The Week In Comics: Mark Millar And Criticism, ‘Sidekick’ #1 Reviewed, And More

By Matt D. Wilson

Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the Supervillain Field Manual, examines a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week’s comic book releases.

I’ve never really subscribed to the old saying that any publicity is good publicity. Anthony Weiner’s political career should be evidence enough of that. But some people…some people sure do know how polish up a PR turd. Nobody seems to be better at it than Mark Millar.

In case you missed it, a profile of Millar in The New Republic in advance of the August 16 release of the film adaptation of “Kick-Ass 2″ aimed to take on some of the more…what one might charitably call provocative aspects of Millar’s work. There’s a quote in there from scholar Colin Smith about the often-cited racial and gender politics of Millar’s comics. Specifically, Smith calls the portrayals “often deeply insensitive.”

Beyond that, there’s the matter of rape. Millar apparently views it as no different from cutting someone’s head off; it’s a thing a bad guy does to prove he’s bad. As quite a few commentators have said much more eloquently than I can, that ignores a lot of context.

Here’s what it boils down to, for me: If rape was no different from any other bad thing, Millar wouldn’t be so primed to return to it so often. He specifically uses the shock value of rape to stimulate readers to have this lizard-brain response that what they’re reading is somehow subversive. It’s a button he can push because rape is just not something that’s supposed to happen in superhero comics, never mind the fact that it’s been happening in superhero stories for going on 30 years. He’s fully aware of this, else he’d have his bad guys constantly decaptiating everyone instead of raping them.

So why would Millar say that? Here’s why: We are talking about him. The guy wasn’t exactly a trending topic on Twitter Wednesday, but a lot of the people I follow were weighing in on the profile. I can’t think of that as anything but a victory for Millar, no matter what people were saying about him.

Look at this very column. I’m setting aside other topics (like that artist pay debate that’s been going on for a few days, and that I generally tend to side with artists on) to talk about Millar. There’s a big picture of Kick-Ass at the top. People who might have never heard that “Kick-Ass 2″ had a gang rape scene in it sure do know now, and may feel like, even out of some sense of morbid curiosity, that they need to see it for themselves, especially knowing that the scene has been removed from the movie.

Speak out all you want. Millar deserves the criticism, and it’s good to have a dialogue. But when you do, be aware you might just be putting a few more dollars in his pocket.

And now the comics of the week!

The Winners

“All-New X-Men” #15
(Marvel Comics, by Brian Michael Bendis and David LaFuente)

In purely superhero comic terms, not a whole lot happened in this issue. No supervillains were fought. Heck, nobody really had a fist fight at all. And yet it’s one of my favorite issues of this series so far, which I think has been pretty good overall. I run hot and cold on Bendis, and he’s often criticized for writing comics where nothing happens, but I really enjoyed this rather light, character-based issue of comics. It helps that LaFuente gives the issue a sort of manga flair (without aping anyone’s style, really) to give it a kind of teen comedy/high-school drama feel.

“The Manhattan Projects” #13
(Image Comics, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra)

This is also an issue that sort of comes in between big arcs, with a big time jump leading into short vignettes showcasing the projects all the book’s featured scientists are working on. Everyone gets a nice little showcase moment, particularly cosmonaut Yuri Gragarin, whose deep friendship with cosmo-dog Laika is kinda downright heartbreaking. For a comic about history’s greatest scientists doing the maddest of science with alien technology and all manner of other sci-fi insanity, this is occasionally a book with a lot of heart. It’ll sneak up on you.

“Green Lantern” #23
(DC Comics, by Robert Venditti and Billy Tan)

You could easily dismiss the first few issues of Venditti’s run on this book as “small” compared to the huge stories Geoff Johns told, but I’m really digging what’s happening here so far. Hal’s new role as the head of the Green Lantern Corps is the source of a lot of great comic relief, but it also leads to a pretty terrific debate between Kilowog and Hal as to just what kind of leader Hal ought to be (Kilowog is completely right, by the way). I like the sort of political refugee story Prixiam Nol-Anj has going on. And the build up to Relic is a slow burn that is taking its time. For now, I’ll take a space drama over a space opera.

“Superior Spider-Man” #15
(Marvel Comics, by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos)

This series has also been slowly building its big story while other things took precedence in the foreground, and now I think things are finally coming to a head. There’s a little montage in this issue where virtually everyone in Peter Parker’s life realizes he’s been acting very differently. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for since issue one, and it confirms that Dan Slott is taking things in that direction. Meanwhile, there’s a goblin war brewing and Spidey Ock, for the first time, feels like he’s in over his head. He doesn’t know how bad it really is. The whole notion that Doc Ock is in the same boat Peter was and doesn’t even seem to know it makes for good readin’.

The Loser

“Sidekick” #1
(Image Comics, by J. Michael Straczynski and Tom Mandrake)

I often talk about comics that learned all the wrong things from “Watchmen,” but now I think I have a new exhibit A. This entire issue is a dour, sad, embarrassing exercise in trying to shock readers by having bright, shiny superheroes really be depressed voyeurs who struggle with inadequacy issues and who also hire prostitutes. Or lying jerks. This might have been groundbreaking in 1985, though given the number of cliches in its pages (the intentional and unintentional ones), I doubt it. This may just be the worst comic I read all year, and for a guy like me, who reads a lot of bad comics from week to week (chalk it up to masochism), that’s saying a lot.