Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ronnie has three sidekicks.

You know what was a good show? Veronica Mars. This story, of a disgraced ex-rich girl who used her razor-sharp mind to solve crimes and mysteries, charging a tidy fee to her former friends and working pro-bono for the downtrodden, frequently approached perfection. Oh sure, the third season sucked, Veronica never had a compatible love interest, and the writers seemed to have little to no idea of how the legal system worked, but when it was working, which was more often than not, there was real clever writing, creative mysteries, and dynamite characterization. Ah, the characters. Keith Mars is one of my favorite supporting characters on TV ever, and Logan Echolls is a surprisingly in-depth examination of the “angry jerk” cliché. As for our hero, Veronica is a fiercely independent woman who don’t need no one’s help! I’m just kidding, actually, she’s almost constantly asking for “favors” to help her in her crime solving. But three in particular seem to have made it to actual sidekick status. Let’s take a look.


Wallace is a transfer student in the first season, and thus, the only person that doesn’t know Veronica is a social outcast. Veronica having no social status to worry about, she doesn’t think twice about standing up for him when he’s being bullied. It’s only logical that they become the best of friends. Wallace uses his position as an office assistant to help Veronica get various student records, and generally serves as her extra man whenever needed to check out a lead, provide a distraction, or drive the getaway car. He’s dedicated, smart, and funny. He’s also kind of a dork, with a fondness for remote-control airplanes and comic books, yet he‘s not a stereotyped TV dork. That’s why when one episode required him to be on the school basketball team, it didn’t seem like a stretch. Then an episode required him to be the best basketball player in school. Okay, fine. Sadly, I think the basketball thing was symptomatic of his general character decay. He lost his glasses, his nerdiness, and his personality, and become an intensely generic character. By the end of season 2, his sidekick role had been displaced by other characters, and in season 3, he was mostly wedged into annoying subplots involving his annoying roommate Piz and the increasingly less-likable Logan. And to compensate for the loss of any sort of personality, the writers inflated his basketball skills to insane proportions, to the point where he was being recruited by a pseudo Skull-and-Bones society in his first semester as a college freshman. Final proof that the writers really didn’t give a care about him: The episode where at the end he randomly goes to join the Peace Corps. Never hinted at before, never mentioned again.

I should also add that the premise of the series is that Veronica, who was once a spoiled, shallow rich girl, has fallen from grace and learned what really matters in life. So who are her romantic interests? A string of pretty rich cool white guys with whom she had absolutely zero chemistry. You know who she had good chemistry with? The handsome poor dorky black guy. Sadly, the Mars love life ran completely counter to the rest of the show. Her dad did date Wallace’s mom for a time, and they also had great chemistry. I can’t even remember why they broke up, but it was a crappy reason.


Weevil was introduced in the first episode as the leader of a gang of Hoodlums, the PCH Biker Gang. While they were indeed Hoodlums and petty thieves, they never seemed to aspire to much more than general jerkiness, and Weevil was known to come down hard on anyone in his gang who went too far with their criminal activities. This ended badly for him when the gang realized they could make a lot more money as drug dealers and mob lackeys, and demonstrated this notion by beating Weevil unmerciful. Weevil considers the formerly privileged Veronica to not be a real outsider like him, but he still grows to consider her a true friend, particularly when she clears his name of identity theft changes, and exchanges evidence incriminating his gang with a video humiliating the local law enforcement. His sidekick function mostly comes up when Veronica needs someone on the iffy side of the law to obtain information or evidence. He also got a vastly decreased role in season 3, but since the actor was in a nasty car crash that fucked him all up, that’s excusable.

Oh, and he and Veronica also have great chemistry, but not the dating kind, no matter what people on Internet say. Also, he was accused of three major crimes over the course of the show. One was accessory to murder, which he actually was guilty of, even if the guy he helped kill was a horrible murderer himself. But the other two were identity theft and document forgery. I’d be flattered if I were a motorcycle punk who had never aspired higher than convenience store robbery and folks were accusing me of such classy crimes.


Mac was introduced as the favor-of-the-week guest of a first season episode that required Veronica to know someone with computer skills. She was pretty awesome, though, and they brought her back a few times, and gave her a major recurring role in the 2nd season. In season 3, she was promoted to full-time cast member… Which is weird, since she was only in 10 episodes at all, the same number she was in in season 2. Well, whatever. She basically took over Wallace’s role as Veronica’s best friend, as computer skills are generally more useful than basketball skills. She did better than most in season 3, episode count notwithstanding. Her character wasn’t insanely derailed, and while her two relationship stories were stupid, they weren’t offensive, bang-your-face-into-the-wall stupid. What was offensive, bang-your-face-into-the-wall stupid was the second episode she appeared in, where it’s revealed that she was switched at birth, and she’s shown to have a lot more in common with her birth parents then the people who raised her from infancy, and the same goes for the person she was switched with. According to the writers of Veronica Mars, things like hobbies, interests, and fashion sense are genetically determined.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Deux root beers, sil vous plait."

THE KICKER - Marcie Howe (last name unconfirmed, based on an implication that her uncle is WHA all-star Gordie Howe,), an oddly profound and profoundly odd grade schooler from Charles Schulz’s immortal Peanuts. First appearing under the name of Clara during a summer camp storyline, Marcie’s character traits were quickly established. She was weird, unathletic, and called her female assistant counselor ‘sir‘. When reintroduced to the strip years later, she had aged up a bit and become named Marcie, but retained her personality and fondness for military precision, still calling her ex-counselor, now her classmate and friend, ‘sir’. With her distinct personality, an entertaining blend of book smart and street clueless, she quickly supplanted the generic character Roy as said friend’s sidekick. Independent of said friend, she plays a weirdly romantic role as a French peasant girl in Snoopy’s WWI fantasies. Sometimes it’s not really sure if she’s playing along with him, or if he’s imagining her. Either way, it suits her character, as she would be the only character weird enough to engage in WWI reenactments with a friend’s pet dog.

WHO THEY’RE KICKING - Patricia “Peppermint Patty” Reichardt. A brash and seemingly confident tomboy who lived on the other side of town from Charlie Brown. She was introduced as a friend of the aggressively bland Roy, who was basically a character to give the others someone to talk to when they want to camp. Roy brought Patty over to help Charlie Brown’s team, and Schultz quickly realized he had found a far more interesting character, what with her fondness for nicknames, forward attitude, and inability to tell that Snoopy was a dog. She has a close relationship with her single father, who calls her a ‘rare gem’. She does terrible in school, a fact exacerbated by her insomnia. (She’s too insecure to fall asleep before her late working father gets home.)

WHAT THEY BRING - Well, as you may note, the two are extremely different people. Marcie does great in school and is insightful, Patty does poorly and is confused. Patty is outgoing and athletic, Marcie is introverted and indoorsy. Patty calls Charlie Brown “Chuck”, Marcie calls him “Charles”. Marcie is certainly the more well-adjusted of the two. She is incredibly comfortable with herself and who she is, and is able to see though a lot of Patty’s insecurity because of it. This is very clear in their respective crushes on Charlie Brown. Marcie knows she likes Charlie Brown, knows he’s not interested, and accepts that. Patty also has a crush on Charlie Brown, but has no idea. She knows she wants his approval and reassurance, but doesn’t know why, and Chuck is oblivious, but doesn’t like upsetting her. It’s actually a very well-written examination of the kind of pre-pubescent crushes kids develop at that age. Anyway, Marcie, strange though she may be, is Patty’s grounding force. The anchor that holds her somewhat distracted friend in the moment.

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? - Hey! You know what I’ve managed to go all this time without mentioning? Peppermint Patty and Marcie are gay! DURRR HURR HURRRRR. Seriously, when was the last time these two were brought up without that being mentioned? It’s actually kind of pathetic that even in today’s society, people still look at a tomboy with a close female friend and think “Well, she must be gay.” Sure, the ‘sir’ thing is a little weird, and Patty’s favorite athlete is Billie Jean King. But the ‘sir’ thing was SUPPOSED to be weird, a sign of Marcie’s social oddness. And BJK was a symbol for equality between the sexes, and someone who showed the girls could excel in sports and should not be looked down on for it. The fact that she’s gay is incidental. The other major character from Patty’s side of town, Franklin, is also subject to this. If you ask a Peanuts fan, Franklin is a serious-minded boy whose father is in the army, stationed overseas. (Initially in Vietnam, but it changed with time, of course.) He is philosophical and prone to quotations, like Linus, but is much more sensible. He is the only character who seems to notice that all of the other characters are slightly off their rockers. If you ask a non-Peanuts fan about Franklin, they’ll say TOKEN BLACK GUY DURR HURR HURRRR. Never mind how ballsy it was for Schulz to show black and white kids playing together in 1968 in the first place.

So where’s the respect? Depends on if you read the comics, I guess. She didn’t make it into “Snoopy!!! The Musical”, but that’s probably for the best. “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, aka the good Peanuts musical, was written before she came to the strip. Schulz certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else continue his work, and more TV specials seem unlikely, so there’s not going to be much Marcie in other adaptations for me to critique. So just remember that Charles Schulz created a surprisingly in-depth world for his creations, and no hacky comedian’s going to change that.

As Chuck to the Red-Haired girl, so Patty to Chuck. Also Lucy to Schroeder, Linus to Miss Othmar, Sally to Linus... Man, Sculz had issues.

He's in the hospital. They're not just staring at his house.



You getting all this? There's going to be a test.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Very good, Sir."


THE KICKER: Reginald Jeeves, seemingly omniscient valet. It is important to note the Jeeves is a valet and NOT, as many believe, a butler. He refers to himself as a “gentleman’s personal gentleman” or manservant, i.e., he serves only one person. This is what makes him a sidekick. A butler, on the other hand, serves a house. Wodehouse did write about one butler, a man called Beach. Beach was high-strung and emotional and was nobody’s sidekick except possibly Blandings Castle. Jeeves, on the other hand, is always calm and cool-headed, and is the sidekick of…

WHO THEY’RE KICKING: Bertie Wooster, the archetypical member of that most pointless of social classes, the idle rich. Picture Bruce Wayne if he was actually the way he pretends to be in public. It would be nice if he did have some crime fighting or something to occupy his time, since instead he winds up doing a great many favors for various friends and relations. Everyone comes to Bertie to help with their troubles, and due to being naturally helpful, not too bright, and sort of a doormat, he always accepts. Granted, his original ideas aren’t great - he once advised three people with separate problems to act like they weren’t hungry at dinner, and the only result was that the chef quit - he’s got a terrifically brainy fellow on staff to offer suggestions.

WHAT THEY BRING : Well, the interesting thing about what Jeeves brings is that unlike many sidekicks who assist the hero in his normal activities, Jeeves is completely essential to his kickee’s life, to the point where Bertie basically can’t function without him, not that Bertie will ever admit that. But the poor sod can't even boil water for tea, let alone fix any of his own problems. I have just finished reading “Carry on Jeeves”, a collection of short stories, and noticed that pretty much every story in the book has the same plot, which is as follows.

1 - One of Bertie’s friends, a man with a feminine name (Gussie, Biffy, Tuppy, etc), is in trouble, usually involving a woman. He comes to Bertie for help.

2 - Bertie tries to assist, and the situation gets worse.

3 - Jeeves concocts a plan, which is implemented with great success for all parties involved.

4 - The End.

What stops this admittedly formulaic plot from becoming tedious is due to two things. First is the quality of writing. Wodehouse could probably write the exact same plot twenty or thirty times and fill it with new jokes, so similar plots pose no problem. The second reason is the character of Jeeves himself. His sheer range of expertise is baffling, yet never comes across as unrealistic. And seeing as his solutions range from blackmailing a lingerie salesman to authoring a book on ornithology, that's saying a lot. He often turns events in a way that benefit himself, but he never seems manipulative or harms Bertie. And while he remains calm and unflappable at all times, which can be boring in a character, he still has a clearly defined personality. (He is afraid of dogs, for instance, and once calmly and unflappably climbed on top of a wardrobe when trapped in a room with one.)

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? : All over the dang place. While Bertie is always the main character and Jeeves hasn’t totally taken over, Wodehouse himself realized he was the main draw, and the large majority of Jeeves stories, as well as all of the story collections, have his name in the title. The FREAKING FANTASTIC early ‘90s TV series Jeeves and Wooster gave the two equal billing, and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is titled “By Jeeves”. Also it’s Webber’s only flop. Apparently he felt so bad about cutting anything of the original Wodehouse, the original production was about four hours long. But regardless, what’s important is that whether in stage shows or radio plays, in crappy musicals or FREAKING FANTASTIC TV shows, Jeeves is rightly remembered as an essential and equal part of the story’s success. His respect levels in-story are considerable, too. At least one of Bertie's relatives has given up on the pretense of asking Bertie to solve her problems and now just asks him to make Jeeves do it. On the employment side, Bertie never mistreats him and knows exactly how important he is, and were it not for their mutual respect for the class system, they'd call each other friend.

BY THE WAY: Seriously do watch that TV series. There's very little in this world as funny as watching local politician Roderick Spode rant in perfect Hitler style and tone about piddling topics like vegetable regulation and railway expansion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Him find out what Kemosabe mean." or "What you mean 'we,' paleface?"

THE KICKER - Tonto, the Faithful Indian Companion of… you know what? It can be really hard to write about the sidekick before the boss, especially in the 1940s, when the description is pretty much just “Faithful [Ethnicity] Companion.” Anyway, it’s the 40s, so you know that Indian means Native American, because the other kind didn’t exist then. You also know pretty much his entire personality, because in those days, Indians didn’t have anything better to do than follow white people around and do tracking and healing while fawning over the white guys in broken English, talking about bear spirits and shit. By the way, “Tonto” is Spanish for “idiot” and not any Native American language for anything. He is said to be a prince of the Powotomi tribe, but since they live in the Northeast, it’s anyone’s guess why he was wandering around Texas. So who’s the lucky whitey?

WHO THEY’RE KICKING - John Reid, a.k.a. The Lone Ranger. John was part of a gang of Texas Rangers, including his father and brother, who were attacked by bandits and left for dead. But the bullet that was meant for John’s heart was stopped by his badge (I think this was a late entry to the legend, but I like it, so I'm sayin' it.). Tonto just happens to be passing by, and helps John give the others a proper burial. They decide to become roving do-gooders, with a home base in a silver mine, from which John mines silver not only to fund their exploits, but also to make silver bullets to leave as calling cards. Also his horse was named Silver. Guy’s got a theme. I don’t know the name of Tonto’s horse, and if you want to know the name of John’s nephew’s horse, you’d have to ask Darren McGavin. The Wikipedia entry states, and I quote: “Together, they seem to be capable of righting almost any wrong within the half-hour time frame.”

(No, I have no idea. I think it was an attempt at a TV series on The WB, but I'm really not sure.)

WHAT THEY BRING - Healing and tracking" Frankly, Tonto gets shafted pretty hard. The Lone Ranger wears a mask and gets a code name, but Tonto just has to be Tonto, hanging around in the back moping. He doesn’t even get a gun in the earlier versions. His major role seems to be to give the Ranger someone to talk to, since a radio show of a guy riding a horse around saying “Hmmm,” probably wouldn’t move a lot of Ovaltine.

WHERE’S THE RESPECT? - Like Kato after him, Tonto was a brave and intelligent minority hero who had the misfortune of being written in the 1930s. There’s not much good in being a positive role model if the theme song calls you an “Injun”. Subsequent versions enhanced his role in the story. While the pidgin English remained, the 1938 serial made Tonto the one who saved Reid from the ambush, rather than just some passerby. The TV series codified the origins given above, which had been somewhat ambiguous on the radio show, frequently going to a “White guy saves minority’s life, minority follows him slavishly” trope used in such varied media as Star Wars, Star Wars Episode 1, and probably some other stuff. The horrible 1981 movie “Legend of the Lone Ranger” made Tonto the guy that trained the rookie Reid in shooting and such. (By the way, I MEAN horrible. The lead actor, Klinton Spilsbury, never did another movie again. And with a matinee idol name like that, how could you go wrong?) This all lead up to the current comic book series, where Tonto saved Reid’s life, and is shown to be his equal or superior in nearly every field. Reid is just a bit better at analysis, and is the one who actually wants to help people. Tonto portrayed as close to an equal partner, joining Reid out of an almost grudging respect for his passion for justice. They also played with his look, making him muscular and about a foot taller than the Ranger. The series gives an explanation for his name (“It‘s what they used to call me,”), his dubious ethnicity (He’s an outcast from his tribe, which he refuses to identify,), and a love interest (The widow of the Ranger’s brother.). Yup, everything’s coming up Tonto.

Of course, Disney’s developing a new Lone Ranger movie, and has Johnny Depp playing Tonto. On the one hand, Depp is one quarter Cherokee at best, thus making him actually more racially inappropriate for the character than past actors, which is rare in cases like this. On the other hand, they cast Tonto before the Ranger, and got the A-listiest of A-listers to play him, so there’s some respect there. And that’s nice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Child Endangerment! Fun for the whole Bat-family!"

And now, a salute to that most deranged trope of comic books of the 1940s - The Kid Sidekick.

KID FLASH - Winning the award for laziest transition from hero name to sidekick name, it’s Wally West! He’s actually from 1959, but he’s such a prime example I have to include him. I can honestly declare that Kid Flash has the stupidest origin of any comic character ever. See, Wally is the nephew of the girlfriend of  the second Flash, Barry Allen (The first, Jay Garrick, had retired.), and he was a huge fan of the Flash. Upon learning this, Barry revealed his identity to the spunky tween, and decided to tell him how he got his powers. Why is the first person to whom he’s revealed this incredible secret a child he barely knows? Narrative contrivance! Anyway, rather than just saying “A lightning bolt struck some chemicals I was working with and they splatted me, so now I run real fast,” Barry demonstrates by setting up the chemicals exactly as they were when the incident happened, and oh gosh wow wouldn’t you know it, they get hit by lightning. Wally now has powers, and Barry decides to make him a mini-Flash outfit, (which Wally quickly dumps in favor of a the usual “easy target” look of the kid sidekick.) and off they go to fight crime.

In the first example of what you’ll see a lot of here, Wally took up his hero’s mantle, becoming The Flash after Barry died. Eventually, a descendant of Barry from the future, Bart Allen, came to our time and had his own teen superhero gig as Impulse. But after deciding to take things more seriously, he took Wally’s old costume and went out as Kid Flash, to honor those who came before him.

DO YOU HEAR ME? Barry Allen is DEAD. Wally West is THE FLASH. Bart Allen is ALIVE AND IS KID FLASH. Any comics being published the last few months that say otherwise are the result of a MADMAN‘S FEVERED IMAGINATION.

ROBIN - Ah, the classic example. Robin came into being when the editors of Batman decided that since Bats is a detective, he should have a Watson-like partner he can talk with. GOOD IDEA! They decided said partner should be an 8-year-old. BAD IDEA! The idea was to make Batman lighter and more sympathetic and appeal to young readers. So to be fair, it’s two bad ideas. Dick Grayson was a circus acrobat whose parents were killed by a mobster. Bruce Wayne, who was in the audience, decided to take the boy into his house as his ward, being unable to adopt him because he’s single. Ah, the ‘40s. When the kid figures out his fake daddy is Batman, he becomes the big man’s sidekick, with a costume and name inspired by Robin Hood. (Robin Hood? Dammit, that guy follows me.)

Well, after being “The Boy Wonder” for years, Robin went away to college, where he spent an embarrassing period going solo as “Robin: The Teen Wonder”. The Teen Wonder comics from the ‘70s are hilarious because the artists are making an effort to draw him like a college student, while he’s still wearing those ridiculous little pants. Anyway, readers responded well, so they gave Batman a new Robin and had Grayson go solo in an even more unfortunate costume as Nightwing. His current costume is classy and cool, which is why I used a picture of his old one. Nightwing distanced himself from Batman, until his hotheaded second Robin, Jason Todd, got beaten to death and blown up by the Joker (He got better). Anyway, Batman got blown up in a helicopter crash, and after three of the four Robins briefly dueled (triueled?) over the duties of Batman, Dick gave in to predictability, becoming the new Batman.

I should mention that the helicopter crash is only true in the main Batman line of comics. There is another comic that shows he was actually teleported away from there so he could help stop the insane god Darkseid by shooting him with a magic gun, so Darkseid blasted his consciousness back to cavemen times as a punishment, leaving a corpse in the present. Thankfully, those of us who don’t read the big event comics are free to ignore this, thanks to a perfectly serviceable helicopter crash. Batman using a gun to fight a god? Pfft. That’s like saying Barry Allen is alive.

BUCKY - Well, we’ve heard a lot out of DC, but I don’t want you thinking it’s all about them. Marvel gets in on the child endangerment action, too, in a big, big way. See, back in the ‘40s, Marvel was called Timely. And when they came up with the hot new hero Captain America, they did the “Timely” thing, and copied the more popular company, National Publications, soon to be known as DC. Since Robin was popular, Timely’s Captain America needed a kid sidekick, and that was Bucky Barnes. One eeeeeensy weensy problem. Captain America’s milieu was the goddamned front lines of World War Fucking Two. The comics of the time justified Bucky’s presence as… ugh, the “Camp Mascot.” Mascot, yeah, that’s a great reason to put a 13-year-old in Guadalcanal. Bucky was eventually killed in action after a missile he and Cap were attempting to defuse blew him to smithereens. The death stuck even after Captain America was revived, leading to the old saying, “No one stays dead in comics except Jason Todd, Bucky Barnes, and Gwen Stacy.”

Then he came back to life! Just like Jason Todd! And Gwen Stacy got cloned! Old sayings are bullshit. Anyway, in 2005, Bucky got two major retcons. The first was that he was 16 (going on 17), and his small stature and sneakiness got him recruited by the army for covert assassinations. The second was that only his arm was blown to smithereens, with the rest of him being one rather large smitherando. His frozen body was thawed by the Russians in the ‘60s, and what with the amnesia and all, they decided to give him a robo-arm and make him The Winter Soldier, a top-notch assassin and nogoodnik. He regained all of his memories following a few encounters with Captain America, and after Cap died, he Wally Wested himself into a role as the new Captain America, with a pretty ugly new costume, and a gun that the media made way too big a deal over.

TORO - Toro is easily the dumbest thing on this list. Even more than Kid Flash. See, the Human Torch was the first ever Marvel hero, debuting in Timely’s Marvel Comics #1. And the interesting thing about the Human Torch was that his name was a big fat lie. He wasn’t a human, he was an android, created by the hilariously named Professor Phineas Horton. And he was a completely perfect replica of a human, except for the slight error that his skin burst into flame on contact with oxygen. Also he could fly for some reason. Anyway, he eventually figured out how to control that, and got a secret identity and a superheroing gig. Toro made the scene in Human Torch #2, the first issue of the Human Torch comic. (Don’t ask, I barely understand it myself.)  Toro was the son of Professor Horton’s former lab assistants, orphaned since their death in a train accident. He was found at the site of the accident by some circus folk, who noticed that he didn’t burn in the fire. The circus adopted him (Apparently a billionaire can’t get custody of a circus boy, but a circus can get custody of a trauma victim.)  When the Human Torch visited the circus, the boy’s true flame powers activated. Now keep in mind that the Torch’s flame ability wasn’t something intentional, it’s just a side effect of his oddball robot body. So why does the kid, a human, happen to have the exact same powers? It’s just insane! Anyway, he started sidekicking, calling himself Toro, which is Spanish for “bull”. So that makes sense.

To make up for his deranged origins, he was allowed to lead a remarkably dignified life, remarkably NOT becoming the new Human Torch. He made it out of WWII sane and healthy, got married, and settled down. In 1969, he resurfaced to stop the Mad Thinker, and was killed. To date, he has remained dead, but nobody cares.

SPEEDY - Oh, Speedy. Speedy was Roy Harper the orphaned (surprise!) son of a park ranger. After his dad died saving a Navajo medicine man, Brave Bow, from a forest fire, Brave Bow raised Roy and trained him in archery. When Roy was a teenager, he entered an archery contest judged by superhero Green Arrow. At the competition, Roy helped G.A. foil a robbery. When Brave Bow died, Roy became the ward of Green Arrow’s alter ego, billionaire Oliver Queen, who was never suspected of being Green Arrow despite his ludicrous beard. Needless to say, sidekickery soon followed. Wow! A sidekick position, a billionaire dad, a cool car… What could go wrong?

Um… a whole lot.

When Arrow loses most of his fortune, he begins neglecting Roy. What with that, his girlfriend dumping him, his team breaking up, and a whole heapin’ helpin’ of other crap, Roy learns that he still has one friend he can turn to… Heroin! When Green Arrow finds out he reacts with maturity and understanding by punching Roy in the face and kicking him out of the house. After kicking the habit, Roy cuts off all ties with his former mentor, and bums around as a private eye, a DEA agent, and for one mission, a member of the Suicide Squad. He finally decided to get back into the hero game, but this time as his own man, rather than in the shadow of Green Arrow. So he got himself some high-tech weapons, and made his debut as Arsenal. Then he dropped the weapons, got his bow back, and changed his costume. Then he changed it to a Red Version of Green Arrow’s costume and started calling himself Red Arrow. Way to be your own man, Roy. He says it’s symbolic of him moving past his old issues and letting bygones be bygones but I think it seems a little dependency disorderish.

CAPTAIN MARVEL, JR. - Can Wally West come over here for a second? Yeah, we need to take away your lazy naming trophy and give it to this guy. Interestingly, Freddy Freeman here is actually a boy sidekick to a young boy, in a way. Captain Marvel was a young newsboy who would become the adult superhero Captain Marvel whenever he said “Shazam”, the name of the wizard who gave him his powers. Well, once upon a time, Captain Marvel was fighting Captain Nazi, whose powers include a lack of naming subtlety, and punched him into a lake where Freddy Freeman was fishing with his grandfather. Unaware of Nazi’s identity, but suspiciously not turned off by the big ol’ swastika on his chest, they pull him aboard. Captain Nazi comes to, drowns Grandpa, and beats Freddy senseless with an oar. Man, some people have no gratitude. Finding out that Freddy was left crippled by the attack, Captain Marvel took pity on him, and gave the boy some of his own power. Now, any time Freddy says “Captain Marvel”, it affects a similar transformation. He’s still a teenager, but a buff, noncrippled one. He was given the name Captain Marvel Jr, which unless I miss my guess, leaves him unable to introduce himself without turning back into a gimp.

Actually, he did okay for himself as Captain Marvel Jr. In addition to his role in the main Captain Marvel series, where he was part of a large stable of sidekicks which included Mary Marvel, the Lieutenant Marvels (Tall Marvel, Hill Marvel, and Fat Marvel), Uncle Marvel, Mr. Tawky Tawny the Talking Tiger, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny… Hold on, I need to readjust my brain… They had a club song, you know… Anyway, in addition to that, he also had his own book, which eschewed the… well, let’s be nice and say ‘whimsy’ of the main book’s stories and told some pretty straightforward crime, espionage, and war stories, as well as describing the plight of the urban poor in WWII, with Freddy living his civilian life as a cripple in a run-down orphanage. As the ‘40s ended, Freddy became more a sort of standard sidekick, fading in and out of obscurity as the licensing rights and origins of the family got tossed from Fawcett Comics to DC Comics, and legal action was taken by Marvel comics. In an effort to stem all issues that come from having a guy named Marvel, The Captain has become the wizard, and all the other marvels got depowered. Freddy made a rather epic journey to regain his powers and now looks like Captain Marvel, but goes by the name Shazam. I don’t think it’s gonna last.

STRIPESY - Who’s ready for some wackiness? It’s a middle-aged sidekick to a boy superhero! WHOOOOOOAAAAA! Now, who’s ready for another stupid origin? See, on July 4, 1941, wealthy teenager Sylvester Pemberton and middle-aged mechanic Pat Dugan and a whole bunch of undercover Nazis went to the movies. Separately, I should point out. When the Nazis saw the pro-US theme of the film, they got violent. Way to be undercover, guys. Pemberton and Dugan helped stop the resulting riot and catch the nasty nutsy Nazis. The next day, Pemberton was getting his car fixed at Dugan’s shop when they overheard a customer talking about how they wished the American flag could come to life and beat up Nazis. Seriously.  Anyway, our heroes both got the same idea, and go out fighting crime in themed outfits, still separately. They seem to be keeping themselves open to partnership, though, as Pemberton is the Star-Spangled Kid, and Dugan is Stripesy, with neither being the entire flag. Eventually, they run into each other working the same case, and figure since they have matching outfits, they might as well team up. Dugan gets a job as Pemberton’s chauffeur to make the job easier, and builds a gadget-intensive car for them to use. I’m not sure why the older, tougher, smarter guy wound up as the sidekick. Some say it was due to his inferior social rank, but I’m inclined to think it’s because he called himself Stripesy. That’s such a sidekick name.

And he’s still side kicking to this day. After his stepdaughter decided to annoy him by taking up adventuring as the new Star-Spangled Kid and later, after acquiring Starman’s old cosmic rod, Stargirl, Pat decided to get back in the game himself, building a powerful robotic suit of armor and mentoring her as her sidekick, S.T.R.I.P.E. He remains a member of the Justice Society and is respected by the heroing community. Good for him.

SANDY THE GOLDEN BOY - The Sandman was a fascinating hero, bridging the gap between the pulp heroes of the 1930s to the superheroes of the 1940s. His costume was a business suit, fedora and gas mask, he was aided by his girlfriend Dian, who knew his identity and was portrayed as his equal, and his weapon of choice was a gas gun that compelled villains to tell the truth or simply put them to sleep. Eventually, the editors decided this nuanced noir bullshit was boring, and gave The Sandman a purple and yellow spandex costume and, of course, a tagalong kid named Sandy Hawkins. Sandy was - SURPRISE! - an orphan, adopted by Dian, his aunt. Eventually, Dian died, so there would be no icky girls messing about, and Sandy, with tedious predictability, became the ward of Wesley Dodds, the Sandman. And you know what? I can’t find a damn thing about him. All the information online references modern stories and retcons, all the classic Sandman reprints I’ve read are from the first two years before the change, and the insanely good reboot, Sandman Mystery Theatre, specifically leaves Sandy out entirely. What does all that tell you?

Despite the urge the comics community seems to have to deny that he ever fought alongside Sandman, they’ve also reworked and retconned him into a pretty groovy character for the modern age. Apparently, some science-accident left him turned into a giant sand monster. Wesley put him in suspended animation until a cure could be found, and as Wesley turned into a wobbly old man, Sandy stayed frozen, eventually emerging with a silicon-based body that could turn into sand and exert limited control over the earth, and look sexy and young while doing it. He took up heroing again and got himself a slick gas mask and gun. Lately he‘s been victim to one of the worst things that can befall a hero: An Alex Ross costume redesign. *shudders*. And now he has a trench coat and fedora and calls himself Sandman. Hey Alex! Some of us like growth in our characters!

(For those who don’t know, Alex Ross is an excellent painter who seems to think that all superheroes should be exactly like they were in the mid-70s, and all villains should be however he feels like painting them. He is renowned for his painting skill, his massive ego, and his ridiculous fetishism of a time in comics history that, all things considered, was mostly shit. And with the notable exception of his Batman, which has become the standard, pretty much every costume he’s ever redesigned has been really stupid.)

GORDITO DELGADO - Best. Kid. Sidekick. Ever.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Really? I always thought it was pronounced vah-LAY."

THE KICKER : Kato, the monomial valet of the Brit Reid, wealthy publisher of a major newspaper. When Reid goes out fighting crime as the Green Hornet, Kato accompanies him as... his valet, Kato. But he wears a mask, so it's cool. Was Japanese until World War 2 came along, at which point he started being Korean in the movies and Filipino on the Radio, but since they just pretty much wrote him as “Oriental”, and didn't worry much past that, it didn't exactly make an epic difference. Eventually he became Chinese on the 1960s TV series. I mean, I guess. The actor was, anyway.

WHO THEY'RE KICKING : Brit Reid, a member of the classic “rich idiot with no day job” school of vigilantism, with the classic “suit, fedora, and mask” school of costuming. Depending on which version you see, his unique hook is either that he lets everyone think he's a criminal mastermind to get the bad guys to respect and fear him and to throw the cops off his scent, or else you're watching one of the later versions where they realized that after a while everyone would notice that he just went around stopping crime without committing any. Then his unique hook was a snazzy green hat.

WHAT THEY BRING : As has become a recurring theme, we find ourselves changing with the times. In the older versions of the story, to everyone's amazement, I have no doubt, Kato was a clever inventor and chemist who created the Hornet's miscellaneous gadgetry and fancy car, with the tradeoff being that he was played by some white guy on the radio and dweeby Keye Luke in the movies. On the TV series, he had the good fortune to be played by a handsome young unknown actor, but his mechanical aptitude and chemistry skills became less important and he became a kung-fu master instead. This may seem a wee tad racist, but since said newcomer was Bruce Freaking Lee, nobody cares. Besides, it was also less racist in a way...

WHERE'S THE LOVE? : See, in the old radio\serial days, Kato spoke stilted and broken English with a thick, generically Asian accent. On TV, Lee spoke perfect idiomatic English, with a faint and realistic accent. What's odd is that what people seem to remember is that he did kung-fu and had a thick accent. Were I one for writing more cerebral fare, I would wonder at this perhaps being indicative of some deeply-ingrained racism in the cultural zeitgeist, but I'm really more in the dick and fart jokes category. Speaking of which, Seth Rogen is currently writing a Green Hornet movie, if you can believe it. When asked what kind of Kato would be featured, Rogen said that depends on the actor. Apparently, they're going to look for an actor they like, and write the role to fit him. A sensible way of doing things, I feel. They could, of course, get someone smart, funny, attractive, and martial-artsy, but Stephen Chow already said no, so it's back to square one.

Actually, as I made to post this, they announced the casting of this guy. He seems okay? He's mostly a musician, which is a bit of a red flag, but he's done some acting and directing, too. So bully for him.