There’s this eerie sort of meta commentary that Kick-Ass the book offers on comic book adaptations, focusing on Galactus’ depiction in the root canal that was Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — which, I’ll admit, wasn’t nearly as painful as the bone marrow extraction that was Fantastic Four, but I digress. Would-be Kick-Ass Dave Lizewski explains that comic book movies can’t just be a simple copy and paste of their source material. Though you may think that comics are already screenplays essentially, some edits must be made, and Kick-Ass is no different.
For every comic book or superhero movie, from Howard the Duck to Man of Steel, faithfulness to one’s source material is of the greatest necessity. Fans, the comic book movie producer’s cheddar biscuits in the proverbial Red Lobster that is cinema, will rightfully scrutinize any and every superhero film that comes along their way, asking if the film holds true to its source material, as deviations from the 6-Color Canon has led to many a film’s downfall. From the inexplicable mouthless Merc with a Mouth Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the 103 minutes of violation and humiliation based porn that was The Last Airbender, films have failed to hold up to their source material more times than Jean Grey has died. Every once in a while though, the red head stays dead, and a movie exceeds its comic. One such film is Kick-Ass, and here’s why:
5. Kick-Ass is actually a hero.
At the end of the day, Dave’s first bout as Kick-Ass in the comic involves calling three guys homos and beating on them for graffiti. Batman doesn’t bust people for graffiti; last time I checked, he actually asked some kid spray-painting his experimental rocket-car to become his ward, and Spider-man doesn’t call people homos. Oh, he’ll question a villain’s sexuality during a fight, but that’s more about preying off of their insecurities, not disparaging a group of people who are essentially the X-Men but without the powers. I mean Dave is literally reading some of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on The Astonishing X-Men in that exact same issue, probably issue #4 based on what little of the title we see, and it is this issue focuses on “The Cure” storyline, which Joss Whedon has admitted was based on those “pray away the gay” straight camps.
Perhaps I’m over analyzing just one sentence, but consider the fact that this is literally Dave’s origin as Kick-Ass. Trust me, if you’re going to put on a customized wet suit and wail on some people with some Devil-stick looking Billy Clubs, you’re going to remember each and every thing that you did to get to that point. This is just a first entry in your War Journal, so people are going to ask.
Take a look at how Kick-Ass the film handles Kick-Ass’ origins however: same set up, Kick-Ass is brutally overpowered and gets his “ass kicked” by two dudes on his first attempted crime-fighting bout, stabbed in the gut only to wander into traffic. The book is just as brutal as the film, and you feel how close Dave came to death and how much of a bad idea fighting crime is.
What differs between the two media are the thugs. In the film, Dave says a much more PC opening line, but to carjackers – not just any carjackers however, but two carjackers who mugged Dave and his friends right outside of the comic book store. While Dave gets stabbed in Kick-Ass, the comic, it’s technically self-defense on the vandal’s part, as Dave just started wailing on them with his billy clubs without warning, provoking the fight itself. While I’ll admit that a knife is certainly escalation, leaning towards homicide, Dave’s not exactly in the moral right to attack them unprovoked. Graffiti is illegal, in the U.S. at least, but so is vigilantism. You could argue that Dave was still a newbie and learning about exactly who to extract justice to, but Dave is also obsessed with comics: if anyone knows about the ethics of justice and heroics, it’s comic book fans.
Sure enough, in the movie, it is one of the carjackers/muggers that gets the first hit in the fight with Dave, making his actions technically self-defense and removing any doubt from our minds that Kick-Ass is a hero.
The fact that these two once random “criminals” once mugged Dave changes up not only how we view Kick-Ass’ heroics, but also ties into Dave’s motivations for becoming a hero in the first place. In the comic, as Dave said, he was just bored and decided to take up the costume. In the movie, however, right in the mugging scene, there is a bystander, “this asshole,” who just averts his gaze as Dave and his friend are mugged. While Dave had been contemplating why no one had ever become a superhero before, this act of inaction is what pushes him into actually donning the wetsuit and Timberlands. Dave is no longer just bored, but he is trying to solve an inherent social problem.
As Uncle Ben, the Parker patriarch, not the mini-bowl spokesman, once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” While this sentence has motivated Spider-Man and countless superheroes like him, it also in a way allows ordinary individuals to escape their responsibilities, in that everyone feels powerless. Dave however, would argue against this interpretation: “With no power comes no responsibility — except that wasn’t true.” An actual message to the work is instantly created in this line, replacing the flash and substance of the superhero life that appealed to Dave in the comics.
Dave’s ideas for becoming a superhero came out of boredom initially, but it’s his social obligation and desire to not just be another observer that motivates him to action. Corny as it sounds, it doesn’t take an irradiated spider bite or the murder of your parents to be a hero.
If anything, Dave’s failure to adhere to heroic tropes is what gives him a name in super heroics. In the film, Kick-Ass’ first official mission of saving a cat from a billboard tree goes horribly, with Dave falling off of a billboard and tripping a guy, leading into a brutal street brawl that makes Kick-Ass the rising star of YouTube. In a way, Kick-Ass would never even be considered a hero if it weren’t for his ineptitude. He gets his resilience for pain by getting his ass kicked, which coincidentally gives him his name, and he falls out of the sky right into a fight scene.
Having Dave just fall into the fight, trying to save Mr. Bitey from the cyberpunk equivalent of a tree, is perfect, not only because it shows him failing at a superhero trope, but also because if it weren’t for Dave’s desire to play hero, he wouldn’t have been in the perfect place to at the perfect time to prevent the beat down.
“This is none of your business.”
“… Yes, it is.”
The fight is just amazingly over the top, set to The Prodigy’s “Omen” which perfectly embodies the bombastic and raw nature of the brawl. Incidentally, Kick-Ass‘ soundtrack alone is one of the many reasons why it’s a good film in the first place. Anything that includes Ellie Goulding, two Prodigy tracks, and Elvis on a single album, instantly earns a place in the favorites section of my brain.
Mind you, the fight is triggered the same way in the comic, but Dave stumbles into it by being harassed by a group of women who think he is a pedophilic deviant in a wetsuit. It’s just so forced, doesn’t seem like it would happen anywhere, ever, especially in New York City.
Also, the movie features a guy screaming, “Fuck you Mr. Bitey!” at a calico cat. If you can’t enjoy that, you must have all the taste of a parsley-sprinkled length of cardboard with “steak” written on it.