Sideways #2 Review
Storytellers: Kenneth Rocafort & Dan Didio
Dialogue: Dan Didio & Justin Jordan
Colorist: Daniel Brown
Letterer: Carlos. M Mangual
Release Date: March 14, 2018
I recommended Sideways #1 largely on the basis of a “fun factor.” The second issue doesn’t quite recreate that same feeling. This isn’t surprising given that Sideways #2 gets saddled with more heavy lifting than did the first issue. The issue still tries, though; by the sixth page Derek has fallen off a building and landed in, or more literally splashed in, over his head.
Sideways #2 picks up right where Sideways #1 left off: Derek in mortal danger for breaking rules he didn’t know existed and putting the universe in peril. The sizable being threatening Derek’s life is Tempus Fuginaut, and he claims to be doing it because tears in space and time like what Derek creates can risk the boundaries between dimensions. Derek is unable to rift his way to safety so he concocts a creative escape plan: the aforementioned falling off the building that lets him rift once he’s put enough distance between him and Tempus Fuginaut. The encounter kicks Derek’s ass, and the destination of his rift is the house of his friend (not girlfriend as I erroneously said before) Ernie. Derek promptly passes out, so Ernie rushes him to the hospital. Derek’s mother arrives on the scene after the doctor’s examination, and she provides a much more comprehensive backstory to the events surrounding Derek’s changes (though not how he got his powers). The issue ends on another cliffhanger with a very interesting variation on the Sideways costume.
As was the case with the first issue, Sideways #2 is buoyed significantly by the strength of its art. Still present from the first issue are the perimeter designs. It’s an unconventional choice to sacrifice storytelling space on every page but the inventive layout leads the eye from panel to panel and contributes to a sense of constant activity on the page. Additionally, Daniel Brown’s color choices for the perimeter impacts the mood of the panels it surrounds: heavy use of white during the initial encounter with Tempus Fuginaut brightens the moment and lets Derek’s levity feel funny rather than desperate. The desperate feeling comes later during Derek’s escape when the perimeter is dominated by black and dark purple.
While on the subject of visual treats the choice to show Derek’s escape on a sideways two page spread is inspired. Derek falls through a vertical cascade of panels set against the backdrop of Gotham City. That Gotham City backdrop showcases one of Kenneth Rocafort’s strengths in these books: his eye for and ability to draw background detail. Whether it’s the Gotham cityscape, the memorial Derek’s mother visits, or Tempus Fuginaut’s gear-adorned head Rocafort provides a steady hand when it comes to intricate art. This is a talent that also comes in handy with character expressions, a defining trait of these two issues; every character reacts to every change in circumstance rather than offering perpetually pasted on stock expressions.
The writing in Sideways #2 is more of a mixed bag. Dan Didio and Justin Jordan add a larger piece to the puzzle of why Derek has powers. In my earlier review for The Terrifics #1 I was hard on Jeff Lemire for packing in too much information too quickly—especially with the arcane details of Metal. Didio and Jordan are going a different route. In Sideways #1 they established that Derek and his mother were separated during the events of Metal but explain nothing else. Here they go into deeper detail but from Derek’s mother’s point of view. This lengthy exchange slows down momentum considerably but is well written. The benefit of Derek’s mother’s perspective is that it showcases the bond between the two characters and explains her protectiveness from the previous issue.
The cliffhanger the issue goes out on is unfortunately ineffective. The improvised costume Derek wears is fun, but the dialogue for the last several pages after Derek’s mother stops her journey down memory lane is clunky and awkward. So far the series has been confined primarily to Derek and his immediate circle of friends and family. In those interactions, the dialogue feels natural, one line feeding into another. Here it feels like Didio and Jordan simply do not have a feel for the ancillary characters despite how well they write everyone else, and the cliffhanger feels forced as a result.
Sideways #2 feels like more of an origin issue (or key piece of an origin arc) than Sideways #1. The monologue from Derek’s mom fills in details the readers didn’t have. Villains get introduced. Rules and consequences to Derek’s powers are hinted at. All that said, Sideways #2 still leads with fun and is a page-turner on that basis alone. How long can that last? And how long can it be interesting? The answer to both of those questions is at least two issues. What’s more, if the creative team on this book can keep underpinning the fun with well-written characters and intriguing visuals I don’t see why “fun” can’t be a compelling reason to read Sideways for a long time to come.
Review by: Theron Couch