Mark Millar is a comic writer who likes to take established concepts and turn them on their head. He’ll take something that is common place in the comic book industry and then make it ask a question. Such is the case with the arguably excellent Superman: Red Son where he asks, what if Superman had been raised in Soviet Russia instead of America. In Wanted (the comic, not the movie that mangled it) he asks, what if the supervilians had gotten together and killed anyone who stood in their way? In The Ultimates (before Jeph Loeb ruined it) he asks, what if Thor was Space Jesus and Tony Stark was slightly less douchey? In Kick-Ass Millar asks, what if we had a comic book superhero story without the comic book superhero universe?
Millar could be equated with Alan Moore—Hold up, let me finish!—in that Hollywood likes to take his comic work, glance at the plot, and then rewrite it without keeping in mind the initial reason why the comic was made…besides the money bit.
Like other movies where the print analog is developed at the same time as the movie, the movie and comic for Kick-Ass follow the same general plot, but they veer off from each other in some key points. Mainly this happens in the third act where the plot threads start paying off.
Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!
In both the comic and the movie Dave Lizewski’s friends tell him that he is crazy. You can’t be a superhero in real life because you’ll either get arrested or more likely killed. Real life and fantasy worlds function on completely different sets of rules. In the real world, life isn’t fair, and often no matter how well you plan things out, if you don’t start with a winning hand, the best you can hope for is to break even. This is a key theme that the movie throws out in the latter half in effort to bring about a more conventional Hollywood ending; the guy gets the girl, the heroes are justified in victory, evil is crushed.
Consider Kate; Dave’s high school crush. In the course of the story, Kate comes to believe that Dave is gay, due to the fact that he’s skinny and weak and got beaten up by some guys on the street. I know. Terrible stereotyping, but I have met a few girls who’s Florence Nightingale reflex has overruled their ability to rationalize. Dave takes advantage of her misperception in order to get closer to her and show her that he is a good guy, sensitive to her feeling, and a better match than her boyfriend. Boys can be dumb. In the movie, once Dave reveals that he’s not gay, and is in fact the hero/pop icon Kick-Ass, Kate swoons, forgives him for the deception, and they bone a lot. In the comic, as would probably happen in real life, Kate gets royally pissed off, has her boyfriend beat Dave up, and then sends him a picture of her giving her boyfriend a blowjob.
Big Daddy and Hit girl are the two characters who end up moving forward any of the plot that doesn’t happen to focus on Dave’s life. They are real life superheroes, taking down the mafia, and actually doing something to make the world a better place. The reason why they are on this crusade is that the mob boss, in an act of retaliation against Big Daddy when he was a cop, killed his wife leaving Big Daddy a widow and Hit Girl without her mother. This is your generic comic book revenge origin. It’s a trope that works very well, if is sometimes overused. The thing is, while the movie sticks to this back story, the comic turns a dark cliche into something even darker. Big Daddy was an accountant not a cop. Big Daddy’s wife was never killed. The whole back story is a lie he told the daughter who loved and trusted him. Her mother had been searching for them for years. Big Daddy gets his money to fund their campaign, not from killing mobsters, but from selling off his collection of gold and silver age comics online. They had no initial connection to the mafia at all. Big Daddy essentially kidnapped his daughter from a safe normal home, turned her into an assassin, hunted down and killed dozens of people (some of them innocent of any wrong doing), nearly getting Hit Girl killed countless times, and eventually got himself killed just so his daughter could live an extraordinary life. I can empathize with wanting your children to have a better life than your’s, but god damn dude!
In the movie, Red Mist just wanted to prove himself to his father. He befriended Kick-Ass, and once he realized that Kick-Ass wasn’t responsible for the damage that Big Daddy and Hit Girl had been doing to his father’s business, he tried and failed to convince his father to let Kick-Ass go. In the comic Red Mist possesses no redeeming value. He pretty much just wanted to be a bad guy.
During the assault on the mob boss’s apartment head quarters at the end, in the movie we are treated to an over-the-top balls-to-the-walls awesome fight sequence. It is fairly unrealistic, and the only reason the audience can accept a little girl plowing through a large number of mobsters is because of all the training we’ve seen her undergo and by her making tactically sound maneuvers. In the comic instead, things are a little more down to earth. Hit Girl goes through the apartment clearing it room by room with a Hello Kitty flamethrower while high on cocaine and righteous fury. I said a little more down to earth. There is no ridiculous Gatling gun mounted jet pack or bazooka, but Kick-Ass and Red Mist end up having a similar fight.
In the end the mob boss is defeated, but Red Mist escapes. Hit Girl returns to her mother who is now married to the cop who was working her case (Big Daddy’s cop partner in the movie). Dave goes home and walks in on his dad in the midst of wild sex in the living room with the woman who had sent Kick-Ass on his first mission against the drug dealers from the beginning. Okay…that bit was kinda silly.
One other minor difference in the comic is that Kick-Ass ends up inspiring a lot of people to start dressing up as super heroes and fight crime. Most of these have varying amounts of success, even more just do it as a sexual fetish. Thank you, internet.
In the end Dave Lizewski got his wish by making the real world a bit more like comics.
Oh yeah, this is a review!
I actually like both the movie and the comic but for very different reasons. While they both have their flaws, I can easily recommend them. The movie is just testosterone fueled wish fulfillment. Everyone wants to see “the bad guys” knocked down a few pegs, especially those of use who felt lost and helpless and picked on through out the testing ground that is the public education system. And I just have to sing the praises of the fight choreographers, Peng Zhang and Rudolf Vrba. Also Nicholas Cage doing his Adam West Batmen impression is just hard not to smile at. The comic, on the other hand, differs from standard cape fair in bringing the story closer to home and, like Watchmen or Kingdom Come, does a decent job of addressing the ramifications of having superheroes in real life. Also, like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Kick-Ass is a big serving of schadenfruede. While most of Mark Millar’s work isn’t that deep, everything is well written and internally consistent. John Romita Jr.’s art is also consistent and provides the right mix of semi-realistic and visceral imagery that the book needed.