AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.7 out of 5
(Art by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Mark Morales, John Dell and Tim Townsend)
When the mistake of a group of young superheroes leads the deaths of six hundred innocent people, events are set in motion that lead to Marvel's most ambitious 'event' storyline yet. With the U.S government calling for the registration and control of all superhumans the Marvel Universe is split in two. Many choose to back Iron Man in his support of the governmental measures, but some, led by Captain America, refuse to surrender their freedom, becoming fugitives.
I really enjoyed the fact that Millar uses our favourite heroes to illustrate a problem in the America of the real world; the constant war between security and civil rights. I very much saw Captain America's Secret Avengers as the good guys here, whilst Iron Man's group seem to me to be oppressive and fascistic.
I enjoyed seeing which heroes chose which side and why, particularly in the cases of the Punisher and the Invisible Woman. Comics very often use the phrase 'no holds barred' to highlight clashes between characters, but here it's very true as both sides use their knowledge of their former friends on the other side.
Perhaps the most interesting story thread is that of Spider-Man. At first he supports Iron Man, even going so far as to unmask himself as Peter Parker on TV. However, the death of a friend in one of the battles and the creation of a Guantanamo Bay-style superhero internment camp lead him to reconsider his position and join the rebels.
The most poignant element of this book (look away now if you don't like spoilers), is that in the end the good guys lose.
5 out of 5
(Art by John Romita Jr. and Tom Palmer)
Comic book fanboy Dave Lizewski decides to don a mask and emulate his comic book idols by fighting crime as Kick-Ass. However, he soon discovers that crimefighting is far tougher and more violent than he'd imagined and things only become more complicated when he encounters the mysterious Big Daddy and his pyschopathic daughter Hit-Girl.
A very post-modern take on superheroes, this book takes the novel approach of having its heroes be ordinary people who have, perhaps, read one-too-many comic books. In this respect Dave is actually a fairly believable central character, struggling with all the anxieties, frustrations and hormones of a sixteen year old boy whilst, impossibly, deciding to gain a release from them by becoming Kick-Ass.
However, it is the gleefully ultra-violent Hit-Girl who is the standout character here, slaughtering criminals left, right and centre whilst sporting her Hello Kitty backpack. She's a brilliant cross between anti-heroes like the Punisher or Deadpool and a ten year-old girl.
I have to say that I read this book after already having seen the movie version. The problem is that the screen version is so faithful an adaption overall that, having seen it, there actually wasn't a huge amount in the book that was new for me (the exception being Big Daddy's past). I definitely wished I'd experienced it the other way around and if you get the chance, you should do so.
4 out of 5
The Ultimates Vol. 1: Super-Human
(Art by Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie)
General Nick Fury of SHIELD decides to put together a super-powered military unit, gathering together a group of scientists and soldiers tasked with guarding against super-villain attacks. But things do not go entirely smoothly and tensions within the Ultimates will lead one of them to break down and become the very thing the team was assembled to fight.
In case you're unfamiliar, Marvel's Ultimate universe was an alternate reality from the mainstream canon which allowed Marvel to modernise and reinvent their key characters without having to incorporate forty years of backstory. So, here we get a brand new origin for the Avengers, except of course they're not called the Avengers any more. All of the main characters get tweaked and updated, including Nick Fury, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, Giant Man and the Hulk.
The problems begin when you realise that Millar's premise for reinventing these characters was to propose "What if all the Avengers were horrible people?". What we then get is a book focused on characters we know and love but who behave in ways that make them entirely unlikable (the possible exception being Tony Stark, but whilst likable, he's still an alcoholic womaniser). Don't get me wrong, the negative elements on display here aren't necessarily new aspects to the characters, but Millar turns them up to eleven and we end up with a things like a Hank Pym who bullies coworkers and terrorises his wife, a Captain America who gets on really well with George W. Bush and a Hulk who sets out to angrily rape Betty Ross. Instead of feeling like a deconstruction of the characters, it just feels like Millar sees the world through cynicism-tinted spectacles.
The other big problem I had with this book was the endless early 2000s pop culture references and name drops. Barely a page goes by without something like Betty dating Freddie Prinze Jr. or Tony Stark taking Shannon Elizabeth into space or something equally pointless and cringe-worthy. I suppose these moments are partially redeemed by references to Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson several years before those actors would eventually kick off the MCU in 'Iron Man'.
2 out of 5