by: Joel V. Grineau
Is there a teenaged sidekick in comic book history that has ever made a villain cower in fear? "Oh no, it's Robin! I've got to hide! Why God, why?!" And what self respecting villain would develop a psychotic hatred for someone named "Robin", anyway? Or what about Aqualad, Wonder Girl, or Speedy (the Silver Age Green Arrow's trusty sidekick)?
So why do we have them?
Let's go back to Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). In part, Campbell theorized that 'throughout the hero's journey, he encounters many forces; some which threaten him (tests), and some which give him magical aid (helpers).'
This is self evident. After all, a comic book is full of dangers that the hero must overcome. And, of course, even Superman occasionally needs a helper to defeat Lex Luthor's latest plan, to stop the Earth from hurtling into the sun, to cover his back during a green kryptonite scare, or whatever.
The sidekick is a step up from the occasional helper. The sidekick is the constant helper, a supporting cast member, a Little John to to the hero's Robin Hood.
Like a miniature version of the hero, the sidekick also needs a name, costume, gadgets, origin, motivation, family, and character. This gives the writer more to work with when crafting stories. In and of itself, having a sidekick is not the death knell for a comic book that one might imagine. (After all, "Detective Comics" is still being published over 50 years after the debut of Robin. More on Robin next column.)
Historically, sidekicks are often not written well. They provide lame plot lines, hokey dialogue, and are occasionally treated as bad plot devices. Did anyone really care when Aquagirl was killed in Crisis? A slim majority of us hated the second Robin, so he was killed off. Midnight could not save Marvel's ever-doomed "Moon Knight" franchise.
From the comic book company's viewpoint, sidekicks are useful for one reason - sales. After all, fourteen- year-olds in the old days could better relate to Bucky than Captain America. And if they relate, they're going to spend their money on next month's issue. . .
Captain America has had sidekicks for several decades, and so make a great "case study" of the evolution of the mythic Helper. Bucky, his first sidekick, was perfect for the WW II era with his feisty patriotism. After killing him off, Marvel replaced him in the late 1960's with Rick Jones, a stubborn, lazy musician. . .which was a great way to attract the youngest of the "hippie" baby boomer demographic. In the 1970's Cap's sidekick was the Falcon, Marvel's premier Black hero. Was it merely coincidental that at this time comic book companies were trying to attract more minority readers? Gosh, I wonder.
Heck, In and of itself, having a sidekick is not the death knell for a comic book that one might imagine. Inevitably, many of these sidekicks bound together to become the Teen Titans. The original incarnation in the late 1960's/ early 1970's produced a pretty dismal comic book series.
It's not all bad. Sometimes sidekicks are done right. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams run on "Green Lantern" (1970-1) was memorable, as Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy was revealed to have had a drug addiction. This bombshell storyline is still praised, even though the Comics Code Authority refused to endorse these comic books. [Not coincidentally, soon after the "Green Lantern" stories, "Amazing Spider-Man" #96-8 (1971) also dealt with the issue of drug abuse, and they were also not endorsed by the Code. But, as they did not deal with sidekicks, they are not of much use to this column. I wish merely to give Marvel it's due. More will be said on the code in a future column.]
Many of DC's sidekicks have grown up followed the heroic path. The original Robin became Nightwing, Kid Flash became Flash, Speedy became Arsenal. Wonder Girl, well, she's still trying to 'find herself' (and DC's trying to find her niche), now that her "Troia", and "Darkstar" days are over. Aqualad is now Tempest, armed with Atlantean magic, and a competitor for Aquaman's current love interests. Bucky's still dead. Rick Jones is integral to a possible future of the Marvel universe. And the Falcon, well, he's still about, somewhere.
So sidekicks do fulfill their twin roles. They are the hero's helper, and they help with sales.
||Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos"
Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of
1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his
enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA
from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.
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