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Dan Danko and Tom Mason; illus. by Barry Gott. Sidekicks.
Little, 2003 97p
Trade ed. ISBN 0-316-16845-9 $10.95
Paper ed. ISBN 0-316-16844-0 $4.99
Thirteen-year-old Guy Martin wants to be a superhero (as his sidekick name
of Speedy suggests, hes now the fastest person alive, beating out the
former Fastest Man Alive Man), but right now hes serving his apprenticeship
as a sidekick to Pumpkin Pete, hanging out in the Sidekick Clubhouse and waiting
for the call to aid the League of Big Justice in the fight against evil. After
three weeks, however, hes finding that hes mostly aiding them in
the fight against household and personal untidiness as he listens to the complaints
of his fellow sidekicks (Thats what I was thinking. Smash evil and
be popular. I had no idea Id be doing laundry and listening to people
whine all the time), and hes getting a bit restless. Hes got
more than soapsuds on his hands soon enough, though, when the League of Big
Justice Headquarters of Big Justice (theres a lot of redundancy in good)
is blown up by the Brotherhood of Rottenness, and the League membersfrom
King Justice to Captain Haggis, the Librarian to Ms. Mimehave been captured
by the Brotherhood. Sidekicking being something less than a rigorously screened
calling (Spelling Beatrice has been a sidekick for almost three years,
but what she really wants to do is act), its a rather motley and
disunited crew thats left to save the abducted superheroes and foil Rottenness
plan. Fortunately, Guys stalwart efforts are rewarded (and his noble willingness
to sacrifice himself proven superfluous), and the world is saved (except for
Ohio, whose inhabitants were unfortunately all turned into puppets).
Pastiche is nothing new in childrens literature these days, but lets face itits a hard genre to sustain for the length of a novel. Sidekicks pulls off that difficult task, with lull-free pacing and relentless humor that makes this suitable as a readaloud or an enticement for reluctant readers (an easygoing format, topped by Gotts slickly comic black-and-white chapter headpieces, keeps the look unthreatening but sophisticated) as well as kids just looking for an enjoyable literary romp. Danko and Mason evince the unflagging energy of The Naked Guns Zuckers and Abrahamor, rather, an energy that is funny even when it flags, as when the chapter titles career off into commentary (Chapter Seven: These Chapter Titles Make No Sense; Chapter Nine: The Ninth Chapter); another obvious forerunner here is the loving mockery of Get Smart or, more recently, The Tick. Here also is that same blend of genuine intelligence and lovable dorkiness (a mixture likely to be found in this books readers as well). On the intelligence side, its got a collection of quips larger than a superheros tights wardrobe and a viewpoint of the proceedings thats comfortably cynical (There isnt much science to being a superhero sidekick. You have to have a legal waiver from your parent or guardian unless youre eighteen. Ever since that ugly court battle with UnderAge Albert and the child labor laws, its just plain impossible to become a sidekick without a bundle of legal paperwork); whats more, it even keeps touch with the actual, if somewhat peripheral, plot throughout. On the other hand, the authors are smart enough to understand that elevation can be the enemy of enjoyment: the book understands the importance of cheap laughs (theres a villain, Le Poop, whose powers are ferocious bodily odors, so that when he unleashes his particular variety of gas attack Spice Girl fell before its stinky awesomeness), and its also got an endless supply of dumb jokes about various lame superhero/sidekick names (Bar-of-Soap Boy had to move someplace where it didnt rain so much).
Underneath the scoffing and the goofing, however, is some real, if still humorous, heart. The book nicely plays Guys daily life at school and home against his other existence (his parents insist on secrecy about his superpowers, saying We dont want some supervillain blowing up our house because you foiled his plan to rule the world, young man), and his longing to display his secret brilliance in order to impress the beauteous Prudence Cane will ring true with every kid, sidekick or not, whos yearned for the object of his affection to have her eyes opened to his true worth. Guys loving mom provides him and another sidekick with a ride to the Brotherhood of Rottenness (after seeing her son and his colleague safely belted into the seats of the family Oldsmobile, she warmly demonstrates herself as an in-touch parent by informing Exact Change Kid that Guy tells me you throw pennies), and in fact shes still patiently waiting in the parking lot for her son at the end of the book. Amid all the jokes about the embarrassing aspects of superheroism is genuine appreciation of the phenomenon of bravery, fictional or real: And maybe thats what really makes them heroesbecause theyre not perfect or superhuman; because they bleed and break like everyone else; because they might die, but they still rush into danger. And whether they admit it or not, thats what draws a lot of would-be sidekicks, wholl be gratified that the book truly appreciates their pleasures. (Imprint information appears on p. 56.)
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover illustration by Barry Gott from Sidekicks ©2003. Used by
permission of Little, Brown and Company.
This page was last updated on October 1, 2003.