In Review: Sidekick #12

You'll never snicker while saying the word "sidekick" after reading this. Recommended.

The covers: The A cover by Tom Mandrake and Hi-Fi is the closest this series has come to a romantic cover. Julia and Barry are holding hands and walking off into the sunset. Behind them they leave a heart made in the dirt to represent their love. And they leave several corpses in the foreground, all the unfortunate witnesses to this deadly couple’s relationship. One might only focus on the couple before the sun, were it not for the horrific imagery in the front colored a rotten green. A terrific cover. The B cover is by Ben Templesmith, which shows a hunched over Barry holding a baton in each hand. He’s ripped and he looks really pissed. Glass has shattered behind, and is raining down about him, revealing a massive skull following him, because death always follows this sidekick. Another excellent cover from an excellent artist. Overall grades: A A+ and B A

The story: This final chapter in the life and rebirth of Barry Chase opens with him sitting underneath a tree with Julia Moonglow, telling her of his past. He tells her of witnessing the Surgeon cutting into his parents. “Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and heard that night. The Surgeon had sliced their vocal chords so they couldn’t cry for help. But that didn’t stop them from trying.” The butchery seemed to go on and on. His hero the Red Cowl never appeared in time — his parents were slaughtered. After Barry sees his parents’ bodies, the Cowl arrives to save him from a similar fate. The villain, however, has a jet pack and flies off, leaving the Cowl and grieving Barry behind. But Barry can fly and realizing the Surgeon could be apprehended and reveal how his parents were caught, lead there by the seemingly innocent child, he zooms up to the villain and, using two of the menace’s knives, drives them into the back of his neck while they’re airborne. The Red Cowl sees what’s transpires and adopts the boy, paving the way for Barry to be his sidekick and change his future. Writer J. Michael Straczynski shows that Barry wasn’t the naive boy he’s appeared to be in his early life, and in the process changes how the reader should think of him. Barry’s true epiphany occurs on Page 15, only to be completely undone at the top of 16. What Barry goes on to do for the rest of the issue is change his world, but not in the way one would expect. That’s exactly what this series has been from the beginning, unexpected. Straczynski has moved readers’ sympathies to and from Barry constantly, and it’s been a rollercoaster, but his issue cements where he is with his world, and he does so in the biggest possible way on the final page. How else could this have ended? Overall grade: A+ 

The art: Tom Mandrake is the best possible artist for this tale. He can create an absolutely believable environment with characters talking, then creep in some of the most ghastly images shown in a book, and combine them with elements found in superhero comics to create one of the most realistic, frightening, super-powered books created. The first page opens under a tree, in what could almost be considered a romantic setting, but it quickly becomes horrific as Barry sees his parents murdered. The violence may be shown in shadow, but that fifth panel is terrifying when combined with the text. The second page has the horror turning the neat ninety degree angles of the panels to sloppy and misshapen to match the terror playing out before Barry. His parents’ corpses are displayed, with their entrails splayed out, for all to see, before the Red Cowl’s arrival at the top of Page 3. This panel looks as though it would fit in any superhero book, but the close-up of the Surgeon in the second panel, with a smile that would stop the Joker dead in his tracks, and a drop of blood that hints at the carnage that’s been seen, make this not the traditional hero caper. Barry’s killing of this character is as terrible as the villain’s killing of his parents, if not more so because of his age. The silent stares that Mandrake repeatedly shows Barry giving are monstrous: any reader will realize the kid’s not normal. The last two pages have so much love and terrible vengeance, it’s impossible to think that they fit together so seamlessly, but they do. And that final panel —Wow! Overall grade: A+

The colors: Continuing to be the gold standard of the comic book industry is Hi-Fi. They use a sensational dark violet that tops the page, and justifying the characters’ faces being shaded. It becomes lighter as the reader’s eyes move down the panel and into the next, where the same violet is used to shade the close-up horror in Barry’s eyes. The bottom of the page has some great blended blues and greys to give depth to the imagery. The arrival of the Red Cowl is in bright superhero primary colors, which evoke the classic superhero feel for the reader. Page 6 is a full page splash where one’s eyes cannot help but follow the red streak from the Surgeon’s neck to the blades Barry is using. My favorite pages of the book are those in the present when Julia and Barry are shown against that gorgeous violet background. This is a terrific color to create a night setting, but not eclipse the artwork. It additionally lulls the reader into feeling calm, which better serves the story’s final page. It doesn’t get better than this. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Troy Peteri has created dialogue, screams, yells, whispers, sounds, computer text, signage, and the concluding “The End” for this series. Page 4 has Peteri showing the most variety in his work with dialogue, a yell, laughter, and a sound, though my favorite work by him on this issue is on 6 with Barry’s vengeful yells. Very nicely done. Overall grade: A+

The final line: You’ll never snicker while saying the word “sidekick” after reading this. Super powers and hero worship come too soon, resulting in readers screaming louder than the characters on the page. A wonderfully sick and twisted peek behind the scenes of superheroes. Recommended. Overall grade: A+ 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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