J. Michael Straczynski launches another book in the Joe’s Comics line, although it is one that might just live up to its title.
The deconstruction of the superhero genre in the pages of comic books continues unabated, with several titles this year already posing the question of ‘what happens when the thrill is gone?’ Following the obvious legacy of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, we’ve already seen one possible outcome in Joe Casey’s explicitly erotic Sex. On a more extreme level, there’s the continuation of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, now in its third volume. With Sidekick, J. Michael Straczynski wants to break down any delusions we might be having about ever teaming up with a hero as their boy or girl wonder. So noted.
For several years, the flying and almost invulnerable Barry Chase was Flyboy, the sidekick to the city’s greatest champion, Red Cowl. However, when his partner in anti-crime is killed by an unknown assassin’s bullet, Flyboy finds himself alone for the first time. Years go by and he is unable to get out from under the shadow of his mentor, visiting prostitutes and staging crimes just so he can claim the credit for the recovery of stolen goods. Barry is down on his luck, and it’s a fact that Straczynski can’t help but repeatedly remind us of throughout this debut issue.
Straczynski is undoubtedly still one of the strongest builders of comic book narratives in the business, as evidenced by his superb Ten Grand that also debuted this year. However, Sidekick reads like an unfinished idea, a setup that barely had enough material to cover a first issue, let alone an entire series. While the opening pages, featuring Flyboy’s glory days, have a retro charm and are a lot of fun to read, the rest is a disjointed montage of misery, merely biding some time until JMS can drop in his “twist” ending. Indeed, even this is telegraphed from so early in the issue that it might just be the glimmer of hope that there is more to this new series than meets the eye.
Tom Mandrake doesn’t do the story any favours either, and his uneven layouts only serve to confuse Straczynski’s already choppy script. Perhaps deliberately, but there is nothing about Flyboy’s design that inspires a connection, and most panels are simply two-handers filled with talking heads and cluttered with speech bubbles. Perhaps a notable exception is when Barry takes out his aggression in a warehouse, the superhero equivalent of Footloose.
Straczynski is known for playing the long game, often taking years for arcs to fully play out. Yet like the former hero it depicts, Sidekick is fairly easy to dispose of once the final page is turned. If you are considering a career in costumed crime fighting, and a hero has already made you an offer, this might help you to think again. Sidekick does little to encourage a return engagement next month, failing to give us a reason to connect with the character or the world he inhabits.
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