(Image Comics/Joe’s Comics, 2014)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Artwork by Tom Mandrake
Color Atwork by Hi-Fi
Lettering by Troy Peteri
The deconstruction of a super hero is not a new concept; it has been done to great acclaim by the likes of Alan Moore, Mark Waid and Grant Morrison to name a few of the stand-outs. Now, with his engrossing and intriguing series Sidekick hitting its stride, it seems we can add J. Michael Straczynski’s name to that list. This is the tragic and sometimes depressing story of The Red Cowl’s sidekick, Flyboy. In the aftermath of his mentor’s apparent very public assassination, the young apprentice faces some extremely arduous uphill battles in which JMS pushes the distraught sidekick to his breaking point. It has been the writer’s intention to break the character down from the inception of this narrative and he has done so above and beyond the call with almost relentless degradation, numerous examples of sadistic physical cruelty and disenchantment as he learns all of his deeply held convictions are predicated upon lies. I have been onboard for this series since issue #1 and anyone who is a frequent reader of JMS knows that he is a master storyteller and that is certainly evident in Sidekick. From the opening pages of this narrative Staczynski begins to build not only the characters but the world in which this story unfolds; every detail is strategically revealed along the way, we meet supporting cast, we discover more about the inter-personal relationships through meticulous character development and interactions. This is just plain good storytelling and top-notch writing. The dialogue is not bogged down with super hero jargon although the narrative is full of the tropes that draw us to these types of fantastic tales; the characters speak in a very realistic and believable manner. JMS goes to extreme lengths, as he always does, to populate the world within his narrative with fully actualized characters, people we can relate to in spite of the fact they can fly or lift a truck. That is the true test of a good super hero story, is it believable in spite of being unbelievable? It’s the enigmatic riddle at the core of all the stories of men and women who can fly or are from other worlds or any number of other wildly imaginative attributes that amaze and captivate us. We love to be able to believe the unbelievable; it makes us feel young and allows us to remain childlike at heart in a state of innocent wonder.
This issue of Sidekick is where lots of plot elements begin to converge and the threads of previous issues start to reveal the bigger picture for Flyboy. The main epiphany being that reports of The Red Cowl’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. This information comes via one of The Red Cowls former foes, Julia Moonglow, who it appears, has been influencing Flyboys perception for some time now. So much so in fact that by the end of this issue Flyboy is at his breaking point as he ponders the unbearable degree of betrayal he has suffered at the hands of his trusted friend and teacher.
Tom Mandrake always delivers superb visuals; from his early work on back up stories in Sgt. Rock to co-creating The Black Mask with Doug Moench in Batman to his brief run as inker on New Mutants all the way up to his more recent work on Victorian Undead and licensed properties like the X-Files and 30 Days of Night, Mandrake is a consummate professional. Sidekick is Mandrake’s return to the super hero archetype, his vast experience with the genre adds a traditional sensibility to the book that works extremely well with Straczynski’s narrative.
What JMS gives us in Sidekick is a super hero story for a jaded world. However I can’t help but remain hopeful that Flyboy will be vindicated for his cockeyed optimism, wrongly placed though it may be. I recommend this series for anyone who enjoyed Mark Waid’s Incorruptible, Kingdom Come, Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Grant Morrison’s genius run on Batman. I’m not placing it in the same class as these very important and influential works as yet but only time will tell. Until than however I do suggest you start picking it up if you haven’t been. Sidekick is one of those stories that make you root for the good guy in the face of insurmountable odds. (4/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.