With “Sidekick” #4, J. Michael Straczynski and Tom Mandrake take former sidekick Flyboy to a new low point, the true definition of scraping bottom. But at the same time, it’s also hard to keep from feeling like the old chestnut of, “The only way is up” is just around the corner.
“Sidekick” #4 is a well-written but unsettling comic. Despite the brief tease for part of “Sidekick” #3 that things would improve for Flyboy, this is a series where readers have watched Flyboy lose his proverbial grip on anything good in his life, and slide closer towards oblivion with every page. With this issue, when Flyboy finally decides it’s time to end his life, it’s not a moment that has come out of the blue. He’s lost everything: his career, his self-respect, his allies, his hope for a life in the future. It’s a nasty, dark, soul-crushing moment. Straczynski has carefully moved both Flyboy and us as readers to that moment, and I appreciate the skill in which it takes to get us there. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that this is a deeply unpleasant comic to read.
On the one hand, I appreciate that Straczynski didn’t stretch out the timeline of getting to this moment. If the plunge had happened over the course of a year instead of just four issues, it would have been a little too drawn out, and the speed in which “Sidekick” has moved to be refreshing. (I was relieved to see the obvious reveal at the end of “Sidekick” #1 happen so early, for example.) But at the same time, because the plunge happens in just a few short issues, it’s a ride that could be described as emotionally pummeling. Flyboy just never gets a break in these four issues, and as a result, neither does the reader. Sooner or later, something good needs to happen, because otherwise I’m not sure readers will continue to stick around. Sooner or later, the beat down has to end because otherwise it’s too unpleasant to keep watching.
I am pleased, though, with Mandrake’s art in this issue, and the series as a whole. I’ve been a fan of his ever since he subbed in for Jan Duursema on the original “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” from DC Comics, and that feeling was cemented with his legendary run on “The Spectre.” He’s still a top-notch artist, one who is able to mix the incredibly realistic with the fantastical. I love the way that he’s able to take something as simple as flying and make it a dizzying, visual triumph; Flyboy hovering above the city with the buildings tilting away due to perspective, and the Canada geese just below looks great. It’s not the typical “this is someone flying” pose that you get, and somehow it makes it that much more impressive and enviable; it shifts from an idealized image to one that feels quite real. He’s always been good with layouts too, knowing when to shift the panel borders from crisp and clean to ragged and tilted, for instance. And when Flyboy finally decides it’s time to make an end of everything… well, it wouldn’t have been half as disturbing if it wasn’t for the trickles of sweat running down his face, or the haunted desperation in his eye on the last panel.
The final page is the first hint that we’re going to start seeing things turn around, that it’s the initial step forward for “Sidekick.” I hope that’s the case. This is well-crafted material, but that doesn’t mean it’s something that keeps you eager to see just how much nastier the book can get. Let’s get a taste of something good next issue, please.