This piece was originally performed at the Jade Lounge in 2015, at an event called MindMeld with Mark Savage. Everything was green.
by Jason Squamata
My name is Jason S.
And I have a serious problem.
I’m a recovering accomplice. A belly-flashing beta dog. A compulsive sidekick.
been three months and eighteen days since I last wore the tights, did
the flips, threw kung-fu moves at deformed gangsters and their bumbling
My fists no longer smash your screen in explosions of pop art onomatopeia.
I no longer instinctively leap into some kind of action when the
corporate logo of my old mentor stains the sky like an angry omen.
It’s been four months, one week, and two days since I was last tortured
by a maniac, which used to happen all the time, sometimes…consensually.
It’s been two years, eleven months, and twelve days
since I last traveled through time and kissed a robot princess with
silver feathers on the dark side of her moon.
I haven’t facilitated the saving of the world.
I haven’t punished the guilty to somehow save the soul of a city.
I haven’t piloted a giant robot with desperate finesse to rescue a dying god who called me friend.
I’ve just been getting by, mostly.
And let me tell you, after all my fetish-dipped mind-bending
adventures, up past my bed-time in strange outfits with spooky older
men, the quaintly constrictive physics of the quotidian day by day have
shown me a different kind of wonder, a story as rich in its quiet way as
the myths I used to live. This sober, adventure-free life is truly the
last alien planet. That’s what I tell myself.
what they tell us to tell ourselves, we who have the syndrome, but it
isn’t really true, is it?
I’m barely a character, now, just a slice of
life, but the slice is mine, and that sometimes seems to matter. It’s
been three months and eighteen days since I last eclipsed my own essence
with another man’s shadow. I am more and more the star of a spin-off
strip that no one is reading, and I like the idea of liking it.
So I carry on as if I do.
The sickness first bit me in the twilight of my teens. By day, I was a
cub reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper, dressed always in a
checkerboard blazer and bowtie as if to deconstruct the tropes of the
role I had chosen. Everyone called me Jay-Jay, whether I liked it or
not. By night, I was vaguely bohemian, trying on masks, searching
nightclubs and biographies for a real me to be. I was already living
the supercreep life, or a nebulous sketch of it. I just didn’t have a
gimmick, or a mission, or a driving force. I was waiting for something
to happen, like you do at that age.
The magic word.
The flash of lightning.
The irradiated insect.
The sorrows of the world outside my demimonde seemed too big and
amorphous to unpuzzle with facile charm and a punchy turn of phrase. So
I fed my lazy latent heroism with small acts of kindness. Like buying a
sandwich for a hobo informant. Like saving a cat from traffic though
to touch one makes me sneeze. Like getting friendly with the new guy at
work, a big-boned galumphing doofus from Kansas in an ill-fitting off
the rack reporter suit and glasses so thickly framed that they deformed
his beefy features. Everyone else at the paper found him hard to be
around. He always seemed to be trying too hard, whether he was working
on a story or blowing his nose. He seemed to knock something over every
time he moved. Despite his unwieldy bigness, he looked to me like a
wounded bird. So me, the nice guy, I took him with me everywhere, out
on the town, hunting stories, stories to live and stories to document
for our daily bread.
Our carousings were curiously
chaste. He wasn’t much of a ladies’ man, and my own mojo seemed to
wobble in proximity to him, but it didn’t seem to matter.
I only ever got lucky by accident, anyway, and it felt like a virtuous
deed to pull that hulking farmboy out of his shell. One night, the
cocktails and whatever else was metabolizing between us made our masks a
little crooked. We were walking home from some throbbing nightspot,
down valleys of strobing shadow, under a riot of stars.
the starlight, I guess.
For the first time I noticed that unwavering
electric blue gaze of his, behind the glasses.
I felt like he could see
things in me that I couldn’t see myself, and had from the moment we
met. Maybe he could see how scared I was of everything despite my
chipper flippancy, my self-conscious cleverness. I felt naked and
defenseless and cold out on the street, what with things getting real
and yet utterly unreal like that out of nowhere.
Like I needed a
blanket or a big cape to stop the shivering.
friend, he decided to get naked, too, in his way. That little lock of
black hair uncurled from his coiff and the glasses came off and his
posture changed and the pantomimes of a bumbling human were sloughed and
my foolish friend, my ongoing act of charity was in fact an alien sun
god from a doomed utopia, raised amongst country folk to do the right
thing in the big cities and screaming arenas of a world in crisis. A
musclebound Buddha of compassion with a space glyph branded on his
burning heart chakra and the natural grace of a galaxy in motion.
Even the circus strongman panties that he wore outside his tights had a strange majesty. Maybe not so strange.
He made me his pal that night.
“So that’s what I am!” I screamed out loud, sure of it at last.
I would still be the quirky cool alpha friend at the office and he
would continue his baffling performance as an all-too-human lummox. But
when we ripped off our secret identities and stopped pretending to be
boring, we made a shape-shifting fairy tale playground out of time and
space and skin. Do you know what it’s like to be held by hands that can
crush moons into dusty perfume?
I speak of it like it
was a partnership, but it was mostly him wrestling giant monsters and
beating back alien invasions and having airborne ballet skirmishes with
mutant beauties from the future while I ran around at street level,
chasing the fray, taking pictures, leaning in for a wisecrack in the
last panel or getting captured to induce an urgent climax. I was at
best bearing witness and at worst providing comic relief to the mythic
labors of an impossible man. But those were golden times, despite the
ambiguities. Things didn’t get very weird until he gave me the watch.
A signal watch it was, a chunk of red plastic on my wrist with his logo
on its lid. When I pushed the button, he could hear its little shriek
somehow, whether he was fighting dinosaurs at the center of the earth or
milking black holes for their quasar juice out there in the silence of
space. And he’d come racing to my rescue, come what may, he’d find a
way. I used it sparingly, at first. I used it respectfully.
spastic journalistic investigations put me in a warehouse full of angry
If my shutterbugging put me on the uppermost needle of a
skyscraper in search of the perfect shot and I lost my footing,
careening into teeming grids of cityscape.
If I was feeling too real
and too immersed in the grind of things and I needed a transfusion of
the miraculous, sometimes just his presence, his air of dynamic leisure,
like a slow motion mushroom cloud set to soothing music. The way he
would sweat electrons when we wrestled. I could feel the way he had to
flex his will to keep from twisting me into gory liquid by accident. I
liked that he could destroy me at any time, that he could destroy all of
us, or conquer us, or conquer me, but he didn’t want to. He only
wanted me to be happy.
But happiness plateaus.
Yesterday’s bliss is tomorrow’s routine. “In times of emergency” wasn’t
enough. The complex desperations and indignities of a fleeting human
life became unbearable to me, knowing always that a pushed button could
summon all the wonder. We were seeing less of each other at the office
as his secret life got stranger. When he was all alone in the world
with his powers and his seventeen senses and his revolving atomic heart,
when me and a few other humans were his only social options, life felt
like a game me and the ubermensch were playing in the themeparks of
eternity, popping into 3d space only once and so often for a quick snack
or a disco nap.
But the laws of logic and nature got softer and more permissive the longer he spent on our wavelength.
Casually miraculous became the new normal..
The Cosmic Man was tasting strange pleasures with immortal teenagers on
weekend bubble-rides to the 33rd century. He was negotiating truces
and treaties between sentient diseases and planet-eating corporate
organisms in prismatic desert temples under too many moons. He was
finding more survivors from his shattered homeworld every day, most of
them animals. Cosmic Chimps and Cosmic Dogs and Cosmic Cats and Cosmic
And a Cosmic Cousin, a perfect girl who dressed like him, but
she had not grown up in Kansas and had no natural affinity for human
thoughts and pheremones, so I think she thought I was his pet. And I
was that, but less and less. I was increasingly a living symbol of the
ordinary world he was leaving behind. I was a twitchy signal watch
junkie, settling for his charity when I could not hope to ever have his
Dear GodMan, a mermaid fell in love with me
and now her deep sea surgeons are turning me into a fish. Help help
help shrieks the signal watch.
Dear GodMan, an imp from
the 5th dimension just turned me into a baby and I need to give a eulogy
at the president's funeral. Help help help.
GodMan, a mad tattoo artist has covered me with images of you in dynamic
action poses. If I strip you can remove them with your laser gaze and
make me clean again before my date gets here. Help help help.
Dear GodMan, the icecubes in my drink melted while I was telling
slurred stories of our greatest adventures to a bar full of laughing
strangers. Could you fly in through the window and blow on my glass
with your minty arctic breath and show these mere mortals who your best
He always showed up, but it was all business. Friendly business, but
the subtle distance made me perversely resentful of his loyalty and
graciousness. Knowing him led me for a time into a life where we felt
things in primary colors, but neglect had made my linework scratchy. My
word bubbles were stuffed and hanging heavy with schizoid attempts at
catch phrases that might go viral.
I was living in
squalor, unable or at least deeply unwilling to solve even the simplest
problems without abusing the infinite wishes granted by my push button
genie. Some mail I opened five months too late told me that my parents
had passed away while I was living some feverish fairy tale. I couldn't
remember their faces. All I cared about was whether they had known who
my best friend was, if they would have been proud, if they would have
been jealous. Every feeling I had was felt through the prism of him.
Something had to give.
He was taking a break from
volcano containment to do my laundry when the axe finally fell. He
broke it to me with a tenderness that I hate a little bit, in
retrospect. On a mission to the edge of the known universe, he had been
received by a court of cosmic metagods. Our cosmos was on the brink of
dissolution, its narrative integrity strained by too many
improbabilities and fractalizations. No one beyond the veil was reading
him anymore. By meta-editorial mandate, his history was on the brink
of a massive rewrite. In a matter of hours, my perfect friend would be
experiencing a gritty reboot.
And there was no room in
his harsh new tone for a needy civilian sidekick in a mustard-stained
bowtie. He invited me to his arctic retreat for a party of sorts. All
the power people and supporting characters and second stringers and
rehabilitated villains would be gathering to pay tribute to the cartoon
god of dawn before he donned the streamlined trappings of a realistic
sunset. I let him take me there because I thought I could be alone with
him for a moment or two, talk this through, maybe work out a way for me
to be updated that wouldn't clash with his brutal new aesthetic. What
happens exactly to the bystanders who get unwritten by a revamp or a
retcon? Would I go on living without the wonders on tap, the watch just
a painful weight on my wrist, its signal heard by no one in a dimmer
world where the physics would be just a little too tight for such
nonsense? Would my consciousness melt into a state of pure concept like
ink running and puddling in gutters?
I was pondering
these things in the trophy room, amongst the bottled cities and the time
tunnels and the star-eating monsters howling in quantum cages. His
life-sized diamond sculptures of all his friends, including me. His
army of dormant robot duplicates. I seemed to be alone in there,
slurping champagne and feeling spurned and pointless when the shadows
whispered my name with a voice that was somewhere between the crunch of
boots on autumn leaves and a spaghetti western eastwood hiss. "Jay-jay"
the shadows said. "I heard about your parents. I know what you must be
I knew who it was. A crimefighting
colleague of my perfect mentor. Not a god, this one. Just a man with a
heart full of tragedy and an iron will and limitless wealth and strange
ideas about the nature of crime and justice. He was an equal to the
cosmic god, and yet his antithesis. Dark angel of a much darker city
without all the miracles. With ten times the danger. An adolescent
fetishistic leather goth fever dream of a city that made my supertown
I'd seen him lurking at some of the
cross-overs. I could feel the midnight creep of his presence oozing
through the room, his spindly contortions, the leather ghost of him and a
hungry gaze that peeled you. They peeled you one way if you had done
something wrong and he was already planning your punishment. They
peeled you a different way if you were a teenage boy in trouble. I'd
seen him in action with those acrobat orphans of his, always a different
kid, the devil man pretending they were all the same sparrow. He
trained them well, but he was fickle, I guess.
If you were
a lost boy like he had been, under all the leather, then he found you
forgivable. Add dead parents to the mix, and he found you
irresistible. That is, he found me irresistible when i needed it most.
He didn't want to see all my anger go to waste. He could train me to
turn my body into a weapon and my mind into a palace. He could take me
under his wing, adopt me if that isn't too presumptuous, treat me to
luxuries known only to vendetta-driven billionaires and the bad men they
All the usual lines, I imagine. And I should have
said no. I should have run away from super things for a little while.
I should have taken a swim in lake Jay Jay in the hopes that my true
self would be waiting for me at the bottom. But I went home with him,
to his mansion. If my superpal could go dark, then I could go darker. I
could adopt the moods and mannerisms of a more mature mythology. In
the vast ancestral home of my new best friend, I immediately began a
vicious regime of gymnastics and weight training. We sparred in the
shower, the grim avenger and I. Our fighting styles were compatible.
He sent his creepy butler to an already rebooted supertown to get my silly
I had another honeymoon season in those green
sequined briefs and that domino mask and those ridiculous elf slippers
and a bright yellow cape that screamed "shoot me". My mentor explained that my
tacky colors made him darker and more dangerous by contrast, which made
some kind of sense until the bullets and the daggers and the pumpkin
bombs were flying, and my function seemed to be to draw all the fire
while daddy struck ominous poses. But it was nice to be taken care of.
We listened to chamber music and pumped iron while the butler fed us
spoonfuls of patee. The butler gave us massages while Daddy delivered
grim lectures on the algebra of crime, at times almost explaining how
the economic inequities and systemic corruption that created crime could
be neutralized by our nightly practice of wearing tight outfits and
beating up escaped mental patients in shadow-slashed sewers. The butler
got a little tipsy sometimes and redesigned our costumes. Steel
nipples, sometimes. Sometimes skulls on our codpieces. None of us knew
anyone normal. I was inching into my twenties, despite my dark
mentor's constant efforts to pharmaceutically prolong my puberty. And
three grown men should not live together in a cave, no matter how
romantic it might seem in the afterglow of pointless combat.
I gave up asking about the other sparrows after a while. He would
mumble things about good soldiers and fallen comrades and pretend to
shed a tear before going back to the silence of gadget-building and
abstract criminology. I didn't ask about the memorial chamber, where
the costumes of all those fallen robins hovered in dimly lit cylinders,
worn by transparent child-sized mannequins. All the suits were slashed
in similar ways. It didn't occur to me that the crazed clown daddy
hated more than any other enemy might have killed them all. That it
might be the clown's favorite thing. I was so happy to be living in a boy's
adventure tale so long after my ordained expiration date that I was
willing on some level to be the latest in a long line of sacrificial
lambs. Or sparrows. Or robins. Or whatever.
kidnapping finally happened, it was almost just like the old days, but
my tormentor wasn't some pudgy scientist in prison clothes who hated the
sun god for making him bald. The henchmen weren't making dopey jokes. They weren't dressed up like playing cards or balloon animals and they
didn't mind cutting me when I made too much noise. Worst of all, no
signal watch... and a clown with a crowbar in the room with me and nothing
but the deductive skills of a wealthy pervert standing between me and
violent death. The crowbar stop hurting after the fifth time it hits you,
but I don't blame the dark avenger for my damage. Fool me twice, shame
on me. And just because he secretly considered his sidekicks expendable doesn't
mean we weren't special, for a little while, until the clown came back to
goose the sales and move some units.
I'm not speaking
from the grave, obviously, not unless you're all dead with me. I came out
of my coma in a luxurious upper crust intensive care ward, all expenses
paid. There were other sidekicks there, in various states of repair.
On the television I could see my mentor in action with a fresh orphan. I had already been replaced, another
chemically shriveled teenage basket in those green sequined panties.
The butler maybe liked me a little bit more than he did the others.
Maybe he had a thing for my first super pal and he could still smell the
magic on me. Maybe he just liked my freckles. But I came to in the
midst of the old creep giving me a passionate spongebath. He muttered
something about reboots. I could come back as a villain, or I could
facilitate his master's grim crusade as a wheelchair-bound hacker.
Something about the suds, the sobbing butler, the moans and life support
beeps of a ward full of broken sparrows. I knew I had a problem. I
knew I had to kick the habit.
For a few months, I was
spending most of my free time in support groups. Some of those meetings
get chickenhawked by slumming super heroes though, and relapses ensue.
Relapse one: I
played nursemaid to a sniveling scientist who turned into a hulking radioactive sex
machine whenever I made him angry.
Relapse two: I apprenticed myself to a
supervillain over one twisted weekend and backed out in mid-atrocity
when I realized I just don't have that devilish temperament.
Relapse three: I got
brutally rehabilitated by an Amazon goddess of discipline, bound for days on end in her
magic lassos, her chains of truth, offering my everlasting bootlicking sidekick
services to no avail as she squished my throbbing iniquities with the gloves of
Fool me five times, shame on us all, as a species.
Now I'm back where I started, I suppose, a
little the worse for wear, a little older, with hints of bitter wisdom
in my beady little eyes. No major metropolitan newspaper would hire me
after all my hijinks, but I observe the daily routines of an up and
coming cub reporter nonetheless.
It's a small life, made mostly of
scribbling, but it's mine, and the things I know belong to me. If any of
you are suffering from sidekick syndrome, you have my sympathies and my
deep understanding. I've been wherever you've been. I'm living proof
that you can pull through and step out of those shadows and become the
star of your own life story. If you know how to tell it.
If you don't,
I could teach you maybe.
I could use a spry and lovely cohort around
the laboratory, just to keep my index cards corked and my songlines tight. I'm
thinking of taking up that whole master of the mystic arts thing, bug
out on old grimoires, invest in a cape. Change up my genre.
way to get over sidekick syndrome is to kick it harder. Until it really
If you're ready to change come and see me. I'll dress you up in the textures of my vengeance. I'll give you this shiny whistle in case of emergency. Just don't tell anyone where my sanctum is. What we do there is secret. And don't ever call me "Jay-Jay".
I'll see the rest of
you in the funny papers.