At one level, the idea of putting together a big book on the making of a movie that hasn’t been shown yet is a profound act of hype ‘n’ hubris. The finished product hasn’t been released for public evaluation, and here we’re expected to be fascinated by the minutia of its creation? It’s not like we’re talking about The Making of Citizen Kane or something — this is basically a big beefy promo pack for an R-rated superhero flick.
That gotten out of the way, I’ll admit to being curious about Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass: Creating the Comic, Making the Movie (Titan Books), if only to see how close to the edginess the movie’ll get to the comic. As a mainstream comics writer, Millar (who also gave us the source for the comic book movie Wanted) can get overly satisfied with his own transgressiveness, but at his best he can be an entertaining troublemaker. The idea behind Kick-Ass — real-life boy and girl attempt to be costumed heroes in a world where every hit leaves real-life bruises — is a simple but potentially powerful one, especially if presented in movie mode without too much flinching.
Millar’s volume — packed with extended quotes from all the players, film shots and comic art in all stages of creation — conveys the obstacles the moviemakers had to surpass to get to the finished product: convincing skittish movie execs that a film with a foul-mouthed little girl as its heroine was viable, casting young actors who genuinely looked the characters’ age yet could handle the demands of action moviemaking, working on a movie version of a comic book series with an as-yet-unfinished storyline, managing Nick Cage’s outlandish mustache. All pretty intense stuff. But as Francois Truffaut once tellingly noted: “Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive.”
Elsewhere, we get to read about Millar’s nerdy youth and the ways it inspired his original comic book series, plus learn what we already knew about Nicholas Cage (that he’s a big ol’ fanboy.) But for many comics fans, the high point of the book will most likely be its healthy helpings of John Romita Jr.’s art. Showing the Wall of Villains that Nic Cage’s character has created in the movie, for instance, we’re treated to eight pages of Romita illustrated mug shots: a great gallery of goons. Asked if he included a pic of Millar in this set of illos, Romita replies, "I don’t think there’s a way of thug-izing Mark. He’s got a baby-face, he can’t be turned into a thug.” Which only goes to show you can’t judge a writer by his baby-face.
Whether Millar’s Kick-Ass consideration will become the movie equivalent of one of those glossy rock tour books you spend good money on at the concert and then toss in a closet with the other disposable mementoes — or a valuable glimpse at a work its makers hope will be “the Pulp Fiction of superhero movies” will ultimately rest on the film itself, of course. I know I’ve got high hopes for the movie, but I also know that similar hopes of mine have been dashed plenty of times in the past. Let's all hope this handsome trade doesn’t serve as a melancholy memento of what might have been . . .