The Cushing Critique: On Sidekicks and Possibilities


In last month’s Amazing Spider-man #692, a young character called Alpha was introduced, announced by Marvel as Spider-Man’s new sidekick. He’s a selfish character that the comic itself describes as excelling at nothing and not really caring about it. We’re two issues into his story now, and while he is currently being described as Spidey’s sidekick, I’m one of many that doesn’t believe for a second that this will be an ongoing status quo for the two. But that’s not my purpose here today. Since the idea of a sidekick for Spider-Man was introduced, and met from the beginning with many saying the concept in itself would never work, I want to examine the role of a sidekick and other possibilities of who may have filled the role. Is a sidekick an inherently bad idea? And if not Alpha, then who? Click below to read my thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin – The Sidekick Paradigm

Arguably the most successful hero-sidekick pairing of all time is Batman and Robin. So much so that almost any kind of hero/sidekick relationship or reason for introducing one can find its touchstone from at least one of the Robins. For me, the greatest Robin of all time will always be the original – Dick Grayson. And the funny thing about his introduction is, if you looked at Batman before there was ever a Robin – if, say that introduction was taking place with today’s audience and the existence of the internet – people would have lost their poo over the idea. Here was this great dark detective hero, and you want to give him a brightly-clad, happy-go-lucky teenage sidekick? Dude, that just means you can’t write or you’re out of ideas!

 And yet it worked. It worked so well that there have been no less than 4 more teenage characters to fill the role of Robin in the decades since, because it just KEEPS working. Robin added a little light and fun to the dark and stoic of Batman’s world. Robin gave Batman someone to talk to rather than just the same boring narration about where he was and who he was stalking over and over again. And Robin proved to be a great character in his own right. Dick Grayson would go on to become the very popular Nightwing. Tim Drake would support a Robin ongoing for years, followed by a Red Robin book. Even Stephanie Brown, the shortest-lived of the Robins, would go on to star in an excellent Batgirl book of her own that lasted all too short before she was hit by the reboot wave.

 So, the point is, even when it seems entirely counter-intuitive to give a particular hero a sidekick, maybe it’s best to leave yourself open to surprise. I probably would have been among those griping about the idea of giving the Batman a teenage sidekick back in the day, but here were are in 2012 and Nightwing is a personal favorite character of mine (so is the Winter Soldier for that matter – and that’s a whole other story).

 Is the idea of a sidekick, even for Spider-Man, an inherently bad one? I have to say no. It could work and it can work, though whether or not it’s necessary is a debate for another time.

 

 

Damien Wayne – Flipping the Sidekick Script

 Whereas Dick Grayson’s original Robin brought some light and fun to a Batman who was dark and grim, in 2009 Grant Morrison introduced us to a different paradigm. While Bruce Wayne was thought dead (actually time-hopping – if you’re strictly a Marvel reader just think Captain America Reborn and you’ve pretty much read the same story) Dick Grayson took up the mantle of Batman, and all of a sudden we had a Bat who wasn’t so sullen, broody, and disagreeable. To counter Grayson’s decidedly different Batman, Damien Wayne became his Robin. Damien was a very young but very brutal, cynical, and uppity boy trained by the League of Assassins. So now the former roles of the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder were flipped on their head, and that made for some fun storytelling and an interesting new relationship.

 I bring this up because of the specific hero we’re talking about here. Spider-Man is in no way dark, grim, or broody (well, he can occasionally brood, but at least he usually covers it with quippage). So if we’re going to look at a hero/sidekick relationship paradigm, Dick and Damien would be the more sensible to one to look at than Bruce and any of his Robins.

 And I would argue this relationship definitely was something the architects of Alpha were thinking about when they decided to create a sidekick for the wallcrawler. Alpha clearly has his similarities to Damien Wayne, though he lacks the dedication to the cause that drives young Damien to be a hero.

 

 

 

If Not Andy Maguire, Then Who?

 Dan Slott and the editors involved in the creation of Alpha opted to create a new character to fill the role of Spider-Man’s sidekick, but if the goal was simply to give Spidey a sidekick, let’s take a look at some existing characters that might have been considered for the job.

 Spider-Girl (Arana)

If the creative team behind Amazing Spider-Man was going to choose an existing character, this seems like their obvious choice. Arana became Spider-Girl near the end of Brand New Day with Peter as her mentor. She was briefly spun off into her own series, and the fact that that series failed seems like all the more reason to fold her back into Amazing Spider-Man as the sidekick, since editorial clearly likes the character. Though many fans of Mayday Parker resented this new character taking the name, I think this may have actually been a fun pairing depending on how it was played. Arana was pretty good in the Grim Hunt storyline, and I personally wouldn’t mind seeing her in ASM again.

Spider-Girl (Mayday Parker)

With Peter Parker’s alternate future daughter now without a book and her entire world out of publication for 2 years, the question has to be asked – what would be lost by bringing Mayday Parker to the present day Marvel Universe at this point? Previous arguments asserted that Mayday would lose some of her specialness if removed from her own world, but if she and her world aren’t being published at all, what’s to lose? The interaction between Spider-Man and his would-be daughter could frankly be gold, and it would be interesting to see her settling into a world where she wasn’t born (not in the post-OMD continuity anyway).

Toxin

Weird choice? Sure. But when Officer Pat Mulligan became the symbiotic hero known as Toxin, Spider-Man promised to help guide him, and Spidey even showed up a bit in the Toxin mini-series to do just that. Of course, Eddie Brock is wearing the Toxin symbiote now and Rick Remender says Pat Mulligan was killed off-panel, but let’s face it, folks – this is comics. Symbiotes change hosts like changing socks and if there’s no body there’s no death. I’m still hoping to see the real Toxin back again some day.

Venom

I can’t say I would have advocated this one, but considering Flash Thompson’s love of Spider-Man and the symbiote’s hatred of same, I really would like to see more partnering between these two. More of a team-up than a sidekick situation, sure, but it’s a team-up that I’m a bit surprised has been mostly neglected since Flash gained the symbiote.

 

 

Scarlet Spider

Ok, so this one’s just a bad idea. It’s another team-up rather than sidekick and it would rob the new Scarlet Spider of his own excellent adventures in Houston, Texas. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention this character who is also a sort-of fledgling superhero with strong ties to Peter Parker (read: same guy).

 

Screwball

A character created by Dan Slott, I’d be surprised if this one didn’t at least cross his mind. A young girl doing some light, parkour-influenced villainy for the internets seems like a prime candidate for a life that could use the influence of Peter Parker. Could he teach her the with great parkour comes great responsibility? Frankly, I would have been among those complaining if this announcement had been made, because I didn’t like the character when she appeared. But looking at it as a writer rather than a fan, I could definitely do something with this if asked, so there’s a chance Slott could have turned our opinions around (remember, Damien Wayne was widely hated at first, too).

Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales)

Of course this was never going to happen, because we would lose the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book and the Ultimate Universe would lose its Spider-Man. But wouldn’t it have been kind of awesome if Spider-Men had ended with Miles coming to our universe to be trained by the side of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man? Even if it wasn’t a feasible idea from a publishing standpoint, this could have been a really great read in some alternate universe where comic book profits don’t matter and bacon is better for you than carrots.

Ultimate Spider-Woman

This, however, could have happened at the end of Spider-Men. Ultimate Spider-Woman is not such an important character to the Ultimate Universe (she’s barely been used since the relaunch, sadly) that she couldn’t be spared to hop over to ours. Heck, Peter didn’t even MEET her in Spider-Men, which is just wasted potential if you ask me. A teenage female clone of Peter Parker as Spidey’s sidekick could have had story potential until the sun went out. Just imagine the interplay between these two, and the ample opportunity for Peter to be creeped out. The comedic banter would have been gold in general, too. And maybe we could finally get the interesting exploration of a teenage girl with the memories of a teenage boy that has always seemed like a no-brainer since the character was created. Of all the choices, Ultimate Spider-Woman would have been my top pick for Spidey’s sidekick.

Kid Loki

This choice certainly isn’t an intuitive one, but with the great job Kieron Gillen’s been doing with this character in Journey into Mystery, I just can’t imagine the interaction between these two characters not being a whole lot of fun. Kid Loki’s been made into a great comedic character, and God knows Spider-Man plays off of that incredibly well. Plus, the kid’s a bit of a troublemaker (he is LOKI, after all), so some guidance from the webhead would not go amiss.

Uatu

I can’t take credit for this one. JR actually mentioned on this month’s podcast that little Uatu from Horizon Labs might have been an intuitive choice. He’s a teenage kid that loves Spidey and is all geared up to go hunt him some monsters. Plus he’s a genius like Peter, so I’m sure they wouldn’t lack for things to talk about. I’ll admit this choice wouldn’t be my favorite, as I’ve found the character a bit bland, but it certainly seems like something that would have been considered.

X-23

“Huh?” I hear you saying. Believe it or not, if we couldn’t bring Ultimate Spider-Woman over to the Marvel Universe, X-23 would have been my favorite choice for Spidey’s sidekick. To me, this makes sense from all angles. From a sales standpoint, X-23 has proven a popular enough character that she’s really never been without a book since she made her big splash into comics. From New X-Men, 2 solo minis, and X-Force to a 21 issue solo series and Avengers Academy, she’s always got an audience. So adding her to Amazing Spider-Man could not have hurt sales. From a story standpoint, why would this happen? Logan has always been trying to preserve and foster her humanity and show her there’s another way to live besides the killing machine she was raised to be. Logan has been on multiple teams with Spider-Man now, and we’ve seen that he actually respects Peter and likes him (even if he’ll rarely say it). I can easily see Logan asking Peter to take her on, at least for awhile, to experience the humanizing influence that is Peter Parker. Peter was, after all, the person Logan chose to spend his birthday with, because Peter makes him feel like a human rather than a monster. And from a standpoint of “what does she have to offer the title?” it’s pretty much the same iconic relationship as Dick Grayson and Damien Wayne – fun, bouncy hero with a pint-sized assassin sidekick. I think these two could actually be really good together, even if it’s not the first pairing that comes to mind.

In Conclusion

To sum up – giving Spider-Man a sidekick is not, in itself, a bad idea. We wouldn’t necessarily want to see the two together all the time because we love and need our solo Spidey adventures, but that’s why Batman has a Batman and Robin book and a solo book (ok, more like 3 or 4 solo books at any given time). It can be done and it can be done well. Is it Alpha? As I said, I really don’t think Alpha was actually introduced to be Spider-Man’s ongoing sidekick. I believe it’s a story, not a status quo. That being said – it could be. I haven’t liked the character so far, but that can change. Again, Damien Wayne was widely hated at first, but he’s gained very wide acceptance as Robin at this point. Anything can happen with the right writing.

And with that, I leave you to comment with your thoughts. Who would be your sidekick choice for Spider-Man? Or do you still think it could never, EVER work? Let me know down below!

And if you just can’t get enough of me babbling about comics, don’t forget to check out my monthly Scarlet Spider reviews on the home page. And it was just announced that I’ve made my return as a regular member of the Spider-Man Crawl Space Podcast, so be sure to give that a listen as well!

Thanks for reading, Webheads! See ya next week! 

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(20) Comments

  1. red color

    I savor, cause I discovered exactly what I was taking a look for. You've ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  2. Phantom Roxas

    First off, I'll look at your choices. 1. I've been interested in Arana, and I should point out that she had her own tie-in miniseries to Spider-Island. I think she can be used as a sidekick in the future, and with the end of Avengers Academy, the character will need a new place to show up. 2. I think having Mayday as a sidekick should be done in only one story. I think this is similar to the dynamic Bruce and Damian have in that it's a father/child team, but with the twist of it being a daughter he doesn't have yet. Mayday would have to return to her own time eventually, and she could be used as a method of encouraging Peter and MJ to get back together. 3. I haven't read the stories with Toxin, but I'm certainly interested in the character since the symbiote is a spawn of Carnage and my name is also Patrick. I think he works better than Venom and Scarlet Spider as a sidekick, and I might not recommend giving him an ongoing because then it would seem redundant with Venom still having his own series. 4. I believe Spider-Man and Venom worked together in Carnage U.S.A., but I'm waiting for the paperback to see how that turned out. Them teaming up could definitely be done somewhere done the line, especially if it leads to the two characters learning each other's identities. 5. My understanding is that a team-up between Peter and Kaine would be like a more extreme take on Peter and Logan's friendship. Like you said, they shouldn't do this. 6. Not familiar with Screwball, so I can't really supply anything of worth. 7. I'd rather see Peter take 616 Miles as his sidekick. It would be great because Peter got to spend time with the "original" version of the character in Spider-Men, but then there's this alternate universe version of him that he can get to know. It's all a matter of properly introducing 616 Miles, however. 8. I agree that Ultimate Spider-Woman should have met 616 Spider-Man, but that is perhaps a story for another time. 9. Kid Loki could work if they ever do decide to write a story where he helps undo One More Day. However, because he's a character tied to Thor, he couldn't stay as a sidekick. 10. I agree that Uatu would have been a better character to use than Andy. I think he deserves a chance. 11. Huh? Not sure what to even think about that. So, that list essentially boils down to teams up and occasional sidekicks, in which case we got Anya, 616 Miles if he's ever introduced outside Spider-Man: Season One, Uatu, and possibly Toxin. An interesting line up of candidates. If Stan Lee wrote the character as a reaction against teenage sidekicks, I think he should stay as a character without a permanent sidekick. Having him serve as an inspiration to other characters like Anya or Flash is fine, however, so they can continue with that trend.

  3. ac

    He actually had a side kick once before, in my opinion, black cat, way back when. I don't see any scenerio where it could last longer than a dozen issues or so, even the team up book was hit or miss with good stories, i think spidey is a character who always worked solo. (Married and solo, but what do i know?)

  4. Aziz

    Don't see MayDay making a sidekick Wonder how she would feel teaming up with an alternate future for her father, no marriage, both legs on, Norman Osborn an Avenger, and she was never born

  5. frame-oh

    An excellent article. I've seen Stan Lee on TV explain that PP/Spiderman was created as a reaction against teenage side-kicks.

  6. Dan

    @Dave: Why Harry Osborn? I would say a good side kick for Spidey should be either Galina Tsarfin or Copycat. And partner should be Spider-Woman and the Black Widow as alternate crime fighting partners to the Black Cat. Don't you agree? As for Mayday Parker, I think that she should stay in her own universe. The only other Spider-Girl that could make a good sidekick for Spider-Man is the version that was a member of the Next Avengers in an alternate future timeline, who might be the daughter of Peter Parker x Felicia Hardy. Thus, he name might be Felicity Hardy Parker!!!!

  7. CrazyChris

    I agree, Kevin, that there's no way in hell Alpha is Spider-Man's ongoing side kick. Within the next few issues, he's going to die, get depowered, or become a villain. I think he's being written as too unlikable, and writing him that way seems too intentional, for Slott to have another possibility in mind.

  8. Tonyd117

    I love Doc's idea. Normie in a Goblinesque costumed persona could be gold. Great job Kev! I'm looking forward to the next one already!

  9. FSUSpiderfan

    Another really good article Kevin. I would think Arana-Girl would be the most likely choice. I probably never would have thought of X-23 but it makes sense. MayDay would never happen and shouldn't with butthole post OMD Peter. She would be so disappointed in him. It would be a good way to undo OMD though because Peter could realize what is missing and how his life has been tainted by evil. Then he could call up Thor and Doc Strange to help him go smash the Devil Pigeon and shove the Devil Brick up Mephisto's screaming ass. That would give us back the marriage with a grown up May as a Spider-Girl for him to team up with.

  10. Doc Folsome

    I think a sidekick should be two things with the hero, complementary and a liability. You touched on the complementary side, but the reason these guys are sidekicks and not equal allies is that they should be missing something that keeps them from being solo heroes (ie, the reason they are liabilities). That 'missing thing' can (and should be) different for each side kick, which would allow the storytelling to be unique going forward. Because of this, and obviously I'm biased, I would think a good potential sidekick for Spider-Man would be Normie Osborn (of course it would work much better if Harry remained dead, which for all intents and purposes to the Spider-creators he is). Having that lingering thought of Normie succumbing to his hereditary dark side would constantly loom for Spidey. At the same time, an appropriate dosing of a Goblin-like Formula could give him the appropriate power-set to battle Spider-Man's rogues. Not to mention the obvious redemption for the Osborn name. Either way, great work here Kevin, the Cushing Critique is a great addition to the site.

  11. jslice

    I like your choice of X-23 but she is already shown in a marvel now book: Avengers arena. I believe spider man true side kick is going to be Spider girl arana.

  12. Dan

    @Nick MB: I think that Marvel should introduce Galina Tsarfin, daughter of Spider-Man and Black Widow by DNA design. Here is her info link: If they could bring her over to Earth-616 in the same manner as Lyra Banner or Nocture by way of time travel, it could work. All they need to do retcon the 123 kids as if they never happened!!! Just goggle Galina Tsarfin for more info!!!

  13. Nick MB

    @3 You don't really need to tackle OMD to bring in Mayday. She can still be introduced to Peter as "you and MJ's daughter from an alternate reality where you stayed together and got married". Easy. And out of that list, I think Arana or Uatu are probably the most intuitive options for a long-term sidekick. Though realistically, I doubt we'll get any of them.

  14. Dan

    If Peter were to have a sidekick, why not use Galina Tsarfin who was created from the DNA samples of Spider-Man x Black Widow? She would have made a great alternate Spider-Girl who is related to Peter Parker, but with a different mother.

  15. Nightmare Freddy

    I really like the study you made about sidekicks, to the point that I think that if those who created alpha made the same thing before acting, they may had given spiderman a decent sidekick who even might have solved his declining popularity. The choices you gaved are all good ideas, even scarlet spider as a team up would be kinda funny. But my favorite is X-23 since spiderman in my eyes is more a moral compasse that a mentor figure and giving him a recruit that need a direction rather than teaching and with a serious attitude would give a good contrast. Hell he might event make her like science who would give her a new edge.

  16. EvilAndy

    As awesome as it would be to see Mayday Parker again it will never happen. Quesada and Co. aren't going to open the can of worms that is OMD. But here's a thought, instead of the Miles Morales from the Ultimate Universe, how about the Miles from the regular continuity. The end of Spider-Men suggested he exists in some fashion.

  17. Kevin Cushing - Post author

    Thanks BD! I agree Mayday would be really interesting to see. God knows it would give Spideydude a happy ;)

  18. BD

    A good writer can make anything happen. Do I want a Spidey sidekick? No, but I do want good stories so it's a catch 22. My favorite of your choices would be Mayday Parker. It'd be a similar feel of Batman and Robin. However she's not thd complete opposite . Great article and thanks do much for the time you put in it.

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