Sidekicks 2: the Kickening
Tuesday we examined the different types of sidekicks and a little bit about the evolution of the sidekick and how it’s changed from wish fulfillment into an actual realized character, that, in many instances, becomes a character that fans would want to work with, rather than assume their role as the hero’s BFF.
Here a couple that I picked, because I read about them. I wish it was more varied, but I wish my tastes were as well, and yet here we are.
The Sidekick: Robin
The Deal: There are like ten thousand Robins, including future versions, alternate Earth’s, not to mention anyone who is powerless and has a youthful ward that is essentially a Robin.
The first one, and the one we’ll be discussing is Richard Grayson.
Dick’s family were acrobats in the circus who were killed when their act was sabotaged while working without a net, killing everyone but Dick, who witnessed the murders. Sort of like Batman.
Bruce Wayne, who was in the audience, also realized this, and decided to take the kid in before he was lost in the adoption system, the streets, or died taking justice into his own hands. Dick eventually discovered that Bruce Wayne was Batman and using a modified version of his family’s costumes, his training as an acrobat, and his own physical gifts, became Batman’s partner in his war on crime.
Dick then helped found his own team, the Teen Titans, became his own hero, Nightwing, and then when Batman was seemingly killed by either the god of all crime, or an immortal devil worshiping relative, or a space demon, or possibly all three, Dick became Batman for a while until Bruce Wayne outfought time, death, and cosmic emptiness to return to the land of the living.
How’s He Doing: Really well.
Chris Sims of the the Invincible Super Blog wrote a fantastic piece about Batman and Robin’s relationship for his Ask Chris column at Comics Alliance where he discusses the new storyline where Batman basically creates the Batman brand, and covers the whole world in it to fight crime on a worldwide scale.
Sims points out that Batman’s done this before, with the Robins. Instead of letting newly orphaned Dick Grayson or street tough Jason Todd be left to their own devices to face the darkness alone, he was there. Much like Alfred and Leslie Thompkins were there for Bruce. Bruce could have easily got a gun and tried to avenge his family, or lapse into the debauchery that his vast fortune would have made him privy to, but instead, he focused his loss and rage like a laser beam to carve out a new life of physical and mental perfection. He succeeded with Dick, but failed with Jason.
Here’s the kicker, the third Robin, Tim Drake, was so inspired by Batman and both Robins that this kid, who had a family and a good life, became Robin because he realized that Batman needs a Robin. In doing so, Tim saved Batman from the darkness that he fell into following Jason’s death/the shithole that was the early 90’s comics.
The prophecy keeps fulfilling itself. Dick, when filling in for Batman even saved Bruce’s son, Damien, who was raised as a prince by cult of assassins, by making him come to uphold the ethos that the Bat family stands for rather than be a spoiled ninja aristocrat.
However the question is, would you want to be a Robin or hang out with them?
I’d much rather hang out with Robin than be him. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I definitely wouldn’t mind kicking it with Batman and even saving his life, but at this point, Robin’s done so much that they no longer fit into that wish fulfillment fantasy anymore. Robin’s no longer a bland avatar for readers to project themselves into, but is now someone who has helped save the world. Each Robin’s faced the Joker and beat him in their own way, or kept fighting the good fight with or without Batman that they’ve now become their own hero.
The Sidekick: Bucky
The Deal: An army orphan, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes grew up on military bases until his dad died. Out of respect for his father, and because they liked the kid, Bucky stayed on the base learning from everyone and became the base’s mascot. When Steve Rogers became super-solider Captain America, the brass decided that Cap needed a youthful companion to get kids interested in the war. Maybe they couldn’t work with Cap directly, but they could always become a paratrooper, marine, navy crewman, or maybe to just sell war bonds to help Cap in their own way.
It’s sort of meta that kids in the comic book were bonding with Bucky the same way kids reading the comics book were.
In real life, after the war and with the shuffling behind the scenes at Timely Comics, the company who would eventually become Marvel Comics, Cap and Bucky faded away.
Then to replicate the success DC was having with the Justice League of America, Marvel assembled a team of their all stars to combat threats greater than any one hero, the Avengers.
The Avengers needed a leader. Who better than the Sentinel of Liberty himself?
Stan Lee wrote in Avengers #4 that Captain America was lost during his final mission. He was actually floating in a block of ice in the North Atlantic and when the Avengers unthawed him, his first reaction was a scream.
It was revealed that their last mission together was to infiltrate a castle where the insidious Nazi super villain, Baron Zemo was going to fire an experimental plane at the White House, kill the president, and cut the head off of the American war machine.
Cap and Bucky bravely jumped on the plane to prevent this. They managed to damage it, but Cap couldn’t hold on, and as he was slipping he yelled for Bucky to get clear. Cap fell off the plane, into the water, and the last image he saw was the plane exploding with Bucky on it.
For a very long time, an in-joke among comic book fans was “only two people ever stay dead: Uncle Ben and Bucky.”
Enter writer Ed Brubaker. Brubaker wrote a storyline where Bucky wasn’t killed, but had his arm blown off. His nearly dead body was found in the water by a Russian sub that probably wasn’t supposed to be that close to England.
They found that Bucky had no memory of his life, but retained all his physical abilities thanks to muscle memory. He was brainwashed and reborn as the Cold War myth, the Winter Soldier. Given cutting edge weapons, and a sweet robot arm, the Soldier was put into cryo sleep in between missions to explain why he stayed so young murdering people throughout the decades while Cap slept in a block of ice.
- Brubaker rewrote Bucky’s origin, still retaining the childrens’ wish fulfillment angle as someone for kids within the universe to aspire to be, but now adding that Bucky was a black ops badass. While Cap posed for pictures with troops and liberated villagers and led the attack from the front, Bucky was in the shadows, reconnoitering areas, disabling traps, and slitting throats.
Memories of America and being Bucky begin to drift into the Soldier’s consciousness, leading to a confrontation with Captain America who restored his memories, all of them. Not just his life as Bucky, but all the murders he committed for the Russians. Bucky spent a lot of time running from his past, and trying to deal with his guilt until Captain America was seemingly killed. Bucky took up the shield and mantle as Captain America because he didn’t trust anyone else to do it justice. Now that the original Cap, Steve Rogers has returned, Rogers has become the World’s top cop as the head of international espionage and response force SHIELD, and Bucky is the new Captain America.
How’s He Doing? All right, I guess.
There’s an awful lot of the old ‘grrrrr grimdark’ involved with Bucky. Now, unlike a lot of heroes who are made dark and gloomy in an attempt to add gravitas to the character, the darkness here is earned. Bucky is a WWII veteran and was a killer during the Cold War. If anyone gets to carry a gun and mope about his past, it’s Bucky.
However, as this may make for a more interesting character to read, I sure as shit don’t want to be him.
Wolverine’s awesome, and I’d love to have his power set, but I don’t want his past. I don’t want his baggage. Bucky’s the same way.
Most of the Robins came from tragedy, but it does not define them. They’ve grown beyond it. The tragedy was their impetus, it’s why they are who they are, but it’s no longer their sole reason for being.
Bucky is a newer character, at least this current iteration of him is, so there’s still time to grow, but right now, the last thing I want to be is a gloomy and unsure of himself Captain America.
As a reader I’m digging it, but if I were an Avenger, I’d maybe see if Thor or Iron Man felt like calling the shots for awhile.
The Sidekick: Amadeus Cho
The Deal: The seventh (or is it eighth now) smartest person in the world, Cho will kick your ass using math.
Basically a living hyper computer, Cho may not have the raw brain power of your Tony Starks or your Reed Richardses, at least not yet, but the kid is damn quick on his feet. He’ll figure out the structural weakness of something, telling you exactly where to hit it to break it, or find the best angle to throw, dodge, or fire something.
He was created originally to be a genius on the run, a great mind with a young temperament, someone who could go either way in the eternal struggle of good vs evil. While running from the government, Cho is saved by the Hulk and immediately feels a kinship with Bruce Banner. Banner and Cho are both brilliant men who are misunderstood and hounded by lesser minds.
Cho eventually meets up with Hercules, a friend of the Hulk and the two go on the run from the government, SHIELD, and various angry pantheons.
It’s eventually revealed that Cho is to be the new Prince of Power. Hercules was the old one. Using his tremendous strength and indomitable spirit, Hercules served as the protector of the old world. He killed monsters and fought off evil gods to give humanity a chance to thrive. However, a new champion is needed, a different sort of hero, but cut from the same cloth, enter Cho and his unmatched brain.
Much like the Robins and Bucky, Cho becomes the new Prince of Power, but as Herc himself points out, Cho still beats the living hell out of everything that comes up against him; he just uses his brain to help smash it.
How’s He Doing? Phenomenal.
I will admit I’m a bit biased. Cho is a hero who happens to be Asian and not an Asian superhero. Nearly every other Asian hero is like a dragon, or red something due to communist China, or they’re like an atomic samurai.
To this day, Shang-Chi the Master of Kung-Fu, is not only like the fifth best martial artist in the Marvel Universe, behind white guys, I might add, but he still has a dumbass dragon shirt and a ying yang belt buckle.
Cho however is his own man, and he just happens to be Korean. He still fights, and loves, and defies the odds, just like every other superhero all without a constant and stereotypical Asian motif.
For all my non-Asians out there, it’d be like if every American superhero was part cowboy or had the flag sewn on their back. Spider-Man is white and American, but he gets to be just a guy. It’s the same thing with Batman. It’s basically everyone in comics, except Wolverine, who is Canadian.
However Cho is still doing great for a lot of different reasons. He’s not white. He was the sidekick to second tier character. He’s a new character.
I love the Incredible Hercules series by Greg Pak. It’s one of the best runs Marvel’s ever published, but Herc will never be mentioned in the same breath as Spidey or the X-Men. That’s just the way it is. However, Herc has defied the odds and is still being published in one form or another, and his sidekick is also able to carry a book. That’s huge in the comic industry.
Finally, he’s a new character. New characters almost never catch on, and if they do, they can look forward to being the second string on a team behind the main three or four characters that everyone is actually buying the book for. Hawkeye, who fought Iron Man to a standstill and was trained by Captain America himself, has been an Avenger forever, and he STILL can’t carry a book his own, and yet Cho is one of Marvel’s newest and most interesting characters.
So, would I want to be Cho or hang with him?
Definitely hang out with Cho. In his short lifespan as a character, he’s helped the Hulk, fucked up SHIELD, defied the gods, fell in love with an amazon warrior queen, become omnipotent, gave it up because it was the right thing to do, told the Avengers to go screw, and is helping defend reality from the Japanese god of primal nothingness.
To be honest, I don’t think there are any of the old school sidekicks left. The writers and the readers have grown to expect more, and that’s not a bad thing.
Storyarcs are better without a blank slate running around in a cape and domino mask, and it forces fans to get creative and come up with their own characters.
90% of the time these new characters will be Mary Sues designed for the fan to come in and save the day by being unbelievably awesome, but that other ten percent is going to be creative types. Maybe they won’t get into comics, but those creative wheels will start rolling and a younger age. If Robin, Bucky, or Amadeus can do, and they’re kids, then any kids reading the comic or watching the cartoon can do it, too.
And isn’t that the point of superheroes, to inspire?
Posted on November 18, 2010, in Comics, History Lessons, Matt Loman and tagged amadeus cho, Batman, bucky, captain america, cho, dick grayson, god i'm a dork, hercules, robin, sidekick, sidekicks, tim drake. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.