§ March 1st, 2004 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on Sidekicks.

I was recently sent copies of the first two volumes of a new children’s book series that might be of interest to comic book fans…the series is called Sidekicks (published by Little, Brown), and it’s written by Marvel and Malibu writers/editors Dan Danko and Tom Mason. Yes, the same Tom Mason that brought us the naughty fun of Dinosaurs for Hire.

The first volume (of a projected six), called simply Sidekicks, introduces us to 13-year-old Speedy (the world’s fastest kid) and his fellow sidekicks to the Justice League-a-like League of Big Justice. His private life, like all good superheroes (and sidekicks) in this post-Marvel era, is rife with personal problems, as he is competing with fellow sidekick and schoolmate Charisma Kid for the attentions of the beautiful Prudence Cane. The plot details an attack by several supervillains upon the League of Big Justice’s headquarters, and it’s up to Speedy to save the day. Along the way several funny potshots are taken at the cliches that make up superhero adventures (including the sidekicks voting on what their battlecry should be, and a wise warning against pushing Big Red Buttons). It’s very silly and good fun, and even if the kids reading the books are only familiar with superheroes in the context of Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans and Justice League shows, there’s enough context given for all the jokes to keep up. You don’t have to be a comics fan to enjoy the books…but if you are a comics fan, you’ll find plenty of self-aware comics humor to keep you entertained.

As you might be able to infer from the name “Charisma Kid,” the superheroes are all played pretty much for laughs, with super-abilities and costumed identities included more their ability to generate gags than for any kind of practicality. There’s the sidekick “Boy-in-the-Plastic-Bubble-Boy,” who’s stuck inside a giant hamster ball. Speedy’s own patron, Pumpkin Pete, appears to have the super-abilities of having a pumpkin for a head, and…well, that’s pretty much it, aside from licensing and running away at the first sign of danger. But, you know, that’s fine…this isn’t intended as a Watchmen-esque deconstruction of the modern superhero. It’s a spoof, a farce…it’s designed to make kids laugh, and on that level it certainly succeeds.

The second book – Operation Squish! – pits Speedy against the menace of Dr. Robot (called by everyone else “Dada Robah” since they all misheard his name)…and adds a little more depth to Speedy with his own growing disillusionment with the League of Big Justice’s apparent focus on merchandising and self-aggrandizement. There’s a nice moment of self-referential humor when a chapter in this book appears only to establish subplots for a future book…and the title of that chapter essentially says as such. We also begin to get the impression that Speedy may be the one member of the League of Big Justice and associated sidekicks that takes his job seriously.

Other nice moments from these books:

  • quite possibly the greatest superhero/sidekick name I’ve ever heard, almost painfully obvious once you see it: Spelling Beatrice.

  • the moments of surprisingly adult humor that pop up now and again (the appearance of Latchkey Kid, for example, or that Speedy was able to join the elite team of sidekicks not due to ability, but due to his parents’ check clearing).

  • the charming illustrations by Barry Gott that head each chapter.

  • each book includes perforated full-color trading cards inserted inside the front cover…Speedy and, probably the one true superhero to appear in the books, King Justice are in the first volume, Pumpkin Pete and Spelling Beatrice are in the second.

I’ve said in the past that the best children’s entertainment can be equally enjoyed by adults…Looney Tunes cartoons, for instance, or Carl Barks’ Disney duck comics. I’m three times the age of the recommended age group for these novels (and you have no idea how much it hurt to type that), but I got a kick out them, and I would recommend them to young comic fans, adult comic fans, and adult comic fans’ children, nephews, and nieces.

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