Sidekicks, ladies and gentlemen, are the true heroes. Oh sure, the heroes and heroines of genre fiction stride across our lives like the titans they are but it’s the sidekicks that keep them level, keep them grounded. It’s the sidekicks that remind them that they fight to defend real people, that they need to explain their actions and sometimes, it’s the sidekicks who pay the ultimate price for them, and pay it gladly. Sidekicks rule, and here are my Top 10 (ish, just go with it) best ones in genre fiction history.
Words by: Alasdair Stuart
Who knew, when Babylon 5 first started, that one of the best elements of the show would be Vir? The perpetually terrified, cringing Centauri aide started out as little more than comic relief, but over the course of even the first season you could see the writers starting to realise what comedy gold they had in Stephen Furst.
Vir is such an inherently cuddly figure, such an innocent, that when we see Londo make his Faustian bargain with Mr Morden we’re as afraid of the effects it’ll have on Vir as anything else. In fact, Londo expresses his guilt at his actions by sending Vir away, trying to shield his aide as much as possible.
Despite this, Vir not only continues to stand by his boss but does everything he can to make up for Londo’s actions and is instrumental in rebuilding the Centauri people. He also has the single best moment in the entire series, involving nothing more than a smile and a wave. Mr Cotto, we salute you.
Invader Zim remains one of the best cartoons not enough people saw over the last couple of decades and one of the big reasons for that is Gir. Every Irken Invader is issued with a SIR robot (Standard Information Retrieval), except of course, for Zim, who got issued with GIR, and he doesn’t know what the G stands for.
Nonetheless, he’s a relentlessly happy little chap, a fine dancer and a chef, and his cunning Earth disguise of a dog suit with a visible zipper up the front is as elegant as it is obvious. Gir is, in many ways, the most sympathetic character on the show: a friendly, well-meaning robot who doesn’t understand Zim’s schemes but backs him up right up until something distracts him, which it always, always does.
Equal parts ADD-riddled puppy and cybernetic death machine, Gir is a good loving, shape throwing, funk loving alien death machine. What more could you ask for?
If you’re a sidekick and your nickname is Speedy, you’re already on a loser. If you’re a sidekick, your nickname is Speedy and you become a drug addict, then your life looks like it’s hit rock bottom. If you’re a sidekick, your nickname is Speedy, you’re a drug addict, your daughter is killed and your arm is cut off by a villain? Then frankly, the universe being rebooted to change your history is about the best you can hope for.
Roy Harper, sidekick to Green Arrow, is arguably the least well-served comic character in the last 20 years, his entire careful, nuanced backstory cut away across the space of a year to turn him into a rampaging, ‘edgy” monstrosity. Roy went from a happy, grounded man who’d conquered his demons (And was all the more inspiring for that) to the worst excesses of comic stupidity, almost overnight. At least now the DC universe has rebooted, he’s got another crack at life. Roy deserves better.
If you’re going to be a hard-bitten, down-on-your-luck mage, then you’re going to need some good contacts. And what better contacts are there than centuries old skulls filled with the knowledge of the dark arts? Okay it’s not quite an iPhone 5 but what Bob lacks in the ability to run apps he more than makes up for in expertise and charm.
Bob, or Hrothbert of Bainbridge, to use his full name is equal parts family heirloom and tragic hero in his own right, a sorcerer from 900AD bounds to his own skull in punishment for trying to resurrect the love of his life. He’s the perfect companion for a magical noir character like Harry, both men have blood on their hands, both men have tragic pasts and both desperately want to make things right. Two hard luck heroes, fighting the odds (And in one’s case, the frequent lack of limbs), it’s the stuff pulp gold is made from.
Karl C Agathon shouldn’t be alive. The original plan for the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was that Helo would never be seen again, abandoned on an irradiated Caprica and left to an inevitable, painful, probably heroic death. However, the response to the character was so strong that he was brought back and, when he returned, the ragtag fugitive fleet got just a little… nicer.
Helo is possibly the last nice guy left alive, a man who is resolutely loyal, dogged and completely true to his beliefs, even if they damage those around him. It’s Helo who faces down the President in season three over the bio weapon, Helo who willingly becomes ostracised when he returns with Sharon, Helo who speaks up for the Gemenese refugees, hell it’s even Helo who’s instrumental in helping Lee Adama lose the world’s least convincing, most dramatically unnecessary stress weight.
He’s everyone’s big brother and his relationship with Sharon is one of the most genuine, and sweetest, in the show. A good man in a desperate position and holding fast despite that, Helo isn’t just everyone’s big brother, he’s the sidekick to so many other characters he’s more than earned his spot here.
(Colossal face melting spoilers in this video for up to season three.)
The only real father the Winchester boys ever had, Bobby Singer is the grumpiest sidekick on this list and arguably the most inherently lovable.
The old hunter is like Giles from Buffy, if he was ever so slightly red necky and liked repairing automobiles more than singing old Who songs and trying to forget his past. Irascible, flat-out tetchy at times and completely and utterly devoted to his boys, Bobby’s the rock that holds not only them but the entire hunting community together. Need some research done fast? You call Bobby. You need your credentials verified? Bobby. Need a hand in a bad situation? Bobby. No one complains about it more but no one does it better.
Much like the illustrious Mr Agathon, Topher is a sidekick to a lot of people, ranging from Adele and Boyd to the Actives themselves. He’s a fascinating, complex, at times deeply unpleasant figure who is clearly entranced by the nature of his work and utterly unconcerned about it’s ethics. If that was all there was to the character, he would never have made this list.
The reason he’s here, and here so high up, is what happens to him. Topher’s discoveries are used to break the world and in doing so, they break him. The child/parent relationship we see between him and Adele in the “Epitaph” episodes is heartbreaking and the way that he struggles not only with his memories, but his guilt, is one of the things that makes both Epitaphs a stand out. The quintessential sidekick, Topher isn’t just forced to get his hands dirty he’s thrown into the middle of the butcher’s shop he’s turned the world into and, whilst it breaks him for a while, it doesn’t last. Because, like all good sidekicks, Topher knows what he needs to do to help his friends and like all good sidekicks, he does so without a second’s thought for his safety. Mr Brink, and your drawer of inappropriate starches.
To be honest this Top 10 could probably have been filled completely with Doctor Who companions. It’s easier to list the few who in no way should be allowed anywhere near it – Katarina, Dodo, Adric, Mel, Kamelion. Of the rest, there are many worthy candidates for a place in this list, so instead of clogging it up with Who niverse characters, let’s award position three to an honorary gestalt übercompanion with elements of:
• Leela – Her serious nature and willingness to solve problems with a lot of stabbing were the perfect counterpart to the flamboyant Fourth Doctor. The costume helped too.
• Susan – The Doctor’s original companion, his granddaughter (maybe) and a strange “unearthly” child.
• Ace – aka Dorothy McShane (though she was only given her surname in the novels) combined fondness for adventure and high explosives got her into a world of trouble and, eventually, to the side of the Seventh Doctor. The relationship between the pair of them mirrors that between 10 and Donna, with Ace acting as a grounding influence on a fiercely strong alien intelligence. Although Ace did hit a lot more things than Donna ever did.
• Rose Tyler – Controversial, even now, Rose was a vital companion to the show. Central to the re launch she was also the anchor that the Ninth and Tenth Doctors needed so desperately to stay connected with the universe and, much like the other women on this list, had no problem getting her hands dirty when called upon. Plus she did carry the entire time vortex in her head and let’s face it, that’s pretty great.
• Donna Noble – One of the most compassionate, grounded and sensible companions the Doctor’s ever had. She had an incredibly beneficial effect on the Tenth Doctor, whose more savage, mercurial tendencies were calmed and mitigated by the fact that for the first time in a long time, he had a true friend as well as a companion. Her time with the Doctor was an incredible breath of fresh air after three years of love/unrequited love angst with Rose and Martha and finally because the tragedy of what happened to her is one of the most defining, and controversial, moments in recent Doctor Who history.
• Sarah Jane Smith – Still winning Best Companion polls decades after she appeared, sassy journalist Sarah’s partnership with the Fourth Doctor was one of the show’s all-time great double acts. She’d probably still be travelling in the TARDIS today if the Doctor hadn’t booted her out of the TARDIS. And she was one of only three companions to star in their own spin-off (twice).
• K9 – The “tin dog”: some loved him, some loathed him, but it’s hard to argue that he didn’t become an icon in his own right.
• C captain Jack – Cheeky, charming, bisexual time agent who made a star out of John Barrowman. There has never been a companion quite like him, in that he was clearly not companion material (he was star material, goddammit) but was always happy to slip into companion mode when the Doctor was around.
• The Ponds – The boy and girl who waited. The most fairytale of companions.
• And bits of whoever else you liked… except Katarina, Dodo, Adric, Mel and Kamelion. We’re not having that.
Sam doesn’t plan on being a hero. He’d actually quite like to just be a gardener and marry Rosie Cotton, but when his friend is swept up in events, Sam goes with him. He doesn’t question it, he doesn’t complain (much) and he’s always relentlessly loyal, endlessly brave and constantly keeps Frodo on the straight and narrow.
And he’s a gardener.
Sam is the ultimate reluctant hero, a man capable of far more than he ever dreams possible, and fully prepared to lay his life down for his friends. When things get dark, to the extent that even Merry and Pippin are starting to feel it, it’s Sam who remains stalwart, upright and hopeful. It’s also Sam who, in the end, gets Frodo where he needs to be to save the day. He never stops, never gives up and crucially, never lets Frodo give up either. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have something in my eye…
Hang on… this long suffering feline wasn’t in this author’s list. Hmm, I sense a sub-editor with an agenda going on here. Anyway, on to the real number one…
Whether the Boy Wonder, the Boy Decoy or the Girl Wonder, Robin earns the number one slot because the very concept of the sidekick is tied up with Batman and Robin.
The visual, of the huge, hulking, dark Batman and his garishly-coloured companion is written on the souls of anyone who ever watched the Paul Dini cartoon or the Adam West live-action show, but that’s not the only reason Robin earns this slot. Each successive Robin has been different, brought different things out in Batman and shown us a new perspective on how Gotham City breaks it’s populace.
Dick Grayson went from stalwart sidekick to Bruce’s heir; Jason Todd’s violent death, and life, led him to carve a bloody knuckled niche for himself; Tim Drake, who in the New 52 was never Robin, brought an analytical, almost bookish air to the role. Then there’s Stephanie Brown, her run unfairly cut short both on the page and behind the scenes and, of course, Damien Wayne himself.
The latest Robin is Batman’s son and heir, all the skill and none of the temperament, again showing us a different side to Gotham and a different side to Batman as he juggles the demands of being both a teacher and a father. As a result, Robin is more than just a sidekick; he, and she, is a lens through which we view Gotham and Batman himself. So, for services to Gotham, and to hundreds of thousands of readers, Robin is our number one sidekick.