In his notes at the back of issue #1 of Sidekick, J. Michael Straczynski writes that, “…for the next twelve issues we are going to drive Flyboy deeper into madness and mayhem, darkness and depravity… It’s going to be wonderful. Also deeply disturbed. And we’re totally okay with that.”
That probably sums up this first issue better than most reviews can. And, if the thought of that type of story appeals to you, you’re probably going to love this comic. Straczynski is one of the medium’s best writers, and he knows how to handle characters. He clearly likes to deal with dark subject matters – his current Ten Grand comic is no Silver Age style fun fest, and yet there’s a profound difference in the tone and, more importantly, the reason for the darkness between that title and this one.
Sidekick is about Flyboy, the aging former sidekick of Red Cowl, Sol City’s greatest hero ever (who is out of the picture shortly after the story begins). Straczynski does a great job developing his characters in the first few pages of Sidekick, so we start to have a pretty clear sense of both Red Cowl and Flyboy, and how they view life. Flyboy’s world comes crashing down after he’s out on his own, and that’s when things start to get dark really quickly.
I’m fine with dark subject matter, but in this case, for this first issue at least, it just seems a little forced. Stating as a goal for the book that you’re going to explore madness, mayhem, darkness, and depravity lets the reader know that Flyboy doesn’t really have a chance to be “the good guy.” Once Red Cowl is out of the picture, the reader knows that Flyboy is going to end up being Sol City’s equivalent of the former child star who ends up turning to drugs or worse. Those types of stories are all too real in our world, and that background starts to make some of the events in Sidekick feel a little too familiar. There’s just not a lot of new ground here.
This isn’t to say that the story isn’t gripping – again, Straczynski is right on point with his character development, and he does throw us a curve-ball or two during the course of the story to help keep things interesting. He also does his job in getting me wanting to read the next issue by utilizing the famous device of the cliff-hanger ending that I honestly did not see coming. But I’m left to wonder – after that gets resolved, are we just going to go back to seeing him invent ways to illustrate how badly off Flyboy is without his former mentor? Twelve issues reading about Flyboy feeling sorry for himself and engaging in illegal and unsavory behavior doesn’t really seem like a fun read.
In terms of the art, Tom Mandrake does some decent work here, but he also makes some questionable choices. Certain scenes, especially at the beginning of the book when combined with the bright coloring scheme, are reminiscent of old-school Silver Age comics, and that was clearly done on purpose to illustrate “the good old days” before everything goes to pot. However, as Flyboy descends deeper into depression, the art also seems to sink a little bit. Layouts become a bit cluttered, some of the perspective on the character work just seems a bit off, stretching characters into unrealistic proportions, and then faces start to lose their individuality. I like Mandrake’s art usually, so this was a bit of a surprise as I got further into reading this issue.
There are some interesting ideas in Sidekick. The exploration of what happens to a Sidekick once his mentor is no longer in the picture is an interesting one, and Straczynski is such a strong writer that in his hands this could turn into something great. Unfortunately, for me, this first issue misses the mark, so I’ll eagerly be awaiting how things turn out next month to see if some of my problems with the book are addressed.