EXCLUSIVE: Millar, Romita Jr. Fast-Track "Kick Ass 2"

When it debuted last fall, Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s Icon series "Kick-Ass 2" carried the unforgettable subhead, "Balls To The Wall." However, the production schedule on the best-selling creator-owned comic didn't quite match the pace of the over-the-top violence seen in the book's pages. Between last October and today, two issues of "Kick-Ass 2" have shipped to comic shops, but both creators came out this week with a promise that the comic's schedule will be picking up and soon.

A sequel to the chart-topping 2008 miniseries and the film that it inspired, "Kick-Ass 2" expands upon the world of titular teenage crime fighter Dave Lizewski. Though the first volume introduced the idea of real comic book geeks trying for vigilante street justice, volume 2 made it a point to expand upon that concept, building a new world of homemade heroes to join in Kick-Ass' fight, including a team of do-gooders known as Justice Forever. Meanwhile, previous series' bad guy the Red Mist has been lurking with plans of his own.

Below, Millar and Romita speak with CBR News about the schedule for the book, what took it off the rails and why they know they'll have issues out on a regular basis starting next month. Beyond that, the pair update the status of the proposed spinoff "Hit-Girl," including a note on the creative team for that title that might surprise, while Millar drops hints of more to come from his Millarworld line of creator-owned comics and shares an exclusive look inside "Kick Ass 2" #3 and the cover for #4.

CBR News: Guys, it's been a while since we've seen new issues of "Kick-Ass 2" on the stands, but as I understand it, there's been a change in scheduling that will allow the book to get back on a regular schedule. What can you tell us about what's been going on and where we go from here?

Mark Millar: What's happened is that Johnny is under contract at Marvel to produce a certain number of issues for the Marvel Universe. That's eaten into the time he has to do "Kick-Ass," but fortunately, he's managed to stockpile some issues and get a break so he can do his own stuff and finish "Kick-Ass 2." What's brilliant is that, instead of two issues a year, which is what we've had the last couple of years, we're going to be on a very strict six-week schedule. It won't deviate from that at all, because a plan has been carefully worked out with Marvel to make sure we never have any further problems.

John Romita, Jr.: There were a couple of reasons why all of a sudden I got a rocket in my ass. Number one is that Mark was just saying, "Hey stupid -- get a rocket in your ass." [Laughter] The second reason was a chance to work on the Hit-Girl series.

Millar: That's right. Johnny's going to be drawing the Hit-Girl series, too. We're so pleased with how much work Johnny's got through as we've stock-piled over the last few months, that he's going to draw the "Hit-Girl" miniseries, too. What people don't get is that he's an absolute art machine. He's not only one of the best artists around, he's also famously one of the fastest. It's just that he's had so much on his plate, between his Marvel work and some Hollywood stuff of his own that's been eating up his time outside of "Kick-Ass." But now, he's going to be really focusing on this stuff. I wrote "Hit-Girl" to run along-side "Kick-Ass 2." It's a companion book, and we'd talked to a number of artists. The best one was Leandro Fenrandez, whom we both just absolutely love. He's an amazing talent. But when it came to the crunch it was hard to have anyone draw a creator-owned book who wasn't one of the original creators. It's like someone other than me writing "Kick-Ass." It just wouldn't have seemed right. "Hit-Girl" is actually set between "Kick-Ass 1" and "Kick-Ass 2," so a different artist, any artist, would have been like changing actors in the middle of a movie. It's not like Spidey or Cap, where there's a history with fifty different artists drawing these characters. So we talked to Leandro, and he completely understood. It was a really hard thing for Johnny to give up, and so now, we should be finished with "Kick-Ass 2" # 8 early in the new year and will plunge straight into "Hit-Girl" immediately afterwards. The eight issues of "Kick-Ass 2" and the six issues of "Hit-Girl" should be completely done by the end of next summer.

Romita: There's a completely possessive feeling about these characters, and having somebody else do it really drives you crazy. I just had a passion to do ["Hit-Girl"] too, and I just said, "The only way I can do it is to finish the second series." There was a gap in the "Avengers" schedule that Marvel gave me because I was starting to get fried. I got a little frustrated, and they gave me a couple of issues, so it came time for me to get "Kick-Ass 2" done, by hook or by crook. That just means a little while with no sleep -- which can be done! [Laughter] Ultimately, the burden on this schedule mess has been me, and the fact the book hasn't been coming out on time? I take the blame for that. It's been me. I haven't been able to keep up. Keeping the "Avengers" schedule going was tough enough, let alone working "Kick-Ass" in and anything else that came along, personal or professional. So I take complete responsibility for this, and that's the way it's got to be. I get credit for being a fast artist and an efficient artist, but not this time. Now that there's a chance to make up for that, I'm going to get it done.

Millar: It's exciting for us because it's a labor of love. The sales on the thing have been crazy. Marvel just put out a press release saying there's a fifth printing of "Kick-Ass 2" #1 coming out. So we're outselling Marvel and DC events by the time you add up all of the print run, the first issue of the new series now cracking 100,000 sales, which is just insane for an Icon book. But not having it out every month has been killing me. It's been very frustrating, but fortunately it's been all worked out now, and kudos to Marvel for easing Johnny's schedule a little and helping make this happen.

Romita: I'm finishing up issue #4 this week, and #5 is on its way. That's where we are at this point.

In "Kick-Ass 2" #2, we met Justice Forever -- a team of superheroes Kick-Ass has found himself allied with -- but moving forward into #3 and beyond, we'll be crossing paths with the supervillains team led by the former Red Mist -- AKA the Mother Fucker. What can you tell us about the characters you've assembled overall?

Romita: As far as the "Kick-Ass" characters go, the whole idea is to make them as awkward as possible so they look like normal human beings in costumes. That's where you start with it. These are normal people in the real world. It's more of a challenge because there's no leeway. It has to be accurate, where you make the clothing look filthy and their costumes look amateurish. They're teenagers, some of them, so they have to look a little awkward and gawky. If I were really going into full pencils, I'd go back to showing acne and the like. But this is a complete challenge because, since it's not a real superhero book, you can't show muscles -- unless you're showing some thick-necked, weight-lifting mug from a rough neighborhood. But I try to stay away from that because generally you see more people at comic book conventions who are dressed in costumes that don't have that muscle tone. That's the kind of people we're looking at. Those are the vigilantes. I don't want to show superheroic costumes or figures. I want this to be the real world -- our geek world. It's us: the guys that draw it and the guys that read it.

Millar: The bulk of "Kick-Ass 2" and a lot of "Hit-Girl" is something I wrote eight months ago or so, now, but getting into that head again feels really easy. I'm writing issue six at the moment, and it's like slipping into a warm bath. Getting to see Johnny's pages coming again, and with such regularity, is amazing. New characters? Let me think -- there's one new character we created called Big Bastard who's based on a friend of mine. He runs a comedy club in Glasgow, and he's absolutely covered in tattoos and piercings. He looks like someone who'd beat the shit out of you. He actually looks like a supervillain, though he's the sweetest guy in the world. He manages this club that I go to, and one night he says to me, "I'm a massive 'Kick-Ass' fan. Could you write me into the book, somehow?" I said, "We've got a guy who's Red Mist's henchman who machine guns down a bunch of toddlers and is a violent drug addict -- are you interested?" And he said, "That sounds fantastic!" [Laughter] Now, every time I see the pages coming in, because the likeness is so close, it makes me laugh.

Romita: Mark sent me a description and a photograph of this guy, and I based it on that. He's got a long ponytail in the back and a long beard in the front and some tattoos that I redid. So it's totally based on that acquaintance of Mark's.

As you guys have said, Hit-Girl has been such a breakout character for the series, and there's a lot of world-building going on, but the book is still Dave's story, overall. How do you keep Kick-Ass as the focus as the lead character in this series, and what paces did you try to put him through compared to volume one?

Millar: Well, it's interesting because I've always used "Star Wars" as the template for "Kick-Ass." Since Matthew [Vaughn] and I were both big "Star Wars" geeks, we talked in terms of that the whole time as we first started talking about the movie. Structurally, if you look closely, it really follows it closely, where Luke and Dave are the heroes on a journey through three chapters. It's the same story of the guy who's kind of lame starting out, who's miles away from the action, but has a passion for adventure. So he goes out and meets all sorts of interesting characters as he goes along and gets better. There's even a kind of Han and Chewie pair of characters in the sense that you get Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. I've always stressed that we shouldn't use them too much, because the reason we liked Han and Chewie so much is that they don't become the stars of the whole story. Hit-Girl could very easily take over the entire project, and if anything, I've wound the Hit-Girl stuff in "Kick-Ass 2" down. There was a real feeling of her taking over everything. That's the idea behind the "Hit-Girl" series -- allowing me to get all my Hit-Girl and Red Mist ideas out there while Dave's off in "Kick-Ass 2." I wanted to show the first ever super-crime, and this happens in "Hit-Girl." Red Mist commits the world's first super-crime, and it feels quite special because its a cultural event in many ways. The world's first guy in costume doing something bad. I also wanted to show the stuff I didn't have room for in "Kick-Ass 2" like Red Mist going around the world and trying to train like Bruce Wayne, but having absolutely no staying power and just quickly giving up, sight-seeing instead.

Romita: Every time the reader thinks that [we're going to beat him to a pulp], we'll throw you a curve ball. If Mark doesn't, then I will. And every time you get lulled into a false sense of security that he's going to become a real superhero, he'll do something wrong or he'll get knocked around. Or he'll be a witness to something that completely shocks him. That's a testament to Marks writing -- never letting the reader expect something and then get it. I have to follow through with that and do something out of the ordinary. Like I said, what we have here is that we're appealing to the comic book reader that wants to put a costume on, but we're doing it in the real world. In a comic book world, a lot of things play out the way the readers want it to: a guy will come back from the dead to win a fight or something superheroic. There's nothing like that in "Kick-Ass." Just when you think it's what you're expecting, it's not going to be that way. While we're appealing to the superheroes in all our readers, we're not going to give that to them. That's Mark's strength. And when I read his plots, I expect "This guy's going to do something here," and then nothing happens, or I go, "He's waiting a while" and then something huge happens. We have to follow that line.

Millar: I think the way I keep Dave the star is to have him in almost every scene. He's the piece that pulls this all together. The thing has always been a trilogy, where book three will be like "Return of the Jedi," where Dave is pretty good and getting pretty handy with his fists. He's not at Batman-level good, but he's maybe one of those shitty mid-level guys you see. It's like Nighthawk from the Defenders. Someone who could maybe fight one or two guys, but when their third friend shows up, he ends up in hospital. [Laughter]

Did you ever suspect that this would get so big, with a universe of characters, when you started with the story of one nerd trying to be a superhero? What's your main goal overall with the franchise?

Millar: It's funny -- when I was starting out with Millarworld, somebody said to me, "You should try to build a universe like the Marvel Universe." And it always seemed too convoluted to me -- the idea of trying to tie "Superior" and "Nemesis" to "Kick-Ass" and everything else. It seemed to limit the stories. I mean, I like "Jaws" and I like "Unforgiven," but I don't need to see Bill Munny fighting a shark (though that would be awesome). That said, I think we've kind of done that in "Kick-Ass," because in every issue you're meeting new characters and the world keeps expanding. Again, to go back to "Star Wars." We've now got our Lando Calrissians coming in -- characters you'll meet halfway through the sequel -- or other characters who come in and take things off in a new direction. There's an infinite possibility out there in terms of guys who want to be a superhero. You could have a soldier coming back from the war who wants to be a superhero or an ex-cop or someone who lost a loved one. There's an infinite number of stories, the same way there is in the DC or Marvel Universe.

Romita: Ultimately, I have to do something different here, because this is a different take on things. My first concern was to draw this in a different manner, which I tried in "Kick-Ass." I might do something slightly different for "Hit-Girl," but I don't want it to be my same old stuff. So it's change just for the sake of being different -- but this is a different genre! And I don't know how long it'll go on. I don't know that any new book I create will do as well as "Kick-Ass" has done in creator-owned comics for me, but I'm going to keep trying. It's worth giving it a shot. And if people are interested in "Kick-Ass," they might be interested in something else I do. Who knows? In the meantime, thinking of this as something new and different, I'm going to keep trying different things. Working with Mark is great, and I've got some other creators I'm talking about in terms of other creator-owned projects. Howard Chaykin is going to work with me on "Shmuggy and Bimbo" when I get to it. He's an out of the ordinary kind of writer, and I'm hoping we can catch lightning in a bottle the way "Kick-Ass" has.

Millar: I really like the idea of keeping it finite. That's something Johnny and I have talked about from the start. There's something attractive to me about just keeping this to five books in total. We could change our minds, but at the moment that's how we see it. There will be three volumes of "Kick-Ass" and two of "Hit-Girl," with eight issues each of "Kick-Ass" and six issues of "Hit-Girl." I've got it all planned out very meticulously, and I know how the very final page of "Kick-Ass 3" goes, which at the moment wraps everything up. I think a trilogy's quite nice. I've always noticed in comics that runs start to get stale after about five years, so I think that'll be quite a nice time to end "Kick-Ass." Top Cow asked me to do more "Wanted" after the movie sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the trade and made $350 million at the theaters alone, but some stories just have a natural length and I didn't want to just write a sequel for the sake of it.

"Kick-Ass 2" is world-building and "Kick-Ass 3" is the very natural conclusion of the story for me. I'm writing them because I feel they're bigger and better than the last, and people respond to that. They're so into it because we're so into it, I think. Nobody's happier than me seeing pages coming in, and going full-time with Millarworld feels like an exciting new chapter for me. Millarworld in 2012 has huge projects from Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely, both of whom are doing vast epics with me. We've got the "Kick-Ass," we've got "Hit-Girl," and after the first arc of "Superior" ends in November this year, we've got Leinil Yu launching "Supercrooks" with me in January and "Nemesis 2" with Steve McNiven on the other side of summer. But we can talk about all this later and I'll shoot you over some of the art. Wait until you see Leinil's cover for "Superior" #6. It's the best thing he's ever drawn. I must have sent this to 20 friends this morning.

As the man said, stay tuned to CBR News tomorrow for more from Millarworld, including a look at Leinil Francis Yu's "Superior" #6 and a view inside the making of "Supercrooks."

The Teen Titans Traitor Reveals His Plan - and Dooms a Titan Forever

More in Comics