After reading this week’s trade paperback review for the Major Spoilers podcast, I’ve been thinking about the tropes of pulp and superhero fiction as regards the differentiation between “Hero” and “Sidekick.”  One of the biggest problems with the Seth Rogen ‘Green Hornet’ movie from my perspective came in the treatment of the Hornet as a dipstick bumbler of Maxwell Smart proportions, turning the responsibility for most all of the heroism, gadgetry and combat over to sidekick Kato.  The reason for this is clear: Most people know the character from his Bruce Lee incarnation.  But, the tendency for the secondary character to be more skilled than his scion is a recurring trope in super-dupery, as a snapback against the long-standing ‘Robin The Boy Hostage’ paradigm in comics, which leads to today’s pressing query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) notes that there’s also the third paradigm, the “Hawk & Dove”, wherein neither character really has the upper hand, but that’s another story, asking: With a hero/sidekick paradigm, do you prefer that the hero or the sidekick have the upper hand?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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10 Comments

  1. February 26, 2014 at 11:38 am — Reply

    I prefer master/apprentice approach. Hero is a master of his craft while sidekick remains an apprentice, meaning that sidekick has the potential to pick up the mantle (or cowl) of the hero eventually. I think Batman got it quite well with Dick becoming Nightwing and eventually Batman when Bruce was presumed dead.

  2. February 26, 2014 at 11:44 am — Reply

    Half the point of being the Hero is that you have more skill, knowledge, and experience. The other half (this all being my personal opinion, obviously) is being the face that people associate with heroicisms.

    That being said, I almost always prefer the Sidekick, even when they aren’t showing up the hero. There’s something noble and truly selfless in working hard to make things right and getting little to no recognition for it.

    Plus, the sidekick is, a lot of times, the character that’s meant to draw the reader in. They’re supposed to be relatable enough that you can think “that could be me.” If you start giving them all of the special abilities, you lose that connection with the reader.

  3. SpiderLover
    February 26, 2014 at 11:57 am — Reply

    The sidekick role should be one of master and apprentice. Eventually the apprentice should be his own man. Which tends to be hard to do unless your Dick Grayson.

  4. February 26, 2014 at 11:57 am — Reply

    An obnoxious superior who takes all of the credit while not doing any work? Are we talking about comic book motifs or my employment situation? Hey-oh!

    The Jedi-Padawan model of sidekickery is the kind of relationship I would personally want if I were a hero or a sidekick. But if all duos were like that, it would be pretty boring to read about.

    Booster Gold and Skeets are the best.

    • February 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm — Reply

      I agree on Booster and Skeets, always entertaining.

    • February 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm — Reply

      In various media the Jedi/Padawan relationship is as different as any pairing depending on various factors. In the “Republic Commando” novels, Bardan Jusik described his relationship as a Padawan to his Master as something more of a management situation, going on to point out that other Master/Padawan relationships could be almost parent/child, teacher/student, close friends or even situations where neither Master or Padawan like each other. So while in some cases a Master may be teaching and guiding his Padawan, in others they might be closer to a manager who expects his employee to know everything already, or even a situation where they are both practically equals.

  5. Ingrid LJ
    February 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm — Reply

    I prefer my heroes to be the heroes, and the sidekick to be the hero-in-training, as it were. However, what I really like in a sidekick is for them to have some little area of their own expertise. Heroes are best when they aren’t the “know-it-all of everything.” You get better hero/sidekick interplay when there is a little give and take. A hero who is expert at everything may not need a sidekick, or worse the sidekick ends up being just someone to show off to all the time.

  6. February 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm — Reply

    I don’t really have a set preference. It depends on the situation and what the hero/sidekick are like. Sometimes a sidekick with more skills works, sometimes it doesn’t.

  7. Kirby
    February 26, 2014 at 7:04 pm — Reply

    I think both sets work, but for different reasons. The Batman/Robin situation works as it is a master craftsman teaching the apprentice so they can be an aid to society. While a Green Hornet/Kato can work straightforward, in my mind where the sidekick does all the work seems to work best as a comedy-type situation, I cite Inspector Gadget.

  8. gary
    February 27, 2014 at 11:00 am — Reply

    I’m OK with the sidekick being dominant, but, I’m not OK with a “bumbling” “hero”. In the world of heros, a bumbling hero should be killed. If they aren’t, then your villains are villainous enough. You turn the work into a comedy or satire.

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