Nine Great Kid Sidekicks (And One That’s Just Weird)
Kid Sidekicks! There’s no doubt about it, they’re an important part of the culture of super-hero comics, going back almost as far as super-heroes themselves. Without them, kids wouldn’t have characters they could easily relate to and Dr. Wertham wouldn’t have had something to lose his mind about back in the fifties.
Now, with Amadeus Cho set to make the transition from sidekick to protagonist in this week’s “Prince of Power” #1, ComicsAlliance contributors Chris Sims and David Uzumeri have decided to take a look back at some of the greatest kid sidekicks in comics history!
Chris: I don’t know about you, Dave, but I’ve always wanted to have a miniature version of myself that would run around and distract people while I punched them in the face. It’s kind of the American Dream, when you think about it.
David: When I was a child, I always wanted to be a miniature version of a superhero. I’ve had a Robin fetish (not in that way) ever since I was a little kid, and it hasn’t subsided over the years at all, really. This is how much I loved Robin:
David: NOTE: This was less than a year after the debut of the new Tim Drake outfit. I forced my mother to make one that was COMPLETELY ACCURATE, down to the ridges on his sleeves. I also attempted, and failed, to fabricate a retractable bo.
Chris: Oh man, you too? I totally used to wear a Robin t-shirt and green dishwashing gloves and bike around a park near my house on the lookout for thematic crime.
David: So when it comes to Robin: I have love. A lot of love. I love Dick Grayson, the original, the carnie kid taken in by a billionaire who indulged him in his own delayed childhood, Bruce’s physical younger brother and emotional older. I love Jason Todd, the angsty, rebellious teenager with the cojones to lift the wheels off the Batmobile. I love how he was the pissy, you’re-an-asshole Robin who kept calling Bruce on his hypocrisy. He was the punk Robin. I loved Tim Drake, the self-made, self-motivated Batman and Robin fanboy who forced himself into the legacy purely with his wits and his drive. I even love Stephanie Brown. And my GOD, do I love Damian Wayne.
Chris: I think there’s a good reason we both latched onto Robin: He’s the template for every kid sidekick that followed. I mean, he was really easy for me to relate to as a kid because I didn’t necessarily want to BE Batman, but I definitely wanted to hang out with Batman.
David: Nobody wants to have their parents horribly murdered, but everyone wants to hang out in a cave that looks like the TARDIS meets FAO Schwarz.
Chris: Hanging out with Batman might not be an even tradeoff for being an orphan whose parents were murdered, but let’s be honest here: It’s a hell of a consolation prize.David: Well, until you reach puberty, and then he just keeps bugging you to “think clean thoughts, chum” and keeps cockblocking you so that you’ll go out on patrol with him. I totally picture Batman as the kind of guy who realizes he’s lonely and wants to hang out with Robin so he calls in a bomb threat at the nice restaurant Robin’s having dinner with some lady at.
Chris: I will admit though: There was a time in my life — I can pretty much narrow it down to the summer I turned 12 — that I would’ve traded every family member I had to spend some time in a Siamese Human Knot with Yvonne Craig circa 1969.
David: I don’t know if you ever caught Marc Andreyko’s “Nightwing Annual” #2, which actually featured Robin getting stuck in a safe with Barbara and subsequently trying to hide his boner from Batman.
Chris: Man, this article took a turn for the dirty quick. Maybe we SHOULD think clean thoughts, chum.
David: Well, there’s also that Bucky was a soldier, and Robin is… well, he’s a soldier if you count Frank Miller’s take, but he’s a different kind. There’s nothing glamorous anymore about going to war. And the Brubaker interpretation – which really isn’t a reimagining, since it builds on stuff that was all there — really doesn’t make him a very wish-fulfillment-inducing character.
Chris: In retrospect, he doesn’t seem like one, but at the time, Captain America was way more about wish fulfillment. I mean, I didn’t know the man, but I’m pretty sure Jack Kirby would’ve loved to have punched Hitler’s lights out like Cap does in his first appearance.
David: Touché. Either way, Dick Grayson’s job was to dust for fingerprints and get out of typewriter-sized deathtraps, while Bucky had to Solid Snake across enemy lines and quietly cut throats.
Chris: And c’mon, that’s pretty cool too. Plus Bucky’s got a great costume. He got to wear long pants, for one thing.
David: That’s a pretty huge plus, granted. And he got to travel outside Gotham, and Cap was probably less of a douche to work with.
Chris: Plus, he got to make out with the girls of the French Resistance, and he grew up to shack up with Black Widow.
David: Dick Grayson, meanwhile, got to get raped on a rooftop.
Chris: Clean thoughts, chum. Clean thoughts.
Chris: That’s crazy. The thing about Amadeus is that he and Hercules can both stand on their own as really good characters, but they complement each other really well. The big, strong, kinda dumb, definitely goofy guy and the super-serious ultra-smart kid. It’s the simplest idea for a duo you could possibly think of, but there’s a reason for that: It works really well.
David: What really makes it work so well is the subtext, though — I mean, Van Lente and Pak don’t at all run away from the subtext of Hercules having another boy squire, you know? The number of people who ask Amadeus if he’s Herc’s new eromenos/boytoy are pretty huge. Amadeus is hardly Herc’s first sidekick, he’s the latest in a string pretty tragic ones.
Chris: At least he doesn’t make him wear that purple vest Iolaus rocked in the Kevin Sorbo show.
The Golden Age Amadeus Cho
David: I don’t think you’ll get anything other than agreement out of me. I really don’t think Greg Pak gets enough credit for, so early in his career, creating a character that’s actually managed to last. I can’t imagine Cho will ever just dissolve into limbo; I think he’ll be around forever. He’s just too interesting, and he’s already so interlocked with the rest of the Marvel Universe that he’d almost be impossible to sideline.
Chris: Don’t forget Takeshi Miyazawa either. He and Pak figured out a way to make “super-intelligence” a visually interesting super-power.
David: I keep forgetting that Miyazawa was involved in that original short story in “Amazing Fantasy” #15. I don’t see that dude’s art enough.
David: I agree, he’s been totally emasculated ever since the first Crisis. He seemed frankly ignored, to be honest, for the majority of 1986-2005. Then DC tried to bring him back into the spotlight. Unfortunately, the story they used as a vehicle for this was “Countdown.”
Chris: Exactly! He’s awesome. Interestingly enough, he was introduced on the radio show and was so popular that he made the transition to the comics. So basically, he was the original Harley Quinn.
Chris: For me, no other character defines the abject craziness of the Silver Age more than Jimmy. I mean, the Elastic Lad serum aside, he didn’t even really have super-powers; he was just a dude who knew Superman, and because of that he got a fan club, trips to the future and the past, a Viking sexbot…
Chris: Oh man. Doomsday Jimmy Olsen was the missing piece that I never knew my life needed until I saw it.
David: It also really sells you on just HOW good of a friend to Superman Jimmy is — he basically sits there and takes page after page of just the WORST verbal abuse from the guy, knowing it comes from an honest place inside of him that he keeps deep down, and completely forgives him afterwards.
Chris: Also, I think it’s important to note that when Jack Kirby went to DC, they gave him not Superman, but Jimmy Olsen to work with. Of course, that was more because Kirby told them he’d take their worst-selling book and make it their best (which he did), and I guess that says more about Kirby than Olsen. But still!
David: I’d seriously … well, I’d do something reprehensible to get Grant Morrison on an ongoing Jimmy Olsen book. Or Jonathan Hickman.
Chris: Clean thoughts, chum.
David: I never said the thoughts were dirty! I’m just going to, I don’t know, block off traffic.
Chris: Ready to move on to Wonder Girl?
David: (shudder) We’ll have to get through it eventually.
David: Newsflash: I totally never got the appeal of any incarnation of this character. Well, I take that back. I get the APPEAL. It’s just never worked for me, ever.
Chris: Just in case you were wondering why pre-Crisis DC Continuity was so screwed up that it had to be scrapped and completely restarted, here’s the reason: Wonder Girl.
David: That’d be a decent argument if Wonder Girl’s continuity didn’t get WORSE after Crisis.
Chris: You know what happened there, right?
David: Oh, yeah. Bob Haney (I think?) was told to put together a Teen Titans series, so he saw some old “Wonder Girl” comics and threw her in. Problem: Wonder Girl in those comics was a teenage Diana Prince, not her sidekick.
Chris: Right, it’d be like if Superboy — Superman when he was a boy, not the clone — was hanging out with them. And comics being what they were this had to be explained through a series of increasingly complicated stories and increasingly dubious costumes, eventually culminating in a 19-year-old Wonder Girl getting married to the most loathsome character in comic book history, Terry Long.
David: All I know is that — yeah, she married some skeevy ex-professor or something, right? And they had a kid who died while she was, to quote Roy Harper in Rise of Arsenal #2, “Whoring around in space with Kyle Rayner”? (NOTE: When her husband and child died, she was not actually in space.)
Chris: Maybe we just missed the boat here.
David: I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve just never read the Wolfman/Perez run, and even if I had, I’m past the point where it’d hit for me, you know? Maybe if I were 16 years old in 1987, I’d have a big crush on Donna Troy forever, but as it stands now? All I can think of her doing is being in complicated stories and breaking her zombie baby’s neck.
Chris: And all I can think of her doing is marrying Terry Long, which is arguably way worse. But that’s an entirely different article.
David: In any case, I think the consensus is: Wonder Girl: don’t get it. Oh, and I guess there’s also Cassie Sandsmark, but all she ever does is whine.
Chris: Yeah. And get a real costume! Kids today, I swear!
Chris: No kidding. Much like Hank Pym, he’s been reduced by this one — admittedly, very good — story until that’s all there is to him. And it doesn’t really help that his name is Speedy, because c’mon, that’s hilarious.
Chris: Yeah, and it’s weird, too: If you read those early Green Arrow stories, they’ve got arrows for EVERYTHING.
Chris: And it really detracts from the core of his character, which is that he’s like Robin, only more useless.
David: How does that detract? What’s more useless than being a heroin addict?
Chris: Being a one-armed heroin addict?
David: Welp, that’s settled.
David: There are two Terras who were kid sidekicks. One is named Atlee and is a lot of fun and is drawn by Amanda Conner. She hangs out with Power Girl. They’ve got a homance going on. It’s cute. The other one smokes cigarettes underage while banging mass murderers.
Chris: …did you just say “homance?”
David: I sure did.
Chris: Remarkably offensive. Anyway, Terra was actually pretty great: Set up to worm her way into the Titans and then betray them, which is exactly what she did. So all of her creepiness is on purpose, although that haircut was probably not meant to be as bad as it ended up. Terra’s also a direct inspiration for what Mark Waid’s riffing on in “Incorruptible,” where a former super-villain has a teenage girl sidekick whose actual codename is “Jailbait.”
David: And yeah, I’ve never read “Judas Contract,” so I can’t speak about it firsthand, but it’s a story so ingrained in the genre that it’s inescapable now. Everyone knows the “SOMEONE IS A TRAITOR!” plot, and it all comes back to this.
Chris: You haven’t read “Judas Contract?” It’s really good, and not just because of the big reveal, because looking back, Marv Wolfman dropped a TON of hints along the way. Specifically in that she’s kind of a total jerk to everyone, which is what I like about her: She’s completely irredeemable. There’s no attempt whatsoever to make her sympathetic, other than that Beast Boy’s really into her. She’s just plain bad. Whch, of course, didn’t stop people from writing sternly worded letters to Wolfman for turning her eeeeeeeevil.
David: This has led to some pretty bad stories later, though, as writers have attempted to redeem the character and justify their teenage fanboy crush, despite the fact that it would totally screw up the entire point of the character’s creation. I think the current explanation is that Deathstroke was using mind control drugs on her, and the real Terra was actually a sweet, considerate girl.
Chris: Which is ironic, because readers crushing on the character is what makes her betrayal such a good storytelling technique.
David: It’s kind of inevitable too, you know? To a degree, it’s a sign that you’ve done your job right — the same thing goes for all the angry letters Marvel got asking them to bring back Xorn.
Chris: Because that went really well.
David: Yeah, totally. There’s no way they could have known the kind of weird stories and delayed-adolescent still-crushes their work would produce. And either way: Mission accomplished, and at least she’s still dead. It’s more than can be said for Deathstroke’s other female sidekick.
Chris: Oh man, I forgot I had her on the list.
David: Yeah, pretty much epitomizing daddy issues. I’d like to see a remake of “A Christmas Story” with the Wilson family.
Chris: I’d also completely forgotten about how she can see the future. Even for comics, doesn’t that seem like she’s taking it a bit too far?
David: It’s REALLY limited — like 3.9 seconds into the future or something. JUST enough to be able to anticipate her opponents. It’s future-seeing, too, not mind-reading, so it’s not like Cassandra Cain’s body-language thing that doesn’t work on the Joker.
Chris: I think she’s also the first person since the Second Edition DungeonMaster’s Guide to rock chainmail bellbottoms, too. I don’t know, I kinda like the idea of Ravager, but I think I’d like her more of she was just straight-up villainous.
David: I’m kind of torn. I liked the idea of someone to shake things up on the Teen Titans, the kid who smokes and drinks and doesn’t really care. I kind of wish Johns had stuck around and let his plans bear out, since I think that’s what REALLY took her character off the rails — the constant creative switching and editorial not really knowing what to do with her. Also, the fact that she was related to Deathstroke, who for a while was the most overexposed character in the DC Universe.
Chris: I mean, she’s basically what happens on Take Your Daughter To Work Day when “work” is “killing super-powered teenagers.”
David: I always took Wolverine’s claims of being a TOTAL LONER to be self-deception on his part. LoneLY, totally – but I think all of his claims of being a loneR are just to deal with the fact that, in his life, he gets to watch everybody die.
Chris: I’ve got a little less sympathy for him on that one since he’s usually watching people die because he just stabbed them a bunch of times. But anyway, back to the sidekicks. Thinking about them in the context of the others we’ve discussed, they really all fit the Robin mold, in that they’re viewpoint characters that get to hang out with Wolverine and the X-Men.
David: Lord knows I’ve written enough words about Kitty Pryde, but Jubilee is so incredibly dated to that Tiffany-era mall-oriented youth culture of the late ’80s/early ’90s.
Chris: Jubilee’s mallrattiness is really just a follow-up to Kitty’s love of roller-disco. And, if we’re all honest with ourselves, a precursor to Armor’s Twitter account.
David: That Twitter account really felt like the first piece of real characterization Armor got, you know? She was such a cypher for the entire Whedon/Cassaday run.
Chris: Yeah, but in ten years — assuming that Twitter doesn’t gain sentience and enslave us all — we’re going to look back on it as the late 2000s equivalent of Jubilee’s yellow trenchcoat and Bret “The Hitman” Hart shades.
David: God, it’s so true. Or we’ll just look back at it as the late 2000s iteration of Warren Ellis’s technology fetish. And yeah, you’re right about the Robin mold – which ones have we discussed that AREN’T that? Amadeus Cho, I guess?
Chris: Well, Speedy. Nobody really wants to be Roy Harper.
David: Yeah, now, but at his inception, he was the kid who got to hang out with the cool archer guy. Cho never had that period. Then again, Damian isn’t exactly in the Robin mold either from that angle.
Chris: What is it about Wolverine that necessitates a sidekick? Does he eventually just run out of ways to tell one person that he’s the best there is at what he does? Or is it just because they’re the only characters in the Marvel Universe shorter than he is?
David: I think you need a character near him who can get under his skin. If you don’t have an emotional hook — someone who’s willing to make Logan open up – then you really just get a neverending series of sniktbubsniktbub. It’s really difficult for most writers, as far as I can tell, to really get into Logan’s head. Jason Aaron’s done the best job I can think of lately.
Chris: Right, because what people love about Wolverine isn’t all the stabbing ninjas. It’s the talking about his emotions. Good call, Dave.
David: Well yeah, stabbing ninjas is awesome, but you need peaks and valleys, some way to get some sort of emotional response out of the character that isn’t IVE LOST SO MUCH AND HAVE SO MUCH LEFT TO LOSE WOE IS LIFE! And Kitty, Jubilee and (to some extent) Armor serve that purpose, they get Wolverine to act like… like a regular dude. Nightcrawler had the same effect, but RIP.
Chris: For now. RIPFN. Okay, and now the final entry on our list.
David: Oh, boy. The ultimate villainous sidekick.
Chris: He’s not really a KID sidekick, but I think he counts.
David: And, quite possibly, the first insane-ass ’50s Batman concept brought back in the current era NOT by Grant Morrison.
Chris: Actually, he did appear in a Morrison comic before he showed up in Dini’s.
David: Did I totally miss this? Was it just a one-panel thing?
Chris: Yeah, just a cameo.
David: Oh yeah, in “Last Rites!”
Chris: We speak, of course… of Gaggy Gagsworthy:
Chris: I’ve read a lot of Silver Age Batman comics, and I can pretty much assure you that the story with Gaggy is the most weirded-out I’ve ever seen Batman and Robin. All of their reactions seem to be just totally creeped out.
David: I said creepy, not serious. Of course he’s still blatantly ridiculous. I think you can be laughable and creepy at the same time. Like honestly, the guy sort of looks like he should have been chained to Joker like a dog throughout “Killing Joke.” He totally fits that circus-of-the-bizarre vibe he had going in that period. What was his MOTIVATION, anyway? What made him decide to pal around with a homicidal maniac?
Chris: In the original story, he was just described as “a refugee from a circus.” John Broome and Sheldon Moldoff werent’ very big on backstories.
David: Yeah, evidently. Not that many other people at the time were, either – even my beloved Robin Dies at Dawn doesn’t flesh out the scientist dude until Morrison picks it up like 55 years later.
Chris: Either way, he gets the job done. And really, isn’t that what sidekicking’s all about?