Because sometimes, readers don’t want morally gray anti-heroes. Sometimes they want unrepentant bastards. Dead End headlines Dynamite’s BAD ASS #1, doing his due diligence as criminal scum, all with skill, a foul mouth, and smooth executions. Can he properly live up to the lofty title of he book? Or is his bad ass more like lame ass?
The words “bad ass” get thrown around a lot in nerd culture; either that or the compound “badass”. Badass as a concept embodies implicitly many of the qualities looked for in characters (and real life people, where applicable). Willful, self-sufficient, capable, no-nonsense (or conversely limiting nonsense to only themselves). Fit, hardy, cool under pressure, courageous, and able to pants anyone and everyone that gets in their way. It also helps to exhibit skills and perform stunts that are exceedingly over-the-top, just so their accomplishments seem more impressive by comparison to mere mortals. In heroes and villains, and sometimes in secondary or minor characters, badass is an ideal descriptor to apply, especially in action and fight based stories. In short, badass is the Rule of Cool applied as a character trait or, if taken as a noun, personified.
It’s no surprise then that someone would try to capitalize on the word by naming their comic after it.
BAD ASS #1 stars Dead End, a particularly unpleasant suited thug who…I’m not entirely sure what it is he does as a day job. It’s implied he works for some underworld type, but the comic is very vague on the details. What the comic is more specific about is how much a “cool character” Dead End is. Wearing a black mask (with inexplicable flaming basketball logo on the side), he casually causes a car wreck into a busy Chinese restaurant, then hits up the local…Triad? That too is vague, only that it’s led by a dragon man and is staffed by drug-users, the whole gang meeting to celebrate the completion of an orbital doomsday weapon.
Did you think this was going to be a gritty, semi-realistic crime drama following a morally bankrupt protagonist? Nope, it’s superhero style colorful adventures that follow a morally bankrupt protagonist. Just to prove it, the first issue concludes with Dead End meeting one of his acquitences: Amadeus Kitty. She is a Catwoman type villain, except with an added Mozart motif. It’s glorious, made more so by the fact that Kitty wears clothes that are impractical for fighting (kind of like Dead End’s suit and tie), but at least are more modest that a vast majority of Catwoman types. Including Catwoman herself.
I can’t be alone in my disinterest with pandering, can I?
Interspersed between scenes of gory violence and clever cigerette ricochets, readers are treated to oh so uplifting flashbacks to the tortured childhood of a dweeby, acne-ridden blonde loser. Readers are supposed to assume the child is Dead End himself, since he also has blond hair, but readers never see adult Dead End’s face. Long since have I learned the lesson not to assume a plot twist based on the immediate evidence, as I’ve seen my expectations played with too many times. So the obvious conclusion may or may not be the truth, and Dead End may or may not have anything to do with the hapless youth. Rhyme not intended.
So is BAD ASS #1 good? That’s the sticking point, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it or not. It has many of the elements of a good comic I like (impractical business suits during fights, gimmicky villains, clever use of surroundings). Yet the protagonist, Dead End, comes off to me as abhorrent as he is he is good at what he does. The very first scene is him wrecking pointless havoc simply because the possibility of a bright sunny day with normal people enjoying themselves sickened him.
While having flawed characters is the mark of well-rounded, interesting characters, there is a fine line one walks when one writes a character that is openly, unrepentantly evil. Steps must be taken for the audience to root for someone who, by all rights, should not be supported. A story about a villain protagonist can usually only get by in one of three ways: 1) by being a story of redemption, 2) by being classical tragedy, or 3) by having the villain be sufficiently charismatic as to hold audience attention. BAD ASS looks to be trying for the third route, with a character whose motivations are so selfish, methods so outlandish, vileness so overblown, and fighting prowess so stellar as to prove too “cool” to ignore. Dead End is a character who is meant to be too compelling not to watch.
Personally I’m not so sure I buy into it. BAD ASS waffles between being humorous and humorless. There is black comedy to be had, the situations so outrageous, yet it’s all very mean-spirited. But then, maybe that’s par for the course, and I’m complaining about the necessary weasel on display. The evil main character is the entire point; if I’m not willing to accept that on the comic’s terms, I might as well go home.
In the (dead) end, that’s probably BAD ASS #1 in a nutshell. Given everything on display, either one can enjoy the story for what it is, or one cannot. Such will decide whether one ought to read the comic. For those who enjoy amoral main characters slaughtering dozens of goons with little effort, because they’re just that cool, BAD ASS #1 is recommended. For myself, I’ll pass. I already read Superior Spiderman, and get enough flak for liking it as the tragedy it totally is.
And quickly while we’re on the subject, I told you so.