fantasy and science fiction book reviews  SIDEKICK by J. Michael Straczynski SIDEKICK by J. Michael Straczynski

For a few weeks I’ve been introducing you to some excellent new comics that are just beginning. Last week I talked about TEN GRAND by JMS (J. Michael Straczynski) and this week I’ll talk about his new comic SIDEKICK. There are four issues of TEN GRAND out so far, but only one issue of SIDEKICK; therefore, though I can say for sure that I’m completely sold on TEN GRAND, I’m less sure about SIDEKICK. However, issue #1 is fairly amusing. Do not buy it for your young kids, though. Like TEN GRAND, it is for older readers. SIDEKICK is making fun of a long history of comics aimed at kids.

JMS is not ambivalent in his feelings about sidekicks in comics. As he says in “Joe’s Counter,” “I’ll be honest with you: as a kid reading comic books, I hated sidekicks. Robin, Speedy, Bucky, Kid Flash, Rick Jones… they pissed me off. It’s not just that they were an obvious ploy to bring in young readers, it’s also that at the age of thirteen I figured there was still time for me to grow up to be Batman or Green Arrow or someone like that. But the sidekicks were my own age and already doing stuff that I knew I could never do. Spandex-clad assassins of hope, every damned one of them.” In other words, if you hate sidekicks, this comic is for you.

Sidekick by J. Michael StraczynskiThe comic starts out on the best day of Barry’s life: As “Flyboy,” the sidekick to Red Cowl, we see him daringly risk him life to “save the day,” as Red Cowl puts in an interview. The first 3 1/2 pages are full of cheesy superhero images and clichéd dialogue. But it perfectly sets up the shift in the middle of page four. We see in one panel a young, smiling Flyboy during this interview in his past, and then in the next panel, we are shown an older, weathered and out-of-shape Flyboy minus a mask but plus whiskers and a cigarette.

From this point on, it’s all downhill for Flyboy: Red Cowl is mysteriously assassinated, and Flyboy can’t catch the killer. The lawyer for the late Mr. Winchester — Red Cowl — reveals that he’s left nothing for his sidekick since all his money paid for expensive crime-fighting gadgets and got lost in bad investments. Even the house has to be sold to pay debts. Flyboy is totally alone and is considered a laughing stock everywhere. His own hometown doesn’t consider him a hero, and no other heroes anywhere else will let him be a sidekick because he’s too old.

Things look pretty grim for Barry, but apparently it can and will get worse. JMS promises: “every month for the next twelve issues we are going to drive Flyboy deeper into madness and mayhem, darkness and depravity. We’re going to do to him all the things mainstream comics writers stuck with sidekicks are told never to do to them. It’s going to be wonderful. Also deeply disturbed. And we’re totally okay with that.” Should be fun!

This first issue is very funny. But your sense of humor has to run in a particular direction, the type of direction about which some people will say, “THAT’S in poor taste!” Well, the comic is in poor taste. I just happen to find it amusing. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve quoted JMS extensively in “Joe’s Counter.” I think his voice and sense of humor in “Joe’s Counter” are representative of his voice and sense of humor in his comics.

The second reason I quoted extensively from “Joe’s Counter” is to point out one of my favorite parts of reading comics on a monthly basis instead of waiting for the trade. It’s not just that “Joe’s Counter” won’t be in the trade; it’s that as a reader it’s fun to see what the writer is thinking about while he’s creating his art. I like to feel a connection with a writer, and I feel it most when I’m joining the community of readers in this way. If you start reading monthly comics like this, you’ll understand why people write fan letters: It’s because they know that the story is happening right now for the author and his readers. It’s not something that happened years ago.

Sidekick by J. Michael Straczynski

This ability to participate, to respond, is like being able to write to Dickens — or another serialized English author — while he wrote and published a serialized novel. Authors were known to change what they wrote based on reader reaction. Even Doyle, who killed off his detective because he got sick of writing Sherlock Holmes stories, was forced to bring his hero back to life because of his readers. Batman isn’t the only great detective to die and come back to life!
If I were to pick between the two titles, my vote would go to TEN GRAND, but other than both of them being fairly bleak, these are two very different comics. I just prefer noir comics to parodies of superhero comics. For some reason, I love a well-done superhero comic better than I do a parody (although there are a ton of great ones out there!).

These are only the first two recent titles out by Joe’s Comics. In the next few months, I’ll be reviewing the other titles slated for release: PROTECTOR’S INC. and ALONE. 2014 projects include DREAM POLICE, and the one I’m most excited about — BOOK OF LOST SOULS — a return to a previous JMS title that I reviewed a few months ago. As I’ve said in the last two columns, now is an excellent time for those new to comics because there are so many new titles just starting. Pick up your #1s today!


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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