Each Wednesday, one of the Blog@Newsarama contributors discusses the things we love about comics in a feature we like to call, “I ♥ Comics”!
As the younger brother, I learned early on that I was destined to play second fiddle in games of “Let’s Pretend.”
When my brother received a bow for his birthday, we marched, plastic funnels atop our heads, into a small patch of woods to play Robin Hood. I was Little John.
After we saw 20-year-old reruns of Davy Crockett on The Wonderful World of Disney, we donned matching faux-coonskin caps, but my brother was the King of the Wild Frontier. I had to be Daniel Boone who, in our alternate history, shared many adventures with Crockett. (C’mon, they had the same fashion sense. Plus, I was like 4 years old.) But if a cousin were visiting, I was demoted to George Russel.
I was the ampersand, always on the far side of “Robin Hood and –” or “Batman and –.” I was the tagalong. The sidekick.
So it’s little surprise that I came to identify with the Boy Wonder on The New Adventures of Batman and even poor Drusilla on Wonder Woman. And when I began reading comics, beyond paging through my brother’s ratty issues of Superman or my cousin’s Fantastic Four, I was drawn to Batman Family. There, I could find stories starring Robin and Batgirl.
The inherent silliness of the sidekick concept hadn’t occurred to me yet. No, back then I was just excited to see a superhero close to my age — even though, in many adventures, Robin was now the “Teen Wonder,” and spent considerable time traipsing around the campus of some generic university. This was the comic for me.
But as quickly as I’d found Batman Family, it was gone, leaving me, I thought, in a world without sidekicks.
Fast-forward a couple of years to 1980 — I can’t remember what, if any, comics I read during this intermission — at the squeaky spinner rack of Nelson’s Drugs, where I came upon New Teen Titans #1. I had no idea who Marv Wolfman and George Perez were, or that this was another attempt at resurrecting a two-decade-old concept.
All I knew was that there, on the brightly colored cover, was Robin and somebody who looked suspicously like Drusilla. I paid the 50 cents, likely making New Teen Titans #1 the first comic I bought with my own money, and headed home, pleased with my discovery. Once there, I read and reread it, poring over every detail until the staples loosened and the corners bent: Robin’s conflict with Batman, evil alien reptiles, a green kid who could transform into green animals. Most importantly, though, were clues that at least some of these characters had histories together — that maybe I’d missed out on other young heroes.
Within a couple of months, I set off to a cramped little comic-book store that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. There, I blew through most of my Christmas money on random back issues of the previous Teen Titans series, learning about sidekicks like Speedy and Aqualad, as well as other young heroes, such as Hawk & Dove and Harlequin. Sure, the writers’ idea of “hip” teen dialogue sounded awkward to me even then, but I was hooked, and determined to find more sidekicks.
And I did. Spying Robin in the background of the cover to All-Star Squadron #1, I snapped up that issue, and was exposed to a whole other era of superheroes. Through that series, I was introduced to Sandy the Golden Boy, Dan the Dyna-Mite and Wing. Although they’d rarely been shown in decades, and I wouldn’t see them again for years to come, they still fired my young imagination.
For a while, at least.
Before long, I stopped relating to Robin and Aqualad and Sandy because, as I grew older, they seemed less and less like me. And maybe because I grew more and more cynical.
After all, how ridiculous is it for an adult superhero to put a kid in harm’s way like that? That would never happen in the real world.
But that’s probably the point, and definitely the appeal.