Shortly after Hitler invaded Poland, the powers that were decided Batman needed a sidekick. Not to prop up sales – by all indications, those early issues of Detective Comics were doing fine. No, the good folks at National Comics decided the grim and gritty pointy-eared crusader with the cape needed a young sidekick, someone with whom their young readers could relate.
Maybe. Batman had been a soloist for only one year, so we really don’t know. But we do know that Batman and Robin together were exceptionally popular. Therefore, Robin begat Speedy, Bucky, Toro, Sun Girl (who clearly was a young adult), Ebony White, Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Flash, Kid Terror, Aqualad, Supergirl, Mary Marvel, Dusty, Tiger, Wing, Sandy, Speedboy … I could go on and on, but I won’t because I like you. Well, most of you. Sidekicks became a real thing, an inseparable part of the American superhero myth for at least a half-century.
Writer/editor Robert Kanigher, who was handling Wonder Woman at the time, quadrupled down on the concept. He gave the Princess a Wonder Girl, a Wonder Tot (no kidding), and Queen Mommy the First. Four Wonders Women. I assume Hippolyta did not see herself as anybody’s sidekick, and certainly not her made-out-of-mud daughter’s. Well, that’s Bob Kanigher for you.
The job of the sidekick was simple: if the hero’s girlfriend wasn’t available, it was the young sidekick who had to fall out of the window. For this, they just might get their own television series – by the time they’re eligible for Social Security.
As a young comic book reader who hung out with a lot of other young comic book readers, we were the target audience for these kid heroes. Fun fact: none of us – not even one of us – liked those brats. They were unnecessary, they held up the action, they trivialized the main hero, and they were incapable of being inspirational. Let’s overlook the fact that had any of us donned a cape and a towline, our parents would have spanked the hell out of us. Such was still fashionable in the late 50s / early 60s.
No. We talked about this, usually while watching a Cubs game. We wanted to be Batman, not Robin. The Flash, not Kid Flash. I don’t know what happened to our pal who wanted to be Supergirl, but at least today we have a growing sense of appreciation for the non-binary approaches to life.
When Dick Grayson quit being Robin – albeit temporarily – my pals and I were thrilled. Batman is The Batman once again. Better still, before long Dick Grayson became a genuine second-generation hero working outside of the shadow of his mentor. Dick Grayson became interesting.
And this is the main reason why I’m enjoying the current Titans television series. One of the ongoing storylines, in fact the first one, was Dick Grayson’s separation from Bruce Wayne, how that evolved, how Dick had to wrestle with his daddy issues, and how to become an adult. That’s very interesting, even if Dick and everybody else except Bruce Wayne says “fuck” a lot. Hell, we did that when we were kids!
I should add that the current Bruce Wayne has yet to call the current Dick Grayson “chum.” For this, I am grateful.
One could define the plethora of secondary costumed heroes that over-populate the Arrowverse as sidekicks – they wouldn’t like that – but none of them are kid heroes. Most of these new New Titans aren’t kids either. They’re young adults. They’re on their own, carrying full responsibility for their own lives.
Now that’s a gaggle of role models for you.
I suspect the next Batman story I write will be one of those alternative universe stories where Bruce and Dick are outed as superheroes and the Gotham family services department files charges against Wayne for child abuse. It would be a fair cop, but I think it would still lead to Nightwing.
Meanwhile, it turns out Wonder Tot only acted as a sidekick. She was Wonder Woman as a child. Timey-whimey stuff. Please do not tell this to Daisy Duck or Minnie Mouse – it’ll screw them up real bad.
Besides, it might interfere with that Mouse and Duck crossover with Conan.