Tuesday, 14 June 2016


'After all, they're just sidekicks.' Life changes for Flyboy when the Red Cowl is killed during a victory parade. Once the sidekick to a super-hero, Barry Chase now finds himself unable to transition to hero himself, and his life descends into a pattern of loss he can't overcome with 'dreamstarter', or with a change of identity and city. Sidekick is an audacious twist in the kind of meta-comics we've seen since Watchmen, in which writers untangle and examine the conventions of the superhero comic and use their innate contradictions as the basis for their stories.

The point of sidekicks was always pretty obvious in comic books: to attract the even younger audience and provide a fantasy outlet for them. Over the decades we saw some revision taking place, most notably first in 1971 when in Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' famous story, 'Snowbirds Don't Fly' the Green Arrow discovers his sidekick Speedy is a junkie. Then we saw iterations of the Batman/Robin relationship. In real life, millionaires and wards are not all that common, and in real life youngsters grow up. And in this sense, J. Michael Straczynski's script translates second-banana stories from movies or comedy or music into the super-hero world, and does it with panache.

Flyboy's decline is almost shocking. His attempts at reinvention are first pathetic (robbing a jewellery store in order to solve the crime) and then almost doomed to hubristic failure. And finally, in the shock revelation that turns the story around, his final growth into a full-fledged 'adult' super-hero takes the twisted shape that's been molded through the story. It's a neat piece of writing, not least for the fact that it ends on a 'to be continued' which makes perfect sense.

It's complemented well by Tom Mandrake's art, which tries to combine some of the 'innocence' of golden age styles with the steroid dynamism of the modern era. Mandrake is best on expressing bursts of emotion, often in extreme close up, Chase/Flyboy's despair, self-pity, anger, grief, in essence a full run of adolescent reactions to life, jump off the page, and finally become something more. It's as dynamic internally as in the external action, and that's rare.

Sidekick, written by J. Michael Straczynski art by Tom Mandrake
Image Comics $12.99 ISBN 9781607068617

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