The following article was written last week and is reprinted today, along with the publication of the comic.
Sometimes I dream of revolution, a bloody coup d'etat by the second rank–troupes of actors slaughtered by their understudies, magicians sawn in half by indefatigably smiling glamour girls, cricket teams wiped out by marauding bands of twelfth men–I dream of champions chopped down by rabbit-punching sparring partners while eternal bridesmaids turn and rape the bridegrooms over the sausage rolls and parliamentary private secretaries plant bombs in the Minister's Humber–comedians die on provincial stages, robbed of their feeds by mutely triumphant stooges–and–march–an army of assistants and deputies, the seconds-in-command, the runners-up, the right-hand men–storming the palace gates wherein the second son has already mounted the throne having committed regicide with a croquet-mallet–stand-ins up the world stand up!
– Moon, The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard.
As a teenager, I appeared in a school production of The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard, a parody of Agatha Christie's still running play, The Mousetrap. I had not seen, The Mousetrap, it didn't matter, the idea of the desolate house murder had been well established, this play broke down the barriers of reality, having two characters as critics watching the play, Muppet style. My character, Moon, was only there because the paper's main critic was unavailable. His mournful pleas have stayed with me, carved into that part of the brain that when you are fifteen retain everything. There, next to quadratic equations and early clumsy fumblings are the words above.
Sidekick is a new comic book by JMS and Tom Mandrake out next week about a second string, Flyboy, who has lost the first string. This is a Robin whose Batman has died, and he's not coping.
This kind of territory was most successfully explored by Rick Veitch's Bratpack, one of the more criminally ignored superhero deconstruction stories of the eighties. As with that comic, Sidekick looks at the more seedy side of the abandoned sidekick – sexually, financially and morally corrupt, desperate for the power and fame that came so easily to the alpha superhero, whose cape has left a long shadow, even a potential alliance with the hero's own nemesis.
Bratpack was all about the satire though, broad brush strokes that effectively painted a critique of mainstream corporate comics to their core. Sidekick instead seems determined to tell a dramatic story amongst the capes, and explores a character's loneliness and ongoing decline in the modern world, and the desperate acts that the once-famous can turn to in order to regain a semblance of public adoration, that once they used to take for granted. There's an instant clash of visual thematic styles, expertly portrayed by Tom Mandrak, silver age optimism that cuts to seedy back of alley blowjobs, we – and he – are constantly reminded of what he once had and wants again. Hence celebrity reality TV and the scraping of the bottom of the Z-list barrel that fills our prime time screens.
Though that's not even available for our Flyboy, he's resorted to social network funding without much success. And here is far more using the language of the super hero. The different ages abound, you'll see one scene, the location and cast of which seems taken straight out of Watchmen, but to a very different end, and another which seems very reminiscent of Gaiman Miracleman.
This is a destroyed man and we see ever aspect of his pathetic fumbings to get back what he once had. However, despite some close brushes, it doesn't step over the satire line like the aforementioned Bratpack, or even Marshal Law which also explored this territory. It stays an actual, certified superhero story, just one telling a different tale to the usual. And the only people really being criticised are us, the public, and the pressure and expectation we bring to the stars that we both adore, and then despise.
Sidekick is published next Wednesday from Image Comics for $2.99