The Best Sidekicks (Non Comic-Book Division)

Last week, I wrote about the best sidekicks in comic books. As I was working on my list, I remembered a lot of great sidekicks that have appeared in other media. Instead of tossing them all into one big list, I decided to split them off with a second list. So here you go, my list of the best sidekicks in movies, television, cartoons and classic literature.

15. Sylvester Jr.: Sylvester Jr. fulfills a classic sidekick role: the sidekick who’s actually smarter than the mentor. In this case, Sylvester Sr. tries to teach his son how to catch a kickboxing kangaroo and fails miserably. The son sees through his father’s shenanigans. He puts up with his dad because that’s what sons are supposed to do and he’s often more successful than the senior Sylvester. It’s a quietly subversive role, upending the status quo to great delight.

14. Marcus Brody: Marcus Brody experienced a grand transformation from the first Indiana Jones movie to the third. In the first movie, Brody was a bit of a mentor. He was the one who offered advice at home before Indy raced off on another grand adventure. In the third movie, Brody got caught up in the adventure as well and found himself halfway around the world. He was the comic relief, ruining the heroic ride into the sunset by riding his horse backwards. Yet he also provided a positive function as an academic expert.

13. Scrappy Doo: Scrappy is one of the more contentious choices on my list. When he was added to the Scooby Doo show, he was one of the first sidekicks to be widely panned. Fans didn’t like the way he seemed to push Scooby, the titular star of the series, out of the spotlight. But I was young enough to love the brash, young character. I liked his fighting spirit, his put-up-your-dukes attitude and his willingness to rush headlong into trouble. Believe it or not, I still own the Scrappy Doo statue I bought as a kid.

12. Morgan Grimes: Sidekicks may have fallen out of favor in comic books, but they seem to be growing in importance on television. After all, every good hero needs someone to hang out with. One of my recent favorites is Chuck’s boyhood best friend, Morgan Grimes. “The beard” is a wonderful source of comic relief. But he’s also there to challenge Chuck when Chuck’s new spy life draws him too far away from his friends and family. Morgan has perhaps the greatest character arc of anyone on the show, eventually becoming the responsible manager of the BuyMore and an effective member of the spy team.

11. Hadji: I debated whether or not to include Hadji on this list. My concern wasn’t about Hadji’s qualifications as a cool character. He’s definitely cool- and that’s not easy to pull off with an Indian accent. He was smart, inventive and calm under pressure. He was also one of the first international characters that I was exposed to in my young life. No, my concern is that Hadji doesn’t qualify as a sidekick as I could see the argument that he was Jonny Quest’s partner rather than his tagalong.

10. Jan, Jace and Blip/Zan, Jayna and Gleek: Here’s another potentially contentious choice. In the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera introduced the outer space superhero Space Ghost and gave him not one but three sidekicks: the teenaged twins Jan and Jace and the sputtering space monkey Blip. Hanna-Barbera later used the same formula on Super Friends. This time, the twin teenagers, Zan and Jayna, were aliens with their own set of superpowers. Gleek, however, was still a sputtering monkey. I’ll admit that I like Zan and Jayna. I was a kid at the time and, if you were my age, you would have probably liked them too. They also had a memorable catchphrase- “super powers activate!”- that was easy to emulate as a kid, and easy to mock as an adult.

9. Tonto: Tonto is one of the greatest sidekicks in any medium. He’s the Lone Ranger’s silent partner and, like many great sidekicks, often smarter than his lead. At the very least, Tonto is well versed in hunting, tracking and other skills of the wild. However, Tonto is held back by the racial stereotypes of the time. His pidgin English is embarrassing. It remains to be seen whether Johnny Depp can rehabilitate the character for a modern audience in the upcoming Lone Ranger movie.

8. Falstaff: That’s right: I included the Super Friends and Shakespeare on the same list. Falstaff is one of the earliest sidekicks. Shakespeare included a lot of clown characters as comic relief in his plays. But Falstaff became more than a source of occasional laughter. He was a truehearted friend. He was a brave warrior, if prone to bouts of braggadocio. And he was one of the first supporting characters to become a star in his own right. He’s the model for many a sidekick today. Plus, like a lot of great sidekicks, he’s instantly recognizable.

7. Amy Pond and Rory Williams (Or Your Favorite Dr. Who Companion): I’ve heard it said that you never forget your first doctor but I found my first exposure to Dr. Who to be uninspiring. However, the infectious delight of my daughters rubbed off on me and I’ve enjoyed recent episodes, despite my own intransigence. My third doctor (the eleventh overall) is my favorite. Similarly, I’m fond of his two companions: the young couple Rory Williams and Amy Pond. Their relationship is as interesting to me as their adventures. I’m especially intrigued by their indecision whether to embrace the exotic adventures of the Doctor or the comfortable surroundings of home. Feel free to insert your favorite Doctor Who companion in this space, whether it’s Sarah Jane, K-9 or Rose.

6. Kato: The best sidekicks often outshine their mentors. That’s often been the case with Kato, the regular companion to the Green Hornet. At first, Kato was little more than a butler. But in the live action series, Kato learned to kick butt. He was played by martial arts expert Bruce Lee and quickly became a fan favorite. Now, it’s hard to imagine the Green Hornet without his quiet right hand man.

5. Dr. Watson: There are a number of reasons why sidekicks are introduced. One of the most persistent is that the hero needs someone to talk to. That’s why Batman was paired with Robin and Bucky was given to Captain America. And that’s why Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson at his side. Dr. Watson is our window into the weird world and impenetrable mind of the great detective. We learn what Holmes is thinking because he has to explain it to Watson. Yet the best Watsons are more than windows. They give as good as they get- teasing Sherlock with friendly familiarity. Plus, as a former soldier and a doctor, Watson is a valuable guy to have around.

4. C-3PO and R2-D2: Another persistent reason to introduce a sidekick is the need to ground the story in reality and humanity. George Lucas ironically did this by giving us a couple of droids. Despite his bumbling nature, C-3PO often spoke for us by commenting on the unbelievable nature of events and expressing the fears we might have in his place. R2-D2 was even better as C-3PO’s counterpoint. He was incredibly expressive and sarcastic, despite speaking only in squeaks and whistles. Plus, his plucky attitude was inspirational for those of us who didn’t have the Force.

3. The Scoobies: Joss Whedon put together the perfect team of sidekicks for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, in doing so, showed us the greatest reason why these types of characters exist. They are companions in the truest sense of the word. They are friends that become family. Robin is like a son to Batman. Watson is like a brother to Holmes. The Scoobies are Buffy’s best friends and the family she makes for herself: Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Spike and yes, even Andrew.

2. Sancho Panza: Sancho Panza is the Platonic ideal of a sidekick. He’s the original. Those who came before him are like prototypes before he perfected the form. He’s comic relief. He’s smarter than the lead character. He’s world-wise and world-weary. He’s our point of view into the oddness that surrounds us. He is the sidekick of sidekicks.

Yet, despite those praises, I’d put one sidekick ahead of Sancho Panza…

1. Samwise Gamgee: Can you think of another character that you’d rather have at your side? JRR Tolkien reputedly based the character on the concept of the batman- the military assistant in the British army. The batman takes care of his master’s needs so that he can focus on the fight ahead. In the Lord of the Rings, Sam takes care of the Frodo’s needs so that Frodo can focus on his quest to destroy the ring. Sam is the one who cooks. Sam is the one who stands guard so his master can sleep. Sam is the one who sings a song to brighten his master’s mood. Sam is the one who rations the food so that they’ll have enough for the trip back. Yet Tolkien elevated Sam beyond a simple servant. Sam sees the world with wonder in his eyes, marveling at elves and later oliphaunts. Sam is also wise beyond his years, as evidenced by his commentary upon the difference in stories between those reading them and those living in them. And Sam becomes the true hero, rescuing Frodo from captivity and carrying him on his back to their final destination.


That’s my list. Who’s on yours?

Views: 1255

Comment by Stephen Montgomery on November 18, 2012 at 12:36pm
Right, George, Dr. Watson has to be near the top of any list of sidekicks, in most of his incarnations, especially the Jeremy Brett tv series. Just showing my ignorance again as I'm not familiar with the Scoobies; Sylvester Jr; Jan, Jace and Blip/Zan; Jayna and Gleek; Morgan Grimes; Hadji, but that's my fault. But Kato? He's a masked mystery man sidekick, and should certainly be on any list of this sort, and if you've got Robin in the comics part of this, he should also be in this debate, I think but I could just be havering.
And as for Amy Pond, it's almost sacrilege to have her above SJS or anywhere near her on the list because Zoe, Polly, Teegan and a few others rate higher, imo. Oooh errr, I got quite worked up there. If you haven't seen those b&w episodes, please try to, some of them are excellent.
Captain Carrot (no, not that one) from the Watch in Terry Pratchett Discworld novels is a must here as Sam Vimes sidekick.
Comment by Chris Fluit on November 18, 2012 at 4:03pm

Nero Wolfe's Archie Goodwin should be in there, too.

Good one, George.  I can certainly see why someone would include Archie on their list.  He's another example of a sidekick who routinely outshines his lead. 

But Kato? He's a masked mystery man sidekick, and should certainly be on any list of this sort, and if you've got Robin in the comics part of this, he should also be in this debate, I think but I could just be havering.

I agree.  Kato should be on any list of the best sidekicks.  And he's on mine, right there at #6 after Dr. Watson.

And as for Amy Pond, it's almost sacrilege to have her above SJS or anywhere near her on the list because Zoe, Polly, Teegan and a few others rate higher, imo. Oooh errr, I got quite worked up there. If you haven't seen those b&w episodes, please try to, some of them are excellent.

I realize that a fan's favorite doctor and companion are entirely subjective.  The 11th doctor, Amy & Rory are mine.  Yours will be different depending on when you were introduced to Dr. Who.  That's why I wrote about them as examples of Dr. Who companions and encouraged you to substitute your own favorite in their place. 

Comment by Commando Cody on November 19, 2012 at 2:11am

Just as the Lone Ranger had Tonto, the Cisco Kid had Pancho. Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot had a Watson surrogate, Captain Hastings. House, MD had his Wilson.

I don't blame you for not including them, since they are pretty obvious knock-offs. But how about Chester or Festus to Matt Dillon?

Comment by Chris Fluit on November 19, 2012 at 8:53am
Good suggestion, Cody. I was scratching my head trying to come up with another cowboy sidekick. The only one I thought of was Doc Holliday, who is often portrayed as Wyatt Earp's right hand man, but I left him off because he's a real person.

Anacoqui suggested some of the junior detectives such as Chet- who hung around with the Hardy Boys- or whoever used to trail behind Nancy Drew.
Comment by Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) on November 19, 2012 at 9:37am

Good list, Chris. While I loved Marcus Brody, I think Sallah was the better sidekick for Indy.

 

C3PO and R2 always annoyed me, I'd have gone with Chewbacca. But nonetheless it's all personal preference. You've put together a good list.

Comment by Chris Fluit on November 19, 2012 at 9:38am

Thanks, Jason.  If I considered Chewbacca, he'd be near the top of the list.  But, despite his lack of English, I think of him more as Han's partner. 

Comment by Stephen Montgomery on November 19, 2012 at 11:03am
"And he's on mine, right there at #6 after Dr. Watson" Chris Fluit
"Yours will be different depending on when you were introduced to Dr. Who. That's why I wrote about them as examples of Dr. Who companions and encouraged you to substitute your own favorite in their place." Chris Fluit

Forgive my inability to explain myself, I think I was a trying to say that as Robin was on the comics list, he should be on this one especially as Kato was included.
And, yes, I do get a bit carried away when discussing Who assistants/companions/sidekicks, so, despite your encouragement to list others, I did feel the necessity to go on about Amy, sorry. Rory, however, is a different kettle of fish and I really like him and rate him quite highly as a companion. It's simply that, for me and many others, SJS evokes such emotion and has done from her earliest appearances and her comeback with DT brought a tear to many an eye.
Both your lists are interesting, even if I don't know all the characters. And I like the idea of Chester being suggested. He's just that bit different from the Pancho's of this world.
It popped into my head while I was writing this - Dick West from The Range Rider. I've been bagging Dell westerns and realised he was one of my favourites from all those years ago.
Comment by Chris Fluit on November 19, 2012 at 11:18am

Forgive my inability to explain myself, I think I was a trying to say that as Robin was on the comics list, he should be on this one especially as Kato was included.

Ah, that's an origin thing.  Robin originated in the comics, Kato in the pulps.  That's why they were included in the separate lists, despite their appearance in many media. 

Comment by Stephen Montgomery on November 19, 2012 at 12:08pm
Makes sense but didn't GH start as a radio show? I'm probably wrong but, same result, of course.
I also hesitated to mention old British tv characters, on the grounds that, as with me and some of your suggestions, you and many others on here might never have heard of them. e g. Maigret always had his Lucas (Ewen Solon) on the tv version (unlike the books, where there is a bigger cast of other detectives) and Dixon of Dock Green had his Andy Crawford.
Sorry it's a bit obscure.
Comment by Commando Cody on November 19, 2012 at 6:10pm

Good suggestion, Cody. I was scratching my head trying to come up with another cowboy sidekick.

There was also Andy Devin’s Jingles to Wild Bill Hickcock (TV), Pat Brady to Roy Rogers (TV), and Gene Autry had Pat Buttram (TV) and Smiley Burnette (movies). Gabby Hayes and Walter Brennan were sidekicks to many cowboys in the movies. You’re such a young whipper snapper that these are all before your time.

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