Kid Sidekicks have become a staple in comic books, and something that we’ve come to accept as just another part of the medium. But have we ever stopped to consider how strange the concept is? If we ignore the serious ethical questions of training a child to fight crime dressed in lycra, or spandex, or even leather, there are practical concerns. When I was twelve I couldn’t put on socks in the morning without sustaining a head wound. Develop and deploy the skills to disarm and disable an adult criminal – sometimes ones with superpowers? Not a chance.
But let’s take a look and see if this can be made believable… and not strange. The most prominent example has to be Batman and Robin (And the next Robin, and the next, and the next). That’s right, every time one of his kid sidekicks is no longer a KID sidekick… or dies… (sorry Jason, tough break) Bats finds another impressionable youth to indoctrinate. He also made the early ones wear tight green shorts, so we’re leaning towards the creepy here. But then again, Robin was introduced so Batman would have someone to talk to – his original purpose was to give the reader a greater insight. That’s pretty cool. And they’ve had serious storylines, developed into characters in their own right and gone on to become some of the coolest characters DC has to offer. Yes, we love you Nightwing. We have to give cool points for all of that.
Let’s try another. Green Arrow, a character who originally tried so hard to be Batman with a bow he had an Arrow-Cave. That’s not even a thing man. So it stands to reason he would want a kid sidekick too, right? Right! Enter Speedy, who did not have any speed based powers or abilities. He was just another archer in a red, lamer version of Green Arrow’s outfit. We’re leaning towards creepy again, but let’s take a deeper look. Speedy a.k.a Roy Harper struggled so much with his dual life and the dangers it put him in, he turned to drugs and used heroine as an escape. That’s a pretty serious storyline for any character, but the kid sidekick? It was revolutionary. For that alone Speedy gets my respect. It doesn’t hurt that he too grew into a great character in his own right.
Let’s jump across to Marvel comics now, a company we associate far less with the teens in tights movement. I actually thought for a second there weren’t any, then I shifted my thinking. What were the X-Men originally if not sidekicks to Professor Xavier? And I love the X-Men! So that makes kid sidekicks cool, hands down, all day long, right? …Right?
Oh. Hi there Catgirl. Listen, it’s not that you’re a bad idea. It’s that you’re a TERRIBLE idea. Catwoman does not need a bratty teenage girl following her around, messing with her image as a strong, independent and seductive woman. Maybe there was some potential here, once, but it was destroyed the instant you put neon pink all over her costume. Apprentice to a cat burglar and she’s allowed to wear an outfit louder than Mister Miracles? I don’t buy it.
There are plenty of other examples. Bucky Barnes, sidekick to Captain America, goes on to become The Winter Soldier and shock us all, so that goes in the cool category. Rick Jones has been passed around nearly every hero in the Marvel universe, side-kicking for characters as disparate as The Hulk (how do you sidekick for The Hulk!?) and ROM Space Knight… so that’s a bit unnerving. Wonder Girl, Toro, Aqualad… there’s no shortage of youthful capes and cowls out there, but what am I really meant to think of them?
As someone who loves comics, there are a lot of things I’m told how to think about. Comics are stupid and if you read them you’ll never be cool. Oh wait, did you see that new Batman film bro? Comic stuff is awesome now! But still don’t *read* them… what are you, high?
Yes, comic book culture has become more mainstream now, but sidekicks are still viewed as a bit kitschy. The closest we’ve seen to Robin in The Dark Knight trilogy is Joseph Gordon Levitt and a Batmobile full of obvious references. (Seriously, you called him Robin? If you’re going to do it, just do it…)
Kid Sidekicks should not be cool. Everything about them should make us stop and wonder what the hell the writers have been smoking. But like so many things that we’re told we shouldn’t like… we can’t help ourselves. We do. And we should! They’ve given us some of the greatest moments in comic books, from Barbara Gordon’s fateful house call from The Joker to the inexplicably endearing relationship between Wolverine and Jubilee.
I love comic books, and I love kid sidekicks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go safety pin a towel to my t-shirt and run around the garden.