Sidekicks, bless them. For some heroes, they're a welcome tether to mortality, a desperately-needed reminder of what they protect, what they stand for. For others, they're brightly-coloured body armour with a set of vocal chords. Let's face it, Batman wears black and Robin wears bright red, green and yellow... But whether it's a boy wonder, a boy decoy or a partner in crime, the sidekick is an accepted, respected part of genre fiction. So join us, as we answer the question:
Who do you think is the best sidekick in genre fiction?
Lee Harris: Oooh - Wendy Watson, without a doubt. WW (or dub-dub) is the sidekick of the Middleman; he's a hero who fights aliens and science crime – anything too bizarre for ordinary law enforcement. He's employed by O2STK (Organisation Too Secret To Know) and is the latest incarnation of the Middleman, having been trained up by the previous holder of that title, who was trained up by the one before him, etc, etc.
Wendy and the Middleman couldn't be more different. He's your typical square-jawed all-American hero type (he drinks milk, disapproves of cussing, and gets embarrassed by the inevitable female attention he garners). She's a part-time artist who has never been able to hold down a job. She's a kick-ass geek, who won't take crap from anyone, but she's more than happy to dish it out when it's needed.
The Middleman started out as a comic (by writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach and artist Les McClaine), and was filmed in 2008 for television (with WW played by the brilliant Natalie Morales). Both versions are well worth your time.
Stacey Whittle: Okay, first off I don't think my choice is a proper "sidekick" but it's a great excuse to talk about one of my favourite female characters in genre fiction and I think I can get away with it so forgive me. Karrin Murphy from Jim Butcher's brilliant Dresden Files series is wonderful. She is a martial artist, a competitive markswomen and at the beginning of the series a Lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department. She is one of the most well-rounded female characters I have read in a long time.
Murph is strong, funny, loyal and smart, but she isn't a hard-arse. She does the things that need to be done – even when terrified – and she isn't afraid to show her emotions. I love Karrin Murphy and though there is a "will they won't they" vibe sometimes throughout the book, it doesn't dominate her and Harry's relationship and they make a fantastic double act.
If you haven't jumped aboard the Dresden Express yet, can I also take this opportunity to push you to do so. I love this series, it has made me laugh out loud in public, be terrified to the point of having to have the book right up to my nose (does anyone else do that?) and sob my heart out. It's clever and funny and complex much like Murph herself.
Laura: Two letters, one repeated number: R2-D2. I mean, what's not to love? Artoo is fiercely loyal, brave to the point of occasional stupidity, brilliant when he needs to be, practical almost to a fault (think of the net scene in ROTJ ), and plucky as hell. We all know he's chock full of sarcasm and wit, too. I don't care what language you speak, the tone of those beeps can't be misconstrued. And he provides comic relief while being adorable. I’ll say it again: what’s not to love?
He could carry his own story easily, yet he’s literally left out in the rain while the main character sits by a cozy fire on Dagobah. That’s the definition of a sidekick if I ever heard one. And Artoo excels in the role. He should be on any list of the best. Besides, he was one of the first action figures I ever owned and he’s at least partially responsible for my first being smitten with sci-fi. Pick someone else? A non-robotic sidekick, perhaps? Not on your life. That little droid and I have been through a lot together.
Matt Risley: Of all the many brilliant things Grant Morrison has done during his run on Batman, his introduction of not only a new Robin but Batman's own son was a masterstroke.
Not only do you have the traditional mentor/sidekick relationship to play with, but the protective father/rebelling son angle too. Throw in the fact that Damian's a morally wonky, super-ruthless mini psychopath, and you get an engaging, witty and genuinely electrifying dynamic that never tires.
Steven Ellis: Sidekicks? Hmmm... No way can I just pick one sidekick, there are so many different variations, so I'm cheating again...
First up if it's a robot sidekick then it has to be the Star Wars saga's R2-D2. Hands down he's the best little robot out there; he can do anything because he's like a little robotic Swiss Army Knife. Plus he's a feisty little bugger. He's a robot definitely I'd have at my side in a tough situation.
If it's a comic book sidekick then I'm going for Viking warrior Wulf Sternhammer from 2000AD 's “Strontium Dog” series. Wulf partners Johnny Alpha on his various bounty hunting missions across time and space, and as well as providing some excellent comic relief, he was always ready for a fight albeit with a gun or with his famous war hammer, which he calls, "der Happy Stick." Having once been saved from death by Alpha, Wulf was as loyal and devoted a companion as anyone could ask for.
In the world of TV I'd probably pick Jack Carter’s robot subordinate Deputy Andy from Eureka . Andy was a robot law enforcement officer designed and built by Global Dynamic to replace Jack but ended up working for him. Never has TV seen a happier robot. Andy was always ready with a quick smile and a witty line even when severely damaged by the various scientific disasters that the town faced week in and week out. And he's the most loyal of sidekicks you could ask for, well, when he isn't being controlled by evil mad scientists...
If I was obeying the rules and only picking one sidekick then my ultimate choice would be Chewbacca. Han Solo's Wookiee sidekick, partner-in-crime and co-pilot would win hands down with his impressive fighting skills, his mechanical know-how and dogged tenacity. He's the perfect companion; half best friend, half giant pet dog. It'd probably be a bit tough learning Shyriiwook to talk to him but I bet it'd be worth it in the end. Plus he can pull people's arms out of their sockets. And we all know that that's always a useful skill isn't it...
Dave Golder: Anyone of these guys above. Take your pick.
Alasdair Stuart: The TARDIS. Let's face it, the TARDIS has been with the Doctor from the start, remains endlessly faithful and has been driven through hell and back by the Doctor on a regular basis. It's the Doctor's home, the Doctor's oldest friend and, it was always implied, his conscience. The TARDIS does have a nasty habit of dropping him right where he needs to be rather than where he wants to be, after all. Then, of course, “The Doctor's Wife” was aired and all this was made overt. The TARDIS isn't just a time machine and never was; it's the Doctor's partner-in-crime, and, at times, his superior. After all, who stole who? Without her “thief”, the TARDIS would still be inert and overlooked; and without her, the Doctor would be still be trapped on Gallifrey and still be oh so very, very bored. She needs him, he needs her and they’re both strong enough individuals to not bend to each other's will. Apart, of course, from the whole “The TARDIS goes where she wants to” thing. The Doctor and the TARDIS. A boy and his time machine. A time machine and her thief. Although, now I come to think about it, who's the sidekick in this relationship, the Doctor, or the TARDIS?
So here's to the sidekicks, ladies and gentlemen. May their costumes always be brightly-coloured, their wits always be quick and their patience endless… Because heroes? Heroes are hard work.
And speaking of hard work, join us next week when we talk about the hardest-working person in modern genre fiction: the bad guy.
Which genre fiction villain is the most memorable? Or the most deserving of success?
See you in seven. Bring your cowls. OF EVIL!