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Monday, March 06, 2006

Sidekick Love!

In her most recent post, Ragnell linked to someone else's blog. It's an interesting entry I suppose, the person has many different opinions than I do. One thing we disagree about in particular is sidekicks. I don't really think the fellow gets the point of sidekicks. Whereas I love them.

Sidekicks provide an added perspective to comics, an audience stand in that actually gets to react to the disturbing, exciting, and scary aspects of the story that the main character is normally too cool or stoic to acknowledge. The sidekick is the voice of humanity, the one who more often gets to be flawed and human and make mistakes. Where Batman can be a bit too intense to truly identify with, we've all felt like Robin once in a while.

The sidekicks also allow the heroes to break their facades every once in a while, to show different emotions. Pride, love, concern, even fear and grief... Batman was almost never so human as when cradling Jason Todd's body.

Sidekicks even allow the writers to tell stories with more complex themes than normally: like responsibility, failure, loss and consequences. Yeah, there's the element of "What kind of person would bring a child into this dangerous situation?" But that's tied to "What kind of person would dress up in a ridiculous costume and fight crime?" Sometimes you just have to go with it.

And in the case of Batman, you could even give it a psychological spin. The man loses his childhood too soon, and endlessly seeks to recapture that lost innocence and enthusiasm by surrounding himself with those qualities. Or something like that.

On that blog, the writer disparages sidekicks by saying: "They are pathetic things that don't have any lives or identities of their own, so they have to ride the coattails of someone who is better than them in every conceivable way."

Which makes me laugh, because with but a few exceptions (Stripsy, Wing, maybe a handful of others), these kids are just that, *kids*. Adults are *supposed* to be "better" than children. That's the point of growing up. If children were everything that people are "supposed" to be, well, then we'd never need to become adults.

And the whole thing about no lives or identities of their own, doesn't that really *define* childhood? Children have very few legal rights, many protections, but no rights. They can't live on their own or really own property. Their names are their parents', they don't get to change it until 18 (or legal emancipation.). They don't get to choose where they live, what schools they go to. In a very real sense, they don't *have* identities of their own.

Sidekicks are "children" in the sense of legacy. Sure, in reality Clark, Bruce and Diana will always be Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But sidekicks represent hope, the possibilities of the future. Someday, maybe not on panel, but these children are going to be full heroes in their own right. Or even, become Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman themselves.

And sidekicks fascinate me, because where heroes largely have to stay relatively stagnant, their apprentices get to grow and change. Robin became Nightwing, Speedy became Arsenal, Wonder Girl to Troia, Aqualad to Tempest...each of these changes were significant, if not while they happened, at least their implications afterwards. And the emotional involvement is strong too, we've seen these characters grow up. That *means* something.

And sidekickdom actually requires more strength in some ways than being a hero outright. The world that the heroes see is occasionally very dark, and sometimes, there is the danger that they will be swallowed by it. (An important theme in A Lonely Place of Dying, for example). That's why the night-dwelling Bat names his sidekick after the bird of the morning. That's why the dour Sandman fought alongside of the Golden Boy. A smile, a wisecrack, a joke, and the mood is lightened. Not a lot, but enough sometimes to make the difference. But then, when you stop and think about it, you have children exposed to the same darkness, safeguarding the adult's sanity.

And that's *fascinating*. Because it *sucks* being a sidekick. The only characters I can think of that actually benefitted from their sidekickdom are probably Mia, and *maybe* Cassie Cain. And both of their backstories are darker than most.

Robin's trying to turn himself into a freakin' machine, Superboy's got daddy issues, Cassie Sandsmark was being propositioned by Ares, Nightwing's a basket case, Arsenal's a neglected ex-addict single father without direction, don't get me started on Tempest or Donna Troy. Heck, even Sandy the Golden Boy, who had probably the best option in mentors (Wesley Dodds being neither borderline psychotic or neglectful, and actually considering how messed up a role it is for a child) still ended up targeted by an ex-silent film star, and then turned into a monster for half a century.

In a serious White-Wolf style superhero RPG, "sidekick" should be like a 5-point flaw. Maybe 7. It just sucks *that* much.

But these kids do it, out of idealism, hope, ambition, or the desire to make a difference. And I can, as much as for any fictional character, respect that.

Marvel doesn't have sidekicks, it's true, but Marvel doesn't need them. Marvel emphasizes teams, like the X-Men or the Avengers. Wolverine doesn't need a sidekick, because we already see that sort of relationship with Jubilee or Kitty Pride. And Marvel's not about legacy. So it's not as important a symbol.

But DC needs sidekicks. And DC should have sidekicks. Because they are awesome.

And if you don't agree, you suck. And you hate children. And the future. Freakin' scourge of society you are. Go eat babies or something! Jeez! :-P


  • At March 06, 2006 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As always, you're right
    there's nothing worse than being a sidekick
    or just sidekicks in general:-P

    as my hero John C. says about children and why they should die a horrible horrible death:
    I know, I know. "You were one once." I was a sperm once, but you don't see me wantin' to cuddle up to a censored censored, do you?

    right you are John, right you are

  • At March 06, 2006 9:02 PM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Sidekicks can be good, but the term 'sidekick' sounds pejorative. Robin, Nightwing, and the others Batman has taken under his watch have become self reliant, so they are not really 'sidekicks' at that point. However, they had to start somewhere.

    Sidekicks are needed, but they are not needed for just a contrasting personality. They shouldn't be just comedic relief either.

  • At March 06, 2006 9:07 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: go eat babies, man. :-P

    cent: what's perjorative about "sidekick"? If you think about it "sidekick" implies an assist for the hero. An additional attack/defense from a normally undefended area.

    The term emphasizes the role of the sidekick for the hero...making the hero the one who relies on the sidekick, *not* the reverse. :-)

  • At March 06, 2006 9:17 PM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Kal - That's true and all, but what I meant was how it seems for others looking at the idea in general.

    If I was called a sidekick, I personally would think firstly that I was stuck in the shadow of someone greater. To me, the term feels very much like calling someone a minion. They both serve a generally similar function.

    I'm being negative though about the whole sidekick thing. I like sidekicks for their own stories they bring and the subplots they create. It is that which makes me like the sidekicks in the titles I read.

  • At March 06, 2006 9:44 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    See, that's the thing though. The point of a sidekick is that they *are* in the shadow of someone greater.

    Their individual stories are great, but they're great because we get to see normally subordinate characters acting independently. Their subplots are fun too...but "sub" is the operative part of the word.

    Really the strength of sidekicks is that you've got a character that, usually as a *child*, chose to make a great hero their mentor, to take part in a mission or dream that's greater than they are. That's something that underlies everything they do whether with their mentor or on their own. And thus the subordinate aspects of "sidekick" works for me, because it's a constant reminder.

  • At March 07, 2006 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    First, I find it amusing that the character you think faired the best as a sidekick is "Sandy the Golden Boy" - considering that his mentor locked him in a glass cage for 50+ years and HYPNOTIZED HIMSELF to forget that he'd done it, supposedly while he was "working on a cure". I think Nightwing's problems are a bit less in contrast, personally.

    Second, sidekicks are the "child actors" of the DC Universe. Think of Arsenal as a more buff Danny Bonaducci and you'll see what I mean. Sidekicks are a bunch of kids who are thrown into adult-level situations far before their time, and they either have to grow up fast (Dick Grayson, Tim Drake) or they self-destruct (Roy Harper). Child actors in the real world are in a similar sort of problem, though their day job doesn't usually involve saving the world from super-villains (though, who knows about some of those movie producers). There are a lot of parallels there that can be used even without layering on the levels of "faux realism" that some writers like to use - sidekicks give up a good chunk of their childhood to live the dream that other kids have, and there are some good stories there about the consequences of that.

    Third, I've heard that Marvel doesn't have sidekicks because Stan Lee didn't like them. In fact, if I remember right, his attitude towards them was about the same as your average Star Trek geek's attitude towards Wesley Crusher on Next Gen. I think that's why the closest thing that the Silver Age Marvel Universe ever got to a sidekick was Rick Jones, who was more of a plot-device, supporting cast member than he was a real partner. Since everything post-60s Marvel has been done to either maintain or relive the memory of the Silver Age Lee/Kirby/Ditko magic, it makes sense that the MU wouldn't be overrun with sidekicks.

  • At March 07, 2006 12:50 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    jamawalk: Tim's always badass...which is basically why someday he probably will end up Batman. That and Bruce thinks so.

    Bruce can be scary. Of course Tim's single-minded devotion to being the best Robin he can be is a little frightening sometimes too.

    But yeah, the apprentice hero thing (as well as audience surrogate) is why I like them so much. Added emotional investment in watching them grow.

    jer: I don't think I said the boy faired the *best*...between Sorrow and the glass cage, there's enough trauma there.

    The self-hypnosis thing is just pre-Crisis crap that never got retconned properly, as I see it. Pre-Crisis Wes was a complete self-absorbed ass. Now the Wes we see in SMT, Starman and very briefly in JSA, I couldn't see making himself forget like that. (And we actually glimpse him making trips to see Sandy in the cage in 1951...which was apparently regular enough for present-day Sand to know to find him there.)

    Technically though, I do think that if you're looking at the post-Crisis stuff, Sandy had the best *mentor*. Actually aware of the danger and treating the kid like an apprentice rather than a partner (we see him tell the boy to leave when things get dangerous for example...kid doesn't *go*, but then the kid also leapt into the Star Spangled Kid's flying car's passenger window while the damn thing was in flight...from a sky scraper. Kid is kinda dumb, is all I'm saying.) Both Bruce and Ollie tended to forget they were dealing with kids. Wes, in the handful of post-crisis 40s era stuff, never seemed to.

    Besides, Sand seems largely okay now...or only *quietly* in need of severe therapy (hard to say) versus Dick and Roy's obvious needs.

    I totally agree about the sidekick=child star thing It's a fascinating dimension that isn't often expressed with the adult heroes.

    And yeah, I'd heard Stan Lee hates Sidekicks. To be honest, that's probably a good thing. The Marvel Universe isn't really built for them. The undertones of radicalism/rebellion really doesn't allow for something as...legacy-bound as sidekicks/apprentices.

  • At March 08, 2006 12:49 AM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    I think they prefer the term "hero support" now, anyway.
    Yeah, Marvel hasn't had a sidekick since Bucky (why oh why did they reanimate his corpse??!?!) and Rick Jones was like the sidekick slut, he was EVERYBODY's sidekick at one point or another, Cap, the Hulk, even ROM, Spaceknight. There's a good line in Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run where Black Canary and Arsenal are flying in the Bat-plane and trying to figure out how Mia fits in with Ollie, speculating that she's his girlfriend ("Ollie likes 'em young is all I'm saying") and then wondering if she's the new Speedy (which turns out to be foreshadowing) when Arsenal says, "Yeah, but aren't most heroes past the whole teen sidekick thing at this stage of their careers?" when he realizes he's sitting next to the Batman. AWKward...

  • At March 08, 2006 12:51 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hale: Hehehehe, I don't think I've read that one. Sounds *hilarious*. I'll hunt it down.

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