Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s “Kick-Ass” comic continues with the saga of high school geek Dave Lizewski and his transformation into the violent vigilante in the current seven-issue miniseries “Kick-Ass 2,” the second portion of the trilogy. The comic is nearly halfway through its run (No. 3 came out Aug. 24) and is still as popular as ever with five reprintings of issue No. 1 of the series alone. Hero Complex contributor Jevon Phillips caught up with writer Millar to find out what’s going on with the title and to get some answers about a movie sequel.
JP: OK, first let’s get two things out of the way before we get to “Kick-Ass 2” and “Kick-Ass 3.” What did you think about “Super”? It came after “Kick-Ass” and was pretty similar in tone…
MM: “Super” was an amazing movie. One of the best things I’ve seen this year. Because it was released a year after “Kick-Ass” and dealt with similar themes, a lot of people thought we’d been ripped off, but I can say without a shred of doubt that the story was being worked on at the same time I was writing “Kick-Ass” and we weren’t ripped off in any way. The writer and director, James Gunn, is an email mate of mine, and it was genuinely just a coincidence. This happens all the time, and the movies are so different in execution I actually think they really complement each other. James is a brilliant writer, by the way. He wrote Zack Snyder’s best movie so far, “Dawn of the Dead,” and in my view actually managed to improve upon the classic. He also directed a brilliant flick called “Slither,” which I would urge people to see.
JP: And the second thing that’s on people’s minds: How do you feel about the DC relaunch?
MM: I’m delighted to see DC getting back in the game with their reboot. Making characters who are as old as Donald Duck relevant to a modern audience isn’t easy. I joked about how they were Botoxing these old dudes and squeezing them back into their tights, but in all seriousness it’s been good for retailers and after a long time of soft sales on the bulk of their characters they’ve really got people’s attention again. I love a lot of the guys over there and grew up with these characters. Creatively, it’s not where my head’s at, because I think we need to do what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did in the ’60s and move forward, creating a new generation of characters and concepts for a 21st century readership. But I like the fact they’ve done something ballsy like this and it’s put money in the pockets of retailers. I don’t know how long it’s going to last in the medium term, but a nice little boost in the meantime.
JP: So now, the “Kick-Ass 2” miniseries is on shelves. Can you give us an overview?
MM: Sure. “Kick-Ass 2” picks up immediately after the credits of the first movie, and we see that Red Mist has turned his back on being an amateur superhero and wants to become the world’s first supervillain. At the same time, we take the “Kick-Ass” idea to the next level to where all the amateur superheroes out there in New York start to form a gang and, essentially, a real-life version of the Justice League or the Avengers. It’s a very ground-level view of what a super-team would be like, their headquarters below a pub and these guys all having collections every week to pay for coffee and biscuits at their meetings, but it builds up quickly into something not unlike the classic “The Warriors” movie from the ’70s. You basically have a gang of good guys and a gang of villains out there trying to take out the other and Red Mist becomes the leader of the bad guys, finding out the heroes’ secret identities and pulling their lives apart. The cops are caught in the middle of all this and Hit-Girl, of course, is a major player. She basically retired in the first book and is now living with her stepfather, being a good girl and going to girl guides and so on. She’s like Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven,” except instead of tending a farm when she hangs up her gun she’s hanging out with 12-year-olds and watching “Glee,” desperate to pick up a knife and a machine gun again but promising her stepfather she won’t.
JP: With supervillains (can they be called super?) gathering and Red Mist’s evil transition, the series, though always kind of dark and brutal, seems to have taken an even more violent turn. Is this just a product of the times?
MM: The idea of “Kick-Ass” is what would happen if a kid put on a costume and tried to fight crime. As I realized on Page 15, this was going to get very violent because very quickly, if he was effective, he’d start making enemies. He’s running into bad people and this escalates in the sequel because something Darwinian has happened. The emergence of the superhero has created, in essence, a supervillain fashion and to make themselves stand out from regular criminals these guys need to go to the next level. It’s got nods to everything from Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” to modern-day shootings where alienated teenagers, spoiled and disassociated from normal life, turn their frustrations upon innocent people. “Kick-Ass” was about a boy trying to be Batman or Spider-Man. “Kick-Ass 2” is about his enemies trying to be Heath Ledger’s Joker.
JP: Hit-Girl was obviously a breakout fave for comic book and movie fans. With her struggling to be “normal,” what can fans expect from her in this series and beyond?
MM: The funny thing about “Kick-Ass” is that we’d only had eight issues out there by the time the movie came up. Superman, by the 1978 movie, had appeared in around 1,500 comics and countless toys, games and cartoons. But “Kick-Ass” had appeared in eight separate little books and Hit-Girl had only appeared in six of them. And yet last Halloween I literally saw three different people dressed as Hit-Girl in the street going to parties. She’s just one of those characters you luck into. I’ve been very fortunate with the comics I’ve created getting picked up by the mainstream very quickly, but “Kick-Ass” and Hit-Girl’s success has been astounding. We’re going to release a special Hit-Girl series in April 2012 and she obviously plays a big part in “Kick-Ass 2.” But like Han Solo in “Star Wars,” the trick with her is not to show too much. It’s cool because she’s used sparingly. She’s not in costume for half of “Kick-Ass 2,” for example, trying to live a normal life, but that only makes it all the more spectacular when she does finally pick up a gun again and join the fight.
JP: Speaking of movie fans … how is the sequel going? Screenwriter Jane Goldman was quoted as saying she didn’t think it would happen, but we can be hopeful, right?
MM: The thing about the first movie is that it kind of exploded all our careers. People forget, but this was a $28-million indie movie made in the UK. It grossed $100 million at theaters and made the same again and more on DVD and Blu-ray and got amazing reviews. So everybody involved suddenly got hired for a million different things, and re-forming the band again would be impossible. Hopefully, we can use the same actors if and when we do a sequel, but getting Matthew [Vaughn] to direct or Jane to write a movie at this budget would be very difficult because they’re superstars now and they have projects of their own. I’d imagine, if this happens any time soon, that Matthew will produce and possibly co-write, like George Lucas did with “The Empire Strikes Back,” and hire a new director. But there’s a window because the actors are all supposed to be in high school and if this came out after 2013, for example, that window would have closed. I obviously know more than I can say, but I think people will be pretty happy with the conversations we’ve been having.
MM: Yes, “Kick-Ass” is a trilogy of books and there’s going to be two volumes of Hit-Girl too. And then that’s it. The whole, very complete, story has been in my head since the beginning. “Kick-Ass 2” ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and this all gets resolved in “Kick-Ass 3.” I’ve known the last page of “Kick-Ass 3” since I wrote Page 1 of the first series. Part of me loves the idea of this running and running like Spider-Man, but I also love the idea of it being finite and never being written or drawn by anyone other than me and Johnny. We can collect it into a nice box set, and hopefully it’ll just become a little classic that people discover in the future like the “Godfather” movies or “Lord of the Rings.” It would be easy to spin it off into lots of different books and hire other people to write them. It would be fast money because it outsells pretty much anything else out there right now. The first hardback, internationally, has sold almost a million copies everywhere from the USA to Israel to Japan and Italy and we’ve done five printings on the first issue of “Kick-Ass 2” alone, beating almost everything at Marvel and DC. But you have to stick to your guns and let a story have a natural length. You can’t get greedy. Just because something sells doesn’t mean you should milk it to death. “Kick-Ass 3” will absolutely be the last book and it’s a good ending. Plus, I’m lazy. If I have a choice between writing “Kick-Ass 4” or nipping off down at the pub I’m always going to choose the pub.
— Jevon Phillips
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