Villain’s Sidekick, The: By Stephen T. Brophy, 78 pgs. By Claire Palermo

Like you and me, Duke a.k.a. “Hand Cannon,” has problems. He’s got a resentful ex-wife, a custody battle, a shitty apartment, and a cat to feed. He’s got a criminal record, debts to pay, and he’s on parole for past drug-fueled misdeeds. Oh, and he’s a giant man with a machine gun arm, a steel jaw, and an infrared camera eye who just got his ass kicked by a small-time vigilante and failed to deliver the goods to his boss. Fans of film noir and true crime whodunits will relishThe Villain’s Sidekick, as it employs classic tactics of both; lush mental visuals of dark and dangerous urban sprawl, unexpected murders with several  suspects to investigate, concise storytelling through the inner monologue of a complex protagonist, and dialogue inflected with mob-style slang. A short, fast read, it hits the ground running with action from page one.

Parts of this book bear awkward markers of a first novel. A level of cheesiness is inevitable with superheroes, but monikers like HandCannon, Heatsource, and Nightguard make one wonder whether we’re actually talking about industrial-strength cleaning products. Female characters are flat and underdeveloped, with descriptions revolving around their sex appeal; Miss Thang, Bitch Goddess, Twiliter. What’s a good film noir without a femme fatale, or a strong love interest? A notable exception is Duke’s six-year-old daughter, Cordelia, who is the brains of the final operation to take down the bad guy—though in this case, it’s technically the good guy. We’re on the villain’s side, and Duke’s nuanced, human relatability is the book’s strongest trait. Most punk rockers have been that misfit schmo who takes issue with authority and struggles to make something of themselves in a harsh world. It’s pure entertainment, but The Villain’s Sidekick would make a good quick read on a long plane trip, or perhaps in the back of a van on tour. –Claire Palermo (Budget Press, budgetpress.net)