Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Tom Mandrake
In its opening page, Sidekick #1 revels in the Silver Age of Comics where teen sidekicks saved the day, and villains used harmless gimmicks and didn’t kill anyone. But like any good Image book, it turns these tropes on their collective heads and plunges its character into a darker and grittier reality. Instead of relying on over the top violence and character deaths, J. Michael Straczynski plays with the concept of what a “sidekick” against a world that seems realistic, but actually isn’t. The characters might be lacking in depth, but Straczynski does an excellent job creating a wholly new superhero universe that is a combination of Adam West’s Batman TV show, Watchmen, and 21st century United States. The art team of Tom Mandrake and HiFi bring the world and characters to life with a combination of gritty lines and layouts with beautiful digital colors.
At its core, Sidekick #1 is a dark, “realist” superhero tale in the tradition of Watchmen, Kick-Ass, or more recently Jupiter’s Legacy. However, instead of trying to change the genre, it tries to show what really happens to teen sidekicks when they get older. The issue also is pretty balanced in its portrayal of Barry Chase aka Flyboy, who is the sidekick to Sol City’s main hero Red Cowl. He solicits oral sex from prostitutes in alleys and lives in a run-down apartment, but he actually saved Sol City from a powerful supervillain once. Even when the news media or people on the street make fun of Flyboy, they remember and mention that moment. Straczynski makes life very hard for Flyboy and uses dark humor to draw attention to his vulnerabilities and both a hero and a man. But like the citizens of Sol City, he understands the potential that this character has and gives Flyboy several scenes where he shows his potential as a hero.
Flyboy gets into some crazy situations and has a surface motivation, but by the end of the issue, the reader still doesn’t know what makes this character tick. Why did he become a sidekick in the first place? What is his real relationship with his mentor, The Red Cowl? Bad things seem to happen to him for the sake of being bad. Telling too much about Flyboy and and his supporting cast would make the series less compelling, but it would be nice to know a little about who they are as character. Straczynski does use the conceit of a superhero murder mystery, like Watchmen or Identity Crisis, in Sidekick #1 so answers to these questions will probably be forthcoming. Even though the characters aren’t that well-developed, Sol City is a well-constructed pastiche of a comic book city. There are subtle homages to everything from Sin City to KickStarter. However, the world wouldn’t be as fascinating without the art of Tom Mandrake and HiFi.
If there is one word to describe Tom Mandrake’s art, it would be: messy. His pencils are the complete opposite of the clean, crisp lines seen in the majority of superhero comics. However, his art is a perfect metaphor for Flyboy’s life, and his panel composition shows this too. After Flyboy has a complete breakdown, the panels of Flyboy destroying an old warehouse bleed into one frenetic splash page. The art is raw, dirty, and Hi-Fi complements the pencils and ink perfectly with splotchy colors. But during the more “hopeful” scenes, Mandrake uses rectangle panels and draws a Flyboy that wouldn’t be out of place in a Silver Age Superboy comic. In these pages, Hi-Fi utilizes warm colors to highlight the sun and moon motif that recurs throughout the book.
Sidekick #1 isn’t a perfect or groundbreaking comic by any means, but Straczynski, Mandrake, and HiFi show that there is still life to be wrung out of dark supehero stories. Flyboy’s trainwreck of a life keeps the book interesting, and there are a few plot twists and a mystery element which act as hooks for the next issue. The characters might be a little on the one dimensional side, but the worldbuilding, art, and sheer insanity of Flyboy’s life make Sidekick #1 a solid superhero comic.