I’ve always like sidekicks. Maybe it was because of a lack of self-confidence. I had a hard time imagining myself as Batman. But I could easily imagine I was Robin riding alongside the Caped Crusader. Maybe it was because of my affinity for the underdog. Sidekicks seemed to be mocked more often than not and I liked to see them prove themselves to their mentors, their foes and the fans. Whatever the reason, I like the scrappy sidekick, the young pal, the comic foil and so on.
Here is my list of the best sidekicks in comics. Your list is probably different. Heck, my list would probably be different if I did this again in a couple of months (so don’t fault me if the ranking doesn’t entirely match my earlier “best” lists).
1. Robin: Robin is the gold standard of comic book sidekicks. He was the first one on the stands, making his debut in April 1940. He was the light-hearted contrast with Batman. He demonstrated Batman’s humanity as we witnessed the Caped Crusader’s concern for the orphaned acrobat. Plus, Robin is well-regarded as both a sidekick and a legacy- the mantle having been passed from Dick Grayson to Jason Todd to Tim Drake to Stephanie Brown to Damian Wayne to, someday in the future, Carrie Kelley.
2. Bucky: I was not always a Bucky fan. I used to think of him as the generic sidekick and I had no interest in Marvel bringing back Bucky. And then Ed Brubaker brought Bucky back and completely changed my mind. He even changed my view of the 1940s incarnation of the character, pointing out that Bucky was a true soldier who used a gun on almost every comic book cover and showing that Bucky bravely fought beside Captain America despite having no powers of his own.
3. Jimmy Olsen: These first three choices are relatively easy- and relatively free of controversy. Jimmy Olsen was Superman’s pal. He was Clark Kent’s friend. He was often Lois Lane’s partner in mischief. He was eventually the star of his own adventures. Jimmy Olsen is an essential part of the Superman mythos. Yet his classic status has sometimes hurt Jimmy as it has prevented the character from growing and changing with the times.
4. Kid Flash: Kid Flash is one of the few sidekicks who outshone his mentor. When the debate eventually became “Who is the better Flash?” it was easy for me to answer “Wally.” I liked Wally better even when he was the sidekick. He had a great costume, inverting the colors of his mentor. He had the cool open-scalp cowl that let his hair flow in the wind (several decades before Jim Lee borrowed the same look for Cyclops). Kid Flash was exciting, racing off on adventures with his uncle. But I also liked that, in the beginning, he had a normal Midwest family home to go back to.
5. Rocket: The title of the comic book may have been Icon, but Rocket was the real star of the series. Like Kid Flash, Rocket outshone her mentor and readers were more interested in her life and perspective. She was Icon’s teacher, explaining the realities of modern life on Earth to the long-lived alien. And she was the one who experienced the ups and downs of life- especially with her much publicized unplanned pregnancy and later status as a single mother.
6. Po-Po: A key quality for any sidekick is comic relief. Robin provided the light-hearted banter and quips that kept Batman from being too serious. Po Po was the sarcastic monkey who accompanied Boon on his adventures in CrossGen’s Way of the Rat. Po Po was convinced of his own superiority and often rightly so. He berated Boon for his stupidity. He mocked their many foes- yet, by doing so, he also alerted the reader to the serious threats. If Po Po was scared, we should be too. Po Po also mocked fans- much to their delight- by berating them in the letters page.
7. Jubilee: Jubilee is a rare addition to the company of sidekicks in that she came from a team book. At a time when the X-Men were fractured (and living in Australia), Jubilee slipped through the cracks and into the arms of the team. She was originally a stowaway but after Wolverine was crucified by the Reavers Jubilee became his rescuer. She nursed him back to health and became his new companion. Jubilee was a different sort of sidekick, prone to backtalk more than banter. Yet she served the same purpose as many of the great sidekicks before her- revealing a caring, human side in her mentor.
8. Altar Boy: You might say that Robin is such a cool character, he shows up on this list at least three times. Jubilee was reputedly based on the Carrie Kelley version; Altar Boy is clearly based on the original. Brian Kinney moved to Astro City with the hopes of becoming a hero. After he broke up an armed robbery as a busboy, he got his chance as Confessor took him under his wing. Brian eventually discovered the Confessor’s secret- he was a vampire- though it’s likely the Confessor wanted him to know as a potential confidant. The Confessor sacrificed his un-life to save the earth and, after years of further training, Brian took up the mantle of his mentor.
9. Rick Jones/Snapper Carr: They’re two of the most divisive characters in comics. Their fans would argue that they aren’t technically sidekicks- they’re partners and honorary members of a team. Their critics would also argue that they aren’t technically sidekicks- they’re mascots and nuisances. Rick Jones hung out with the Hulk, Captain America and Captain Marvel. Snapper Carr befriended the Justice League. Peter David and Tom Peyer tried to rehabilitate their reputations in the ‘90s in Captain Marvel and Hourman but they’ll always be divisive figures.
10. Woozy Winks: Golden Age comics were full to the brim with amusing sidekicks but the best of the bunch was Plastic Man’s constant companion, Woozy Winks. While Plastic Man provided the big laughs, Woozy provided a slightly put upon perspective. He was along for the ride but he didn’t have to like it. He was easily startled and confounded in the early adventures. Later on, he was more likely to let out a knowing sigh or to raise an arched eyebrow.
11. Kitten: Golden Age comics were also full of kid companions. It seems like every superhero needed a miniature version of themself running along behind them. But Kitten was different. She was a girl. That may not sound like much today but it was groundbreaking at the time. Kitten was Catman’s partner in Holyoke comics. At first, she was a squeaky clean kid. By 1944, Kitten had developed some curves. She prefigured Annette Funicello, growing from Little Orphan Annie to Katy Keene before the reader’s eyes.
12. The Newsboy Legion/The Little Wise
Guys: What’s better than a kid sidekick? How about a whole gang of them? Joe Simon and Jack Kirby developed the kid gang formula and perfected it with the Newsboy Legion. The team, filled with stock characters similar to Our Gang (aka the Little Rascals), accompanied the Guardian on many adventures. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the Guardian accompanied them. Over at Lev Gleason, the Golden Age Daredevil picked up a crew of kids known as the Little Wise Guys. They kept him company for a while before eventually displacing him from his own title.
13. Tawky Tawny: What’s better than a kid sidekick? How about a talking tiger? Captain Marvel was already a kid in a grown up’s body so it didn’t make sense to have another kid trailing along behind him. That’s probably why Captain Marvel Jr. was spun off as a solo star. But the gravitational pull of the sidekick was too great and Captain Marvel was eventually given an associate: a talking tiger who walked upright and wore bowties. You don’t get much better than that.
14. Omni-Boy: You won’t find a lot of modern sidekicks as they’ve fallen out of favor. Yet they still show up from time and time and can be done well. Omni-Boy is the alien half-brother of Invincible. He fills one of the classic roles of the sidekick by illuminating the qualities of the hero through their differences. Omni-Boy comes from a planet with a higher birth rate and shorter life span so he has a more cavalier view of life than Invincible. Their partnership forces Invincible to become the teacher and the defender of life.
15. Dusty the Boy Detective/ Roy the Superboy: You may not have heard of them as they’ve faded into history but back in the ‘40s, they were two of the best in the business. They were the younger partners of the Shield and the Wizard at MLJ Comics. They had unique costumes rather than the copycat uniforms of most sidekicks. They also teamed up together without their adult mentors- the kind of star turn usually reserved for top sidekicks like Robin, Bucky and Jimmy Olsen.
I hope you enjoyed my little list of the best sidekicks. Come back in a week when I run down the best sidekicks outside of comics.