Red Cowl has been assassinated in a gruesome scene resembling the murder of JFK, leaving Sol City heartbroken, but none more than his former sidekick. This event however is only the first piece of a complex puzzle comprised of deceit, greed, and depravity. There are suspicious circumstances that surround the death of the former champion, as well as many players in this game who are not ready to let it go.
The story focuses on Barry “Flyboy” Chase, formerly Red Cowl’s sidekick, who managed to do one thing in his life that was awesome, and then started down a twisted spiral of sucking for the rest of time. No, really, there is a lot of evidence to support this. I’m not just picking on him, and just in case the audience isn’t sold on disliking Barry, the next thing he does is blackmail a prostitute into blowing him. There are a few less than savory acts to show how smarmy Barry is, but my favorite scene has to be where he fakes a robbery to look like the responsible party for some legit superhero work, but the cops are too smart for it—talk about an awkward moment. Now that the readers know Flyboy is a pathetic human being, we can get started…
“Don’t do anything stupid, okay, Barry?”
Barry does honestly have a really cool origin, where his parents are killed by a villain known as The Surgeon, and we see that his ability to fly is natural and not augmented by technology. The cool moment is quickly tarnished though by someone who was supposed to be an ally, insinuates that he was Red Cowl’s homosexual toy—think Robin to Batman in all of the slash fiction. The good thing is, the worse it gets for him, the more entertaining it’ll be for the audience. Also, I want to be somewhat spoiler free, but this is a comic where readers shouldn’t take anything at face value, and although many things will go unanswered, some seemingly throw away moments come back in a big way.
The series is twelve issues long and the first half follows what I have said above. There is a shift in the story though; one an attentive reader will see coming. Barry Chase is not a relatable protagonist, and that will be evident when he starts to change and go down a much darker path, guided mostly by a mysterious woman from the shadows who needs to manipulate Barry for the greater good. The upside is that these changes make him a bit less of a loser, and he’s about to prove that. This leads up to an interesting ending. The final battle is a little short, but I love the payoff, and the book doesn’t end abruptly, taking a bit of time to wrap up a couple of big things. There are a few possible loopholes here with logic, and though I love how twisted parts are, it makes me question the character motivations from earlier.
Much like Flyboy tried to fill some big shoes when Red Cowl died, this book had a lot to live up to with how cool the concept and setup hooked me. The opening issue was the best overall, with the first trade of six issues being better than the back half, but I enjoyed the series as a whole for sure. The other comic that sticks out is A Moment of Silence (#9). It has no character dialogue at all and tackles a small point of the overall plot, but tries to add more characterization to it, while doing some neat things visually. There are a few missed opportunities here I am afraid, as other sections feel breezed through. This brings me to the art by Tom Mandrake. The pages are dark, bold lines, and I love the colors done by HiFi, using typical superhero comic styled figures as well as city backdrops. Nudity occurs often in the book, obscured by shadow, hiding the naughty bits. These elements come together in a certain mood and seems thrive on certain pages, while others are plain. The only problem I had with it was that certain faces started to blend together and were hard to tell apart, while some expressions, like those of The Surgeon, are just impressive.
This is not a normal superhero comic, not a happy or positive one—depressing really. There are some dark and dreary moments for sure, but the themes of manipulation, dependency, and revenge keep the tone uneasy. I thought the ending might adjust this a bit, but that was not to be. There are no likeable characters, even if there are a few cool ones, and I did really enjoy how they handle superhero origins here, with a lot of ideas I have been thinking about for years popping up. There is a dark sense of humor of course—especially when the dialogue really comes together in the second volume—but much of it is morbid and a little on the nose. My favorite is the final stage in finding Red Cowl, which had me laughing and then almost feeling bad about it.
Needless to say, this is a comic for readers who like the darker comedy side of the independent books. I couldn’t recommend this for someone who isn’t into that style or who was not well versed in the genre this book twists. I do love J. Michael Straczynski’s work though, and if anyone reads Sidekick and likes it, he has plenty of other stuff out there and more from his Joe’s Comics line.