Behind every great superhero is a group of other superheroes. Okay, maybe not every great superhero, but a great number do have at least one sidekick to their name, and many of them are fantastic in their own right. Done right, sidekicks don’t need to be the underdog; they can be a blast to read about or watch, and many get and deserve their own solo series.
Even really young superheroes can be a ton of fun. Forget the child endangerment for a second and recognize how cool it would be to be a kid and a superhero. Palling around with the likes of Wolverine and Batman, or, better yet, being on a team with other talented youngsters, like the Teen Titans or X-Men – does life get better than that? Probably not.
Not all sidekicks are created equal. Some have silly superpowers, or just don’t make sense as a helping hand to their partner. Others, though, are a step above, a marriage of enviable ability and great characterization. These are the heroes people want to read about, and these are typically the ones that graduate to their own solo adventures once they’ve outgrown their roots as Jr. heroes. Here, we’ve selected some of the all-time best characters that began as humble sidekicks.
6. Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier
Before he was the badass assassin known as the Winter Soldier, Bucky was a kid running around with Captain America and fighting the evildoers of the 1940s. And then he died, and for the longest time he was one of the untouchable three characters. Comic book characters die and come back to life with ridiculous frequency, but Bucky, Uncle Ben, and Jason Todd were supposed to stay dead.
Well, Bucky did pretty well, staying dead as long as he did, but the temptation for Marvel must have been huge. He’s been a key player since returning to Marvel’s universe, notably stepping up and filling the role of Captain America after Steve Rogers was shot and killed. Don’t worry, he’s okay now too.
So what makes Bucky so cool? Well, after fighting in World War II as a child, he was in a plane accident that left him frozen in ice and short an arm. Rescued by Russian scientists, he was fitted with a cyborg arm and brainwashed, then trained to become the ultimate assassin. He was thawed periodically throughout the years, made to take out key targets before being frozen again. Finally, his encounter with Captain America, the man he’d fought alongside during the second world war, ended with his memory restored and his decision to put his talents to good use. Comic book silliness aside, that’s a pretty badass backstory.
Aquaman gets a bad rap for, really, no good reason. Written well, he’s a force to be reckoned with in the DC comics universe – as is his sidekick, Aqualad.
This sidekick is not a huge character in the comics yet, but Kaldur’ahm, AKA Aqualad, had his time in the spotlight as the leader of the Jr. Justice League squad on the Young Justice TV show. He’s serious, loyal, and a good man. Even when he’s wronged, even when his emotions might scream at him to do otherwise, he’s able to do what is right. Even some of the most prominent superheroes can’t claim that.
To top it all off, Aqualad has some pretty great powers. He’s got enhanced strength and durability, and can go toe to toe with Superboy, which is pretty impressive. Beyond that, he’s got a host of Atlantean abilities, including the power to breathe underwater, and he’s also got hydrokinesis, which he often employs to create weapons like swords and maces using nothing but the water around him.
Notably, Aqualad is one of those special comic book characters that made the jump from, not to, television. He was created specifically for Young Justice, but the strength of the character led the DC comics brass to write him into the comic books series they had ongoing. It’s a rare thing, and a testament to the character.
It’s a shame the X-Men films failed to do Kitty Pryde justice, because she’s a fantastic character in the Marvel world. Also known by her superhero name, Shadowcat, she’s got the ability to ‘phase’ through physical objects, allowing her to walk through walls and pass her body through all manner of objects. For a while in the 1980s, she was also the sidekick to Marvel icon Wolverine.
She’s not the character best- known for being Wolvie’s sidekick – that distinction goes to Jubilee – but Shadowcat has cooler powers, and is arguably a more interesting character. She’s also not a vampire, and Jubilee now is, so there’s that, too.
In her stint as sidekick, Kitty Pryde was possessed by a demon and became an assassin (as you do) and was sicced on Wolverine. Together, the two were able to overcome the demon, and Kitty Pryde emerged from the experience a stronger, more mature person. It’s the moment that she came into her own as a superhero, no longer just the little kid on the team. She also has a pet alien pterodactyl. Not many teenage superheroes can claim that.
3. Kid Flash/Flash (III)
Wally isn’t the first character to assume the codename Flash, and he isn’t even the second. But there’s little debate that he’s the greatest speedster in DC comics.
After he’s exposed to an explosion identical to the one that gave Flash (Barry Allen) II his powers, Wally West discovers he has superspeedy abilities of his own. As Kid Flash, he then went on to be a founding member of the Teen Titans. When Barry died, he took on the mantle of Flash and stepped up to the big leagues.
And he just kept getting cooler. He became the fastest Flash ever, tapping into the mysterious “Speed Force” – the source of all DC speedsters’ powers – and gained all kinds of new powers, including the ability to heal others. He’s also the character that introduced the idea of speedsters needing to eat lots of food to maintain their powers, which is a fun little quirk/weakness.
Sadly, Wally seems to have taken a back seat in the recent reboot of the DC comics universe, but he at least got to star alongside Aqualad on Young Justice. Hopefully he’ll get a bit more love soon.
2. Robin (III)
Dick Grayson was an orphan, adopted by Bruce Wayne and thrust into the crime fighting life. Jason Todd was an orphan criminal, adopted off the streets by Bruce Wayne and thrust into the crime fighting life. Tim Drake was an exceptional student, an inquisitive mind who was able to deduce the identities of both Batman and Robin, and who pushed himself to gain physical ability beyond his youth. He then took on the role of Robin of his own volition, and juggled his responsibilities as a defender of Gotham with his home life.
It’s not even a close race: There is no better Robin than Tim Drake, simply because Tim Drake is the most complete member of the Bat family. He’s the perfect mix of even-tempered, intelligent, and physically capable. Other Robins or Bat family members might have him beat in individual categories, but apart from Batman, Tim’s the one you want to build a squad around.
He had a fairly central role until quite recently. After the DC comics relaunch, he’s mostly appeared in Teen Titans titles.
It might seem contradictory to peg Tim Drake as the overall best Batman sidekick and then give Batgirl the top slot, but there are a couple of good reasons for this. First, Batgirl, AKA Barbara Gordon, has been through more hell than even Batman has. Second, she’s contributed more to “the cause,” even when she couldn’t physically fight crime, than many able-bodied superheroes.
As a masked vigilante, she fought crime both with Batman and in her own solo adventures. She ended up taking a break from that lifestyle, though, after a vicious attack by Joker left her paralyzed from the waist down. He shot her through the spine, then stripped her and photographed her – all in a failed attempt to drive her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, to madness.
Instead of packing it in, Barbara became the hacker/information expert known as “Oracle,” delivering crucial information to Batman, as well as leading the Birds of Prey superhero team, all from the comfort of her command center. Many critics have praised her run as Oracle as being an example of a disabled character done right, and she’s the most unique member of the Bat family, by far.
The relaunch has Barbara back on her feet and fighting crime as Batgirl once again, to critical acclaim.