Friday, August 29, 2008

Advance Reviews (Not Really): Marvel 1985 #4 and Kick-Ass #4

[Note: No "Book of the Week" this week as the only book I got and wanted to discuss in detail is Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1 and I'm doing a Splash Page on that with Tim this week. So, you get a couple of reviews instead.]

So, I recently received a couple of Mark Millar comics in my e-mail. I got Marvel 1985 #4 last week and Kick-Ass #4 this week. Since both arrived on the day they came out instores, I didn't rush to read them and write up reviews like I would have had they arrived earlier. And, thankfully, it works out that I can look at them both together right now since there are some similarities in the books.

This was my first issue of Marvel 1985, a series Tim Callahan has told me is worth checking out, but I think I followed along pretty well: villains from Marvel comics have showed up in the real world, try to kill a dad and his kid, fight the army and then said kid finds the "doorway" they've come through and enters in the hopes of bringing some heroes back to stop the villains. I don't really know what happened in the first three issues, but... really, it's taken this long to get to this point? This plot seems more suited to a third or, ideally, second issue of this sort of book. Maybe lots of very, very, very important things happened in the first three issues, but... I doubt it.

It's not a bad comic, but it moves at a very brisk pace and doesn't really give us much to hold onto. The only really interesting thing I noticed was how violent the villains are in "our world" compared to how they act in comic books of the time. Granted, 1985 was a turning point in comics regarding "realism" and violence, but the core Marvel comics weren't anywhere near this brutal. Why the villains are so much worse is an interesting question and the only reason I'd keep reading this series.

Well, and Tommy Lee Edwards's art. It's gorgeous and very evocative... but, I've always enjoyed sketchy, dark, suggestive art like this. The villains blend into the world well (which may or may not be a good thing, I suppose) and he handles "real people" very well. I also like that his layouts are very basic, which I think works with the setting--that it would capture a more cinematic approach than radical page layouts more like comic book worlds.

As for Kick-Ass, I've missed issue two, but read the rest of the series and this issue... I'm not so sure about it. Most of the issue is spent with our hero (whose name I honestly can't remember) freaked out by the brutal murders of the guys who were going to kill him at the end of last issue. It seems that there are a couple of new heroes patrolling the streets and they use Punisher-esque tactics. As a result, "Kick-Ass" quits. There's not much more to this issue beyond a few small little moments with his dad, friends and the girl-he's-got-a-crush-on-who-thinks-he's-gay.

John Romita, Jr.'s art is very good. He's especially adept at making Kick-Ass and "Hit-Girl" look young and small. That's pretty key to the absurdism of the characters and he does it well.

Both books explore the concept of superheroes and realism--and what if they were in our world. In Marvel 1985, comic book characters invade, while in Kick-Ass, they inspire people to be like them. What I'm left trying to figure out is what Mark Millar is trying to say except that being a superhero is terrifying for both those who put on the costume and those around the hero. Kick-Ass is just a punk kid who has no idea what he's doing, while the villains in Marvel 1985 are monstrous and evoke nothing but terror. Each book presents a different side to the situation, but neither really says anything new nor gives much depth.

Kick-Ass comes closest here, but I find myself scoffing at the idiocy of the main character: he's 130 pounds soaking wet and he's surprised that he's a pretty shitty superhero? Of course doing that job is tough and scary! He wouldn't be able to handle a regular high school bully and he wants to take on drug dealers and the mafia--he's a moron. Instead of rooting for him, I roll my eyes.

Marvel 1985 also doesn't provide much depth to the concept of villains invading the real world. They run amok and kill people... that about sums it up.

What's at the heart of each is the comic book fan as somehow more knowledgeable or heroic than someone who didn't grow up reading comics. In both books, it's comic book fans that step up and stand up against the respective villains. Is that Millar's message--that comic books instill heroism? If so, I have to question his means as the "hero" in Kick-Ass is clearly a moron; in 1985, the child hero is at least somewhat heroic in that stupid sort of way--he doesn't have any other options and acts. But, I must wonder: is his motivation simply to stop the villains to enter the comic book world he's longed to enter since he first began reading comics? Are these characters attempting to be heroes or to merely live out their fantasies in reckless and ill-conceived manners? The combination of the real world and escapist fiction is disturbing and acts more as a commentary on those who would take it too seriously.

Perhaps, that's the real message: they're just comic books, kids. Sadly, these aren't very good ones.