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Old July 22 2012, 04:40 PM   #16
Gotham Central
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Trekker4747 wrote: View Post
Not sidekicks in general but Batman's having a child sidekick!

He's going out there and fighting armed thugs, murderous maniacs and people bent on destroying Gotham and as an aide Batman brings a twelve year old boy in hot pants to help?

It doesn't really fit or make sense.

Robin as a sidekick is very, very different than Holmes having with him an intellectual near-equal, adult, doctor.

As for other child or child-like sidekicks, I don't think they fit well either. Jimmy Olson was a tool and probably more annoying to Superman than as a helpful "sidekick." And the idea of putting a child into a movie to give child-readers someone to connect with is the type of stupid thinking that gets us Short Round and a young child Darth Vader.

When kids read these stories or watch these movies they don't want to be a child hanging out with the superhero or the hero they want to BE the hero. It wasn't "Gosh! I wish I could hang out with Batman in a pair of pantyhose and help him kick the ass of murderous thugs while mostly being ineffectual and end up getting caught to give Batman more of motive to do his self-appointed job!" it was "Man! I wish I could be Batman and an unstoppable bad ass kicking the ass of murderous thugs!"

A late teens or 20-something Robin would make a touch more sense and being more acceptable, but a child is just an idea that I think has gotten harder and harder to swallow over time.
Since the 80's all of the Robin's except for Damian have been depicted as being teenagers. Damian is something of a special case since he'd probably be more dangerous if he were not out there as Robin so that Batman can keep an eye on him.
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Old July 22 2012, 05:02 PM   #17
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Donald Draper wrote: View Post
Well don't forget for much of Batman's early publishing history he was read by a younger audience than today. He fought outlandish crimimials who robbed banks and did not kill people. That was there in the beginning but went away around the time Robin first appeared.
And it's not like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys weren't running around catching smugglers and counterfeiters and bank robbers on their own. Children's fiction (which is what comics were back then) was full of kids getting into dangerous adventures. Think Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, even Tom Swift . . . .

(And, later, there was also the Three Investigators, the Newsboy Legion, Johnny Quest, and so on. Children's fiction tends not to be about kids who stay home, obey curfews, and never get themselves into risky situations!)

It was a simpler time.
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Old July 22 2012, 11:07 PM   #18
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Trekker4747 wrote: View Post

Robin as a sidekick is very, very different than Holmes having with him an intellectual near-equal, adult, doctor.
Not really different at all. It's frequently made clear in the stories that Watson is nowhere near the intellectual equal of Holmes (of course, only three or four other characters ever were - Mycroft, Moriarty, The Woman, and ...?). He's simply not competition for Holmes, and as such, never threatened to take center stage. (The only way in which Watson was able to surpass Holmes was in his ability to have a normal life -- to romance women, to have friends and a wife. It was always made clear these things were of no interest to Holmes -- if they had been, you may be sure that Watson would not have been any good at them).

Thus Watson, like Robin, was never in a position to upstage or surpass Holmes/Batman. To the sensibilities of the time(s), no one was interested in them in their own right, but rather, what they showed us about the hero. Watson and Robin were not the center of their respective universes. They were sidekicks, not partners.

Trekker4747 wrote: View Post
When kids read these stories or watch these movies they don't want to be a child hanging out with the superhero or the hero they want to BE the hero.
But these characters were surrogates for the reader (indeed, Watson was the narrator). These types of sidekicks are in part Mary Sue characters who let us into the story to marvel at the hero's accomplishments. What's Batman going to do next? We don't know. Robin doesn't know. We get to "ride along" and find out. Robin becomes our surrogate.

Again, I refer to the literary role of the sidekick prior to the late '60s. After that, a lot changed.
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Old July 22 2012, 11:13 PM   #19
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Greg Cox wrote: View Post

It was a simpler time.
I have to reject that. We always think that. You've grouped together writers from a huge swath of time. I'm sure that, in the post-Pearl Harbor world, writers looked at the 19th century as being a simpler time. Now it's post 9/11, and we look at the 20th century as a simpler time. I, for one, don't believe it. I know I grew up in tough times, nothing simple about them. I certainly find the world as represented in the arts today (movies and tv, primarily) as far less complex than the artistic representations of 30-40 years ago.
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Old July 22 2012, 11:31 PM   #20
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

A beaker full of death wrote: View Post
Greg Cox wrote: View Post

It was a simpler time.
I have to reject that. We always think that. You've grouped together writers from a huge swath of time. I'm sure that, in the post-Pearl Harbor world, writers looked at the 19th century as being a simpler time. Now it's post 9/11, and we look at the 20th century as a simpler time. I, for one, don't believe it. I know I grew up in tough times, nothing simple about them. I certainly find the world as represented in the arts today (movies and tv, primarily) as far less complex than the artistic representations of 30-40 years ago.
Good point. That was an overly glib way to put it. But one could argue perhaps that, as a society, we're perhaps a bit more sensitive on the issue of child safety than earlier eras. And, of course, that we expect comic books to be more "adult" and "realistic" these days.

I'm just saying that readers in the forties and fifties might have just accepted a child fighting crime as a bit of juvenile comic-book silliness that didn't need to be defended or rationalized.

(Have you ever watched the old black-and-white NANCY DREW movies? They're hilarious, at least to modern eyes. Nancy comes off as an utter loon without a trace of self-preservation. "Come on, Ned! I'll bet we can track down those armed bank robbers all by ourselves. I'll just tell my dad we're going fishing!")
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Old July 23 2012, 02:13 AM   #21
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

That goes to my earlier point. The majority of reader's was much younger before, 80s, maybe the 70s too. At a certain age you just accept all aspects of superhero stories.A young sidekick is just one of many fantastical ideas. I grew up reading comics and watching the tv shows and older movies. Even at a very young age I knew it was fiction. But I never questioned what was presented in the story. As I got older I did.
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Old July 23 2012, 02:46 AM   #22
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

A beaker full of death wrote: View Post
what really is the purpose of the sidekick?
That's a great question, and probably deserves a thread of its own, but I think most sidekicks can generally be divided into two main groups: the greek chorus or the comic relief, which roughly correspond to the similar division you identified in your post.

These roles don't have to be filled by a specific sidekick; any character can temporarily fill that role depending on the scene in question. So I don't think a hero necessarily needs a sidekick.

But it does add some narrative ease/efficiency to have a close, permanent companion as that permits a greater exploration of the psychological and emotional state of the story using two characters whose mental states are already well-known to the audience (hero & sidekick). I suppose this is especially so in media where many characters are pretty thinly sketched anyway, so using pre-existing well-known ones enables some degree of depth when there just isn't time/scope to develop it otherwise. One might also argue that this is part of the reason for a tendency to mine a pre-existing & well-developed Rogues Gallery of villains.
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Old July 23 2012, 03:11 AM   #23
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Alfred has taken on some of the exposition role Robin used to serve. Remember originally Alfred was introduced after Bruce was already Batman. The same for Dick Grayson as Robin. Frank Miller retconned it so that Alfred had raised Bruce after his parents death. So his role grew in significance.
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Old July 23 2012, 04:07 AM   #24
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

On a rudimentary level, the sidekick just gives the hero somebody to talk to and banter with. Speaking from experience, a scene where the hero just walks around and, say, examines a crime scene by himself is much harder (and less interesting) to write than a scene in which two distinct characters, each with their own voice and personality, are discussing the situation.

It can get claustrophobic if you're stuck in the hero's head all the time.

Plus, larger-than-life characters like Holmes or Doc Savage or the Shadow or whomever are best observed from the outside, by somebody who can react to how awesome they are.
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Old July 23 2012, 05:07 AM   #25
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Gotham Central wrote: View Post

Since the 80's all of the Robin's except for Damian have been depicted as being teenagers. Damian is something of a special case since he'd probably be more dangerous if he were not out there as Robin so that Batman can keep an eye on him.
Robin's been a teen since the Sixties. IIRC he was aged around the time the Batman TV series came out. Then aged again to college age to remove him from the Batman strip. Funny that a child/kid/teen sidekick is a bad thing but someone the same age in their own books is "okay". Tim Drake starred in his own series for over a decade. Even Dick Grayson had a strip as Robin in the Golden Age for about five years as well as back ups in various Batman books in the 70s.
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Old July 23 2012, 06:32 AM   #26
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Gotham Central wrote: View Post
Since the 80's all of the Robin's except for Damian have been depicted as being teenagers. Damian is something of a special case since he'd probably be more dangerous if he were not out there as Robin so that Batman can keep an eye on him.
Actually, if I remember correctly, Tim Drake was 9 when he was introduced.

A beaker full of death wrote: View Post
This is really interesting. Are all sidekicks outdated now? What really is the purpose of the sidekick?
An interesting question, especially given your avatar, as Marvel is introducing a sidekick for Spider-Man, named "Alpha."

Which is interesting, since Marvel, aside from Bucky (who technically predates Marvel Comics, having first appeared when Marvel was Timely), Marvel has really avoided sidekicks. Yes, you can make arguments about Cap having others serve as Bucky, Rick Jones, and I guess, you could argue, The Falcon to a degree, to name a few, but while DC had enough sidekicks to form their own team, Marvel's were few and far between.


Some sidekicks give us entre into the world of the hero. Watson was not only a normal guy with whom the reader could identify, he was the narrator and chronicler of Holmes's adventures. Robin, and the spate of young sidekicks at the time (Speedy, Bucky, Butch, Boy, Jimmy Olson, and later Aqualad, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl) also were intended to give the young comic reader someone to relate to in these stories - to feel that they were in on the adventure. And, despite the bullets flying and wartime context, the tone was generally light (indeed, the advent of Robin lightened up the tone of Batman considerably, his origin notwithstanding) and the danger a fanciful abstraction.
It seems Alpha will serve in the role of giving younger kids an entre. Personally, I think Marvel realized there's only so much you can do to keep Peter young, and decided to, instead, give him a kid sidekick.

They are also trying to tie it into Peter's history with Ben serving as his mentor. With Dick, at least, the Batman/Robin relationship also served as a connection to Bruce's past and for him to be there for someone who's going through what he went through. This was added onto Tim's story, as his mother and later father died after he became Robin.

Sidekicks also served the function of providing contrast for the hero's extraordinary skills. Holmes famously remarked to Watson, "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it...When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth."
Which is something I always found weird about the 60's Batman series in that Batman, seemingly to help train him, always deferred to Robin on the detective stuff, like the Riddler's riddles. It happened so much, after a while, I kind of wondered if Batman even got the clues or if he just let Robin do the hard work and then reply with an, "Exactly, Robin" to make it seem like he had already reached the same conclusion!


Sidekicks are always inferior to the hero -- either they are a comic figure like Doiby Dickles or Cisco Kid's Pancho, a youth like Robin, a racial minority like Kato or Tonto - basically someone who, even when competent, could in no way compete with the hero for the limelight. Of course, the advent of racial justice and the rise of the anti-hero did a lot to change that dynamic.
Which is why, usually through the Teen Titans series, DC dealt with the sidekicks growing older by having them feel they needed to prove themselves. Some, like Dick, felt it best to strike out on their own, with a new identity and a hope to separate themselves from their sidekick identity. DC had others, like Wally West, develop problems and have to pretty much give up being a sidekick. Though Wally fits into another category (which Dick recently filled, himself), as the "heir apparent."

That being said, I think you are missing a key role of the sidekick, which is represented by the images the OP posted: drama. In Robin's case, it's easy to put him in the role of victim and having the hero have to deal with the fall-out of that.

In Speedy's case, it meant Green Arrow had to face the realities of drug abuse, as his sidekick was revealed to be a heroin addict. Therefore, the writers were able to tell a story about drug addiction that really affected the hero, without having to "sacrifice" the hero and have them be the addict.

So, between the "darkening" of comics and the erosion of the classic worship of the hero, are all sidekicks outdated at this point?
It seems the answer to your question is both a "yes" and a "no.

With the New-52, DC has become more "Marvel-like" in terms of sidekicks. Aside from the Robins, we really don't see sidekicks. None of the current Teen Titans, putting aside Tim Drake for a minute, are sidekicks or protegees. As far as Tim is concerned, I guess he did work with Batman for a while, but DC recently said he was always "Red Robin" and never just, plain "Robin." Make of that what you will.

Marvel now, seems to be trying out the sidekick thing, so we'll see how that goes.

Personally, while I like the idea of a sidekick and I think a lot of good stories can be told with them, they are perhaps outdated. Putting aside the fact that they were originally an entre for kids into the super-hero comicbook world, they were also a product of a more "episodic" time. Back in the Golden and Silver Ages, the characters seemed to stay the same age and maintain a status quo.

Then in the 70's and especially the 80's it seemed that the stories became more episodic. Wikipedia puts it around '69 when they decided to write Robin out of the Batman titles by having him attend college. By the time The New Teen Titans rolled around, we began to see the original DC sidekicks as being in their late teens/early 20's. By the mid-late 80's, Dick was Nightwing, Wally was the Flash, Speedy was a father, Donna was Troia, etc.

We'll see how Marvel handles this, but compressed time or not, eventually they're going to have to figure out if Alpha is going to graduate high school or stay his current age, which is when things get sticky (no Spider-related pun intended!).
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Old July 24 2012, 03:48 AM   #27
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

shivkala wrote: View Post
Which is something I always found weird about the 60's Batman series in that Batman, seemingly to help train him, always deferred to Robin on the detective stuff, like the Riddler's riddles. It happened so much, after a while, I kind of wondered if Batman even got the clues or if he just let Robin do the hard work and then reply with an, "Exactly, Robin" to make it seem like he had already reached the same conclusion!
I think that was part of the campiness, the spoofiness of the series. That was one of those things put in to turn the whole genre on its head.


Sidekicks are always inferior to the hero -- either they are a comic figure like Doiby Dickles or Cisco Kid's Pancho, a youth like Robin, a racial minority like Kato or Tonto - basically someone who, even when competent, could in no way compete with the hero for the limelight. Of course, the advent of racial justice and the rise of the anti-hero did a lot to change that dynamic.
Which is why, usually through the Teen Titans series, DC dealt with the sidekicks growing older by having them feel they needed to prove themselves. Some, like Dick, felt it best to strike out on their own, with a new identity and a hope to separate themselves from their sidekick identity. DC had others, like Wally West, develop problems and have to pretty much give up being a sidekick. Though Wally fits into another category (which Dick recently filled, himself), as the "heir apparent."
Right, exactly. Suddenly we were interested in these supporting characters in their own right. This was something very new to literature, part of an egalitarian impulse sweeping the arts and society (among other things, like the rejection of the concept of the hero and the societal order he represented). Suddenly they weren't just supporting characters. Suddenly everyone had to matter, or at least be of interest. They could no longer be mere plot devices or literary constructs.

That being said, I think you are missing a key role of the sidekick, which is represented by the images the OP posted: drama. In Robin's case, it's easy to put him in the role of victim and having the hero have to deal with the fall-out of that.

In Speedy's case, it meant Green Arrow had to face the realities of drug abuse, as his sidekick was revealed to be a heroin addict. Therefore, the writers were able to tell a story about drug addiction that really affected the hero, without having to "sacrifice" the hero and have them be the addict.
Interesting point, though I think this was the product of the later era, where it was believable that sidekicks were actually in real danger or were suffering the slings and arrows of life. Before that, the danger never seemed real. Hence Lois Lane casually falling off buildings every third day:


Your other comments are also most interesting and well taken.
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Old July 24 2012, 04:04 AM   #28
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

I just love how casually the narrative caption puts things.

Oh, she just fell off a building. It happens. Superman spends most of his days catching people who fall off buildings (OSHA and building codes are pretty lax in Metropolis) I mean you can't fight a super-villain or apocalyptic alien every day. It also seems to imply Lois took a second job as a building inspector at some point.

Oh, Silver Age, how we love you.
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Old July 24 2012, 04:35 AM   #29
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Actually, if I remember correctly, Tim Drake was 9 when he was introduced.
He must of been older than that. I remember he was a year or two older than I was when he debuted. He tells Dick and Alfred. I was 11, so he must have been 12 or 13.

I remember how weird it was when I got older than him...
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Old July 24 2012, 05:29 AM   #30
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Re: Death(s) of Robin

Donald Draper wrote: View Post
Actually, if I remember correctly, Tim Drake was 9 when he was introduced.
He must of been older than that. I remember he was a year or two older than I was when he debuted. He tells Dick and Alfred. I was 11, so he must have been 12 or 13.

I remember how weird it was when I got older than him...
IIRC, we do see Tim attending a Flying Graysons performance in a flashback. It was one of the clues that led Tim to figure out Bruce Wayne was Batman. (Robin/Nightwing uses the same acrobatic moves as Dick Grayson.) That could be what they're thinking of.
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