First up we have Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass! This is a 13-year-old comic fan boy’s wet dream, drenched in misogyny, sexism, racism, ableism, drug use, gore, violence, and language, but that’s par for course for Mark Millar. If there’s anything for you to enjoy in Kick-Ass, you should be worried because this is honestly one of the most inane comics I have ever read.
Plot: A nobody dresses up like a superhero and realizes the superhero life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Initial thoughts: There are currently three books to the Kick-Ass series right now: Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and Kick-Ass 2. And no, they don’t get any better. Why, Kick-Ass 2‘s climax is a blatant rip off of Millar’s other work with Marvel, Civil War, though that shouldn’t be surprising given that Marvel’s Icon imprint publishes this piece of rubbish.
If my tone didn’t make it clear enough, there is a lot to take issue with this series. Hit-Girl #1’s cover boasts, “The Little Bitch Is Back!” which Millar is probably smug about how appalled some folks may be at that, but I’d rather he answer why he thought it appropriate to sexualize a female character that is no older than 12-and-1/4-years-old and why Romita, Jr. felt the need to draw her appearing much older than she actually is. Hit-Girl is the embodiment of the bad girl superhero cliche in comics, so it’s particularly disgusting that her age is written off and instead labelled as a, “Little Bitch.” After all, that’s just how media primes society to think of little girls as: little bitches. That’s why there are higher rates than ever of interpersonal violence among young people, including sexual assault and dating violence. Millar’s male entitlement never ceases to amaze me.
What I think is most disappointing is that Kick-Ass has the opportunity to actually critique superhero tropes in comics, but instead all the women appear as sexual objects: Dave’s object-of-interest flat out rejects him multiple times but even so she is raped by mere association with him, he wanks to the thought of his science teacher without a care, Hit-Girl dresses as a stereotypical sex worker as bait in Hit-Girl #2 (not to mention joked to be a “whore” in Hit-Girl #1 and Dave’s “twelve-year-old girlfriend” in Kick-Ass 2 #3), and every woman super hero appears in a scantily clad uniform. There’s also a lack of racial representation, and many of the background bad guys are stereotypes of ghetto black men and mafia Italians, which perpetuates the myth of urban lives of communities of color. There could be some honest to Peter Parker critique if Millar could just get over his bigoted, oppressive attitudes.
Itty Bitty Research: As much as it pains me to even look up things in these comics, it pains me to remember the comics even more. I took issue with the reconditioning of Hit-Girl as “normal” in Hit-Girl, so I’ll focus on that. I find it appalling that a strong female’s character becomes all about stereotypical reinforcement of harmful sexist attitudes, especially considering that the only roles afforded to women are, as Hit-Girl points out in #2, “a Mean Girl or a Queen Bee or even a nasty fucking harpy.” Women pitted against other women has long been a trope utilized in fiction, but even nastier than Millar’s uncritical presentation of young lives is his depiction of young women culture. Especially in the case of cutting and suicide, Millar is especially disgusting to the power and emotional sensitivities of young women.
Hit-Girl’s main nemesis in her solo-series is not a big baddie but actually young girl, posed as a rival. In #3, this girl jokes, “I’ve already got one suicide attempt under my belt. I bet I’ll have her cutting herself by Thursday.” While these come off as catty remarks and small struggles compared to the larger problem of the mafia, this is an issue that is exaggerated and flaunted for the sake of drama rather than recognizing that this is a legitimate concern many young people face. According to The American Society for Suicide Prevention, men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide and is primarily committed by older and middle-aged, white men, but as of this year, the suicide rates among women are rising and “The CDC reported that 17% of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 8% have attempted to kill themselves more than once.” Suicide is a complex decision with several significant factors driving an individual to contemplate it, but Kick-Ass presents suicide as an escape route for young women facing peer pressure and challenges in fitting in when this is in fact not the reality of things. It doesn’t even make for good fiction because it fabricates and reinforces the myth that young women are more susceptible to peer pressure than boys, which is represented in the social adjustments of Mindy and Dave.
As for cutting, this is a complex issue that is simplified as well. Like suicide, it is joked about as if it is a simple decision to make and one that girls are prone to, but according to Psychology Today, “Cutting is a coping mechanismm [sic] which means it is a way to regulate feelings. . . . They like that they can control it, keep it secret, see and feel a ‘result,’ and express emotions people don’t seem to like, especially anger and sadness.” In a world where women, especially young women, have limited power and are often disenfranchised – especially in comics – cutting is a means for young women to assert some kind of control and autonomy in their lives. Millar’s lack of understanding of the power dynamics that drive young women to cut themselves is yet another example of how young women are boxed in specific ways of coping (suicide or cutting) and how even these are disempowered choices by a male author. It is also presented as if only young women who are bullied resort to suicide or cutting when this too is a falsehood.
Anybody can be susceptible to depression, cutting, and suicide. Millar presents these issues as if they only affect young women, however, and thus the men in the series are depicted as emotionally stronger when this is not the case. Molly, a young women quoted in the Psychology Today article, says that for her, “just to feel relief or sometimes, just to feel something” is reason enough to cut. This is similar to what Dave says about his boring, mundane life and why he decides to don the Kick-Ass outfit. However, in Millar’s world, girls are pushed to cut themselves or die whereas men are inspired to become superheroes and save the day. After all, the series is called Kick-Ass simply because the story follows Dave, despite Hit-Girl doing most of the ass kicking.
References: Millar, Mark, writer. Hit-Girl. New York: Marvel Comics, 2013. Vol. 2 of Kick-Ass.
—. Kick-Ass. Art by John Romita, Jr. New York: Marvel Comics, 2010. Print. Vol. 1 of Kick-Ass.
—. Kick-Ass 2. Art by John Romita, Jr. New York: Marvel Comics, 2012. Print. Vol. 3 of Kick-Ass.