Trigger warning for discussions about rape.
When Mark Millar announced that he was going to relaunch Kick-Ass with a black woman as the main character, I was aghast. Certainly Millar’s heart seems to be in the right place. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter announcing the relaunch, Millar derided the prevalence of 30-something white male characters in comics and expressed his belief that a character that is “older or younger or female or African-American just seems more interesting” and “unique.” While comic book fans might disagree with Millar’s claim that a female African-American woman is a “unique” character in superhero fiction (the Twitter account nerdypoc alone regularly tweets about characters of color, including several black comic book women, for example) one could still applaud Millar for his well-meaning stab at diversity and representation in comics.
But I don’t, for the simple reason that Mark Millar’s record on depictions of women and people of color is…less than stellar, to put it politely. Or, less politely: Millar has shown time and again that he can’t write women and people of color with compassion and true understanding. Examining Millar’s past work is a nausea-inducing task that often includes regular gendered violence from villains and supposed heroes alike: Wanted, The Authority, and Kick-Ass, for example, all contain unnecessary, gratuitous rape. A rape of a female Kick-Ass character in particular is designed to inflict pain and provide motivation for the male character, effectively fridging the female character. She isn’t a person, she’s a plot device. Nemesis goes one further with a villain forcing a teenage boy to rape his sister and that same villain then fixing the girl’s womb “to completely collapse” if doctors attempt an abortion…all to get back at the siblings’ police chief father. It’s The Killing Joke on steroids. Even the popular Kick-Ass character Hit Girl, frequently lauded as a “strong female character,” throws around gendered slurs such as “c*nt” as if she was being paid to do so.
Millar has shown time and again that he can’t write women and people of color with compassion and true understanding.
Millar also has a disturbing tendency to depict people of color as almost compulsively criminal: people of color are primarily depicted as drug dealers and gang members in Kick-Ass, and a black Hulk (Hulk characters are otherwise associated with whiteness as much as with greenness, forcing a suggestion of connection between his ethnicity and his stock plot) abandons his family and immediately turns to crime when given the opportunity in Ultimate Comics: Avengers. Even the Robin Hood-type speedsters in Millar’s MPH aren’t without stereotyping: the four main characters, three of them teens of color from Detroit, gain their super-speed powers from drugs.
Starlight seems to be Millar’s only piece of work that doesn’t depict people of color as automatically and stereotypically involved in criminal activity.
Millar’s work is often marketed as “subversion” or “deconstruction,” a commentary on society or the comic book genre, but even his best efforts fall flat. His worst efforts are repugnant. Is it excusable if it’s supposed to be intellectual? Not the way I see it — and not the way Millar writes it, with an almost childlike glee and pointed effort to see what he can do next to shock and titillate (he himself admits that he wants to outrage). With that frame of reference in mind, Millar’s avowedly earnest efforts to create a “unique” female character of color seems like a misguided attempt to write an “edgy” story at best — and a pitch for another offensive narrative at worst. Yes, Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 were successful and yes, maybe this relaunch can give comics a new black woman protagonist. But do we really want someone like Mark Millar writing her?