Classic Comic Books - KICK-ASS Vol 1

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Tim Jousma kicks ass...

I did not like the movie Kick Ass. To me, it was too uneven. On the one hand it was trying to be a whimsical look at kids trying to be superheroes and on the other it was a showcase for Nicolas Cage finding another way to ruin his career. Thanks to the advertising I knew coming in that it was based on a comic book, but honestly, the movie soured me on wanting to read it.

Boy was I wrong. I was talking with a fellow co-worker who is a comics fan and he brought up Kick Ass. I told him what I didn’t care for the movie, but he recommended I give the series a try. I read it, loved it, and promptly hated the filmmakers for taking a good story and ruining it.

Comic books are tough beasts to translate to film. For every movie based on one that gets it right, there are dozens more that miss the point of what they’re trying to bring to the screen. I think of the series The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, the movie that ended Sean Connery’s career, it's an example of one that really misses the point of the comics. They took a comic that explored the relationships of a varied cast of characters from many different books from the 19th Century and turned it into a paint by numbers action film with no heart. When translating a book from the page to the screen, while it is impossible to translate page for page what we see on the screen, you can certainly take the main points the writer and artist were making.

The original Superman did this perfectly. For the sake of movies they did change some aspects of the story in the comics before they brought it to the screen, but at this point no one will argue that Superman The Movie perfectly encapsulates the very idea of Superman. A comic book movie does NOT need to bring absolutely everything from the book to the movie screen because it would be impossible to do so.

When it came to Kick Ass, my main issue had to do with Nicolas Cage’s character. Now I am not a Cage hater. I think he’s a great actor who, thanks to his wildly crazy spending habits, has had to ruin his career to pay for his lavish spending. His character in the film, Big Daddy, is presented as just an insane fuck who brings his daughter along on his violent rampages. Now readers of the comics will point out that the character does pretty much the same thing in the book but the way it is presented makes what is happening just a little more easier to swallow. Sure, as a father I hate the guy. Anyone looking to bring such a young child into a world of violence and murder like he did with Hit Girl deserves the death he received. I guess with the comic, I was able to accept a little more the actions of this guy.

Sometimes movies are not the perfect vehicles for each and every comic book character. There are two Marvel properties in particular that I think will never make a good movie. That would be The Fantastic Four and The Punisher. A character like Spider-Man has easy motivation to do what he does. It’s a simple setup. Uncle Ben is killed by a man Peter had failed to stop earlier and voila, Spider-Man is born. But with The Punisher, it’s a lot more complicated. While the setup is just as simple, his family being murdered by gangsters for witnessing an execution, the fact that he goes on a killing spree takes a little more than two hours to make him a sympathetic character. How about The Fantastic Four? The main draw for me in those comics was the relationship between the characters. It’s really hard for filmmakers to not only establish those relationships but also have compelling action scenes that will keep audiences entertained. Both of these properties need the extra time to establish the characters that movies just cannot give them.

The same goes for Kick Ass. I guess my biggest issue has to do with Big Daddy in the movie. I can’t buy into that performance and it really took me out of the film. And while I certainly didn’t like the character in the comic, the way he is presented in the comic is much more realistic. He’s still a moron who deserves the death he received but it’s more believable.

Other things the comic book got right involved Dave’s love life and how Red Mist was dealt with. Hollywood being Hollywood, they had to have the main character get the girl in the end which totally goes against not only reality, but the comic. The comic ends with Dave telling a girl he has the hots for, and who he was also pretending to be gay for, that he was in fact not gay and has a crush on her. She gets pissed and has her football player boyfriend kick his ass. I may not know too much about women but I am pretty confident that a woman who took a guy on as a friend thinking he was gay would not be too enthused if she found out that it was one big deception in order to trick her into liking him. Maybe some women would think it was sweet but the women I know would find it a little creepy at best. Also, Red Mist in the story is much more believable. While it probably has more to do with the actor portraying him in the film, the character, while presented as a bit of a dork, is much more believable as a son of a mob boss. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m almost 40 but the kid playing Red Mist in the movie just came off as cute, not the bad ass he was initially portrayed.

Bottom Line:
I really dug Kick Ass Volume 1, the trade book that collects the first few issues in the series. It’s a well written piece that explores some of the realities someone would face if they really tried being a superhero in real life. The art from John Romita Jr. is amazing, giving the vibe you expect from a traditional comic book as well as portraying the real life the series is set in. For some of the violence portrayed in the story, Mark Millar had to walk a very fine line between the horror of the reality taking place and the silliness you expect from a comic book. That tight rope walk is performed admirably. If you've not read the comic, buy it, read it, and I expect that, like me, you will find yourself pissed off at what ended up in the film. While the movie got some things right, what it gets wrong really takes you out of what could have been a really amazing story. I do contend though that, if it had to be adapted for screen, Kick Ass was probably better suited as a TV show on FX or HBO where they could've fleshed it out more.

Tim is a kid in a grown ups body. He enjoys pro wrestling, reading comic books, lots of them, as well as writing. When he's not giving his opinions of his latest reads on his website The Jousma Files he's doing his best to act like an adult around his wife. You can find him on Twitter at @timjousma

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