Sidekicks, Spouses and Supporting Characters:
A Superhero Tutorial
by Michael Hutchison
art by Bill Wiist, Erik Burnham & Chris Pangle
So, you've decided to become a superhero. You've got powers, abilities and a gaudy costume that shows off your private anatomy. You've even found a name, something difficult to do these days. But let's not overlook an important part of your superhero lifestyle: The three S's. Sidekicks, Spouses, and Supporting Characters!
Sidekicks are going to be a lot of trouble in this day and age. The idea of taking a young boy, putting him in tight clothing and disappearing for hours at night is going to raise so many eyebrows that it may not be worth it. Sidekicks were first envisioned in an age where young boys routinely dressed in uniforms, trained hard, learned special skills and understood right and wrong; it was called Cub Scouts.
You basically have three kinds of sidekicks:
One last thing. If you tell your sidekick to stay where he is and he does get rid of him! No sidekick ever does what he's told!
Your spouse will, by definition, be the primary person in your life thus, you must make sure that she is ready to accommodate the lifestyle of a superwife. Spouse could loosely be used to apply to a girlfriend or significant other, of course, but as a role model you are expected to not be sexually promiscuous. The only times this lifestyle is acceptable is if it's in your "bad boy" past (Jack Knight, Wally West), you're not a respected superhero (Kyle Rayner), you're a known degenerate (Lobo, Blackhawk) or you're a raving "just-thank-God-he's-not-in-a-commune" liberal (Green Arrow Oliver Queen).
Your first question: do you tell her about your activities? In times past, when secret identities were treated with the seriousness of an exploding A-bomb, a hero could be married to his wife for years, lying about where he was running off to in the middle of dinner parties and no one would think it absurd. This may be because many wives didn't work, and superheroes feared that their wives would treat it as a "topper" during an afternoon gossip session. They'd be doing the ironing at Trixie's house when a commercial would interrupt their Stories, so Rhonda would start yammering away about her fling with Milkman McGillicuddy and your wife would want to top it, so she'd let fly with, "Well, my Norman has been having a little adventure of his own! It turns out he's Captain Milquetoast!"
But hey, that was the 1950s for you. These are the late 90s and marriage is a union of equals. Including her in your secret life can bring new depth to your relationship and enhance your bond of trust. Plus, let's face it, she's bound to find out the first time Dr. Dillwad bursts through your walls firing his masterblaster.
Yes, being the wife of a superhero brings certain perils, and the love of your life needs the calm head to meet these threats. Sue Dibny (wife of Elongated Man) married a hero with a public identity and has since been kidnapped so often that she can now take it in stride. Lois Lane had enough threats to her life as a crusading reporter that marrying Superman didn't seem too intimidating. Joan Garrick, Iris Allen and several other wives have also proven quite capable when it comes to facing their husbands' enemies.
If you can't marry a brave, wily woman, then your only other hope is to marry a woman so lacking in intelligence that she won't spend a lot of time contemplating the danger she's in. But there are only so many Sapphire Staggs to go around.
You may wonder why we don't include husbands. Well, the truth is that the only famous superheroine husband was Larry Lance. And, as his wife's partner, Starman, cuckolded him, it's an issue we'd just like to sweep under the rug.
Supporting Characters is really more of a catch-all for "everybody else." Technically, your sidekick and your spouse are supporting characters as well, but this term usually refers to the people who don't often accompany you on your adventures.
This could mean your parents and siblings (Jonathan and Martha Kent, the Paytons, Ted Knight), the local constabulary (Commissioner Gordon, The O'Dares, Michael Schorr, Inspector Henderson, Terrible Turpin, Maggie Sawyer), an ex-villain (Gentleman Ghost, The Shade, Pied Piper, Bobo Bonetti), a retired superhero (Jay Garrick, Iron Munro), an adopted child (Traya), a scientist (Dr. Erdel, Professor Hamilton, Kitty Falkner), an employer (Perry White), a co-worker (Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku), an employee (Alfred, Lucius Fox, L-Ron), an alien (Dubbilex) or a tattoo artist. There may also be an obligatory female aunt to draw attention from your prancing around with a young male sidekick.
But more importantly, they introduce trouble! They may bring a news story or police file to your attention. They may come up with an invention for you to try. Most likely, they'll encounter trouble and you have to save them.
One important thing is to make sure that your supporting cast can change with the times. Consider the case of Wonder Woman. For 45 years, she was Diana Prince, an employee of the US military. She would type up files at the Pentagon and pal around with Etta Candy while flirting with Steve Trevor. This put her in a uniquely beneficial position to learn of invasions, monsters, spies and other secret threats to the nation and the planet. Of course, Steve and/or Etta would always get into predicaments requiring the presence of Wonder Woman (fulfilling the primary role of sidekicks).
But then the 1980s brought Ronald Reagan and a vocal segment of the public that didn't approve of the military-industrial complex. When it came time for Wonder Woman to be revamped, Diana Prince got dumped. Steve Trevor appeared, but as a disenfranchised, retiring officer who didn't get along with the armed forces establishment, most of whom work for Ares, the God of War.
Her new supporting cast consisted of Julia and Vanessa Kapatellis, a single mom professor and her daughter who took Diana in. Others include Inspector Indelicato of the Boston Police and Myndi Mayer of the publicity firm that sponsored her tour of "Patriarch's World." Then, when it was decided that that supporting cast wasn't good, Diana moved to a new city where she lives with a single mom professor and her daughter and has a close friend on the police force, Mike Schorr.
The dumping of Diana's military contacts has highlighted the deficits of her current supporting cast: the ability to find trouble! Archaeologists and teenagers aren't as keen to stumble into danger, and the menaces they do uncover are limited. By now, Diana must watch her friends go off to an archaeological dig and take it in stride that she'll be fighting some reawakened Greek monster within a day or two.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1998 by Michael Hutchison.
All artwork is © 1998 by their respective artists.