Monday, April 15, 2013

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Have you ever stopped and thought about the actual word sidekick? What does it actually mean, really?

You say it without thinking about it. But how did the term originate? Maybe it means ‘when you buy this comic, you get a little extra kick on the side from reading about not only the hero the comic is named after but their junior partner as well.’ I’m no language anthropologist and that’s not really where I’m headed with this post. I just think it’s interesting to stop and consider the long-standing tradition of providing heroes with sidekicks. How’d that all get started anyway (and who named it)?

Actually, while almost every comic you can think of has had a colorful cast of taglong characters--some superpowered, some just normal people that help round out the heroes personal life--there are only a few actually memorable and iconic sidekicks to speak of. Cap’s Bucky comes to mind and his transition into the deadly Winter Soldier is the subject of interest in Marvel’s next film installment of that saga. And a lot of the DC heroes have some kind of middle-school age junior version of themselves (Superboy/Girl, Impulse, etc.)

When you get right down to it, there’s one image that the term sidekick always conjures up: Batman and Robin.

For whatever reason, this seems to be the only comic where this idea that Batman’s got back-up (sometimes older, sometimes younger) has remained an important part of the comic throughout the years. While I love Batman in any incarnation, I really loved it whenever DC decides to publish this book under the title Batman and Robin. It just sounds right, doesn’t it?

I suppose what’s notable about Batman is how well the writers have managed to flesh out the relationship between Batman and his allies into something meaningful. You can learn a lot about Batman by learning about Robin(s). Dick Grayson is arguably the most memorable Robin. The first and for a long time the only, Batman’s original sidekick has sort of aged and changed over the years and stars in his own book that’s chock-full of Batman style action.

What’s most interested about Grayson is that he really IS the sort of prodigal son of Batman (and yes, I thought of Damian when I wrote this, and that scary little SOB just doesn’t count). He’s evolved over the years from Batman’s pithy sidekick who runs around in tights saying things like ‘Gosh gee Willikers Batman!’ into a crime fighting force all his own. As time has gone by, he’s more of Batman’s partner than a sidekick.

One of my favorite things about Grayson is that he strives to be everything to Blüdhaven that Batman is to Gotham. He’s sort of carrying the torch of fighting crime and corruption the Batman way in his own city, a place that’s equally forgotten by and considered criminally irredeemable to so many. The other reason I love the guy?

He’s an orphan.

This makes the parallels between him and Batman really stick out. Nowadays, he's literally been adopted by Bruce Wayne, he remains a close family tie that keeps Wayne from crossing the line between superhero crime fighter to brutal vigilante. Nightwing helps Batman stay grounded. Granted, that’s not always an easy role and you get a firsthand glimpse of how tough it is for anyone to handle being Batman’s partner; he’s rigid, obsessive, brutal and doesn’t exactly play well with others. But Batman needs a partner who can stand up to him and that’s what this Robin has grown up to be: Batman’s better half.

No one has gotten to know the Batman side of Bruce Wayne the way this Robin has. And while he’s learned every trick in the book, he also knows when to call Batman on his crap. So he’s become a lot more in the book than just some acrobatic clown with one-liners.

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