By Kenneth Rocafort, Dan DiDio, Justin Jordan & Daniel Brown
Spinning out of the current DC event, “Dark Nights: Metal,” Sideways comes as part of a new line of comics dubbed “The New Age of Heroes”. In this case, a young boy, Derek, was at the ground zero in Gotham when the Dark Knights arrived and went through something that gave him the ability to open and traverse dimensional rifts. Sounds relatively familiar right? By now, the DC Comics’ character Vibe has come to mind. Sideways is very much derivative of Cisco Ramon. Even down to the fact that he even looks Hispanic. It begs the question, why they didn’t decide to relaunch a solo book for him? Perhaps it’s mainly due to their attempt to do this very thing for him during the New 52 period and having to cancel the title after a short, unsuccessful run, so DC thought to rebrand him in the post-Rebirth era, without having all the continuity baggage of an established character.
This new line has also made it clear that artists need to have more recognition in the books, so they are now receiving top billing in the creator credits. This appears to be a call-back to the 90’s during the Image Comics industry shift/boom where artists were king. Considered one of the co-publishers is Jim Lee, one of Image’s founders, this line of thought isn’t a stretch. Living up to this new spotlight, Kenneth Rocafort and Daniel Brown’s work completely stands out in this comic. Rocafort brings a bit of an early Jim Lee aesthetic to the book. The penciling is very sharp, yet has a smooth flow to it. A lot of detail lines bring out the definition and really breathe life into the settings and, most importantly, the characters. No two characters are alike, Kenneth Rocafort makes them unique and have relatively natural proportions, which sadly a lot of current artists don’t take the time or effort to do. His depictions of facial expressions are literally some of the best in the industry. Quote me. He is able to adeptly capture without exaggeration, the true emotion the characters are feeling. It’s almost palpable. There’s not a single page that feels as if it was done without care. There is a panel that literally only shows the boots of a character and the grooves on the bottoms are clearly complex and detailed; something seemingly insignificant is given it’s time and due. This is also set against a amazingly done two-page spread that seems like it would have taken days to complete due the clear precision that was involved.
Brown’s color work retains all the detail in every panel, but adds a depth to each image as well. Whether it’s a high schooler’s bedroom adorned with geek paraphernalia or a two-page spread cityscape, the color shading elevates the scope and sentiments wanting to be conveyed to the audience. Even Sideways’ suit, which has some striking resemblances to Spider-Man’s design, wouldn’t be as effective without Daniel Brown’s skill. The work of these two artists is such a refreshing and welcome surprise.
As for the script and dialog, the book was co-plotted by Rocafort and DC co-publisher Dan DiDio and the dialog was written by DiDio and Justin Jordan. In terms of the overall narrative, it was fairly straightforward and pulled from the typical tropes and conventions associated with young, fledgling hero stories. That was to be expected, but it’s the artwork that really allows those scenes to actually work and not become generic. Whether it was intentional to allow for exploration later or the creative team felt that was sufficient for readers, the origin story of Derek’s abilities is a bit vague and unsatisfying, despite being beautifully rendered. What does work extremely well is the dialog, Jordan and DiDio are able to really tap into what feels like natural dialog for teenagers, which comic writers seemed to have struggled with for years. It flowed, felt believable and allowed for a solid connection/bond with the characters and what they’re going through. Also, the set-up for the antagonist in the third act was well done and has a powerfully rendered reveal and cliffhanger.
Overall, Sideways, despite it’s uncomfortably obvious intention to replace Vibe, is a startlingly solid debut issue and introduction of a character. Sure it’s full of generic elements, but it’s a fun read and the artwork is superb and elevates the material from cover to cover. It’s also nice that readers don’t have to be familiar with the “Metal” storyline, to fully appreciate this book. It’s well worth picking up and seeing where the first arc goes, as long as Kenneth Rocafort and Daniel Brown stay on the title!