David Lizewski/Kick Ass is being trained by Mindy/Hit Girl to become a better superhero but when Hit Girl is dissuaded from putting on her outfit and bloodying up criminals by her new step-father and recently re-united mother, Kick Ass sets off to meet others who are dressing up and fighting crime. And it turns out there's a few, so many that they wind up making the first "real-world" superhero team, Justice Forever. But things are about to get shaken up by Red Mist who is gathering an army to exact revenge on Kick Ass for his father's death.
I remember really enjoying the first book and Mark Millar is usually an interesting writer so I was surprised to find myself not falling for this book as completely as I did the first. It might be because of a couple of things: there's a lot less humour and fun in the book, and it's very dark. Whereas the first book contained some of the thrill of a buttoned-down boy finding freedom of self through a secret identity, here he is beset by tragedy again and again. Kick Ass learns that like many costumed vigilantes, he must endure great personal suffering for his choice of putting on a mask. And these tragedies are very dark and graphic so be warned; Millar has always had a tendency to shock and he doesn't pull his punches here.
I think the irony of the series is that Millar presented Kick Ass as a semi-plausible story of a young boy setting out to be a superhero without superpowers and thus becoming a different kind of "hero" journey not seen before, and yet time after time in this book the story falls back on comic-book archetypes and clichés. The way the hero loses close friends and family mirrors numerous superheroes; the way the bad guy plots to blow up the city and does any number of heinous things including murder and rape; the way the hero is perceived as a villain by those he protects; by the end of the book it's no longer a singular post-modern superhero story but just another superhero story, indistinguishable from a Batman or Spiderman book.
That said, while I found the plot a bit predictable, I began thinking about the meaning of the scenes and wondering why they were included. I think at its core, Kick Ass is a way of looking at superhero comics and their meaning on a broader scale. It could even be said of the world presented in Kick Ass that we are in the post-superhero age; where everyone wants to be and is a superhero but no-one truly is - at least not in the comic-book sense.
Millar makes a point of defining what he believes a superhero is: it's not just putting on a costume and beating up criminals (although that is part of it) but it could also be as simple as helping out at a homeless shelter or donating blood. The fact that they wear a mask when they do these things is irrelevant. In that definition, like many things in Kick Ass, Millar is saying we can all be superheroes if we want - a better world is within our grasp even if we need to re-phrase the actions with the help of colourful outfits.
I'm divided in my view of the book. On the one hand I feel the series has become a product of the thing he sought to parody and in the other I have the nagging suspicion that this is all designed to appear that way and that this is a truly post-modern superhero comic with many layers. On a purely superficial level, did I enjoy reading it? Sure, it's good, bloody, fun and while not all fans of the first book might like this second as much, there's enough here to make it worth your time and the fact that the book has left me pondering its meaning this much is something few comics manage. So I tentatively recommend it with the caveat that you go in with lowered expectations and with both eyes open for the meaning in the spaces in between the panels.