Kick-Ass by Mark Miller review



Let’s talk about adaptation, because I think its necessary to understanding this review and in understanding my advice on the writing process in general.

You see my feelings on this 2008 graphic novel, Kick-Ass by Mark Miller, are colored by the fact that I saw, and loved, the movie adaptation by Matthew Vaughn first. And I’m going to make no qualms about the fact that the movie is better, has more fully-realized themes and characterizations. It follows the novel, to be sure, but alters and tweeks and tightens as it goes to make it more cohesive and narratively pleasing.

This is how I suggest to newly-forming authors how to go about writing their first novels when dealing with higher-concept material, and how I dealt with it myself: pretend you are adapting your own work. That is, in essence, what you are doing when you take a work from the idea stage into a first draft, and often from the first draft to the second draft as well.

Because a lot of authors fall in love with their first draft, and many writers build massive world that are so large that starting the project suddenly seems daunting. To you I say: adapt it. Pretend your book already exists and that you are a screen-writer given the artistic license to adapt your own work into another medium, like film. This, mentally, gives you the freedom to still view your original work as pristine and untouched while moving beyond it and allowing you to focus on elements that work and eliminate the things that do not.

What I’m saying here is that Miller’s take could have maybe used another draft or an outside influence, which Vaughn’s adaptation provides. Neither is bad, but one is better.

Miller’s take is more depressing and far more pessimistic in its view on society and the people within it. Some of these changes to the details of the plots drastically change the tone and scope of the story.

Let’s give some examples.

In the movie, Kick-Ass reveals to Katie that he is not gay, and that he only pretended to be to closer to her. After having gotten to know him, she accepts him for who he is and the story takes the form of a classic boy-meets-girl tale. Katie even provides great emotional resonance, as she tearfully watches Kick-Ass being tortured.

In the novel, he tells her he isn’t gay… and she immediately tells him off, then later texts him a picture of herself performing felacio on another man, which he masturbates to.

Another example: in the movie, Big Daddy is a cop that was wronged by Frank D’Amico, resulting in the death of his wife and his war on crime… in the novel, this is revealed to just be a story the comic-book obsessed man told his daughter so that she would fight crime as his sidekick.

Even minor changes: in the movie, Kick-Ass’s first battle in against car-jackers. In the novel, it’s against graffiti artists.

In the end, I don’t think the characters in the novel are at all likeable. And I don’t think they’re intended to be. But Vaughn’s adaptation elevates this from the experiment of “what if superheroes were real-life assholes” to a genuinely compelling story of Gen-Y boredom and social responsibility.

This is the difference adaptation can make, and its a difference you want in your work. You want to elevate it to that level. It’s hard, but take a step back and try to adapt yourselves, so that the only version available for public consumption is the amazing version.

Kick-AssKick-Ass by Mark Millar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The movie was better.

“This is the difference adaptation can make, and its a difference you want in your work.”

View all my reviews


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