There’s a new Kick-Ass in town ,and while she herself kicks many asses, her first issue doesn’t totally hit the mark.
Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., along with inker and colorist Peter Steigerwald and letterer John Workman, are back with a sequel of sorts to their 2008 series Kick-Ass. Instead of a 16-year-old white boy from New York, this rebooted Kick-Ass follows Patience Lee, a Black veteran and mother as she decides to put on a costume and fight some bad guys.
The original Kick-Ass raised the question of what superheroes would look like in the real world, where not everyone is a superpowered alien or mutant. Dave Lizewski was a normal guy who got the idea to put on the suit because of comic books. Patience Lee comes at it from a different direction: she needs money. While she was off fighting a war in Afghanistan, her husband left her and their family for a young blonde, ruining Patience’s plan to go to college when she finished her tour. In addition to that, he left her with thousands of dollars of his debt. Patience picked up a job waitressing so she could still attend classes, but jobs like that certainly don’t pay that well.
So, after thinking about her money troubles and her skillset, making a list of potential jobs and actions, she does the reasonable thing and plans a heist. But she’s not robbing a bank; she still cares about justice. So who better to steal it from than bad guys, ruining the neighborhood and taking advantage of the little people? She’s basically Robin Hood, but she’s both the roguish hero and the poor person who benefits from their goodwill.
While Patience’s reasons for turning to vigilantism may be more grounded than in the original Kick-Ass, the issue doesn’t feel all that real. It starts off during Patience’s time in Afghanistan in which she rescues two of her squadmates almost singlehandedly; it’s a beautifully drawn but over-the-top action movie sequence. Patience herself, while super-cool on paper, rings hollow. Millar and Romita have purposefully centered the series on a female character of color which is great -- we need more in comics! But they’ve done so without really understanding who she is. Everything about Patience feels superficial, especially in comparison to the lead character of Abbott, just released last month. Another Black female badass, Elena Abbott feels like a fully realized human being. Patience Lee does not.
Readers might also be a bit put off by a “going off reservation” comment her superior officer makes in Afghanistan. While the context in the comic is positive -- he’s thanking Patience for going beyond normal procedure during the rescue — it doesn’t read like Millar really understands the historical context for this phrase in America. It’s a racist idiom that feels completely unnecessary here.
The art from Romita and Steigerwald is lovely and kinetic. Romita is known for fight scenes and they bookend the issue, with Patience’s punches and kicks molding the soft flesh they land in. They also give us a ton of tight close ups on Patience’s determined face, a nice break from the epic violence. This is what Millar and Romita are good at -- the comic’s called Kick-Ass for a reason.
All in all, Kick-Ass doesn't totally kick ass. It's superficial take on what could be an interesting story if it were in the right hands.