Language, Blood, Sexuality - Turning the American Monomyth Upside Down

Essay, 2012

8 Pages


Language, Blood, Sexuality – Turning the American Monomyth Upside Down

When considering the American Monomyth[1], one usually thinks about a tale like Superman or Spider-Man, a selfless hero on a journey to save mankind and to find his place as a Redeemer inside an endangered society. Before 2008, those typical journeys have consistently featured the same patterns: They deal with serious enemies and serious topics, like politics and ethics, they try to avoid the depiction of blood and violence, and they change the reality of sexuality to hyper-masculine superheroes and weak-and-helpless women. But finally, in 2008, time had come to break these standards of narration and to change the reputation as well as the representation of the typical superhero. That is when Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. have released Kick-Ass.

“As a matter of fact, Mark got it way before the rest of us. See, if you're gonna do a book featuring the most Kick-Ass writing, the most Kick-Ass art, the most Kick-Ass action, then you can't afford to be shy, you just call it the way you see it. And in this case, with this concept and these creators, there was no doubt this comic would be Kick-Ass in every way.” (Liefeld 2010) In view of Kick-Ass, the purpose of this paper is to show how this comic book turns the cliché superhero story in respect of humor/language, as well as violence and sexuality upside down.

During the research on this topic, other superhero narratives and comic books, Japanese manga and anime culture and specialized literature like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and John Shelton Lawrence's The American Monomyth in a New Century have fallen into consideration . Analyzing the three factors of language, violence and sexuality in Kick-Ass by regarding these other primary and secondary text, the assumption that Kick-Ass constructs a different, “upside-down” version of the American Monomyth becomes proven.

The first part of the analysis focuses on the language used in Kick-Ass. Obscene language – which means an extraordinary high use of words like fuck, piss, ass, etc. – and allusions to existing comic books influence the readers perception of the plot and, resulting, break the seriousness and the fictive reality of a standard superhero narrative. For example, Kick-Ass doesn't even think about a name or an opening line before attempting to fight crime.[2] Sentences like “[there] were no radioactive spiders and I didn't have the refugee status from a doomed alien world” (Millar 2008: 7) and “[why] does everybody want to be Paris Hilton but nobody Spider-Man” (Millar: 10) set the story world on one level with reality by making the characters aware of superheroes being constructed fiction and objects of fantasy. Furthermore, the author creates through his protagonist Dave Lizewski – who celebrates the fictive deeds of Superman and others – a feeling that Kick-Ass functions as a homage to the messages and tales of selfless heroism and journeys to rescue democracy and the free world. In addition to the frequent use of obscene language come many ironic and sarcastic passages, which would never be found in usual monomythical narratives. “I'm the guy with the electrodes attached to his testicles. Obviously, this isn't what I had in mind when I first pulled on the mask. I thought it would be more leaping over rooftops and pitchy put-downs to purse snatchers. But this is the reality of the situation. This is what happens when you mess with bad people.” (Millar: 5) This passage unites a very colloquial choice of words, e.g. pitchy put-downs or snatchers with a certain openness and obscenity (electrodes attached to his testicles) and sarcasm about what comic books say what it is like to be a superhero (I thought it would be more...) and what reality is like in the end (This is what happens...). This passage itself is enough to prove that the typical form of Monomyth narration and language is broken and turned to the complete opposite because there can not be found a passage containing this style in any stereotypical superhero story.[3] To finally prove this argument, Batman for example comes up with a very unoffending style of language in a similar scene: “Wow! My head feels as if it were going to burst any moment! It seems like I've at last met a foe that can give me a good fight. However I'm not licked, yet! - Not quite!” (Kane 1940: 9) This shows that, although it is a scene in which the hero has to struggle with not being able to fight his opponent, the language and the content of what is said is neither obscene, nor does it in anyway allude to the unreality of the fact that Batman is a real – not a fictive – superhero itself.


[1] A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity. (Lawrence 2002: 6)

[2] “What do I say? What the hell is my opening line?” (Millar 2008: 16) “Who the hell are you, huh? What the fuck is your name?” - “I don't know […] I haven't thought of one yet.” (Millar 2008: 20)

[3] For the purpose of this paper, I take Batman, Spider-Man and Superman in consideration, when talking about stereotypical superhero stories because they build the basis of the American Monomyth and function as world-wide known representatives of this type of narrative.

Excerpt out of 8 pages


Language, Blood, Sexuality - Turning the American Monomyth Upside Down
University of Bayreuth  (Nordamerikastudien)
Superheroes and the American Monomyth
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
677 KB
Kick Ass, Comics, Graphic Novel, Tarantino, Superheroes, Monomyth
Quote paper
BA Ralph Cibis (Author), 2012, Language, Blood, Sexuality - Turning the American Monomyth Upside Down, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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