Consider this to be “Kick-Ass” done right, or at least in a way that’s not terrible. Luther Strode is your average dateless high school geek whose life starts to change once he gets a bodybuilding guide via mail-order. Unlike the Charles Atlas method of old, the methods in this guide not only make him stronger but also give him powers far beyond that of mortal men. As Luthor and his friend Pete are well aware that with great power comes great responsibility, it’s soon decided that the former’s new powers should be used for (what else but) fighting crime. The problem is that the reason these methods actually gave Luthor superpowers is because the guide is actually the textbook of an ages-old murder cult who have decided that the teen is to become their latest recruit.
The setup almost steamrollers past suspension of disbelief, but with the back of the book spotlighting the “murder cult” business it helps prepare you for what’s coming. Of course, if Luther himself wasn’t such a likeable, easy-to-empathize-with character then everything here would have been for naught. It’s not just that he encapsulates the desire a lot of us have for easy power to beat the hell out of our enemies, but he also doesn’t let it consume him. He’s actually eager to use his new abilities to be a better person and make the world safer in the process. Things don’t quite play out that way, but what would a superhero origin be without some tragedy.
Make no mistake, this is an origin story, and it would be a pretty bland one if it wasn’t for the strong characterization of the main character from writer Justin Jordan and striking art of Tradd Moore. This is the first I’ve seen of his work, and while it does recall the expressive, kinetic violence of John Romita Jr., there’s a cleaner, more animated edge to the art here. He also manages to stage some impressively gonzo fight scenes with levels of blood, gore and dismemberment that would impress the likes of Ennis and Ellis.
Those two assets aside, and everything else about “Luther Strode” is pretty standard issue from the wisecracking friend and implacable antagonist. Luther’s girlfriend deserves special mention as her attraction to him feels like it comes straight from the department of wish fulfillment. The ending also feels a little rushed, though it does set up an interesting status quo for the inevitable sequel. Though I’ll admit that just about anything looks good when compared to “Kick-Ass,” it’s still an engaging take on superheroics in the real world. (It also won’t have to be reworked in the way that comic was in order for it to make a good movie.)