Birds of Prey

SidekickBlack Harrier, Red Kite, Red Raptor, Redhawk, Osprey, Eaglestar — Christopher J. Valin’s recently released superhero novel is stuffed with a kettle of predatory birds.

Sure, there are other superheroes in the book (like Cupid, the flying bowman, and Omar the Defenestrator), but the author is clearly obsessed with birds of prey. There’s no room for lesser birds like Black Canary, Mockingbird, and Robin.

The novel starts out with Red Kite (Sawyer Vincent) grousing about his current situation. He’s been Black Harrier’s sidekick for the past three years and he’s not happy about it. He’s embarrassed by his mentor’s corny Batman-like affectations, and he’s tired of being treated like a kid.

He even hates his superhero name. “Being called Red Kite makes me feel like I’ll never be taken seriously,” he says. “I mean, nobody even knows it’s a bird.”

Clearly, it was time for a makeover. Sawyer spends hours trying to find a new code name that’s not already taken by a real crimefighter, or trademarked by a comic book company or movie studio. Alas, the superhero lifestyle is fraught with all sorts of dangerous and mundane challenges.

Eventually, he picks the name Red Raptor. But the transition from Red Kite to Red Raptor doesn’t go very smoothly. After all, once you’ve been tagged with a superhero nickname, it’s hard to discard it. Just ask Henry Pym. At various times in his career, the original Avenger was known as Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and even Wasp. But we’ll always know him as Ant-Man.

Just as Sawyer is rebranding himself, his life explodes with all sorts of complications. A superhero fangirl starts stalking him, and the original Red Kite pops up for an unexpected visit (for the record: Sawyer is the third Red Kite). Worst of all, Black Harrier disappears without a trace.

We enjoy superhero sidekick stories because being a sidekick is a great metaphor for the universal pangs of adolescence. Sawyer is a kid who’s been training to be a superhero since he was 13 years old. But on the eve of his 16th birthday, he’s reached an age where he thinks it’s time to leave the nest (we mean that semi-literally. He and Black Harrier operate from “The Aerie,” a high-tech control room at the very top of a skyscraper).

Teenage angst gets magnified 100 percent in superhero fiction. And author Valin isn’t afraid to drag his young protagonist through the muck. Sawyer’s mom is a recovering alcoholic. Black Harrier is maddeningly obtuse. And Osprey’s fangirl enthusiasm is always on the verge of spilling into King of Comedy-like territory. And, on top of everything else, Sawyer is getting bullied at school. Being a teenage superhero isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Naturally, everything reaches an explosive climax at the end of the novel. Sawyer helps his mentor out of a tough jam. And in the process, he inches ever closer to adulthood. Throughout the book, the author does a good job of capturing the interior voice of a whiny (and funny) teenager. And like we mentioned earlier, he doesn’t hold back the drama either.

At the beginning of the book, Sawyer didn’t want to be called a sidekick any more. By the end, however, he didn’t mind being called a partner. To us, that’s a significant step toward growing up. Let’s see what happens in the next two volumes of this series.

[Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files – Part 1 / By Christopher J. Valin / First Printing: January 2016 / ISBN: 9781518698620]

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