Mark Millar & John Romita Jnr. Hit-Girl (2013)
I suppose on an artistic level this is just the sort of corporate adventure product I should loathe given that Mark Millar now has his own planet, or at least that he churns out this stuff simultaneous to its own inevitable movie adaptation, but there's just something irresistible about his writing. I'm sure he's produced plenty of generic sub-standard shite during the course of his ascent from wee highland laddie to international entertainment complex, but if so, I've yet to read it; and with the beautiful evolution of John Romita Jnr.'s artwork towards something resembling a more colourful José Muñoz, there's really not much that can go wrong here.
Although Saviour had its moments, the first Mark Millar story to really make an impression on me was Insiders printed in Crisis back in 1991 - a supposedly cautionary tale of prison life concluding unexpectedly with the joyful nihilism of our man deciding he's glad he made all those wrong turns because his shitty life is still better than yours. Millar continues to deliver these yelping challenges to both good taste and reader expectation, as hilariously brash as anything ever flashed in your face by Grant Morrison, but without the deflative ten page suffixery of bollocks about Crowley or why the 1960s were like totally awesome - which has always been a bit of a danger with the aforementioned best-selling Unreadables author and heir to the budget supermarket chain of the same name.
Hit-Girl, like Kick-Ass from which it is spawned, tells tales of real life superheroes of the kind who, lacking science-fiction powers, tend to end up hospitalised with greater frequency than Arm-Fall-Off Boy and his ilk. It's a real life narrative - at least as much as anything you're likely to find in a comic book without it actually being one of Harvey Pekar's tales about buying a pair of shoes - quick, ingeniously plotted, funny, full of sparkling dialogue and apparently lacking in either cliché or padding; also occasionally stomach churning.
Being a full-grown man with a functioning moral conscience, it's difficult for me to read the story of a twelve-year old girl who routinely decapitates her foes without some degree of squirming, and whichever fine line may apply here, I have genuine doubts of a balance being struck, or even that a balance can be struck given the story. However, one aspect which seems significant is how Hit-Girl and the world she inhabits may constitute the first genuine inversion of the usual superhero dynamic, as interpreted here with typical clarity by Alan Moore:
I believe that the whole thing about superheroes is they don't like it up them. They would prefer not to get involved in a fight if they don't have superior firepower, or they're invulnerable because they came from the planet Krypton when they were a baby.
I could be talking utter pish here, but it occurs to me that this is exactly why Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl work so well: they restore vulnerability to the genre, not with any desperate attempt to convince us that Batman is just a regular guy who farts and likes peanuts, but by making us so painfully aware of our heroes being nothing more than scrawny little kids as to inspire identification more akin to that of long-suffering parents desperately trying to keep the little fuckers in at night and safe from harm. So Hit-Girl is uncomfortable reading, and hopefully for the right reasons; shocking, but possibly shocking with purpose and actual consequences, and very entertaining.