Po-mo Superhero Comics (for adults who really should know better)

Kick-Ass
by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
Marvel, 2010

The undeniable entertainment value of this wickedly-wrought concept can’t disguise the slick calculation underneath. It was turned into a movie almost immediately (work began two months after the first issue came out), and has proved to be the best of a new cinematic subgenre: deluded losers inspired by comics to become superheroes themselves (Mystery Men, Defendor and Super). How’s that for contempt for your audience, Marvel? The sequel comic Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall is even more violent (including a particularly nasty gang rape) but of course they’re filming it right now.

Nemesis
by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven
Icon, 2011

Another one from Millar, who obviously enjoys this sort of thing. Succinctly described by the promotional phrase “What if Batman was a total cunt?” and played out on a large scale with the cartoon garishness of a Bond film, but none of the sophistication.

A God Somewhere
by John Arcudi
Vertigo, 2011

A thoughtful and violent meditation of what would happen if a decent, ordinary person gained godlike powers, and how those powers might turn you into Caligula. A bit like an amped-up Flowers for Algernon. Interesting, but it seems a bit second-hand after Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, and it takes itself very seriously. Also, more rape. It also suffers from the usual unquestioning worship of extreme force which makes Superman comics so pompous and American foreign policy so dangerous.

The Boys
by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson
Dynamite Entertainment 2008-

This is more like it, frankly. A black-ops team seeks to curb some splendidly corrupt superheroes in the most entertainingly violent way possible. Just as cynical as Kick-Ass but not as commercially calculated, with some satisfyingly-complicated plot developments over 89 issues. The look of the hero (Wee Hughie, whose girlfriend is flattened by a careless ‘cape’) is based on Simon Pegg, who will probably star in the inevitable film. Quite a lot of rape and sexual exploitation, which seems to be a common feature among these “superheroes for grown-ups” stories, but I’m not sure if the writers (all male for an overwhelmingly male audience) are being misogynist, or just pragmatic about the corruption of power, or if it’s also a desire to do terrible things which you can’t do in normal comic books. The violence is certainly more explicit, but only in the sense that there’s a lot more gore and suffering.

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2 Responses to “Po-mo Superhero Comics (for adults who really should know better)”

  1. Ah, The Boys. I have such mixed feelings about that one comic. On one hand, it’s very clever and makes interesting points. On the other hand, its treatment of women is almost indistinguishable from the comics it satirizes.

  2. That is true. I wish they had another decent female character on the team apart from, er, ‘The Female’. Have you read Garth Ennis’s The Pro?

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