(Post by Martha S.)
So if you listened to our fifth episode on heroes and sidekicks, you may have noticed that we all got a little riled up right at the end – en masse, right when we were out of time, we all remembered that we had not touched on the film Logan or Wolverine’s long string of cute girl sidekicks that he’s had throughout the history of the X-Men comics. I wanted to that a bit here, and also address some of our additional materials that didn’t make it into the episode, and also ruminate on the tragedy of Carrie Kelly (particularly in contrast to Wolverine’s many female sidekicks). Here we go!
Logan is a wonderful movie, and a lot of the reason for that is the relationship between Logan and Laura, the tiny homicidal X-23 character. (X-23, if you’re not familiar, is a female clone of Wolverine that shows up first in the TV show X-Men: Evolution and then later on in a handful of X titles.) Laura is a feral, powerful, tragic little girl who is more comfortable decapitating bad guys than obeying rules. She needs the gruff, militaristic hand of Logan in order to pull back from the edge, and it turns out he needs someone to protect and defend. I’m not sure that Laura quite makes the leap from “escort quest” to sidekick, although others may disagree – but the fact remains that Wolverine has a history of mentoring younger women who then grow up and get their own solo books or at least get to be the principal at mutant academy.
Over the course of his history, Wolverine has mentored Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Armor, and X-23 (and Rogue in the original Bryan Singer films), and even has one fantastic comic issue with Kamala Khan. His take-no-bullshit attitude seems to do well with angsty teenagers, who bounce off of his tough exterior and come out stronger on the other end (while he gradually softens). It is a relationship I consistently enjoy reading about, especially when you contrast it with…
Oh, Carrie. The one bright spot in the (unpopular opinion) dreary and drudging The Dark Knight Returns, no Robin has been treated as unfairly by creators as Carrie (although Jason Todd may disagree). In TDKR, she’s fun, spunky, bright and humorous, even when she is totally and age inappropriately saving Bruce’s butt. I love HER and hate the way she’s handled in the book – she’s thirteen, has no connection to Bruce other than an idolizing fascination, and basically gets stolen from her apathetic family to help run his brigand of Batboys in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. She also gets a horrible costume change and dramatically declares her love for Batman when she appears to be dying, a love Mark Millar contends is paternal in nature (I think the text strongly disagrees with this assertion).
There is also the case of Batgirl, who can arguably be counted amongst Batman’s various sidekicks, and who while having a very successful solo comic career has also been forced into the “actually I’m in love with you” sex vehicle character (this jumped the shark in the horrible animated rendition of The Killing Joke released last year).
So why the difference? Batman and Wolverine are both serious, world-weary men with a penchant for attracting young people. Why do Wolverine’s female protegees get to go on to bigger, better and more independent (and less lovesick) endeavors? I don’t really have an answer for you, except that historically Marvel treats their female characters better than DC. Please feel free to discuss below.
Other supplementary materials we wanted to make note of:
Captain America: The First Avenger. Notable for its bait-and-switch narrative: Steve begins the sidekick to suave, handsome, tall Bucky Barnes, before being embiggened and taking on the leadership role after he’s Captain America-ified. I love this flip of the trope because Bucky could get all gross and emasculated, and he totally doesn’t. His bromance with Steve is there to the end of the line, and he’s not only happy to follow Steve, but proud to do so.
Grayson, vol. 1: Agents of Spyral by Tom King and Tim Seeley. The short-lived spy drama that Dick Grayson occupied for a while in between Nightwing books. Shows the versatility of his character, and also lots of great action and good use of Helena Bertinelli.
The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. If you’re not familiar with the sprawling mythos of the Warhammer: 40K universe, let me sum up quickly: for a while there were hulking supersoldiers who defended a galactic empire from hideous, beyond-our-comprehension forces and gross aliens. The most important of these turned traitor, gutted the empire, and now everyone lives in a really shitty universe where there’s an equal possibility of being eaten by aliens or disemboweled by a demon. The First Heretic tells the EXTREMELY compelling origin story of the guy who’s fault it was, and is a really cool example of someone who thinks he’s in charge very much not being so. His adviser, a perfect Bastard Understudy, feeds him BS until he’s compelled to unravel the very fabric of the empire of man. I highly recommend you check out the Horus Heresy series of novels.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. A YA novel about all the OTHER characters in a YA story, and what they’re doing while the heroes are off saving the world. I mentioned it as my pop culture credentials back in one of our early episodes.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. The beautiful thing about the titular Wee Free Men in the Tiffany Aching novels of the Discworld series is that not only are they totally dedicated to helping Tiffany as their patron witch, but they do so in a DELIGHTFULLY cheery and bloodthirsty manner.
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Everyone needs a Sam to their Frodo, amiright?