Released September 11th 2013
Image comics have never been afraid of deconstructing the super hero; of taking the tropes we know so well and ask what really would happen if they happened in the real world? With Sidekick they ask the question, “what would happen to Robin if Batman died?”
Previously on Sidekick: The Red Cowl is dead, his sidekick, Flyboy, is left alone and penniless (bankrolling a techy superhero will drain even a billionaire's fortune it seems) in a world that doesn't respect him as a crime-fighter in his own right. Desperate for recognition he even stages a robbery so that he can save the day. And it looks like things are going to get worse.
As this issue opens things are, in fact, worse. Flyboy sits alone lamenting his super metabolism and how it makes it hard to get drunk like a regular guy all while trying to forget his fallen mentor. Naturally this is the moment that the Red Cowl's love interest decides to tell our depressed sidekick that she has some sort of psychic connection to our dead hero and that he may be still alive in some alternate time-line.
Did you just roll your eyes at that? I did too, yes he's going to be alive in an alternate time-line; that's how science fiction has told us multi-universes works since forever... but anyway, lets get back to the plot.
Or rather Plots as there really is rather a lot going on here. You have the hunt for The Red Cowl's assassin, the search for an alternate Red Cowl who doesn't have an exploded head, The desperate attempts to return to the superhero game (resorting to crowd-funding and sidekick auditions) and all important flashbacks to happier crime-fighting days when his mentor was still alive. And through all this you have the continued and tragic descent into depression and depravity. Those flashbacks, by the way are the only things that lighten things up this piece but even they have a golly-gosh-Batman cynicism smeared over them that stops them lifting the mood completely.
And that's a criticism I can't help but hold against the core concept of this story; my own comic reading history and the feeling that perhaps they should be a little more respectful to the source of their inspiration. At one point a character quite sincerely expresses that everyone just assumed there was something sexual between the caped hero and his young sidekick and this just felt like one deconstruction too far. Yes it was consistent with the world that's been created here and yes I picked an odd thing to be offended by in a sea of swearing and eviscerated bodies, but it just made me realise that we have actually seen Robin when Batman died and he did just fine thank-you-very much. I just wish they had a little more affection for the genre they're making fun of.
And yet I can't say that's a bad thing. This is to Batman what A Song of Fire and Ice is to Lord of the Rings. Yes I was offended but this is an offensive book. Maybe there is room for a narative that shines a light on the dark corners of DC that were once covered over by the comic book code. And it is a worthy story that I want to see through a little longer.
The last few pages, where our hero attracts the attention of a vampiric super villain, suggest that there's more to be told here than simply how many rock bottoms you can break through when you're mostly impervious to rocks.
The artwork is actually very good for the most part. It feels much like a pre-New 52 DC with a little less polish. Artist Tom Mandrake does, in fact, have a fair few Batman and Superman titles under his belt and that experience shows here, just without the same amount of time or people thrown at it. The comic never suffers from lacking that coat of gloss though, and if anything it helps with the sense of bleak desperation presented on almost every page; here it works that the shadows are comprised of sharp jagged penstrokes and characters who are a little rough around the edge look a little rough around their edges.
As a whole I can't say that this book is a pleasure to read; it's dark, depressing and filled with people I don't like and situations that seem disrespectful to comics I love. I thoroughly recommend you pick this up.
Because that's the thing; the people aren't always likeable but they are real, and yes it's uncomfortable but so is life and when the shit hits the fan you're going to end up with a room full of aerated shit... and I want to see where it goes.
All things considered I give this book four Winnebagos in the desert cooking Meth while Malcolm's Dad stands around in his underpants with cancer.