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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!