes across as shock.
I'm not saying that comics should always have deeper values and themes (though they're better and more fulfilling with they do--all art is), nor am I saying that shock doesn't have a place in the comic world. I'm saying that when you subject people to those kinds of situations, you have to provide a pay-off. A justification. Or, at least have it change the characters a tiny bit. Kick-Ass 2's entire run was nothing but shock after shock that provided no clarity for our hero, nor any breathing room.
Now, we finally deal with Kick-Ass 3. The first issue in what's being hailed as the final story arc with these heroes shows them at their lowest. Hit-Girl is in prison. Kick-Ass is in hiding. No one is safe if they're not already dead. So how does this book begin? With the teenage brats in costume making light of a seemingly really important scene with Dave kneeling over his parents' graves.
And worst of all, this issue was boring. Especially after the crazy battle that took place at the climax of the previous book. Tensions should be high. All the characters are in danger and are mortally wounded but are somehow characteristically unscathed. Dave and Mindy have not learned or grown since becoming real-life superheroes and in effect, neither have we.
Maybe I overestimated Kick-Ass as something more special than a gross-out brawl between good vs really, really evil. I hope this August’s Kick-Ass 2 is able to tie up this deranged plot with a nice (and apparently vital) thematic bow like the film before. We’ll have to see.
Kick-Ass 3 issue 1 is on stands now, with #2 due June 19th.