Not at All Rare: Why Mark Millar’s Relaunch of “Kick-Ass” Spells Doom for a New Female Character of Color

Kick-Ass: The New Girl by Mark Millar (w) and John Romita Jr. (cover)

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.

Of course, none of this is new; this is the man who cites a Spider-Man story where Peter Parker accidentally kills his girlfriend as an early influence and dismissed the idea that rape as a plot device is overused in comics. To Millar, rape “is a rare thing in comics” and “seldom done in an exploitative way.” Millar obviously couldn’t have been thinking of his own work when he made that statement.

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.

In MPH Millar tries to depict current issues and urban American youth with nuance, but fails to recognize his own failings as a white, British man and ends up writing regressive stereotypes of American teens of color that undermines any potentially positive themes. He casts Roscoe, the main character, as a black, well-meaning “baby daddy” drug dealer; Rosa, Roscoe’s girlfriend, as a pregnant young black Latina woman defined mainly by her relationships with male characters (she even ends up driving into the sunset with the mysterious male “villain” of the series); and Baseball, Rosa’s brother, a gang member whose drug addiction sparks a spiraling crisis for all four teens. In fact, 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?

Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran

Queer, 20-something intersectional feminist, Vietnamese-American, and born fangirl. Writes about anything geeky and thinks about food too much. You can find Stephanie's Twitter rants at @YouAndYourEgo.

2 thoughts on “Not at All Rare: Why Mark Millar’s Relaunch of “Kick-Ass” Spells Doom for a New Female Character of Color

  1. There is absolutely no arguing with Millar’s track record (even some of his less explicit past work left me feeling slightly nauseated and dirty), but I found myself pleasantly surprised by “Huck.” I kept waiting for him to take the story somewhere reprehensible and offer some wholly nihilistic statement about how there are no such thing as heroes, but he never did. Comments he made about the inspiration of the book (being aghast at the sight of Superman snapping Zod’s neck in “Man of Steel) made me wonder if, perhaps, Millar has begun to reconsider the relentless brutality he used as window dressing throughout his earlier work.

    Hopefully, this new Kick-Ass will go further in that direction, rather than holding true to the style and tone of his previous Kick-Ass books. I doubt it will be perfect (none of his books even come close) and I’m sure his own gender and race will limit his perspective to such an extent that there will certainly be oversights and missteps. Nevertheless, the fact that Millar even recognizes the need for a woman of colour hero, and he’s seen fit to give her the recognizable (and popular) brand of Kick-Ass gives me some hope that even old white cis-leopards just might change their spots.

    But then again, I do always have a tendency toward optimism.

  2. Mark Millar is one of my least favorite well-known creators. Even in his best works, like Superman: Red Son, his writing style is laced with trolling through and through. For every good, even brilliant idea he has, e.g. how Luthor finally stops Superman in the aforementioned title, there are at least two moments of headscratching at best, nausea-inducing at worst, e.g. Red Son’s use of Wonder Woman and that ending which undoes even the basic premise of the comic.

    I have never bought a Millar comic and never plan to; he’s one of the big names who just can’t ever bring himself to see that there could ever be anything wrong with his work, and on that basis alone I cannot respect him or support him.

    One you ought to bring up in terms of failed comics projects or a retrospective look at women in comics is his bizarre, BIZARRE project: Trouble.

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