Monday, August 19, 2013

Comics Sunday #7 -- Sidekick #1

During the silver age of comic books, it seemed as though every hero had a wet-nosed teenage sidekick.  Captain America had Bucky.  Batman had Robin.  Superman had a whole family (Superboy, Supergirl, and even Krypto the Superdog).  The Flash eventually gained a sidekick with the uninspired name Kid Flash.  The list goes on and on.  And mostly, when you hear fans talk about sidekicks, it's that they hate them.  They're annoying saps who couldn't protect themselves from an intergalactic snail invasion (as cool as that might be), and whenever they die, the fans cheer and jeer appropriately.

When I heard that J. Michael Straczynski was releasing a series called "Sidekick" through Image Comics, I was skeptical.  What kind of story could he tell about a sidekick that hadn't already been told?  Does the sidekick grow a spine, get a life, and strike out on his own?  Is this a story about the sidekicks the fans love to hate?  Or is it something entirely new and different, a take on sidekicks and their heroic, father-like counterparts that we hadn't seen before?

Well, I've just finished reading "Sidekick" #1 for the third time, and I can only say one thing: it's totally out of this world.

The story begins with your typical superhero comic situation--The Red Cowl (the lead hero of Sol City) is busy fighting Sonic Master, and while he's busy beating him into a pulp, Sonic Master's sound bomb is ticking away, ready to destroy the city.  Flyboy, Red Cowl's sidekick and the focus of our story, grabs the bomb and flies high into Earth's atmosphere, throwing the bomb into space, where it explodes safely.  Flyboy has saved the day, and while Red Cowl makes sure he gets all the credit in a press conference, we fast-forward to the present day, where Barry Chase (Flyboy's alter-ego) is laying around in his underwear in his apartment, smoking a cigarette and looking like ten miles of bad road.

As the issue progresses, it switches back and forth between present-day Barry's life and his past with Red Cowl, who is assassinated (in a John F. Kennedy, motorcade-style fashion) during a celebratory parade for his saving the city.  When Flyboy checks the rooftops, he finds a rifle, but no killer.  He also discovers that Red Cowl left him and his assistant, Melody, with nothing, as he spent his vast fortune on gadgets, surveillance equipment, vehicles, and secret laboratories that were in frequent need of rebuilding from super villain attacks.  In the present day, Barry's struggling to make ends meet (his "Dreamstarter" campaign to sponsor his heroic activities has only met $1,000 of its $100,000 goal) and struggling with the fact that no one takes him seriously as a real hero since The Red Cowl's demise. 

Add to this that Melody has hooked up with another man (hinting that there might have been something between Barry and her in the past) and a rumor that the Moonglow twins (some very beautiful and nasty-looking vixens) might be responsible for Red Cowl's death, and you have yourself a great first issue that shows a ton of promise and proves it can deliver on all fronts.

This was the first J. Michael Straczysnki comic book I'd ever read, and I have to say that I'm very impressed.  I know the guy can write (I was an avid fan of his TV series "Babylon 5" for all five seasons), but because I'm not a huge fan of superheroes, I never read any of his work on "Amazing Spider-Man" or "Thor."  With "Sidekick," Straczynski presents us with a dystopian superhero story that promises to consistently kick Barry when he's down and put him through the wringer.  He's already proven he can do that with this first issue, and Barry is an easily identifiable character for many whose lives have hit rock bottom.  With the combination of the realistic dialogue, the book-like feel of the characters, and the seamless transitions from present to past and back again, Straczynski proves there's nobody like him in the business today.

Tom Mandrake's art is perfectly suited to "Sidekick."  His facial expressions, his natural-looking musculature, and his realistic settings all fit the late-80's / early 90's comic book era.  Best known for his run on DC's "The Spectre," Mandrake brings all of that knowledge and talent to the table in "Sidekick," which is a very good thing.  Hi-Fi's colors are some of the best in the business, and he proves that here by making the days look brighter, the nights look darker, and the heroes and villains look bigger and bolder.  I've been a big fan of Hi-Fi's over the years, and he totally nailed it with this one.

What else is there left to say about "Sidekick?"  How about "go out and buy it!"  Seriously, you won't find a better written, drawn, and colored superhero book out there, and if you like your superhero stories a little darker and a little edgier, than you won't be disappointed.  You can find "Sidekick" at your local comic book shop or online at many fine retailers, and if you would like a little more information on the comic, head over to and look it up. 

Until next time, this is Justin Swartz, signing off.