JMS and Tom Mandrake’s story of a boy wonder gone woefully wrong starts here in “Sidekick” #1. Is it a great tale on its own, or another case of “Pow! Biff!” syndrome? Read on to find out.
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Illustrated by Tom Mandrake
WITNESS A MODERN HERO’S FALL FROM GRACE!
The Cowl and Flyboy: renowned superhero and sidekick despite dopey names. They were famous, popular, and happy until the Cowl’s assassination. Now, no one takes Flyboy seriously. Follow his trajectory from barely tolerated hero to figure of ridicule, and witness his slow descent into madness, darkness and crime.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Superheroes are actually weirdoes in tight costumes.” Wait, you’re (hopefully) above twelve years old and read comic books, you should definitely have heard of this concept by now. Ever since the 80’s, there’s usually been a comic or two about how superheroes are just powered pervs with capes. Watchmen, Kick-Ass, Anything Garth Ennis Writes That Doesn’t Have Superman; just to name a few. As such, “Sidekick” is the newest addition to this sub-sub-genre of fiction. After the death of their partner, a useless sidekick falls into dispair as they discover that no one really finds them usful. Pretty heavy stuff, and a lot could be done with the idea of a sidekick resentful of a dead mentor. Unfortunately, a lot of the gravitas that makes books like Watchmen and The Garth Ennis Wanker Extravaganza the successes they are seems to be absent here, as does ultimately, a point.
I mentioned before in the introduction to this review something called “Pow! Biff!” syndrome. It’s a concept that’s been discussed on roughly every comic book website and probably has a similar, or more likely better, name but I like “Pow! Biff!” so we’r sticking with it. “Pow! Biff!” syndrome is when a writer (or any artist as this could apply to a ton of media) takes a situation that’s inherently bright and optimistic, usually made for kids, twists it so it’s dark and unrecognizable and then pats themselves on the back for having created the next Watchmen. This method can actually be used to great effect when done correctly, in these cases it’s called “dichotomy”, but when we’re watching a sidekick negotiate prices with a prostitute who remarks how aptly the “boy” in “Flyboy” fits, it’s hard to not think the writer is just making dirty superheroes for the sake of it. That’s not inherently bad, it’s just something that’s been done a lot before, and often done much better.
The art also suffers from some “Pow! Biff!” syndrome. Tom Mandrake’s lines are really well done, and when fully colored offers a clear line between Flyboy’s golden years and his more downtrodden upon times. Compared to the modern segments, they’re much more brighter but with a tinge of darkness that remains around the corner for the characters. The modern day segments still have a fair amount of color, but there’s also a lot more darkness, both literally and thematically. The only real criticism I have towards the art is that Flyboy’s hair is just plain stupid. I don’t know why Flyboy has a Justin Bieber circa 2009 haircut, but it’s really distracting. Sure it makes the character more pathetic, but if you didn’t trust the depressed-prostitute-alley sex to do that job then why feel the need to push it even further? If there’s one big impression to be made from “Sidekick” it’s that the creators put too much effort into emphasizing how lame their main character, and any do-gooder hero by relation, is.
Unfortunately, that lame do-gooder hero is the only character the reader gets saddled with. Sure, there are plenty of other more interesting characters but nearly none of them are given any explanation or importance. All they really do is just remind the audience how lame Flyboy is and yes we get it already now can we get to the actual plot and not deal with three pages of a naked guy flying over the city and having an existential crisis? You don’t have to recycle all your deleted scenes from Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan, JMS. That’s not to say the book doesn’t have some cool moments. There’s a creative send-up of Kickstarter that actually made me laugh out loud over how pathetic Flyboy’s whole situation is. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for the premise of the series and a lot that could be done for it. In fact, the ending sets up an interesting status quo that could lead to some really promising stories.Continued below
Overall, “Sidekick” is not a great first issue. I couldn’t care less about any of the characters, it’s trying way too hard to be serious, and the art is pretty good but nothing to shake a flying flesh stick about. Sure, it could turn around and offer on some of the promises its more intriguing pages deliver, but taken for what it is, “Sidekick” #1 is trying really hard to be a reinvention of superheroes that’s been done a thousand times before.
Final Verdict: 6.1 – Browse. Might get better, but unless you really like JMS you can save the money.