Paul Jenkins’ Sidekick
Written by Paul Jenkins; Illustrated by Chris Moreno
I don’t usually like superhero parody a whole lot. It’s an overdone subgenre and most of the parodies I’ve read just repeat the same tired jokes endlessly. I’d list a couple of examples for you, but honestly it makes my head hurt to think about. I actually am pretty fond of superhero comics and dwelling on their worst qualities isn’t something I enjoy. If I find a particular aspect of superhero comics unappealing or ridiculous, I’ll just quit reading comics that have that trait. I certainly don’t want to read a parody comic that highlights it and makes it the center of focus.
Sidekick isn’t that kind of parody. I actually had to think about the word “parody” for a bit to decide if it even applies to Sidekick, but I think it does. Certainly there are some fun, silly superhero comics that get inappropriately labeled as parody, but they’re more celebrating the genre than making fun of it. It’s the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at him. Let me repeat that it’s certainly valid to laugh at superhero comics; I’d just prefer that comics that do that be, you know, actually funny. And that’s what separates Sidekick from the usual parody.
It occasionally picks some old tropes to chuckle over – and it’s on those occasions that it fails – but mostly it finds new ways of telling the jokes. It’s also got a bona fide, interesting story to tell, which makes a world of difference.
Eddie Edison is the secret identity for Superior Boy, sidekick to the Superman-like Mister Excellent. Eddie tells us up front that he’s not a nice guy. He’s surly, he’s foul-mouthed, he hates his girlfriend, he’s boinking Mister Excellent’s wife, and he’s greedy as hell. Granted, he’s having trouble making ends meet as a pizza-delivery boy by day/superhero sidekick by night. And, granted, Mister Excellent is cheating him out of royalties on all Superior Boy licensing and merchandise. But there are honest ways of resolving those situations. Eddie isn’t interested in them.
Instead, Eddie decides to disguise himself and moonlight as sidekicks to Metroville City’s other heroes: Night Judge, Brother Commando, and Justice Princess. Which I guess isn’t morally wrong except that that it involves a lot of lying and sneaking around. Brother Commando is a Black militant, so Eddie puts on the blackface and becomes Bling. Justice Princess is a saccharine version of Wonder Woman so Eddie dresses in drag and becomes Pony. And Night Judge is a Batman analogue, so Eddie becomes the Stoat and does his best to fend off his mentor’s sexual advances.
Meanwhile, an old (in more ways than one) villain named Scurrilous has returned to Metroville City and all the heroes are either too stupid, too self-involved, or both to care. The only person trying to do anything about it is the elderly Hobo who operates from his Hobo Headquarters (alternately a hidden junkyard lair and a secret cardboard box) and drives a shopping cart he calls the Hobomobile. When he fails to get the other heroes’ assistance, he turns to Eddie, but Eddie’s also been approached by Scurrilous who’s looking for a villainous protégé of his own. And Scurrilous pays very, very well.
Obviously, I liked Hobo a lot. Scurrilous is cool too with his penchant for creating arbitrarily gimmicky devices like the Escape Bear and the Tragic 8-Ball. He also has a brick fetish that’s more just odd than funny, but when Jenkins is scattering as many jokes as he does in Sidekick, they aren’t all going to be winners. He overplays Night Judge’s homosexuality for instance.
But mostly, Sidekick is an interesting superhero story with some real stakes (not only for Metroville City, but for Eddie as a person) that just so happens to also be really, really funny. Chris Moreno (whose work I absolutely loved in the also hilarious Monkey in a Wagon vs. Lemur on a Big Wheel) totally sells the book. It wouldn’t have worked without him. Mister Excellent looks powerful, but dumb. Justice Princess is beautiful, but vacant. Eddie looks like a self-absorbed slacker and Excellent’s wife is wickedly seductive. Night Judge looks dangerous in his crime-fighting gear, but pitifully loopy in his secret identity. Eddie’s girlfriend is sort of hot, but in a skanky, paradoxically unattractive way. Jenkins demonstrates all these characteristics through the plot and dialogue, but Moreno drives it home by perfectly nailing the visuals that best communicate who these folks are. Including their humor.