Perhaps attending Folsom has left me with masked couples clad in leather on the brain, but I can't help but notice the similarities between hero/sidekick relationships and many other M/m relationships, like dynamics commonly found in BDSM or the pederasty of Ancient Greece, among others. While the immediate knee-jerk reaction to this concept is “well, duh, of course sidekicks are gay, just look at Batman and Robin”, at some point I have to take my “queer pop culture critic slash blogger” hat off and concede that some superheroes are straight, and unambiguously so, in defiance of our hopes and dreams. However, the issues and elements present in the male hero/male counterpart relationship are, while far from unique to comic books, increasingly relevant to the queer community in an age where (heteronormative) socially acceptable male bonding consists of sports and going into the woods to shoot up the Happy Tree Friends.

To clarify, these comparisons are not meant to degrade, demean, or defibrilate the sidekick archetype. I'm a fan of sidekicks. In fact, I'm all for superheroes having them, because I feel an extensive support team enables a hero to actually carry his own title and not have to rely on every tragically-conceived crossover circle jerk to establish themselves as a fixture in the label. But enough about Civil War, Infinite Crisis, World War Hulk, and whatever they pass off as an Avengers film. It's time to pontificate!

With few exceptions (most notably The Tick's Arthur, whose only similarity to the epononymous crimefighter is a propensity for insect cosplay), a sidekick will have similar traits and abilities as the hero, albeit slightly inferior (convenient, as much of their career involves being overpowered or kidnapped by the villain). Through experience and mentoring, the sidekicks can evolve into their own heroic identities (i.e. Aqualad becoming Tempest) or take up the mantle of their former master (i.e. Kid Flash becoming The Flash).

In either case, the mentorship, support, and discpiline of the older, more mature hero is necessary in facilitating the upbringing of the younger, more naïve counterpart. This is consistent with the purpose of Ancient Greek pederasty, where it was believed that an older lover could influence the amount of success available to a young boy. Mentoring is also a function of many D/s relationships, especially those that are M/m, in which the Dom/Top/Master/Daddy is often idealized by the sub/bottom/slave/boy to be a proper example of masculine force deserving of respect and worship. Also, while we're on the topic, it's interesting to note that a lot of a sidekick's duties are really degrading. When they're not tied to a chair in a booby-trapped warehouse, they can be found washing the car, testing the gadgets and other unpleasant tasks that the hero is too busy pensively reminiscing about the life he left behind to worry himself with. No, that sort of domestic work is left to the sidekick, not only because it builds character, but because apprenticing under such an illustrious hero is a privilege. Any sub who finds gratification and satisfaction in blacking their Dom's boots knows what I'm talking about. I hope.

Sometimes, the pursuit of justice forces its agents to alienate themselves from friends and family. Other times, the villain kills their family and spares them the trouble. It is not unusual for sidekicks to live with their heroes as their wards, providing company, service, and assistance in exchange for room, board, and support (be it financial, emotional, capturing the guy who killed their parents, etc).

In these situations, the sidekick's plight is very similar to that of a “kept boy/man” (for a more literal example, see Chuck and Evan from Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in all the World), if you substitute “fighting injustice” with “having sex that Mark Sanford doesn't want you to have”. I'm sure if you were really good at what you did you could do both of these at the same time. In the 40's-era of Batman's heyday, Dick and Bruce actually slept in the same room (or bed, those pictures leave it rather ambiguous). Unlike “kept” arrangements, however, sidekicks remain fiercely loyal, emotionally and otherwise, to their former mentor/guardian/benefactors, a bond that often outlasts other romantic and social relationships, which is consistent with Greek ideals, where male friendship was often more valued than marriage.

Like a kept boy or eremonos of antiquity, the sidekick's tenure is often as brief as it is beneficial. Batman's gone through five Robins (and six Batgirls), Green Arrow had Speedy and Connor, and there have been three Kid Flashes, two who have went on to become The Flash. The “masked teenager” novelty wears off as you grow older, and eventually you'll have to be your own hero, replace your predecessor, or die valiantly in the process of A or B. There is the option of going rogue and arching your former partner, but that rarely ever pans out. Just ask, well, anyone who's ever tried it.

This is not merely a comic book convention (wait, what?) arbitrarily enforced for the sake of tradition, but really just an honest illustration on the nature of relationships. They break up, sometimes because one or more parties have simply outgrown it. Even the tightest and most committed partnerships sever and dissolve. FetLife and CollarMe are full to bursting with subs and slaves and Doms and Masters who thought they had something concrete, something solid to hold on to. And while the eremonos might remain close friends with his former older lover, few continued to make love with their erastes after they had reached adulthood. Bruce Wayne really loved Dick Grayson, but eventually they both had to move on. Beautiful as it was while it lasted, it wasn't meant to last forever.

I'm going to avoid writing any “observation of queer life vs heteronormative life” checks that my mere BA in Art ass can't cash, but I will say, as a queer, as a trans person, as someone who does not have children or religion or some other external factor to tie me to a partner, the stories of Dick Grayson and Speedy speak to me. Three months ago I left my friends and family in Phoenix behind and moved to San Francisco, not because I didn't love them, but because I had to grow in ways they could not facilitate. I might have to do the same with a partner. Multiple ones, even. And no romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon or Gerard Butler is going to stop me.

But this isn't about me (anymore). This is about the lessons and real-life comparisons that queers like myself can take from comic books, because all fiction is based on just a bit of reality. In each and every one of us there is a vigilante who's quest for truth, justice, power, or even love threatens to dominate all of our relations. Or a doe-eyed boy/girl wonder stuck in a death trap waiting to be saved.

It appears that I've strayed away from my original point.


The dynamic duos found in our comic books share many parallels to various types of homosexual relationships found not only within our present-day queer community, but in civilization's history. Do with that knowledge what you will.

You might be asking yourself why I didn't cover any female superheroes and their sidekicks. Well, hole in my theory that I'm addressing after the fact, I wanted to focus on iconic heroes that most people would know, and DC heroes tend to be the best at illustrating tropes and clichés. Unfortunately, many DC heroines are really just female counterparts to the more popular male heroes. The exception to this pattern is Wonder Woman, who is her own heroine. However, I think both Wonder Girls are related to her in some fashion or other, and finding the homoerotic overtones in an issue of Wonder Woman is like looking at Ann Coulter's Adam's apple with a pair of binoculars. Also, many male superheroes have had female sidekicks. And I chose to ignore those because it didn't necessarily fit the theme of my article. I called myself out so you didn't have to.

I also realize that I have yet to cover Marvel in any detail since joining BTB. I promise to fix this by my next comic book article.

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