Saturday , April 13 2024
A stocking stuffer for the pre-teen reader. . .


I’d have loved Sidekicks (Little, Brown) as a pre-teen: a comical kid’s book series about the travails of Guy Martin, the fastest kid alive. (Especially would’ve liked it the semester my folks banned comics in the house because I’d gotten too many C’s on my report card!) The creation of former comics editors Dan Danko and Tom Mason, the planned six-book series is a zippy blend of superhero takeoff and middle school comedy. It’s not surprising to learn that Danko & Mason have free-lanced for Malcolm in the Middle: it’s not much of a stretch to imagine Frankie Muniz’s voice reading Sidekicks‘ first person narration.
Two books in the series have appeared to date, Sidekicks and Operation Squish. The first introduces Martin, a.k.a. Speedy (when his superhero mentor remembers his correct name), capable of reaching 92.7 mph in the first book, 102 in the second. Guy is part of an affiliation of superhero sidekicks, who spend their non-school hours at the Sidekick Super Clubhouse in the deserted lot behind the League of Big Justice, monitoring evil on hand-me-down equipment and waiting for the moment when they’ll be called upon to wash their sponsor hero’s car or do the dishes. In between super-chores and the occasional adventure, our thirteen-year-old hero spends his time pining away for the unattainable Prudence Cane, who (along with every other girl in his class) instead yearns for Mandrake Steel, also known as Charisma Kid.
Danko & Mason have fun messing around with superpower conventions. Aside from Speedy, the majority of the Super Sidekicks all possess powers that are decidedly pointless: Exact Change Kid, Boom Boy (he can blow himself up, but – as in the old vaudeville joke – he can only do it once), Boy-in-the-Plastic-Bubble Boy (nobody can understand what he’s saying through his Giant Hamster Ball of Justice), EarLobe Lad. The only one outside of Speedy who’s even marginally useful in a crisis is Spelling Beatrice: she has an arsenal of Scrabble tiles that also double as utility belt type devices. Most of the full-grown heroes aren’t much better. Speedy’s mentor, for example, Pumpkin Pete, has a large pumpkin head and “pumpkin powers,” but nobody quite knows what that means.
Yeah, much of this series is silly and meant to be: at times, the writers display an enjoyably Python-esque willingness to follow illogic as far as it can go. In Operation Squish, for instance, our gang of Sidekicks takes on the chore of picking up the rubble after their clubhouse has been trampled by a giant robot. Under Exact Change Kid’s direction, the group is told to sort the rubble out by size: bit-sized rubble; hand- to medium-gourd-sized rubble; medium-gourd-sized rubble to Australian-North-Coastal-Jellyfish-sized rubble. When Boom Boy finds a piece of rubble that’s exactly medium-gourd-sized, the group debates which category it belongs to. (Throughout this debate, it should be noted, that monster robot is continuing to rampage in the city.) Occasionally, Danko & Mason slip out of silly into childish – always a risk with this kind of material – as when they introduce a evilly odoriferous super-villain named Le Poop (naturally, he’s French). But both short books (100 pages apiece) read so quickly and are so overstuffed with punchlines that it almost doesn’t matter.
The big question I have about Sidekicks is more fundamental: how many kid readers are there familiar with the kind of comic book conventions being kidded in this series? Looking at sales estimates for American comics in the month of October, for example, we see the two top sellers, JLA/Avengers #2 and Amazing Spider-Man #500, reaching estimated sales of 176,734 and 162,176, respectively. Now I’m just guessing here, but I’m betting that the majority readership in these numbers is not pre-teen-aged. Perhaps this doesn’t matter – with movies and cartoon series like Teen Titans out there, the niceties of superherodom are probably familiar to most media-savvy kids. But whether that passing knowledge will be sufficient to pull ’em into this amusing kid’s book series is a whole different matter. It’ll definitely say something about the superhero industry if this book series is able to garner a larger readership than that JLA/Avengers team-up. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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